Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Lady Stardust

Obverse Books, publishers of far-fetched fiction, have announced their lineup for this year's Obverse Quarterly series. There's a Faction Paradox linked volume called Tales of the City, set within the City of the Saved; The Casebook of the Manleigh Halt Irregulars, another of Paul Magrs's peculiar creations, and finally the crime collection The Obverse Book of Detectives. But before all that comes the latest Iris Wildthyme collection, Lady Stardust, in which the mistress of the magical bus engages in adventures inspired by David Bowie songs.

I absolutley love this idea, and as a fan of both Bowie and Iris I think they're made for each other. What a bizarre universe they could create together. I only wish I could have written for it myself - still, I'll hold onto my old idea of Doctor Who stories inspired by Divine Comedy songs.

In the run-up to the book's release, Obverse have released this fantastic cover image, created by the great Paul Hanley. It's chocablock with Bowie references, and Obverse have created a competition for fans. Just email bowie@obversebooks.co.uk listing as many references as you can spot - no matter how contrived or obscure. The entrant who spots the most wins a copy of the book. I've already sent mine off - it's a good excuse to start listening to the old Bowie tracks again.

Hurry - closing date is February 17th.

Monday, 30 January 2012

This is just one of those posts that covers a variety of things I've been into over the last few weeks. It won't get nearly as many hits as my Sherlock review, my most popular post by far. Is this due to my erudite comparison of the two modern iterations of the Sherlock Holmes archetype? Or is it because it shows up quickly on Google image searches for Lara Pulver as Irene Adler? I'm not sure, but I'm going to stick a picture of her in here as an experiment.
There, that should do it.

Since I last blogged, the web has been buzzing with speculation concerning Sherlock's miraculous return from death. Suffice to say, we've all got our own theories, but we'll have to wait till next year to find out. Think yourself lucky - back in 1893, when "The Final Problem" was published, readers had to wait ten years to find out that he'd even survived! These days, of course, everyone knows he makes an ingenious escape, so both The Reichenbach Fall and A Game of Shadows have Holmes falling to his death only to appear again before the end credits. The fun this time round is working out how. Having studied the previous work of Mr Moffat, I deduce that the Sherlock Holmes we saw fall was, in fact, nothing more than a Sherlock-shaped robot from the future, filled with tiny people. Nonetheless, we must wait patiently for the new adaptation of "The Adventure of the Empty House." Have you heard the story of "The Empty House?" Don't worry, there's nothing in it.

Back in 2011, my sister and I embarked on a televisual quest to watch the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. We got as far as the halfway mark of Angel's fifth and final season before we both got too busy to continue for a while, but this week found time for a three day viewing session and finished it off. I shall, in good time, write a list of my favourite episodes from each series, with brief reviews. On the whole, though, I think Angel, at its best, was better than Buffy. So hunt me down those who disagree. It was a great journey through the highs and lows of life in a supernatural world, watching as Buffy got ever skinnier and more uptight, Xander got beefier, Willow got sexier, seemingly ageless vampires got older, and, unxepectedly, Wesley became the coolest character in the entire franchise. Blimey, though, there were tears at the end.

You may recall my earlier wibbling on about The Minister of Chance, and audio drama spin-off from Doctor Who. Well, Radio Static have now kindly made the first two episodes available for free. Just visit the official website and you can download them in MP3 or subscribe to them on iTunes. Work has begun on the third episode, Paludin Fields. Radio Static have decided to try financing this instalment through the IndieGoGo system, which allows like-minded people to make a contribution in return for perks and treats. Visit this site and take a look, and see if you can spare a few quid to help make the third part of this epic adventure a reality. Time Lords don't pay for themselves, you know.

Meanwhile, I have not been entirely idle. One project that has already produced something readable is my new job of reviewer for Television Heaven. This website, run by Mr Laurence Marcus, aims to catalogue sixty years worth of cult television. I have so far written reviews of the original three Quatermass serials, which can be read on the site now. Just click on these links for reviews of The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit. It was a treat watching these again and analysing them, and in the coming month I'll be reviewing some classic Sixties Doctor Who. With next year the 50th anniversary of Who and the 60th of Quatermass, we need to celebrate these early serials.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Great Scot!

These next few years could be interesting ones for the United Kingdom. It could end up a lot less united, for one thing. There's been no end of articles and opinion pieces on the prospect of Scottish independence in the press. It's an interesting debate, certainly, not least the question of the upcoming referendum. A referendum to determine the Scots people's point of view on the matter will happen, it's just a question of when and how. The Scots First Minister, Alex Salmond, wants to hold it in 2014, the hundredth anniversary of the last Scottish defeat of English forces, at Bannockburn. Prime Minister David Cameron instead wants to hold it next year, in the wake of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and the 2012 Olympics. It's looking more and more likely Salmond will get the timing he wants. There's still the question of the format of the referendum, and the question of whether under-18s will be allowed to vote. Salmond wants an option to vote for full devolution, creating an autonomous Scottish state within the UK; Cameron wants a straight yes/no vote on full independence. I can't really see why the possibility of full autonomy is such a problem for the Prime Minister; perhaps he sees it as a risky step on the path to full independence. Certainly, one can expect a lot of people who are sitting on the fence to vote no if it's a straight question of full independence. Then the PM could bury it for a few more years. Autonomy, on the other hand, could lead to independence in short order.

The referendum result wouldn't be legally binding, in any case, but it's hard to imagine the British government forcing Scotland to remain within the Union if faced with a majority in favour of independence. In any case, we could be looking at a very different political outlook in the British Isles in, say, ten years time. I'm not convinced Scotland could function particularly well as a sovereign state. Although Scotland is the second richest part of the UK, it's still some considerable way behind southern England. I won't pretend to have a list of statistics here, but it's true that most of the money in the UK comes from the south. Which is why everyone thinks we're all rich down here, which is not the case. True, Scotland has got the North Sea oil supply, which could certainly increase its wealth. Yet, if it's going to take a proportional measure of the UK's wealth, it'll also have to take an equal measure of its debt, which could be catastrophic.

There are other cultural considerations. Will it remain under the monarchy? The SNP certainly mean it to, with Scotland existing as a Commonwealth Realm, like Canada or New Zealand. Yet there are strong republicanist elements pushing for independence too. The status of Scotland might be in question for some time. Then again, there's huge public support for tradition in Scotland, probably more so than England. I can imagine a Great Britain in 2050, say, where King William and Queen Catherine rule the Kingdom of Scotland, and over the border lies the United Republic of England and Wales. Salmond points to traditional Scottish links with Scandinavian nations, such as Norway and the Faroes, and seeks to strenghten them. A wise policy, but even Scandinavian interests are coming under more pressure from the European Union (although Norway isn't a member); could a small, independent nation like Scotland stand up to the full force of the EU?

It sets a dangerous precedent, though. How long will Northern Ireland stay within the UK if Scotland achieves independence? What of other nations with autonomous and breakaway areas? There are plenty of countries in Europe and the Commonwaelth whose interests would be better served by Scotland setting the example of continued unionism. How long before Quebec secedes from Canada, or the Basques finally split from Spain? There are plenty of opinions being thrown around. Salmond himself pointed out that there are more giant pandas in Scotland than Tory ministers, and called on all Scots to consdier their position. Has no one thought to ask whether the rest of the UK wants to keep Scotland though? Perhaps we should all vote on it. Personally, I think it's a bad idea, but maybe the government should let them have it and see how they get on alone.

I'll quote Simon Munnery for the final word. "I have solved the problem of Northern Ireland. Give it to Scotland as a divorce present."

Friday, 13 January 2012

REVIEW: Wildthyme in Purple

An Obverse Books story collection edited by Stuart Douglas and Cody Quijano-Schell

What’s that sound? The rumbling of an omnibus engine? The tinkling of glasses? The mad cackle of a transtemporal adventuress? It can only mean one thing… Iris Wildthyme is back.

Wildthyme in Purple is the fifth Iris collection from Obverse, the sixth overall. I love the format of these books; a dozen or so short stories, perfect for dipping into, all bound up in a gorgeous hardback. Obverse publications are typically beautiful pieces of work, real booklovers’ books. Wildthyme in Purple is no exception, fronted by a stunning piece of artwork by Mark Manley, that captures the pulpy feel of the stories within perfectly.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Sherlock Holmes Double Review

'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' and 'Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia.'

It’s been a highly Sherlockian year for me so far. New Year’s Day saw the second series of Sherlock begin with A Scandal in Belgravia, while on the 2nd I took in the second of Guy Ritchie’s cinematic takes on the legendary sleuth, with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Two sequels, two different takes on Holmes. Both the BBC and Hollywood versions are hugely successful, modernised tellings of Sherlock Holmes tales that have taken as much criticism as they have praise. While each production is based, primarily, on a different Conan Doyle story, they each feature several of the same characters and elements. The two productions have many differences, but also many similarities, so I thought it’d be fun to compare and contrast them.

Before I get on with the job of overanalysing the productions and tearing them apart, I just want to say that I found them both immensely enjoyable. The first run of Sherlock on BBC1 won me over immediately, and the second series, so far, hasn’t disappointed. While the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie didn’t impress me as much, I did enjoy it, once I stopped being a snob and finally watched it, and the sequel is a great improvement. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t elements that I’m dying to have a little rant about. First things first: A Game of Shadows is mostly informed by The Final Problem, the great showdown story which introduced Moriarty, and in which he and Holmes take one another down. A Scandal in Belgravia is, as the title makes obvious, a version of A Scandal in Bohemia, the classic story featuring Miss Irene Adler. However, both alter and embellish the stories hugely; also, Moriarty and Adler feature in each production, albeit briefly in their guest roles.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Year's up

Crikey, it's the second of January already. This new year's just storming along, isn't? Mind you, I did sleep for almost three quarters of the first of January, so it's not too surprising that it seems to be going fairly quickly. At least Christmas is over; actually, it's the ninth day of Christmas, but near enough done with. Now, I love a bit of Christmas, but it's a bloody relief to have it all over. Especially since I had to wrok on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, and the 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th. Which is, of course, nothing compared to those policemen, nurses, doctors, firemen, and so forth, who worked right through Christmas Day, but still. At least I've had three days off for New Year, and eventually managed to do something to celebrate. New Year's Chinese - a strange irony there. I'll have to have a western meal for Chinese New Year in February.

Christmas Day was a lot of fun, though, which is part of the reason I struggled so much getting up for work on Boxing Day. Who enjoyed the Doctor Who Christmas Special? I liked it a great deal; not quite up to the previous year's standard, but just right for the alcohol sodden, sentimental feel of Christmas Day. If you don't like things quite so festive, then how about reading Stromboli's Comet, the 2011 Christmas Special for The Doctor Who Project, if you haven't already? A wonderful read, and only Christmassy in the vaguest sense (it is, after all, about a snowball).

There are plenty of fan productions to look forward to in the upcoming months. Panic Moon is publishing its January issue any day now, and it's always a good read if you like snappy little Who-obsessed articles. Whotopia, the Canadian web fanzine, is soon to release its 23rd issue. This edition is a Matt Smith special, including the long-awaited reviews for the whole sixth series, up to and including my review of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. An extended edition will appear on this very blog in good time (or, to put it another way, my review was too long and the unedited version is sitting there waiting to be read).

If fanzines aren't your thing, how about some brand new Doctor Who on film? Oh yes, now this is exciting! There are two fan productions on the horizon. Those who follow the fanfilm phenomenon should be familiar with Nick Scovell and Interalia's work. If you're not, then you should track down a copy of The Millennium Trap. This was a rather marvellous fanfilm released in 1997, filmed in glorious monochrome and starring Nick Scovell as the Doctor. There's a trailer here, but don't bother with the download link - the download is no longer available, sadly. I'm sure it's still possible to track down the 2009 special edition, though, if you look hard enough online. Scovell is a fantastic Doctor, and it wasn't long before he took to the role again, on stage, in a theatrical remake of Fury of the Deep at the Portsmouth New Theatre Royal in 2002. In 2006 - with the aid of a surge in Who popularity thanks to the new series - came The Evil of the Daleks, which I was lucky enough to see. The following year, I went to see the group's last stage production, The Dalek Masterplan, which was utterly brilliant.

The plan was for the next play to be based on The Power of the Daleks; however, the BBC declined the permissions required. Quite why, I don't understand; they had happily allowed the previous productions, which raised money for Children in Need, and can only have further encouraged the ever growing Doctor Who fandom. Nonetheless, the stage play was not to be. However, production is now well under way on a filmed remake. The Power of the Daleks will be made available on YouTube later this year. To whet your appetite, there's a very exciting trailer here.

But that's not all! At the end of The Millennium Trap, the grievously injured Doctor regenerated. Finally, fifteen years later, we're going to see an adventure featuring this new Doctor, played by James Harper, in Doctor Who: I Can See You. You can catch these guys on facebook.

That's all the Who nonsense I've planned to go on about for now. Join me tomorrow, when I shall go on about Sherlock Holmes for a change.