TV

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It’s a neat trick, to still be able to spring little surprises upon fans in this age of social media saturation and secret leakage. Not a total surprise, mind you – I’d seen speculation nailing various bits, basically all the bits in fact, of this over the last few months – but still, plenty of folks seem to have been taken a bit off guard.

The Night of the Doctor, the prequel minisode that leads into the imminentish tsunami of Dr. Who revelations, nostalgia and celebration, arrives and it’s a pleasing little stitching together of hints and threads that, above all else I think, makes me really hope we’re going to get a properly generous helping of John Hurt as the Doctor in our near futures, not just a scene or two. But the thing that made me smile most is right there near the start: ‘Not the one you were expecting’. Kind of contrived line, maybe, but let them have their fun.  They earned it.

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So, it’s this time of year again …

Dinosaurs, cowboys, weeping angels etc. All fairly promising. I do wish they’d leave the daleks alone for a while, though …

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So, I know I suggested yesterday that you might all be blessed today with the sound of me talking at you out of your computer/mp3 player, but it’s not to be. Not today, anyway. At least, not in the form I suggested. The debut of an audio file here on the blog is delayed in favour of … my TV debut. I know, I know: just when you thought you’d made a lucky escape …

What happened, in short form, is that Saint Bryan (fine, fine name, don’t you think?), a reporter for a Seattle-based NBC affiliate station, was over in Edinburgh for a Pixar PR blitz about Brave. He was casting about for other interesting mini-stories he could put together quickly, stumbled across my blog, and e-mailed me. The result is … well, you can see for yourself. Sorry about the advert at the start, by the way; can’t get around it, but it’s very brief.

If there’s one thing more destructive of one’s happily delusional self-image than hearing your own recorded voice played back, I can confirm that it’s seeing and hearing your recorded self played back. However, it was quite good fun doing the taping. Unbelieveably, staggeringly easy to get TV broadcast-quality pictures these days; seriously, this was just two guys wandering round graveyards with mikes pinned to chests and a tiny hand-held camera. Amazing.

Also amazing it wasn’t pouring with rain, the way this summer’s been going so far, but never mind that …

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The next instalment in my stubborn effort to convice the world that podcasts are the best thing since … well, the best thing ever, really.

People always say you shouldn’t look too deeply into the question of how sausages are made.  I disagree.  I find almost any insight into the process and trade secrets of almost any human endeavour intersting.  I’m peculiar like that.

The Nerdist Writers Panel is the inside story of how US television series get made; or, more precisely, the unique and odd way in which they get written.  In every episode, three or four writers who worked on series you know and may or may not love – Buffy, Terra Nova, Community, Walking Dead, Supernatural, CSI, Fringe, etc etc – get together and talk frankly and often amusingly about all the behind the scenes stuff.

It’s revealing and informative and sheds a lot of light on a kind of writing that’s radically different from almost any other.  Fascinating and entertaining, even if you’ve no desire to ever be a TV writer yourself; indispensible if you do have such a desire, I should imagine.

My favourite recent episode is number 26, but I’d honestly recommend just about any episode to anyone interested in hearing gifted creators talk passionately and honestly about the joys and frustrations of working in one of the toughest entertainment businesses on the planet.

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British SF TV and Me

In one sense, I couldn’t really care less whether the sf I enjoy on TV is homegrown or not.  It’s not like I’ve got vast reserves of unused time that I long to sink into watching more TV or anything; and those windows of opportunity that I do manage to fit a spot of TV into are quite satisfactorily filled by quality output, SFnal or otherwise, from various parts of the world.

However, there’s undeniably a bit of me that craves some polished UK sf to get my teeth into.  Britain can, after all, make some sort of a claim to be the homeland of modern sf, fantasy and horror, what with Frankenstein, Dracula, Lord of the Rings etc.  Would be shame if we can’t make a decent stab at adapting those genres to the greatest mass entertainment medium ever invented.

So, what have I been watching?  First, what I haven’t been watching.  I only ever saw a little bit of Being Human – an episode here or there of the first season, I think – and was appropriately impressed.  Good stuff, which knew pretty much exactly what it wanted to be and duly delivered with commendable verve.  I’ve also heard  invariably good, sometimes great, things about Misfits, which I haven’t watched at all.  Don’t know quite how that oversight came about, but there you are.  And I entirely missed Outcasts, because I … well, to be honest I didn’t even know it was on until the series was halfway over.  I think I was on holiday or something when it started.  Critical feedback leads me to suspect I didn’t miss too much.

Stuff I have been paying attention to this year is mostly the more high profile offerings.

Doctor Who has been a bit hit and miss for me this year, which seems to be a not uncommon reaction.  Still like Matt Smith as the Doctor, at least when he’s given a good script to work with.  Still in love with the anything-is-possible, genre-bending aesthetic of the plots and mood.  Still think, when it works, it works quite brilliantly (Neil Gaiman, obviously).  But when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work, fumbling the ball in a way few, if any, comparably high-profile US series would ever do.

I’ve got at least one foot in the camp of those who reckon the show’s gone a bit too convoluted and dark this season.  I would defy even a Nobel laureate to come up with an explanation I could get my head around of the contorted timelines in which the Doctor, Amy and River Song have been entangled.  I’m not saying such an explanation doesn’t exist, in principle, just that I suspect it’s far too elaborate for me to grasp without more application of brain power than I think the question deserves, or is entirely appropriate to early evening family viewing.  That said, I quite enjoyed the season finale, despite the fact that I’m still not sure it made a lick of sense.

Torchwood: Miracle Day … now what can I say … well, maybe …

That’s a bit unfair. It had its moments, and there were glimmers of some good stuff peeping through – occasionally really good stuff. Not enough to carry ten episodes, though. Maybe seven? Maybe only five.  I had high hopes for this series – I would really like a Torchwood I could be an unreserved cheerleader for – but I fear this outing may have killed off this particular corner of the Doctor Who franchise for a while.  If you’re going to go the co-production route, I suspect anything but instant success spells trouble.

Primeval, ITV’s attempt at biggish budget sf entertainment, got a similar co-production makeover this year.  It didn’t over-reach itself, stayed on pretty familiar territory plot- and cast-wise, and all in all was …  fine, I thought.  Not quite as much straightforward fun as it used to be, maybe.  I find it more consistent than either Dr. Who or TW – you kind of know what you’re going to get with Primeval, and though it rarely hits exhilarating heights, it also rarely delivers a real clunker of an episode.  And consistency really, really matters in serial TV: it’s one thing the best US series nail that often seems elusive when us Brits go after it.

Anyway, Primeval’s not going to revolutionize British sf TV or anything, but I’ve always found it a diverting way to pass an hour or so.  Some vaguely promising hints of what’s to come, as well: apparently we’re to get a spin-off, Primeval: New World, which sounds potentially interesting.

And then, there’s the programme that actually prompted this post in the first place: Fades.  I might have missed the Misfits bandwagon, but I got in at the start for this new BBC 3 fantasy horror series and on the basis of what I’ve seen so far, I’d advise those who can to join me.

Audience-wise, it’s shooting for a youthful demographic, but it does it with plenty of style, a smart script, good acting and some resolutely unpleasant horror elements. (All stuff that, I can’t help but think, Torchwood could really have done with a bit more of).  There are one or two aspects to it that seem slightly off – I’m a bit puzzled, for example, by the decision to make what seems to be the only significant non-white character a comedy sidekick – but all in all, it’s very promising stuff, two episodes in.  It’s coming from roughly the same place, creatively-speaking, as Being Human and Misfits, and that is clearly one corner of the sf programming world that us Brits are getting right.

So there is stuff to celebrate when it comes to homegrown sf TV, it’s just that it’s not necessarily in the high-profile places an old codger like me naturally expects to find it …

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I am not a Twitterer. Not yet, anyway, and probably not soon. Maybe not ever, since I seriously doubt I have the staying power to turn out a regular stream of tweets, or twits, or twitters or whatever they’re called. But if I was on Twitter, things I might have Twittered in the last few days:

- Aren’t staples brilliant? Man, I wish I’d invented staples. That would have been a life well spent.

- Finished Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft. Is good.

- Seen some old X-Files recently. Also some old Friends. Thought the latter has aged far better than the former. What does this say about me?

- Sunshine! Sunshine! I almost felt warm just now. Every winter, I forget how good that feels.

- How to tell something (i.e. Twitter) is about to head down the far side of the cool parabola: I start thinking ‘Hmmm. Maybe I should get me some of that action.’

Me, I have other means than the 140 character outpourings of countless Twitter pros to amuse myself online. Amongst them is googling the phrase ‘crushing the frantic penguins’. I’ve been doing it on and off ever since I first stumbled upon this means of trawling the depths of the internet for oddities last August. Strange behaviour, you say? Well, I’m not going to argue.

Anyway, I thought it was about time I shared my findings. Because I just know the world has been eagerly waiting to hear what new waymarkers have appeared on the virtual trail of once frantic, now flattened penguins since last we checked. And the answer is:

the complete text of the rather good HP Lovercraft story in which the noble phrase first appeared. (Specifically, it turns out, in Chapter 11 of said story).

a Lovecraftian monstrosity made of batteries. Like it.

an entire range of perfumes based on the works of HP Lovercraft. No, really. Call me unimaginative, but wouldn’t have occurred to me as an obvious source of perfumey inspiration, but the one relating to crushed penguins – Shoggoth – does actually sound quite nice: peony, lemongrass, coconut, lime etc. If they’d included ‘essence of dead flightless birds’ as an ingredient, I might have been tempted.

A Trio of Trifles

So there’s this book tournament going on see, over at bookspotcentral. It’s a knockout deal, and Bloodheir’s in the first round - but going no further unless it gets the votes! So should anyone happen to be a member over there, maybe voting for Bloodheir might be a possibility? Not saying you have to, just saying … you could. You know. If you wanted. If you’ve nothing better to do.

Arguably better to do would be browsing a fun website for writers, aspiring or otherwise, and readers and viewers come to that: tv tropes. It’s got seriously extensive lists and descriptions for all kinds of themes and conventions that show up in fiction of all sorts, not just TV writing. Handily organised into sub-categories, too, including one devoted to speculative fiction. Hours of diverting browsing. Plus it’s a wiki, so the whole thing’s user generated and edited.

And many a true word is spoken in jest. In support of which contention I direct you towards this instalment of Penny Arcade.

World’s briefest interview! In terms of the number of questions asked, at least; not in terms of my answer. While you’re at that site, check out the huge library of links to online reviews of fantasy novels in the sidebar. Very handy if you’re wondering what to buy next.

I’ve got to admit I’m not a big fan of Torchwood. Not even a small fan, really, though I kept watching the occasional episode in the vain hope of falling in love with it. But I quite like this idea: a special radio episode to mark the switching on of CERN’s now famous Large Hadron Collider. You can download the mp3 of it here, but only for the next five days or so. It’s not remotely enough to turn me into a fan, but it does make me wonder: might I actually have liked it more if Torchwood was a radio series instead of on TV? On this evidence, I think there are ways it benefits – or could benefit – from the different constraints and opportunities of the audio medium. And from having to comply with the requirements of a pre-watershed broadcast slot, for that matter.

And this is my idea of a top quality movie trailer: Quantum of Solace. I’m looking forward to this more than I’ve looked forward to a Bond movie in … well, ever. Although there were a few doubting voices when he was first cast, Daniel Craig now looks – to me, anyway – as though he was born to play the role. The tuxedo fits.

So, the great big signed Bloodheir giveaway on Facebook has drawn to a close. To be honest, until I actually signed up for Facebook I was a bit of a sceptic about the whole social networking thing. I still don’t think I’m really quite on the right wavelength, but I’m starting to ‘get it’ a bit more. I’m prepared to concede that they do actually offer a new kind of dynamic and structure to the whole internet thing that nothing else does in quite the same way. Anyway, now that the giveaway’s done, I should mention, as I traditionally and predictably do at such moments, that signed and dedicated Bloodheirs are available to all sundry – socially networked or not – from Transreal Fiction. I quite like stopping by to sign them, so don’t you worry about putting me to any trouble. It’s a pleasure, really. So you’re buying yourself a signed book, and me a little bit of pleasure. Everybody wins.

The latest must-read blog for sf/f bibliophiles: Enter the Octopus. Lots of good content, most significantly the huge, more-or-less daily, round ups of book-related links.

Pre-release reviews and rumours about this suggest that something interesting is on the way, and I’m gradually allowing my expectations to get high enough that I’m virtually inviting disappointment to come and stomp all over me:

Rumours abound that this chap is being lined up to be the new Dr. Who. Like him very much indeed as an actor, but Dr. Who? Maybe, so long as they went the not-too-manic route. Guess we’ll see in due course. Or not, these being rumours of the plausible but entirely unconfirmed sort.

Strange Maps, which is one of those sites that pretty much justifies the invention of blogging software all by its lonesome if you ask me, has an interesting post on a wildly silly proposal to drain the North Sea, put forward in 1930. It kind of sums up everything I like about the blog: fun maps and loads of semi-obscure geographical and historical info.

Funny/Clever (via SF Signal, which unlike Enter the Octopus is a long-established must-read site for sf bibliophiles):

… for those thousands (dozens? couple?) of folk who might have been worrying my recent lack of posting indicated some cataclysmic silence-imposing development, such as my kidnapping by the aliens recently revealed to be swarming the UK’s skies, the good news is it’s only because I’ve been busy, and keeping a low internet profile. It’s actually quite refreshing to do a bit of internet detox now and again: I’ve been pretty much restricting my attention to e-mails and whatever my feed subscriptions harvest from the virtual ocean, and it turns out that’s plenty to keep me feeling vaguely in touch with the 21st century. Probably means I’ve missed all types of excitements, fascinating chance discoveries, flamewars, announcements of earth-shattering importance etc. etc. Still, since I don’t know about them, I can’t regret missing them, can I? Ignorance is bliss.

Slightly more substantive posts should follow before too long, but in the meantime:

The succession of Steven Moffat as showrunner for Doctor Who is awesomely good news. I’ve actually been a bit remiss in keeping up with the current series – I’ve mostly liked what I’ve seen of it without being hugely engaged – but am now much more interested in what Mr. Moffatt may come up with in years to come. His latest Who episodes, pretty much certain to be leading candidates for the best in the series based on past form, hit the airwaves on 31st May and the week after.

Want to know if your ancestors were criminals? Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s extremely cool that documents detailing something like 200,000 criminal cases tried at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1913 are freely and easily available online. Plug in your family name (or any other keyword you want to give a run out) and start wandering through the lives of the guilty and the innocent from centuries past. There’s loads of fascinating stuff in there. Could be a great resource for writers of historical fiction, alternate history, Victoriana, steampunk, whatever …

And finally, turns out there’s a Kindle edition of Bloodheir. See? I can pretty much tell just by looking at photos of the thing that the Kindle isn’t the breakthrough device as far as my personal aversion to reading fiction on-screen is concerned, but there’s no doubt Amazon’s proactive involvement in the whole e-book adventure has livened things up a good deal. And the Kindle reader itself, despite looking over-priced to me, is still No. 1 in Amazon’s own electronics sales chart, so what do I know? If anyone does buy the Kindle version of the book, let me know how the experience goes, would you?

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