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The world’s so big and complicated these days I imagine there’s always some kind of golden age going on in some corner of it, geographical, cultural, commercial, whatever.

It occurred to me that there’re arguably three golden ages going on in bits of the cultural/media world that I pay attention to. I have caveats and pessimisms for this post,too, but let’s do the happy stuff first.

TV drama. I seriously doubt there’s ever been more scripted TV of decent or better quality available for our viewing pleasure. We have relatively modest TV pipes running into the Ruckley residence – Netflix and (only the Brits’ll know what this means) Freeview – but they still churn out more stuff than it’s possible to stay on top of, given the fairly limited time that gets spent on watching the box. But the choice is there.

TV drama reflects, like so many other bits of the cultural landscape, the invasion of the ‘mainstream’ by geek-accented product and I couldn’t be happier about that. And of course with Netflix, the multiplication of broadcast channels and the advent of the DVR there’s an ocean of both old and new material to merrily drown yourself in. I was about to namedrop specific TV shows here, but to be honest there’s no point. The list could go on almost indefinitely. That’s a total transformation of what the TV world was like just a few years ago. And the reponse to that blossoming of availability has been the production of more good stuff than ever before.

Comics. Comics actually have a specifically defined Golden Age, so this isn’t The Golden Age, but it’s surely a golden age. There’s a greater variety of comics and graphic novels more widely available – digitally or on paper – than there has been in a long time. Probably ever. Online bookshops make them accessible in collected form to almost anyone. The graphic novel section is, by all accounts, one of the bits of bricks-and-mortar bookshops that’s actually thriving. They’re a big deal in libraries.

Unless you’ve been reading comics for a while, there’s something you might not be aware of, though. For all that certain types of comics (superheroes, notably) used to sell way more twenty or thirty or forty years ago, I can absolutely assure you of one thing: waaaay more objectively well-crafted and smart and technically accomplished comics are being produced now than was the case back then. The average quality of art and writing has improved a lot. The sheer volume and diversity of comics and titles and graphic novels being published has been accompanied by an uptick not only in the obvious measure – choice – but also in quality of craft and in ambition.

Podcasts. I talk about podcasts often enough here, so I won’t belabour this one. But come on: this has to be a golden age of podcasting, doesn’t it? There are uncounted thousands of the things, in every imaginable genre, covering every imaginable topic, taking every imaginable form. I spend far more time consuming podcasts than I do any other medium and I can’t do more than scrape the surface of the possibilities.

On one level podcasts are nothing more than radio on demand, but my ears are constantly filled with stuff that would never get on radio in a million years, for commercial reasons or because of silly geographic restrictions or whatever. Whoever you are, there are quality podcasts about almost exactly your interests, and accessing them is childishly simple. That’s pretty amazing.

Which is the peak of my merriment and optimism.

A couple of golden ages I’m pretty sure we’re not in. Movies and novels. It’s a commonplace to moan about the current state of Hollywood movies, so I won’t go overboard. I enjoy a spectacular blockbuster as much as the next person, but … well, I can’t summon up any enthusiasm for trying to claim the golden age of the franchise blockbuster as a particularly worthwhile kind of golden age.

Talking about novels, I’m on much shakier ground. I don’t read many these days, so I’m barely qualified to comment I suppose, but it doesn’t feel like a golden age. In many ways it feels just like business as usual, with at best an average distribution of quality product. I don’t detect a glut of innovation, boundary-expansion, inarguable genius. That’s OK. It’s just not what you’d call a golden age.

All the media – every single one – I’ve mentioned above are in the grip of ongoing technological and distributional revolutions. Those revolutions have, I think, caused or at the very least facilitated golden ages in TV and podcasting (comics to a lesser extent, but they’re part of the mix there too). But those same revolutions have emphatically not triggered golden ages in music, movies or prose fiction. If anything, I’d say they’ve had the opposite effect. Funny how things turn out.

Which brings me to my final point: how things might turn out. I reckon two of my three golden ages are heading for a fall. TV and comics. It might take years, but because of the revolutions in distribution and technology, and because of the ‘buzz’ surrounding these media, there’s an inevitable consequence: oversupply.

Once you reach a certain mass of available content, you can add as much new high quality content as you like and people just won’t have the time or inclination to consume it. So producers overextend. Retrenchment sets in. The golden ages wither and fade. I’m far from the first to suggest a tight, maybe imminent, time limit on TV’s golden age. In the case of comics, there might even be a crash – it’s a much smaller and more fragile market and it’s done that before. Probably not, though. Probably just a decline, a re-setting of the baseline. Fingers crossed.

Podcasts, though. Their golden age has legs, I reckon. Obviously, I’m biased, being an addict, but think about it. They’re new, and their audience still has lots of room to grow. They’re the only one of these media that can be easily consumed while you’re doing something else. Digital audio players in cars are only just really becoming 100% standard. And they have one other huge advantage over most other media: they’re free. We have a winner!


Time to get back to the blogging business, I think. And here’s some trailers to grease the rusty wheels.

Hellblazer was one of the more important comics of the 1980s, for my money. It was one of the key foundation stones of DC’s Vertigo imprint, which punched way above its weight in terms of profile and significance in the industry as a whole. And it was a bit of a flagship for the transformative ‘British invasion’ of the US comics scene.

It had a damp squib of a Keanu Reeves film adaptation, under the title of its lead character Constantine, a while back (which I confess I always thought was sort of not totally terrible as a movie, just not very good as a Hellblazer movie). Now it’s coming to TV – again as Constantine. The first trailer, a few weeks back, didn’t really do much for me but now there’s trailer v2.0 and it’s looking better, if you ask me. I might actually be able to get on board with this …

And talking about things that were important in their time, they don’t come much more important for me personally than Mad Max. The first two films – let us not speak of the third, which was a sad misfire if you ask me – made a big impression on young me when I saw them, videotaped of course. A new outing for the franchise has been floating on the horizon for years, tantalisingly never quite coming to fruition. Well, now it’s actually going to happen, in the shape of Mad Max: Fury Road and here’s what it’s going to look like:

More promising than I feared, even if not quite everything I would have hoped. Looks to be plugging right into the vibe of Mad Max 2, and doing it with a certain style – the visuals and the music are on the moody money, I’d say. Plenty of tone and ‘voice’ in there. The actual action that dominates the trailer looks a bit less moody and a bit more in-your-face, though – I kind of hope the final movie isn’t just wall to wall chasing and driving and mayhem (fun, and indeed essential, as all that is), and retains something of the bleak tone hinted at in the trailer. But hey: it’s Mad Max, it’s Tom Hardy and it looks interesting. That’s enough to put a smile on my face.

Truly, and I mean this without a trace of irony or sarcasm or exaggeration, we live in an age of total, unremitting sf, fantasy and horror saturation. We – those of us who always liked this stuff – are not so much inheriting the media world as consuming it, monopolising it.

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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 …


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.

Three Quick Things

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.

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