Finally got a date for the PhD viva (only seven months after I submitted it). Soon, I will be a doctor of dragons and fairies!
So the follow up to The Book of Orm and The Book of Angels (what do you mean you haven’t read them yet, you fool?) is The Book of Dragons! It’ll contain much belching flame, fang and claw, not to mention magical realism, urban fantasy, epic fantasy and ye olde metaphysical fantasy. Tales from myself and other leading dragon authors like Joanne Hall, C. N. Lesley, Michael Bowman and more.
And here’s the gorgeous cover done by Charlotte Pang:
Episode 1 got 4.6m UK viewers, episode 2 got 4.2m and episode 3 got a dismal 3.8m. If the trend continues, series 10 will be the least ever watched Doctor Who. What’s going on? Yes, it’s Peter Capaldi’s last series, but the ‘end’ of a Doctor often increases the interest in a series. Should we conclude then that there is something lacking in the quality of the episodes? With such a fall-off in viewers, quite possibly. Should we celebrate that it’s Steven Moffat’s last year in charge of the story-lines? Definitely, if you want my twopenneth’s worth (although the licence fee is a fair bit more than that these days).
So what’s wrong with the current writing/story-lines? Well, episode 1 (The Pilot) introduced a sassy new assistant and a monster that ‘couldn’t let go’ of a failed relationship (just about a metaphor about the Doctor needing to let go of all that he’s lost). It was far from a brilliant episode: some highly offensive fat jokes and misogyny, lacking in larger themes and with no evidence of a larger story arc. However, it was coherent, sweet and pleasingly resolved. I was happy to tune into episode 2 (Smile) – which was a hard scifi episode. Again, it was coherent and well resolved. BUT it really didn’t have any sort of ‘message’, which is a particular problem if you’re writing hard scifi. Why? Well, hard scifi is just silly and pointless if there isn’t something with a larger implication going on. Episode 2, therefore was either written by someone who just doesn’t understand hard scifi or by someone who’s just lazy (perhaps both)…
Bringing us to episode 3 (entitled Thin Ice!). Yes, this episode really was on thin ice. It’s about a monster chained up in the Thames during the Victorian era. The Doctor freed the monster. The end. Hmm. What was the point? Well, in the process, he saved a bunch of orphans (Asian kids and black kids straight out of RADA) who were being exploited by the evil white upper classes. Apparently, England was always far more multi-cultural than we like to think (yes, the term ‘whitewashed’ was used) – and the British Empire was only so successful/strong because of its ethnic diversity. Anyway, the Doctor makes sure the orphans grow up to inherit the house and wealth of the corrupt noble. The whole thing was a tad bizarre. Moffat seemed to be expressing anti-Brexit sentiment through the plot/Doctor. Sadly, the whole piece lacked a certain coherence and was a confused departure from reality really (the reality of the Victorian era).
So, series 10 leaves me (and a good number of other viewers) thinking ‘What the?’ There’s a serious lack of a series arc to hold the episodes together. (There’s a door that someone knocks but Matt Lucas refuses to open it: that does NOT constitute a series arc, however.) Time for Mr Moffat to move on, methinks. Time for someone with a fresh and grander vision to have a go. Time to bring back the Timelords.
‘I Origins’ is about a scientist who manages to genetically describe and map all the evolutionary stages of the eye, beginning with life-forms that have no eyes and going all the way through to life-forms with complex eyes. He manages to create vision for worms that never had vision before! He thinks that he has proven the theory of evolution… and in so doing disproven the existence of God!
When his new child is registered at the local hospital, it seems that the child’s unique eye-scan matches that of a man who died on the very day the child was conceived. The database of eye-scans then shows that his dead wife’s eye-scan is a match for a child in India! The implication is that previous lives, rebirth and reincarnation are real.
The two plots (the one scientifc and the other spiritual) cleverly weave in and out throughout the film. They are delicately balanced and wonderfully juxtaposed to create ripples and echoes of larger meaning. The themes of this understated and evocative movie are humbling, tantalising, poignant, strangely romantic and uplifting. The acting is spot on, with a few youthful Hollywood stars (Michael Pitt from Boardwalk Empire, Brit Marling from The OA, Archie Panjabi from The Good Wife, Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, to name but a few) and then some fresh overseas talent. The direction has the lightest of touches and the music is brilliantly ambient.
In summary. Watch it. You won’t regret it. It scores an 8.5 out of 10 from me. Amen.
There’s been a furore about the issue of Scarlett Johansson playing the lead in the movie version of the classic Japanese anime story Ghost in the Shell. Some critics say that casting a white Hollywood star in the role (just as Matt Damon was the lead in The Great Wall and Tilda Swinton was the sensei in Doctor Strange) is cultural appropriation, or ‘whitewashing’. But it’s not actually that simple, because Scarlett plays a human brain in a synthetic body (a body that is non-racially specific and unrealistically augmented) in a racially mixed future society. One of the key messages of the film is that under the skin we’re all human. It’s an essentialist message. Added to that, there’s a similar intertextual message if you look at other recent Scarlett Johansson films e.g. Under the Skin, Lucy, etc. At the end of the day, I’m not entirely sure which side of the argument I come down on, but it’s perhaps a shame the ‘issue’ is putting people off going to see the film at all, since there is no doubt this is a thought-provoking film.
So what’s this high-concept scifi movie actually about? Well, Scarlett wakes up and finds that scientists have saved her from death by transplanting her brain from her dying body into a synthetic body. She is now expected to work for the government (as secret service) since they kind of own her. Turns out, of course, that she’s being used by unprincipled parties. Ultimately, she has to break free of their control, which sees her branded as a dangerous terrorist. All hell then breaks loose.
The special FX are stunning. There are some lovely scifi ideas, many of them incidental. The world is intricately imagined and delicately described. And we do care about the characters.
There are other themes I could explore (feminist, child-soldier, alienation, etc), but it’s probably best to leave these for you to discover for yourself. So, Ghost in a Shell scores a respectable 8 out of 10 from me.
The short answer is ‘sort of’. Because SFF is genre fiction, it inherits and works through tropes and motifs from past works and sub-genres (many of which were implicitly partriarchal, heteronormative and based on the values of ‘white’ societies). In order to represent alternative viewpoints, therefore, modern SFF has to work very hard to subvert those past norms. Sometimes the subversion is successful but, often, the subversion goes unnoticed by the reader and the reader considers the book poorly written or unintentionally cliched. Tricky. Want to read about the subject in more depth? Then have a look at the new Luna Press collection of essays on the topic. I’ve got an essay in there (based on my PhD), and so have the likes of Juliet McKenna, Kim Laikin-Smith, and many more: https://www.lunapresspublishing.com/single-post/2017/04/01/Ten-Strong-Voices-Join-The-Luna-Family
One of Wolverine’s claws no longer fully extends. He’s short-sighted. He has a gammy leg. His body is slowly being poisoned by the adamantium in his skeleton. He’s getting old. Professor X (Charles Xavier) has dementia and can’t control his mental powers, so has to be sedated the whole time. Wolverine is working as a driver in order to buy black market drugs to keep Charles comatose. They’re waiting to die and these once proud men are now pathetic.
It’s a terrible thing to see your heroes brought so low. They have a dream of buying a yacht called ‘The Sunseeker’, but we doubt they’ll ever have enough money for it. Then a woman and child on the run come to them and beg for help, offering them money. The child is one of the first new mutants to be born in generations. The corporations are after her, but a comic book that she has promises there is sanctuary in the north for her kind. Wolverine tells them it’s all a made-up fantasy and that dreams never come true, but they’re all too desperate not to try it. One last adventure.
This is a dark film, a melancholy film. A winding down. It’s sad, but there is hope. The torch is handed over to a new generation. Fear not, then, for it’s not the end of the franchise! It scores 8.5 out of 10 from me – good though the film is, it still suffers from repetitive and unnecessary fight scenes, and Logan passes out like a dozen times in a handful of minutes (poor editing and plotting really). Yet it’s the best X-Men movie in a good number of years.