Here’s the link to a galaxy far, far away…
New figures show that fewer UK writers earn enough to live on, as ACE blames falling sales of literary fiction on the recession and the rise of smartphones.
The image of the impoverished writer scratching out their masterwork in a freezing garret remains as true today as it was a century ago, according to a new report commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE), which revealed that collapsing sales, book prices and advances mean few can support themselves through writing alone.
The report found that print sales of literary fiction are significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties and that the price of the average literary fiction book has fallen in real terms in the last 15 years.
The growth in ebook sales in genres such as crime and romance has not made up for the shortfall in literary fiction, prompting ACE to outline ways it intends to support affected authors.
“It would have been obviously unnecessary in the early 90s for the Arts Council to consider making an intervention in the literary sector, but a lot has changed since then – the internet, Amazon, the demise of the net book agreement – ongoing changes which have had a massive effect,” said ACE’s literature director Sarah Crown. “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing – we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
Carried out by digital publisher Canelo, the report analysed sales data from Nielsen BookScan and found that between 2007 and 2011, hardback fiction sales slumped by £10m. Paperback fiction had a more extreme dip, seeing declines almost every year after 2008. In 2011, paperback fiction sales were £162.6m; by 2012, they were £119.8m.
When Luke says goodbye to Leia, it’s an absolute heartbreaker. Carrie has a decent role in the movie and almost seems to be performing a farewell for fans. So painful and prescient. But before she goes, we finally get to see her use the force – so we know her spirit lives on.
The Last Jedi is a movie about relationships, temptation and betrayal. The main relationship is between Rey and Kylo Ren, and it is surprisingly tender, both fascinating and fraught, and strangely believable. Indeed, it is the story of this relationship that pretty much carries the whole movie, particularly because the two leads have well developed characters. Oddly, Finn’s (John Boyega) relationship with Rose (a feisty Asian technician) is far less developed or relevant. Indeed, Finn’s entire storyline is weirdly redundant (completely wasting Benicio del Toro’s role), parallel and bolted on to the main story arc. Actually, most of the characters beyond the leads are two-dimensional, meaning we struggle to care about them or the hackneyed plot (a rerun of The Empire Strike Back, quite frankly). Finn’s story almost seems like a different movie, in fact – and the running time of 2hrs33mins makes it feel like we’re watching two movies’ worth as well!
So it’s not a perfect movie. Personally, I didn’t like all the under-cutting humour either. Although the audience I was with laughed delightedly, the movie just never seemed to take itself entirely seriously (so it never quite felt as momentous as the first trilogy). But clearly that’s just a matter of taste. Most will forgive its small failings because it does so much else well. The weird alien creatures are great (I love Porgs), Snoke is a convincing baddie (his CGI work is much better this time round) and Chewbacca has a role that involves more than chewing scenery. Oh, and Rey’s training on Luke’s island is decent old-school fare. So, all in all, I score it 7.5 out of 10.
So season two of The Grand Tour (Jeremy Clarkson’s Amazon ‘vehicle’ – see what I did there?) started yesterday. The Guardian reviewer characterised the whole thing as sexist, puerile schoolboy stuff. Well, it is… but only sort of. The show is of course tongue-in-cheek, rooted in self-aware caricature (since the witty, plain silly and hilarious squabbling our three friends indulge in is all overtly staged in skits like ‘Conversation Street’), so in many ways it subverts its own macho stereotypes. Indeed, the way that the ‘race’ in Switzerland is set up is extremely satirical and insightful – Jeremy represents the (the ghost of Xmas) ‘past’ by driving a gas-guzzling Lambo, James May represents (the ghost of Xmas) ‘present’ by driving a hybrid Honda sportscar and Richard Hammond represents (the ghost of Xmas) future by driving an all-electric Croatian supercar called the Rimac. Jeremy is presented as a dinosaur throughout, especially when Hammond books them into a wellness hotel, with a menu of lettuce leaves, a no alcohol policy and colonic treatments! Poor Jeremy simply cannot cope with clean modern living. His misery when eating the salad and being lectured by Hammond is priceless – I was fully expecting the joke about Jeremy having punched someone for not serving him a steak (but it was probably edited out by the lawyers). Naturally enough, Jeremy then fights back with his humour, referring to Hammond’s car as the lady-shaver to wind him up (you can’t get away from the fact that Rimac sounds like Immac), for example, but that’s all part of the dinosaur character.
Not a second of it is stupid stuff, then. It’s well-written, intelligently-put-together and superbly performed. And it offers something more. It’s all carried off with verve, an engaging energy (despite their claims that they’re three ageing rockers), panache and elan. It is entirely refreshing (especially when compared to the woefully dull and worthy Top Gear of BBC2). So if you wanna rev up your Fridays, give The Grand Tour a spin!
The TV series Mindhunter is set in 1970s America when FBI investigations into criminal psychology are really first startin, when serial killers (including the Son of Sam) are first being identified as a ‘type’. We follow the character of Holden Ford (played superbly by Jonathan Groff) as he helps set up the FBI’s first Criminal Behaviour Unit and starts interviewing serial killers in prisons in order to identify, anticipate and track others that may be at large among the general population. Others in the Unit include the sceptical, grumpy and frankly hilarious Bill (Holt McCallany) and Wendy (Anna Torv, who also starred in Fringe). They are a great team, and all sorts of sparks fly.
What sets Mindhunter apart from regular crime series is that it refuses to end each episode with the satisfying capture of a killer or the solution to how and why a crime was committed. Instead, some cases are left unsolved (when the viewer can see how the FBI understanding still hasn’t developed enough) and some are revealed to be false starts (because the new ‘methodology’ incorrectly predicted or identified a pattern that was really just coincidence or entirely innocent). Yes, it is a frustrating watch at times, but at the same time it feels very ‘authentic’ because that’s probably how things actually were. The sense of realism is only increased by a faithful depiction of the 70s (fashion, music, drugs, prudery, sexual liberation, and so on) and by the use of real news footage from the time.
What we get, then, is a series that is properly character-driven rather than plot-driven. It’s a refreshing change. The watching experience is rich, constantly surprising, fascinating, disturbing and utterly compelling. Give it a chance. It scores 9 out of 10 from me. [Available on Netflix]
We are presented with the young Pablo Escobar. He’s from a poor family and growing up in the corrupt Colombia of the 1980s, a country with precious few opportunities for the likes of him… unless he is prepared to turn to crime. Our young entrepreneur spots the potential of the emerging cocaine industry and quickly starts smuggling massive quantites into the US, long before the US government is aware that there’s any sort of threat. These are exciting frontier days, and we find ourselves rooting for the earthy, no-nonsense Pablo.
This Narcos TV series has tempo too. The first few episodes are a great ride. Nor are they gratuitous – as the drama is interspliced with news footage from the time – so there’s an authentic frisson to proceedings. A gungho DEA flies out of America down to Colombia to try and sort out the ‘problem’ and, although he’s a moral and blond-haired sort, he’s offensive in his cultural ignorance and imperialist condescension. We are still completely on Pablo’s side. Come on, Pablo!
Pablo has political ambitions, sadly. He wants to help the poor of all things! He runs for election – well, he buys an election. But the establishment won’t let this lowborn ruffian join their ranks. They try to incarcerate him (even though he’s no more dishonest than any of them really). Then they set the police/army and Americans on him… and all hell breaks loose as he fights fire with (very substantial) fire.
Except things go too far. Pablo gives up on the positive social change to which he’d once aspired (figuring it can’t be achieved) and sets out to revenge himself on everyone and everything. He becomes a brutal killer. A mass murderer, in fact.
We still root for him… in a tragic and fatalistic way. In large part, he is a product of his society. Can we blame him for what he has become? Has the West helped make Colombia the way it is? Is it the Western viewer coming face to face with their own careless guilt?
There are big themes to this series, but they are never over-indulged. There are no real attempts to ‘excuse’ Pablo. We are as revolted by him as we are fascinated. It’s all very well judged… and goes to certain lengths not to compromise history too much.
Series 1 of this Netflix series is top-notch fare and leaves you hungry for series 2 (already available). It’s a no-holds-barred 9 out of 10 from this gringo!
So the new Star Trek series has arrived on Netflix, with high-budget visuals, big-name cinema actors and a properly gothic and scary version of the Klingon empire. What’s not to like? Well, there’s a certain bleakness to proceedings that, while in tune with current global politics, betrays the optimism of the other series and surely the very spirit which saw humankind voyage to the stars in the first place. The refrain ‘We come in peace’ is not only mocked by the remorseless Klingons but also revealed by the plot of the first two episodes as being as childish as it is foolish.
[Vague spoilers] The main ‘dilemma’ of the opening two episodes is whether the Federation captain (ably played by Michelle Yeoh) should open fire first on the extremely menacing Klingons. Her commander (also well played by Sonequa Martin) – advised by her Vulcan mentor Sarek – insists that shooting first is the only language that Klingons understand. Sounds intriguing? It isn’t. There isn’t really a dilemma at all, you see. The captain is in no doubt that initiating the violence is simply ‘not what the Federation does’. The commander promptly attempts a mutiny, so adamant is she that the Vulcans are right. Hmm. No one actually wrestles with their conscience.
Throughout, then, the main (human) characters of the piece do not feel fully rounded. That means we also struggle to identify with or care about them. It’s all a bit meaningless and pointless, a feeling that is only increased when it turns out it doesn’t really matter what decision is ultimately made in an attempt to save the day, because it all goes belly-up anyway. It’s a very pessimistic view of things. An individual cannot make a difference in such circumstances, apparently. There are no heroes.
When individuals and moral integrity mean so little, what’s left? Only failure, desperation and suffering. It’s grimdark sci-fi basically. There are attempts at humour and banter to lighten matters, but when the characters are simply victims of their circumstances, such humour is only peevish, pathetic and ultimately empty.
Don’t get me wrong. The new series has important and relevant messages for the viewer. It could never be accused of being anachronistic. However, certain audiences may well feel that something valuable has been missed or lost. It’s definitely going to divide audiences, I think, much like Marmite. A matter of taste, then. Take a look and see what you think. For me, it’s an 8 out of 10 (jury still slightly out).