What I Did In February 2013

The first thing I did in February 2013? Draft this post so I don’t spend three hours at the end of the month building the thing. Usual rules apply, names and titles are usually clickable and the magic word ‘here’ will transport you to my wordspace. Or something. Anyway, first off, this happened!

So, a couple of weeks ago, Damien Walter put this piece up about Artisan authors, and how it’s a much more attractive, freeing way to get published than going through normal publishing houses. This pissed me off. Quite a lot at the time because I was having a lousy weekend. Instead of letting it fester, I got in touch with The Guardian, explained the problems I had with the piece and the stuff I felt Damien had missed and they, to my rank, slack jawed amazement, gave me a slot on the blog. It was huge fun and Damien, who remains a controversial figure in a lot of authorial circles was incredibly classy about me showing up on his patch and telling people, in a roundabout way, he was wrong. Or rather that there was a third way aside from the two he’d discussed…Regardless, it’s a piece I’m really proud of and it’s here.

 

-Controversy tango once again! Despite the press’ best efforts to convince the world that Judge Dredd would be tripping through the field singing tiptoe through the tulips whilst wearing a pink tutu and kissing boys, ‘Closet’ turns out to be a fantastically smart, very sweet story that reminded me, yet again, that I enjoy Judge Dredd far more when it’s about people rather than ‘LOOK! IT’S A THINLY VEILED POP CULTURE SATIRE! WE JUST KILLED!’ like it was for the ENTIRE 1990s. I review prog 1817 in its entirety here and my colleague Mr Steven Ellis has interesting points to make about the way the story was reported here.

-I love science, but I fear math(s), and as a result I tend to go a bit Gir when science goes past a certain ceiling of complexity for me. I was therefore utterly delighted when Ben Tippett, who is an actual real genius Doctor and everything, asked me to be a guest on the Titanium Physicists podcast. Every episode, the show has a guest on, who asks questions and a rotating cast of scientists answer these questions. In a way which frequently involves alcohol, often involves dirty jokes and in my case involved Arnold Schwarzenegger hurling Danny DeVito into a black hole to demonstrate time dilation. It was massive fun, Ben and his team do great work and I was delighted to blog about them here.

-Mitch Benn is one of my comedy heroes. One of the best musical comedians working today, he’s an essential part of The Now Show, a massive Doctor Who fan and is working on producing an entire album, from a standing start, in 24 hours, for Red Nose Day. I blogged about his plans here.

-In December, Merlin was wound up after a five year run. Two weeks ago as I write this, Being Human followed suit. The manner of both announcements was odd, and their close proximity triggered alarm bells, or seemed like it should..I blogged about pareidolia, the human tendency to see patterns where there aren’t any, and what it might mean for Doctor Who‘s oddly small scale 50th Anniversary year, here.

-Fearless Defenders, the latest new title in Marvel’s Marvel Now! relaunch was released early in the month. It’s huge fun, teaming street level detective and martial artist Misty Knight with Valkyrie, the last Shield Maiden of Asgard and Doctor Riggs, a really enthusiastic archaeologist. A full on action movie of a book (The first issue features Viking Zombies. VIKING. ZOMBIES.) I reviewed it here.

-I also talked to Fearless Defenders writer Cullen Bunn about the book, his acclaimed supernatural western Sixth Gun and it’s upcoming TV pilot. You can find that interview here.

-Aaron Murphy is one of the best, most talented indie comic creators working today. I took a look at Aaron’s work and the life of the indie creator, here.

-Zero Hour involves the Rosicrucians frantically hiding a huge object beneath a European cathedral as they race to complete 12 clocks that will be handed to the 12 new disciples who will save the world from Hitler, only to be brutally murdered just as the object beneath the cathedral is moved. Then it’s the present day, in New York, and a conspiracy journalist and his wife find one of the clocks.

Then the opening credits hit.

Zero Hour is not remotely calm, and is already getting savaged critically because, frankly, most of my contemporaries are idiots who have two modes ‘Heartbreaking genius/Sucks’ and wouldn’t know the middle ground if it walked up to them, shook their hand and said ‘Hello, I’m the middle ground.’ I, however, am very familiar with the middle ground and really rather liked Zero Hour. My review of the first episode is here.

-Lightfields is the follow up to last year’s surprisingly excellent Marchlands, a done in one season ghost story on ITV. Set in 1944, 1975 and 2012 at the same building, it follows a death, the consequences leading up to it and the terrified ghost it leaves behind. It’s great and my review of the first episode is here.

-Meanwhile, immensely talented writer and artist team Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton have decided that the best way to bring back the old 1960s adventure newspaper strips is to write and publish a new one and pretend it’s an old one. It’s a very clever idea, complete with Avengers-style kink and fashion and an entire back story for the poor doomed creators. I interviewed them about the project, Goldtiger, which is on KickStarter right now, here.

-Achtung!Cthulhu is a fantastic looking new Lovecraftian RPG set during World War II. Speaking as a postmodern nerd, the concept of being able to marry HP Lovecraft’s work with Hellboy‘s past, Indiana Jones, The Mummy franchise and Charles Stross’ The Laundry series has me positively giddy and that’s even before we get to the game itself. The KickStarter is active now, and I talked to Chris Birch, head of publisher Mophidius Games about it and the upcoming Mutant Chronicles relaunch, here.

-JR Blackwell is one of my idols, an amazingly talented photographer, writer and game designer amongst many other things. She’s also the Creative Director of Galileo Games, who, with games like Bulldogs!, Kingdom of Nothing and Shelter in Place are pioneering the idea of games with a social conscience which manage to talk about issues without being preachy. I spoke to her about the IndieGoGo campaign for The Lost, the fiction anthology that ties into Kingdom of Nothing, as well as Galileo’s overall plans, here.

-We Are Monsters is a fascinating, and deeply nasty looking, horror movie currently being funded on KickStarter. I interviewed John Shackleton, the writer and director, here.

 

Monkeybrain Comics continue to be one of the smartest, and most diverse digital comics companies out there. I reviewed the first issue of their latest title, High Crimes, a crime comic set on Everest, here.

I have a thing for really good police procedural drama, stemming from an early exposure to the wonderful Homicide: Life on the Street. As a result, I grabbed the chance to review Red Team issue 1, written by Garth Ennis and with art by Greg Cermak, with both hands. The story of a detective unit who decide to kill a suspect and find they’re both good at it, and have a taste for it, it’s the best thing Ennis has done in some time. The review is here.

-Amelia Cole and the Unknown World is one of the best titles Monkeybrain Comics put out. It’s smart, fun take on urban fantasy is like Harry Potter if Hermione was the main character crossed with Supernatural and a wicked sense of humor. I talked to writers Adam P Knave and DJ Kirkbride about the end of volume 1 and the plans for volume 2 here.

-Hellblazer is dead, long live Hellblazer. Vertigo’s iconic, 300 issue British horror title finished this week and, after talking to fellow Bleeding Cool staffer Adi Tantimedh, I put together a piece about something which may ease the post Hellblazer blues. Pilgrim is a series of radio plays following a man who has lived 800 years, knows every secret the UK holds and wants one thing; to die. It’s a stunning series of plays that’s just started it’s fourth run on Radio 4 as I write this and I walk you through what it is and where to find it here.

 

Some time ago I jokingly mentioned that Sue Perkins, one half of one of my all time favorite comedy duos (Seriously, Morecambe and Wise, Garrus and Wrex, Mel and Sue, in that order), would make a particularly excellent female 10th Doctor. This was partially because I was watching Great British Bake Off and partially because, being a contrary bastard, the ‘EEEEEEEEEEEWWWWW! GIRLS!’ response that the real ale section of Who fandom had when the idea of a female Doctor was floated really irritated me.  And when the idea was mentioned again on Twitter a few nights ago, I got thinking. And that means stuff tends to happen. So, I wrote an alternate history of the show, as if the Doctor had always been a woman. So, if you want to read about Joyce Grenfell’s turn as the 1st Doctor, how the 4th Doctor and The Good Life are connected and who is currently playing the 11th Doctor, go here.

Oh and this story went CRAZY. The NME picked it up, as did the Sun‘s website, the Mirror‘s website, Digital Spy, io9 and Ghana Nation. I’m still getting it retweeted into my twitter feed from people who I don’t even follow. Which is BRILLIANT. And yes I’m working on a follow up.

-On a more sedate note I prove, using science, and by science I mean words, that Die Hard 5 is actually Mission:Impossible 4.5. See the truth here.

 

Don’t call it a comeback, as Lionel Lionel Cool J once sung, but I’m back at travellingman.com!

-Achtung!Cthulhu is a splendidly adaptable new RPG combining the mythos with the Second World War. I talk about their KickStarter here.

-Goldtiger, by the mighty duo of Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton, is the greatest 1960s newspaper adventure strip that never was. OR IS IT? I talk about this complex, smart, fun project’s KickStarter here.

-Whilst my issues with how DC have been comporting themselves with their creative staff, and several of the choices made, continue to grow, they’re also continuing to put out interesting work. My review of the first issue of Justice League of America is here.

-I was also pointed at a very interesting looking KickStarter campaign for Sorako. Written and drawn by Fujimura Takiyuki, it’s a subtle, slice of life series that’s very comparable to the work of creators like Eddie Campbell and Marc Ellerby. My piece about the campaign is here.

-Speaking, as we were up page, about Hellblazer, my review of that final issue is here.

-Whilst my review of the very excellent first issue of the Nova relaunch is here. I loved this, very much The Last Starfighter, crossed with the horror of being trapped in a small town back Glee had in its early, best years, and superheroic punching.

-Kill Shakespeare is a fascinating book exploring what happens when Shakespeare’s characters are all real, all worship him and go to war…The third volume, Tide of Blood, has just started and my review of the first issue is here.

 

 

 

-They Go Bump by David Barr Kirtley is a very clever, subtle, hideous story about invisibility. Actually it’s about three different levels of invisibility; the invisibility of individual identity in the military, the invisibility of the lower ranks to the upper as anything other than a deployable asset and the invisibility offered by an experimental piece of technology. It’s a nasty, fun piece of work and I narrate it here.

-Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Tamarisk Hunter is a story I’ve actually seen the genesis of first hand. I’ve seen Tamarisks in Texas, know what they do to the soil, and having spent four months in California know how delicately balanced it’s ecosystem is. The story’s a fascinating, bleak piece of near future environmental SF and I introduce it here.

-Michael Swanwick’s The Very Pulse Of The Machine is either tragic, hopeful, or a little of both. It’s a hard SF disaster story with a head dose of neo spiritualism and optimism to it and it’s one of my favorite stories of his. I introduce it here.

 

-Marc Laidlaw wrote the Half Life games, all of them and I’m delighted to see that he’s clearly used the hundreds of hours of my life I willingly paid that experience to create some fantastic short fiction too. Episode 319-Cell Call, is one of my favorite episodes of all time, a wonderfully constructed, utterly chilling look at what happens when you pass through the looking glass and don’t even know.

-Matt Wall provided the second story for February, with episode 320-The Man With The Broken Soul. A considered, measured, terrifying look at the consequences of splintering a human soul, and the immortality that comes with it, it was read with typical authority by Elie Hirschman.

-Episode 321-I Am The Box, The Box Is Me by Kyle S. Johnson is a slow burn stream of consciousness piece that speaks to both the stains left by trauma and a particularly horrible version of the afterlife. It’s a difficult piece but stick with it, it’s more than worth it.

-Episode 322-Cry Room by Ted Kosmatka is one of my favorite stories. Ever. Ted draws a subtle knife of implication and horror across social expectation and the daily grind of looking after a family to create a story which, like the Cry Room itself, is exactly what you bring to it. It’s hopeful, horrific and utterly brilliant.

 

So that was February, where I lost a couple of days to illness and grind. It’s okay, I’ll make the time, and words, back up and there are a few holdovers that should land in March, with luck:

-Various SFX blog pieces

-Several roleplaying projects

-Two more introductions to books.

-A short story. I got commissioned for. Seriously.

 

Oh and I mentioned the book, right?

 

The Pseudopod Tapes Volume 1 is a collection of all the writing I did for Pseudopod in 2012, revised and expanded. You won’t hear me ask for donations, won’t her me use the words Creativecommonsattributionnoncommercialnoderivativeslicence which I’ve now said so often they just become one. No, none of that. Instead you’ll get;

-A discussion of the cross medium fictional geography of Gotham City

-Pieces of history, personal and global.

-Why climbing is a bit like meditation.

-Discussions on horror, personal and fictional.

-A single piece of flash fiction.

-The 2012 Halloween Parade

-Answers to the 2012 Halloween Parade

 

And loads of other stuff. I’m really proud of this book and I’ve been deeply honored by how well it’s been received. So if you fancy it it’s available in print or ebook form. Adele and the crew at Fox Spirit along with superlative cover artist SL Johnson did amazing work, as did the nice people that put it on cake for the launch party. See? The cake was NEVER a lie.

 

See you…actually in about a week. These articles are INSANE, even collating them as I go, so I’m going to try weekly roundups instead. So, check back in seven days for Chapter 1 of All The Words I Wrote In March! Shorter! Faster! More explosions! Probably not actually but definitely the first two!

Want to talk to me about the article? Got something you need written?  Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.

 

What I Did In December 2012

Okay there was clearly sleeping and eating and Christmas, and visiting my parents (Which was lovely) and having a cold (Which was less lovely) but NONE.THE.LESS. this is what I did in December and the people I did it for.

 

-Blogbusters  only made one appearance this month, but it was a doozy, looking at the Naughty and Nice lists for genre fiction for 2012.

-I reviewed the wonderful Behind the Sofa, a collection of short essays by celebrities about their favorite Doctor Who memories. It’s a fantastic book, with proceeds going to Alzheimer’s Research and the review is one of the pieces I’m proudest of this year.

-My old friend Scott Harrison has a very well deserved and rapidly burgeoning career as a short fiction editor and an audio drama writer. He’s written the second of Big Finish’s excellent Confessions of Dorian Gray (Starring Alexander Vlahos, fans of Merlin!) series and I reviewed it here. It’s not, despite the frantic points-scoring in the comments, an unnecessary sequel (Although I would watch the SHIT out of The Mayor Of Casterbridge 2: The Final Battle), but rather the second in a series of short audio plays about Dorian Gray making his way through his endless centuries of decadent, beautiful, empty life. Scott nailed this, and it was a pleasure to review. I’ll be looking at Resurrection Engines, the steampunk take on classic literature anthology he edited, in the new year.

-The last year has been marked by a sudden and very welcome upswing in paranormal police fiction, with Ben Aaronovitch’s excellent Rivers of London series, Paul Cornell’s highly acclaimed London Falling (I’m sure it’s great I’ve just not had time to read it yet) and the graphic novel release of Gordon Rennie and Tiernen Trevellion‘s excellent Absalom. An aging, charmingly decrepit copper who worked with the best including Charlie Barlow and Jack Regan (The first not the second, at least so far…), Absalom runs a team which helps keep the uneasy peace between London and Hell. Steeped in the history of the city, crammed full of great dialogue and ideas and cheerfully horrible, I loved this. Now if we can just get the rest of Caballistics Inc collected…

-Professor Elemental is a steampunk British rapper. Oh and he has a comic. And it’s as brilliant as he is, which is to say rather a lot. Here’s my review of it.

-Whilst IDW continue to do great work with the Doctor Who comics, the UK-based Doctor Who Magazine have been doing them for a lot longer.Wider in scope, far more prepared to mess with the status quo as a result and frequently brilliant (The Iron Legion is still the stuff of my favorite nightmares) they’re one of the very few gems of Who fiction that remain largely hidden. I reviewed The Child of Time, a collection of the first few 11th Doctor strips and Jonathan Morris‘ first work on the character here, and it’s fantastic.

-Ecko Rising, Danie Ware‘s debut novel, does the near-impossible; making heroic fantasy interesting and grounded at the same time as avoiding sliding into the muddy booted slog that a lot of pseudo-Game of Thrones books become. It’s a stunning book, made all the more so by the fact it’s a debut, and I interviewed Danie here.

-Juliet E.Mckenna has been doing the near-impossible for a while now, with her Einarinn series of linked series mapping a fascinating, politically driven fantasy world into existence. They’re a stunning ongoing achievement and I interviewed Julie about them here.

-When I was about 15, the first Batman/Judge Dredd crossover came out and it was the single most muscular, flexed, teeth-bared comic I’d ever read. It still is, and I was delighted to see it and the three sequels collected in a nice hardback edition. I reviewed it here. I didn’t flex throughout writing the review. But I was tempted.

-I also contributed to the 25 Movies of the Year piece, getting to show some love for Sinister and Hotel Transylvania.

There’s some other stuff pending for SFX, including a couple of reviews and a look at some great small press work but this is what’s up right now.

 

-I didn’t so much consult on this excellent piece Brendon put together about the Star Trek Into Darkness teaser as endless watch the thing over a period of a couple of days and then provide a tiny insight into one thing. By the way, Brendon’s trailer breakdowns are extraordinary, go read this one, on Oblivion. You’ll learn stuff. Good stuff. I did.

-Thanks to him, I also got to do a little pictorial archaeology, when a series of Kevin Eastman sketches for an abandoned fourth live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie surfaced. They’re…let’s say muscular, but I had a lot of fun speculating as to what the plot of the movie would have been. Someone in the comments suggested it was going to be based on the After the Bomb RPG background and I can certainly see that.

-I also interviewed the heroic creative team on Amelia Cole and the Unknown World. I love Monkeybrain Comics‘ entire line but Amelia Cole is the standout for me and it was a pleasure to talk to the entire team, at length, about their experience on volume 1 of the book and what’s in it’s future.

 

 

It’s all go in Escape Artists Towers this month, and I’ll talk about why in…(checks watch)…about a week. In the meantime, our stories for December were fantastic, with the month kicing off with Episode 311: Flashes on the Borderlands XIV: Resistance! Flashes is our regular collection of flash stories and this was a corker, with Matthew Acheson‘s No Further (Read by my dad no less! Hello father!) followed by Jayne Chant’s The Conchie and Henry Lu’s Bitter Tea & Braided Hair. I’m very fond of Flashes, and it’s often one of our strongest features but this one is something special.

Hunter James Martin‘s chilling Feeding the Machine was episode 312, a story about work, drudgery, slavery and freedom and the point where all four meet. This is one of my favorites of the year and it’s the sort of story horror is uniquely equipped to provide, combining something relatively mundane with the fantastic to chilling effect.

Episode 313:The Dead Sexton is a J.Sheridan Le Fanu story, which, as some of you have probably already worked out, means getting hold of the author’s PayPal details proved a little…tricky. It’s an excellent piece, published in 1871 and steeped in regional dialect, set in the Lake District town Le Fanu invented of Golden Friars. It’s also an absolute beast to read so Shawn very sensibly approached my Dad again. My grandfather was from the region, so my Dad knew enough of the dialect to get by but it was still a hell of a challenge and he did fantastically well. Go have a listen, it’s a very different piece to what we normally run and a fascinating example of how horror has changed over the last century.

Episode 314 hasn’t been released just yet but you can read the outro for it early in the BOOK I HAD PUBLISHED THIS MONTH! YAAAAAY! (KERMIT ARMS)

 

The Pseudopod Tapes Volume 1 is a collection of all the writing I did for Pseudopod this year. Every outro I did is in there, revised and expanded so you don’t need to have just read or listened to the story to get them, and there’s also a collection of all the closing quotes and the answers to this year’s Halloween Parade. It’s available in print or ebook form and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of. One of the things I’ve always felt is a problem with my work is I never actually bloody finish it and this is a real thing, torn from my head and dragged into print by the fine people of Fox Spirit and my own hand. I love it to tiny pieces. And isn’t the cover by SL Johnson lovely? Delicious on cake too…

 

So if saying if you have left over vouchers from Amazon or you’re a fan? Give it a try.

 

That was (most of) December. Next up? Next year…

 

 

Want to talk to me about the article? Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.


NanoJourno Update: Day 23

 

Today was going to be catching Here Comes The Boom and End of Watch as a warm up to going back to the movie essays, as well as prepping the Titanium Rain piece for launch and digging into both The Child of Time, the first collection of the 11th Doctor comic stories from Doctor Who magazine and the Judge Dredd/Batman collection, both of which are on deck for reviews later in the week.

Almost all of that happened. Hilarious wacky temporal hijinks (Oh it’s 11PM? OH RIGHT…) sort of hobbled me a wee bit in the middle of the day but I did take a couple of lovely pictures. Caught End of Watch, picked up what might be a short story opportunity (Clearly I have to give up fiction writing more often), and then had this week’s reward dinner at Tropeiro, the Brazilian place in town. Brazilian buffets are great because they basically try to kill you with meat and hospitality, the waiters on a never ending circuit with skewers of chicken, bacon, chicken hearts, Gammon, lamb, beef, chicken sausage and once, hilariously, garlic bread. You add whatever sides you want so after a hearty solid and three (maybe four) types of delicious animal protein we headed home, where I watched and filed the review for the second episode of The Secret of Crickley Hall. Tomorrow, the next batch of Travelling Man reviews may well get here, and I should hopefully be able to close out the two graphic novel reviews already on deck and get some short fiction revision done as well as follow up on emails and write a film essay.

 

So it’s keeping me busy, which I like:)

NanoJourno Update: Day 22

 

So today I didn’t go to the movies. Here are the reasons why:

 

-One book review written

-Two interviews moved further along

-One Blogbusters piece compiled and filed.

-Ten miniature spaceship write ups completed

 

It was a full day, and I was really pleased that I was able to get some stuff processed and out basically as soon as it came in. I still have the following in play:

-Fish + Chocolate review (Graphic novel)

-Judge Dredd/Batman Collection review (Graphic novel)-Came in today

-Doctor Who: The Child of Time review (Graphic novel)-Also came in today

-Episodes 2 and 3 of The Secret of Crickley Hall to review

-The Titanium Rain blog post to edit.

-Being interviewed! The lovely Mr Pablo Cheesecake aka Paul Holmes, is interviewing me for his splendid blog The Eloquent Page. Do go say hi, Pablo’s phenomenally great.

 

And tomorrow I may be getting a chunk more stuff so I’m splitting the difference. I’ll work from home in the morning to clear my decks some more and tomorrow afternoon, I’m off to the movies, for real this time. Over a week left in the month and I can do a lot with a week.

GenCon: Go Team Morlock!

It’s entirely possible to spend four days here and not step outside. Not because you’re busy gaming, although God knows enough people are, but because Indianapolis is a town that’s looking to the stars. Or at least, to the second storey. The Convention Center, itself basically the size of every town I grew up in is in turn connected to ever primary hotel nearby. You can leave your room, take an elevator down to the parking garage, take another elevator up to another hotel, walk across a skywalk and end up in the convention center or the mall three blocks down, or in another hotel, or across from a Cathedral or, maybe, in the middle of a group of screaming Morlocks as the Time Traveller frantically tries to explain this is all a mistake and a man with a blue phonebox and a bowtie points and laughs and yells ‘FIRST DOESN’T MEAN LUCKY, NOW DOES IT MATEY BOY?!’

Or that might just be me.

I’ve spent a lot of time off the ground today, making my way between panels, making lunch runs and heading out along the skywalks to dinner at Steak and Shake which serves food as delicious as it does obvious.  The whole time I’ve been off the ground, a corpuscle in the geek circulatory system, making my way around the vast organism that is GenCon. I’ve been to conventions before but never one this large and it’s taken me a day or so to work out how best to move around it. The skywalks are it, meaning you’re off the vast central corridor and it’s constant traffic and giving me the one thing I desperately need when surrounded by people in this volume; perspective. Without it, you’re constantly pushed and pulled from place to place here, your attention being dragged from steampunk belly dancers, to demo games, to retail stalls, to the fact that Wil Wheaton has heroically signed things for loyal fans for what seems like days now. You get entranced, you get caught up, you lose perspective.

It makes me uncomfortable.

I’ve worked in geek culture on various levels since I was 18. I’ve run a comic and games store, I’ve podcast, I’ve written roleplaying games, comics and stories, edited a magazine, reviewed everything I could get my hands on and more. If you cut me, I bleed Doctor Who references. If you give me two entirely disparate stories, regardless of medium, I can probably connect them. If you want, I will prove to you that the Fast and the Furious movies are in fact the greatest unrecognised Cyberpunk movie  franchise of our time. Don’t think I won’t.

But geek culture, geek communities, make me uncomfortable. I know why too.  I grew up on the Isle of Man and one of my most vivid memories of that time was hearing four friends of mine discuss how they were going to get on a ferry, then a train, then stay in a hotel to go see a concert and come straight back home.

Culture, or pop culture, on the Isle of Man, was something you literally needed to find the harbour or the airport to get to. Now think about what it took to get your hands on counter culture; mail order. In a period where the web was exciting and new and didn’t quite work right. Oh and I don’t drink.

What’s that?

Want to stay up all night play roleplaying games and drink? Thanks but no, I’ll be the guy on the dock waving at you as you sail away and whittling myself a passport, or a stake, or some form of social life. I went to my first convention in my late twenties and it was a catastrophe. Anyone who tells you the 2001 Bristol Comic Con was good either wasn’t there, was there and drunk or was there, realized it sucked and wants you to feel bad you missed it so they can share some of the pain. It was an unmitigated disaster that saw me realize I had no chance of getting any work in comics because I didn’t know the right people, didn’t have the right resources and, I now realize, was doing something because I thought I wanted to, not because I did. It was a few years until my next con, unsurprisingly.

Then there’s the fact that you can take the boy out of the comic and game store but you can’t take the comic and game store out of the boy. For seven years I ran the York branch of Travelling Man, and I loved it. The one downside, other than working Saturdays, was the fact that I had to spend a lot of time being dealt with like a piece of the shop that happened to have a voice and arms. Most of our customers were wonderful, but there were some who were openly amazed that I had legs, and others that seemed genuinely affronted by the fact that I had opinions and actually quite liked not talking about games and comics some times.

It took till about six weeks after I got laid off for people to stop asking me what was in their box for them that week.

They were, to be fair, all furious about me being laid off but the thing is, not one jot of that fury mattered because I’d still lost my job and there was nothing I could do about it that wouldn’t cause more pain for more people. I just had to stand there and endure it as a job I’d built my self esteem on was taken away from me through no fault of my own. It crushed me, for a long time.

The end result of this is of course that I’m standing in the Starbucks in Indianapolis whilst my girlfriend charms every other player at the Deadlands Noir premier game a couple of rooms over, so I really shouldn’t complain too much. But the truth is I’ve seen every side of geek culture, from being the rank outsider to a cornerstone of the local geek community and none of it, when it came down to it, mattered a damn.

Except of course, it did. And does.

I’ve had countless good experiences at cons over the last couple of years and two of them landed here, today. The first was spending an hour in the Film Maker’s Meet and Greet panel, hosted by veteran soundman Chuck Budreau. Chuck is an avuncular, incredibly competent man who’s been curating the film stream here for years. He’s passionate about it and it shows, with the stream growing to the point that now, despite a major fan company having a stream of their own this year, the program has the same number of films scheduled.  Under his direction, everyone in the room stood up and introduced themselves and I relaxed a little, recognizing someone else from the Press line yesterday. This would be easy, there were other press here, I’d be a happy little corpuscle.

He stood up. He was there promoting his own show.

I was the only journalist in the room and when I mentioned this, every head turned to look at me. Every single one. Chuck joked that people should ‘form an orderly queue’ and they basically did, meaning that I spent fifty minutes after the panel in the room talking to various people and learning more about the incredibly vibrant fan film community here.  Everything from Misfit Heights, a zombie puppet musical to Trailer Park Jesus , based on the true story of a student, trapped in a trailer park and having to make his way hoe using only a sheet of LSD. Oh and a documentary about Dungeons and Dragons that’s filming at the con now. And a series about a detective investigating the murder of his own clone that William Shatner’s fond of. And a wild west zombie series. And a Lord of the Rings gamer comedy. And a dozen more. Each of them was unique, each was cheerfully indie in approach and scope and each was utterly, completely unique. I left the room with the business car of almost everyone in there and I can’t wait to follow up with them and take a look at their films and shows.

I loved it, and not just because of what I saw but how people reacted to me. Everyone checked in, everyone spent some time talking with me about their show and whilst all of them did it because of what I do, it was an incredibly positive experience. I’ve spent some time recently re-examining how I view and reconcile my writing and one of the things I’ve found is that I’ve constantly chased recognition without once revelling in the work. I’ve wanted, and still do want, to be recognised for what I do and why I do it and non fiction is something I’ve constantly found myself enjoying more than fiction because I have real measurable success there I just don’t have in fiction. Spending time with those film makers today drove that home; I love working with other people, I love writing about other’s people work and I love playing with the tools and components of narrative more than building narrative myself. That seminar gave me a whole new toolbox and I can’t wait to start working with it.

Then, I spent two hours talking to a group of near complete strangers. There are a bunch of Pseudopod fans here and we organized a meet up on very informal, very fast grounds. We got five people turning up, including Nate Cortright and Steven Saus. Five guys, all busy, all took time out to come and talk to me. The show, why I love it, what I do, martial arts, why I’m in the US, postmodernism, food and the difficulties inherent in using history accurately in your fiction all flew by and the whole time I felt completely relaxed, completely at home. I felt like part of the community.

Now part of this is because like all writers I’m a secret attention freak but most of it because of how welcome they made me feel. I wasn’t the island boy, I wasn’t the fat kid at the disco, or the one who lies to himself about how the little bit of distance he keeps gives him useful journalistic perspective. I wasn’t a Morlock. I was just a guy at a con, having fun.

Right now, I’m a guy at a con, writing on the floor near the only unused power socket in the building. It’s been a good day and a very long one, with the Deadlands Noir game still in full swing. That’s fine, because earlier today, as well proving to myself I wasn’t a Morlock, I did something else; I came down off the skywalks and walked back to the hotel out on the street in the broad, strong daylight that covers Indianapolis.

It was glorious.

Quiet Violence, Loud Brutality: Torchwood-The Men Who Sold The World

One of the bravest things about Torchwood has always been the show’s willingness to kick things over. It’s second only to Spooks in the Gleeful Murder of Characters stakes, has been cheerfully up front about throwing ideas onto the screen and then abandoning them if they don’t work and with Children of Earth, the last series it completely destroyed its status quo. What two seasons previously had delivered, with a straight face, an episode about alien sex gas loose in Cardiff became a damning, bleak and at times genuinely chilling look at how the world would really end.

 

There’s a strong case for saying Children of Earth should have been the last Torchwood story. In fact, it recently emerged that it had been designed to be the show finale if needed. Captain Jack leaves the planet, disgusted by what he’s had to do, Gwen and Rhys hang up their guns and retire and the world, slowly, painfully, tries to return to normal.

As is always the case, it doesn’t last. Miracle Day, the fourth season, deals with what happens when everyone on Earth simply stops dying. Relocated to America, Jack and Gwen find themselves forced to team up with Rex Matheson and Esther Drummond, a pair of CIA agents who have their own reasons for being invested in wanting to know the reason behind The Miracle. Esther is desperate to protect her sister, who is cracking under the horrific realisation that soon, diseases will be everywhere and whilst no one can die, everyone can suffer whilst Rex may already be dead. A horrific car accident leaves him with an impossible chest wound that, whilst it’s healing, may yet kill him. That level of finality, for a man like Rex Matheson, is not acceptable and The Men Who Sold The World, Guy Adams’ latest Torchwood novel, explores exactly what sort of man Rex Matheson is.

The novel revolves around a shipment of alien tech, sold by the cash-strapped UK government to America. A series of interludes follow one particular weapon from the point Torchwood recover it, from a dying alien in a Cardiff chip shop, through its discovery in the remains of Torchwood’s HQ, the Hub, to the point where the Deputy Prime Minister signs off on the sale. At no point does anyone, even the Torchwood staff, realise what the weapon is and Adams neatly uses this ‘for wont of a nail’ approach to explore how something that is semi sentient, and can alter reality, can end up in the hands of a quiet, well trained mad man. This is the sort of singularity that Torchwood excels at, how a single piece of equipment can change everything and everyone around it, and Adams has huge fun exploring the weapons’ uses, especially in the closing pages of the novel.

 

However, Adams truly excels at the unpleasant and gets plenty of opportunity to explore that here. Rex, in disgrace following an ethical act on a dubious mission, is sent to Cuba to retrieve the weapons and is far from happy about it. He’s a pitbull, a relentless bulldozer of a man who knows how to do exactly two things; work and sleep so he’s rested enough to work harder. Adams neatly builds on the way Rex and Esther interact and is brave enough to make Rex a profoundly unpleasant character in several ways. Esther is an asset, one who is useful and nothing more, one who can always be pushed, always be driven. Rex doesn’t thank her, doesn’t treat her as an equal and yet, at the same time, relies on her. He’s not sexist, or at the very least not chauvinist and Adams makes it quite clear he’d be as unpleasant, if not more, to a male colleague. It’s just that Esther has the information Rex needs, and she never quite gets it to him fast enough.

For all this though, Rex is quietly an ethical man, if not a good one. He’s placed in harm’s way because he refuses to sit back and let an innocent get hurt for the good of an operation and this core of decency, this refusal to let people be exploited keeps turning up. Rex isn’t a great man, but he is a good one and there are several moments where he refuses to take the easy way out. He decides to interrogate a suspect only as an act of last resort, makes sure an accidentally stolen pair of sunglasses are paid for and works within the rules, a lot of the time, even when he doesn’t have to. It saves his life more than once in the novel, too.

 

Pitted against Rex are a CIA Black Ops unit led by a man who is overly fond of violence. Where Rex uses it as a tool, Gleeson uses it as a utensil, communicating through the constant implied threat of betrayal, of murder, to keep his men in line. Again, Adams uses an interlude to explore why Gleeson is like this and the end result is a character who whilst far from sympathetic, is much more nuanced than many villains. This in turn makes his escalating acts of brutality all the more shocking, you can understand why Gleeson is acting like he is, you can understand his reasoning and you can see the holes in it exactly the way he can’t. Sheaffer, the member of the unit who has a crisis of consicence, is equally well realised and he and Rex made a spectacularly grumpy double act. Crucially, Adams’ nails the characters’ voices throughout, with these exchanges in particular very easy to hear in Mekhi Phifer’s grandstanding, flamboyantly snippy delivery.

 

It’s Mr Wynter though, who will stay with you. Mr Wynter is old, polite, well spoken and is the man who the people who really run the world call when something needs cleaning up. He’s George Smiley with added brutality, a softly spoken old spook who enjoys nothing more than peace, quiet and killing people who stop him enjoying life. He’s a monster in a nice suit, a gentle old man who uses his appearance and physicality as a lockpick the same way Rex uses his like a cosh. Mr Wynter spends much of the novel in the background, quietly observing the chaos Rex and Sheaffer cause but despite this, his scenes remain some of the strongest in the book. His scenes with the real rulers of the world are abstract, almost minimalist discussions of how to deal with the Gleeson problem are delicate, circuitous and filled with menace. Mr Wynter’s eventual solution to the problem is equally menacing, giving Adams a chance to flex his narrative muscles and, interestingly, giving Rex an opportunity to both be the hero and slightly sidelined, all at once. Mr Wynter walks quietly through The Men Who Sold The World but his footsteps echo long after the book has finished and, I suspect, Adams may not quite be done with him.

 

The Men Who Sold The World is a pared back, bunched fist of a book that hits hard and keeps doing it. Smart, funny, brutal and tightly controlled it’s a perfect example of how to do a tie in book that expands on its core material rather than simply aping it. The story of the quiet, anonymous men who run the world and a loud, obvious man who opposes them, The Men Who Sold The World is essential for anyone who’s following Miracle Day or anyone who wants to get a different perspective on Torchwood’s newest, grumpiest leading man.

 

(The Men Who Sold The World is released on the 18th of August, 2011)

Where’s Al?-The Bigger on the Inside Edition Part 2

Journalism

I filed my first story for a national newspaper this month. The Guardian are producing two ‘Guides to the Night’ at the end of October and the Guide editor, Phil Daoust, contacted me about writing a piece about telling ghost stories to live audiences.
It was massive fun to do, covering environment, story, audience and performance and it really helped me focus in on the mechanics of storytelling. The piece is scheduled for print on October 24th and I even get a photograph, hopefully looking moody standing in an archway. I suit archways.

I’ve also had two pieces published by SFX recently; the first covering the apparent discovery that the melanin in human hair could be used as a conductor in solar cells instead of silicone. It’s a dizzying claim that promises that solar cells could be produced for a quarter of their current cost and, in turn, offers up the possibility of cheap, affordable electricity for some of the world’s most inaccessible places. It’s a dizzying, beautiful concept which sounds too good to be true.

Which, unfortunately, it was. Not long after I filed the piece the student who’d made the discovery admitted it was a fraud. It’s a real shame too as it’s one of those ideas that should work.

My second pieces was much more successful, thanks largely to FantasyCon actually taking place instead of people just claiming it did. My Con report went live this week and includes details of books by Mike Shevdon and John Lenahan, my role in the BFS Awards ceremony and the news that Being Human novels are due next year. Parts of this piece are also scheduled to turn up in the magazine itself as part of their convention round-up.

Fiction
More Twitter fiction, just a single one this time, sold to Jetse Devries’ excellent Outshine and published on September 10th. It’s a tiny little piece but I like it, and would I think, rather like to live in the city it describes.

Roleplaying

With the game just a couple of months away, I can now announce that I’m one of the senior scenario writers on the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game. Or, to put it another way, two decades upstream? 12-year old Al is a very, very happy kid knowing he still has this gig to look forward to.

I’ve not just got to play in the official Doctor Who universe I’ve also got to shape it a little bit, expanding a couple of the lesser alien races and building an interesting little playground that should make a fun location for players to bounce off from time to time. I’ve had immense fun and the two scenarios I’ve got in the game are a nice combination of classic Who (Something nasty in the green and pleasant land, let’s solve things with science! Run! Run some more!) and my own unique style (Government conspiracies! Brave new world! Radio 4!). I’m both very excited and a little nervous about how they, and the adventure seeds I contributed, are going to be received. Not long to go now…

Reviews

A few years ago, I contributed a story to Andrew Hook’s ‘The Alsiso Project’ anthology. It was a gloriously odd idea, taking a spelling mistake and using it as the starting point for twenty three completely unique stories. Mine was a lecture, delivered by someone who has discovered that Alsiso is the name for something we haven’t quite reached yet, a linguistic tenth planet of sorts.

It was also pretty much hated on release, which is fine, each to their own after all. However, CERN Zoo just put up a spectacularly good review of both the book and my story which I’ve linked to here. I always rather liked my Alsiso story and it’s a real pleasure to see someone else does too.

So there we go, a busy couple of months. Thanks for sticking with me and check back soon for more pop culture goodness.

From Gallifrey to Elsinore

The 12th DoctorFor a ‘gap’ year, there’s a lot of Doctor Who news around at the moment. First off, the long awaited movie version has been officially announced by the BBC. On top of that, David Tennant, Russell T Davies and Euros Lyn are all at the San Diego Comic Convention this month, leading a lot of people to believe an announcement is forthcoming.
If so, the project couldn’t have stronger figureheads The kudos of having a project fronted by one of the most popular Doctors, produced by the man who resurrected the series and headed by one of its most successful directors can’t be over estimated. Nor, perhaps, can the fact that Lyn will be appearing on the back of his work on the Torchwood: Children of Earth mini-series.

Next up, Tennant will be returning to Elsinore as the RSC‘s superb Hamlet will be filmed for both DVD release and broadcast. It’s a staggeringly good production with the first definitive Hamlet of the 21st century at its head and I can’t wait to see how it holds up to being recorded.

The Dalek Incident Finally, Cubicle 7 have announced the Doctor Who roleplaying game will be published in October. It’s a boxed set, and I can particularly recommend the adventures booklet…