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Multimedia: Foxx January 22, 2023

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I’m enjoying some smaller multimedia worlds lately. Sure, I still love the vast tangle of TV episodes, movies, books, comics, and more that make up Star Trek and Doctor Who, but it’s fun to follow something on a much smaller scale. So here’s one of my recent explorations, with more to come. Not really Facebook material.

John Foxx started writing Ballardian and surrealist short stories under the umbrella title The Quiet Man long ago; some of his lyrics from his early solo work and his Ultravox days tie in with them, in choices of imagery and phrases. In 2009 he released a spoken word (with ambient piano background music), The Quiet Man. That was followed by a book collecting the short stories, The Quiet Man (Rocket 88, 2020), a chapbook of a new short story, “The Lake” (Nightjar Press, 2020), and a second spoken word/piano reading of stories, The Marvellous Notebook (2022). I like the book, but nothing beats listening to Foxx read one of the stories. He chose to have Justin Barton read the ones on the earlier album, because the Quiet Man at the centre of some of the stories is meant to be relatively featureless, grey, unnoticed, and Foxx thought his northern accent might give a bit too much specificity to the character, so he went for a Londoner. From outside the UK, it hardly seems necessary; if anything, Foxx’s accent has softened enough over the years to be less noticeable to Canadian ears than a London accent. Or perhaps to Canadian ears that have heard a lot of northern accents on TV, from Coronation Street to Cracker to Doctor Who (McGann and Whitaker in particular). So I was glad Foxx chose to read the stories on The Marvellous Notebook. The stories, like the ambient underscore, tend to focus on isolation and strangeness. So reading the book in a couple of sittings, while certainly possible, dulls the impact of some of the stories, which, while not too much the same thing, tend to operate in similar shades of grey. Anyway, the tales here make overt the connections between decades of songs and instrumental music from Foxx’s prolific music career. More than worthwhile for fans, and possibly an entry point for new readers and listeners. “The Lake” sold out almost instantly but the rest is still available.

Video for John Foxx’s The Quiet Man, read by Justin Barton

Shetland March 30, 2022

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Taking a break from Criterion Channel movies to start another dismally scenic UK cop show, Shetland. I think Laura watched some of it. It’s right up her alley. Of course, this show’s cop’s malfunction is that his wife is dead. It’s not making too big a deal of it so far, at least, but still, enough already. Hmm. Based on novels by Ann Cleeves, who also created the character Vera Stanhope. Laura definitely watched a lot of Vera. She must have watched this, then. I didn’t have anything against these shows, but she binged so many UK cop shows, from Midsomer Murders to Death in Paradise to Happy Valley to Scott & Bailey, that I burned out and tuned out. Gives me something to watch now, I guess.

University days… well, nights, mainly March 28, 2022

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I was in Halifax for my university years and didn’t see a lot of bands, but then not a lot of bands I was interested in seemed to play there. So I saw… Teenage Head, Blue Peter, the Tenants, 39 Steps, Katrina and the Waves, Skinny Puppy, Grapes of Wrath, Moev, and some local bands like (I think) Sebastopol, Euthenics, and the October Game, the last one memorable because it was Sarah Mclachlan’s first show in front of a live audience. I remember not bothering to go see the Beach Boys, Billy Idol, or Bryan Adams, but I don’t remember many other big names coming through.

I figure stuff that turns into posts too long for anyone to engage on Facebook might as well go here instead, where I expect no one will engage with it, but at least it’s out there.

Space: 1999 nerdity October 25, 2021

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There’s an active Space: 1999 discussion on TrekBBS, and I mentioned the books as part of the discussion, then wondered how many books I have. I think this is all the ones I own. I included UFO because one of the books covers both shows and also why not.

Space: 1999 books

So many audios September 21, 2021

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I’ve been buying Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios for many years now. There’s sometimes several out in a single month, and most are an hour or two long, so you can imagine how much of a backlog you can build up if you don’t listen regularly. Mine’s several hundred hours of listening at least. So I’ve been trying to make myself catch up. For the last couple of weeks I’ve tried to get through one of the main range audios (two-hour long full-cast stories featuring either the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, or Eighth Doctor from pre-2005 comeback Doctor Who) a day, taking some time away from reading, Xboxing, or watching TV. I’ve got backlogs for each of those, too.

Anyway. Laura and I had listened to a fair number of the first one hundred main range audios during various road trips over the years, and I’d listened to a few by myself. But I didn’t start with any we’d skipped or with the point we left off. There are some stories with continuity elements from other stories I haven’t heard, or that are part of long character arcs. I wanted to ease back in. Also, because I can’t concentrate on audios while doing much of anything else, I decided to read audios for which I had script PDFs, which BF didn’t start doing until the 120s or 130s of the series.

So… I’ve listened to more than a dozen. But I did a couple of more-or-less one-offs, first.

There may be some SPOILERS ahead for Doctor Who audios from more than a decade ago,

First, 100, the 100th in the main range. Four short stories with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smithe, by four writers. The first two are reasonably fun romps messing with history (not least in that the first story refers to an event in the second as something that’s already happened). The third is a much darker, more claustrophobic tale of a family with a dangerous secret. And the fourth is a sometimes meta tale of Sixie lurching frantically through his own past and future to find an assassin who at some point shot him with a viral weapon that will kill him in a hundred days. Not the only meta thing about this one. It’s fun, as Evelyn gets to see other incarnations of the Doctor in action. And Six proves that he’s capable of a devious plan or two. Enjoyable overall, but a more subtle anniversary celebration than might be expected.

Then The Girl Who Never Was. I thought I might have listened to this a long time ago. Laura and I listened to the Charlie Pollard arc then went into the Lucie Miller stories years back, but this one wasn’t flagged as already heard in my Doctor Who audio spreadsheet. And… I don’t think I’ve heard it before. I know we listened to the last C’rizz story and I thought I’d listened to this one, but it was not familiar. So, a lot of timey-wimey shenanigans, Cybermen, and a lot less time spent on big goodbyes than I’d expected. And a post-credits scene setting up what comes next. Well, that was reasonably entertaining, if not earth-shattering.

So on to the 120s. At this stage in the run of stories, BF was doing three-parters. Each story stood somewhat on its own while being part of a bigger story that would be resolved in the third. Good thing I’m listening to them this way, I guess, because going a month between stories would mean I’d forget a lot of what was going on. As for how good the stories, are, well, it varies.

Castle of Fear is the first part of the Stockbridge trilogy, with the Fifth Doctor visiting a town established in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip as a place where strange things happen. This one tries way too hard to be Monty Python. It’s one thing to bring a Pythonesque sense of humour to a story, but too often the writer of this comedic part-historical thinks it’s enough to throw in elements taken directly from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or wherever. Introducing French knights with outrageous accents and references to mothers and elderberries is just coasting on someone else’s work. The trilogy continues with The Eternal Summer and Plague of the Daleks. Eternal Summer had some good moments, showing Stockbridge as a town mysteriously sealed off where time passes at the wrong speed and repeats, a bit of Sapphire and Steel in the mix, until the story gets tangled in its technobabble, . As for Plague of the Daleks… well, it managed not to focus too much on the Daleks, which generally helps. In a far future Stockbridge, people are behaving strangely, because in fact they aren’t exactly people. It’s a tourist destination depicting old Earth life. But somewhere nearby, underground, long forgotten Daleks in suspended animation have begun to wake.

And I followed up with , the first of the Seventh Doctor stories bringing back alternate universe Nazi Elizabeth Klein. The first trilogy finds the Seventh Doctor encountering Elizabeth Klein, a Nazi scientist he’d encountered in a previous story, who finds herself in our universe, more or less, instead of the one where she’d helped the Third Reich win the war. A Thousand Tiny Wings is a pretty grim story, appropriate enough for a Doctor travelling alone post-Ace. A small group of white British colonial women — and Klein — are hiding in a farmhouse as the Mau Mau rebellion spreads through Kenya. That’s more than enough for a suspenseful story, but the stakes are raised with a dangerous alien threat. The story doesn’t lighten up. It may be that it actually is a fair bit shorter than the Davisons, but it certainly felt like I got through it more quickly. In Survival of the Fittest, the Doctor and Klein find themselves on a planet populated by strange aliens being killed off by unscrupulous humans, and Klein seems to be learning the lessons the Doctor is trying to teach her, becoming a better person. But no. In The Architects of History, time is wrong, due to Klein stealing the Doctor’s Tardis and trying to remake the universe as a Nazi dream. But it’s not a big time-spanning story, it’s mainly set on a moonbase attacked by the sharklike Selachians. Over the course of the three stories, we’re sometimes led to think there’s hope for Klein. But a Nazi is a Nazi.

The next trilogy features Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. In City of Spires, the Doctor finds himself in a distorted version of Highlands Scotland. He encounters Jamie McCrimmon, whose memories of the Doctor were wiped by the Time Lords after The War Games. He’s a few decades older but still fighting the British and their strange monstrous assistants, who are drilling for oil and building a big city to refine it and do sinister things. But there are people there from different decades, and Scotland is not recognizable because of the mysterious villain’s activities. The Wreck of the Titan brings a lot of nautical adventure, with the Doctor and Jamie finding themselves on the sinking Titan, then the sinking Titanic, and then on Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, and the listener figures out where the Doctor is before he seems to. In Legend of the Cybermen, the Doctor, realizing he’s in the Land of Fiction, finds himself in a war with Cybermen determined to convert everyone in the Land of Fiction, and with help from Jamie, Zoe, and some of the land’s picturesque inhabitants, he has to find the Land’s Mistress. The thing is, once it’s clear they’re in the Land of Fiction, the story’s stakes seem a lot lower. There are good stretches of the story that are a lot of fun but they’re generally in the first two parts.

Next up: the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, and an older Nyssa in what turns into a Mara trilogy. In Cobwebs, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough find themselves in an abandoned base — literally, as the skeletons in a medical suite are theirs. And they find Nyssa, who’s left Terminus and is researching a deadly disease. And there’s some jumping between the same place in two times. It’s a bit twisty and suspenseful. In The Whispering Forest, the gang find themselves on a planet with a small human colony living a low tech existence and obsessed with cleanliness and with the mysterious Takers, who kidnap their people but are never seen, and Shades, insubstantial whispering things in the woods. Yes, there’s a long ago crashed spaceship and the ship’s robots and a hidden medical facility and other complications. And I’m only a little way into the third, but the Mara’s made itself known already.

I can’t say I’ve been blown away by any of these. They’re generally competently entertaining but dont do as much for me as, say, some of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures with Lucie Miller, or the main Torchwood range stories. But for anyone who liked the classic series, they’re fun. If only there weren’t quite so many of them.

So what else is new? September 21, 2021

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Here we are, almost in October, which means it’s been about a year and a half of pandemic and teleworking, and two and a half years of life without Laura.

I still find little surprises here and there. Just the other day I found a bunch of photos of her from 2004, for some work-related thing. Just different shots of the same thing, smiling, not smiling, that sort of thing. This is the one I liked the best.

Bass cadet April 15, 2021

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One thing about telework: I can listen to whatever music I want to, as loud as I want to. Today I’m listening to some of Tempa’s Dubstep Allstars compilations from back when dubstep still mattered a bit, volume 09 by Silkie and Quest and volume 10 by Plastician. I’ve always liked electronic music, but for a long time that seemed to be the province of insipid New Agers or microgenre-obsessed UK dance music producers. Techstep? Darkstep? Glitch? What?

When I first read about dubstep in XLR8R magazine or wherever, it sounded interesting. And I had an eMusic account, and many of the key labels and distributors were there, so I could get a lot of it quickly, easily, inexpensively and legally. It’s always been about home listening for me, I have to admit. I would have been already over 40, married, and suburban when I first heard it, so late night clubbing wasn’t my thing. But dubstep at its best has a lot that worked for home listening. A lot of it is atmospheric; the music may be a long way from maximalism, but it can capture moods. The speed, at 140 bpm, is not sleep-inducing. More importantly, the syncopated rhythms are a lot more interesting than straightforward house or techno 4/4 rhythms. But most of it is also instrumental. So it works as background music without being boring, but it can also work as foreground music. Not all of it, of course. Sturgeon’s Law applies.

But a lot of things came together at the right time. Electronic music magazines were still producing print issues, record stores still existed, but there were also a lot of mp3 and wav sellers online and places like dubstepforum. There was a lot being produced, a lot of communication going on, and it was a scene anyone could follow along without having to be present. You could invisibly keep up with a lot of interesting developments. Buying mp3s from Boomkat or mail ordering Big Up magazine or buying Woofah at a record store meant you were making at least a financial contribution to the scene.

It came to an end, partly due to outsiders taking the sound and dumbing it down, partly due to insiders taking the sound and dumbing it down. It’s hardly the only music scene to crash and burn as a result of worldwide success. But a lot of that music still works for me.

Writers matter December 12, 2020

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So I’m reading an article about Truffaut’s film The Bride Wore Black, and the writer mentions how it’s part of Truffaut’s Hitchcock-influenced period and mentions Hitchcock’s Rear Window specifically. What he doesn’t mention is that both films were based on stories by Cornell Woolrich, whose short stories and novels were the basis of over a hundred radio shows, movies, and TV shows. Truffaut did two films based on Woolrich stories. I don’t know how much control Hitchcock had over the TV series named after him, but the show adapted several Woolrich short stories. So… maybe the fact that these great auteurs made movies based on Woolrich’s books means that there’s something worth considering there.

Shoot, take a look at his IMDB page. Eleven adaptations are at various stages of development, and the guy’s been dead for more than fifty years.  It may be a coincidence, but the use of noir to describe a certain type of crime novel or movie came from Série Noire, a line of French paperback translations of American crime fiction, including Woolrich’s Black series (The Bride Wore Black, Black Alibi, Black Path of Fear, Rendezvous in Black, The Black Curtain, The Black Angel). I’ve seen at least one source suggest that the novel series name was in fact inspired by that group of novels. So, basically, you can’t talk about noir without talking about Woolrich. Go read some.

Have to catch up one of these days. December 10, 2020

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I need to blather about some shows. Maybe about some books and music. Loving all the new Star Trek, not getting all the fuss over The Mandalorian, disappointed in everyone who hasn’t watched Tales From the Loop. For a start. Facebook doesn’t lend itself to much more than banter, so I will probably spend more time here talking to myself.

Review: Return to the Planet of the Apes December 8, 2020

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Suppose I told you that, long before Game of Thrones and Westworld, long before Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there was a serialized science fiction TV series that told a story with some standalone moments but that was focused on its ongoing arc elements. And it was based on the Planet of the Apes movies. And it wasn’t the live action TV series, it was the Saturday morning cartoon, revolutionizing science fiction storytelling on TV. And it was called Return to the Planet of the Apes.

Well, obviously you’d tell me I was nuts, and to be fair, the above is an exaggeration. The show was probably looking back at the old 1930s serials like Flash Gordon more than it was looking forward to anything. The episode titles, like “Flames of Doom,” “Lagoon of Peril,” “Attack From the Clouds,” etc, certainly have that old-timey flair rather than modern day lens flare. And yet.

I only saw a little of this back in the day, because reception for the channel that aired it was really bad where I lived. But at least I had the three novelizations, which retold at least part of the story. They’ve recently been reprinted as Planet of the Apes Omnibus 4 by Titan Books.

Return to the Planet of the Apes is a sidestep from the main continuity of the movies. The first clue is that it’s set a couple of decades after the Earth is destroyed at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, on a noticeably not destroyed Earth. It also replays a lot of the beats from the beginnings of the first two movies, though with new characters. Finally, its ape civilization is much more technologically advanced than that in the earlier movies. Ape City is like a 20th century American city, with TV, newspapers, country music radio, trucks, and howitzers, though for all we know it may be the only city of its kind.

Over the course of its thirteen episodes, the show tells a tale, interrupted by cancellation, of the time-travelling American astronauts trying to save the mute and uncivilized humans (referred to as humanoids) of the 40th century to a place where they’ll be safe from being rounded up for slave labour or experimentation. Developments in one episode, like the discovery of a 1940s airplane, play out over a few episodes. It’s not like the live action series, which as I recall is about its main characters wandering into a new area, helping the humans, getting chased and maybe temporarily captured by Urko’s ape army, then moving on to the next place for pretty much the same experience. The animated series makes progress in building a human settlement, in the Ape City political rivalry between ape leaders, and in discovering and making connections with other groups of beings (the Underdwellers and the mountain apes).

That’s not to say this is a wrongfully forgotten lost classic. Even for 1970s animation, it sometimes looks remarkably cheap, though the design and art can be surprisingly good. There’s also a small voice acting cast and it sounds like they double up on roles, sometimes using fake-sounding voices. And some of the voice acting is stiff and lifeless. The dialogue is rarely impressive. But if you’re a fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise and haven’t seen this, it’s worth a look.

Review: The Quiet Man: Short Stories by John Foxx November 24, 2020

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John Foxx’s The Quiet Man short story collection seems strangely appropriate for this year, though it’s a culmination of forty years of writing. The stories often deal with people wandering through cities they’ve somehow become disconnected from, whether by making themselves anonymous, or being lone survivors in abandoned overgrown cities. There are people who become effectively invisible by choice, or by accident, people who become unable to find their way home and roam along canals and towpaths becoming gradually less real. Isolation, dislocation, and disconnection are routine here. So that works for 2020. I’ve been in this house alone, teleworking since March, widowed since May of last year. Isolation and disconnection are my life these days.

There’s a certain resemblance to some of JG Ballard’s work, as stories sometimes seem like they’re replaying the same basic sets of ideas in slightly different ways, but more vaguely and less clinically than Ballard. Foxx is a musical and visual artist much more than a prose writer, and some of the ideas and phrases here have been used in song lyrics going back to the late 1970s. So the book is an extension of the experience of listening to Foxx’s music, hearing lyrics, looking at record covers, reading interviews with him, seeing his visual art, picking up on recurring threads. The quiet man. The grey suit. The shifting city. London overgrown. Consequently, reading this as a newcomer would be a very different experience from mine, and possibly a frustrating one. There are no technobabble explanations, no plots, just repeating images playing out.

Still, if the anthology series The Best Weird Fiction of the Year hadn’t ended after only four or five volumes, there are stories here that would work well in that sort of context. The way the book’s been published, though, as a slightly expensive hardcover from a publisher that specializes in books about musicians with cult followings, will probably keep The Quiet Man from reaching an audience beyond Foxx’s existing fan base. It’d be interesting to read reactions from outside the bubble but I’m not sure that will happen. It’s a shame Mark Fisher isn’t around any more to review it, as his interests in Foxx, Ballard, hauntology, and psychogeography would all come into play, and he might be able to bring some new readers in.\

I’m glad to have this book but I look forward to revisiting it at some point when it isn’t so much of the moment, when life is vibrant and I’m not a grey figure dissolving into the dusty furniture of a quiet house.

Life December 27, 2019

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Yeah, I still feel like I’d like to keep this going, but a year and a half ago my wife Laura had surgery, then had chemo, then had surgery, then was told to start doing bucket list stuff, and then she died, so I haven’t been in the mood.

So… how about that Twin Peaks revival, huh? February 26, 2019

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It’s about a year and a half since the Twin Peaks revival ended, and I’m still not sure what I think. I’ve watched most of it only once, as it aired, and I know some reactions will firm themselves up or dissipate with a couple more viewings of the whole season. But I think it’ll always boil down to this: it’s a terribly self-indulgent mess that was rarely less than compelling, and a show that lost the original series’ essence by spending so little time in the location the series is named after.

If there is anything the 2017 series makes clear, it’s this: David Lynch was much more interesting in following up Fire Walk With Me than much of anything in the second season of the original show. It’s also clear that this isn’t Blue Velvet Lynch, it’s barely even Mulholland Drive Lynch. This is all over the place Lynch. I know Mark Frost was involved, too, but his two tie-in books… well, they tied in a lot less than I expected.

There are things that don’t fit perfectly well together in the old series and FWWM, so it’s not too surprising that a filmmaker whose work has been becoming steadily more hard to follow wouldn’t be consistent or tie things up neatly. The books might have helped in that respect. They didn’t. But it now seems like we now less about Bob and Mike, the Black Lodge, and all the other supernatural elements of the show than we thought we did. Meanwhile, we also have new supernatural elements that don’t quite fit in or seem, frankly, goofy, like Freddie’s glove.

Then there’s the whole Dougie thing. Episode after episode of Dale Cooper not being Dale Cooper, though at least we had two not-Dale Coopers to watch.

There’s also just not enough Twin Peaks in Twin Peaks: The Return. The original series generated a wave of quirky series set in quirky towns, and while there was a lot more to the show than that, it gave the show a unique atmosphere to set its genre-mashing in.

There’s a lot to be frustrated about. And yet… I was glued to the screen, utterly fascinated by what was going on. There are some outstanding performances. It looks great. It does often progress in a reasonably linear manner, enough to generate suspense about what’s coming next. And there are moments of alien beauty in the other realms. The final episode raises way more questions than it answers, but the final scene, with Laura’s doppelganger Carrie hearing Sarah calling Laura (I heard it, but some people apparently missed it) and screaming was genuinely chilling.

I doubt we’ll get any more. If we do, I doubt it’ll give us any answers. Do we need it? Maybe not. But I’d watch it.


Let’s talk about Star Trek February 25, 2019

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There’s a new TV series. It’s like Star Trek: The Next Generation all over again, a brightly lit show of mostly standalone episodes about the crew of a very comfortable looking ship. The humans, aliens, and artificial life form work together on the nice big bridge, many of them hang out in the nice big lounge after hours, the captain’s got a kind of thing with one of his officers, the security officer is an alien, and hell, the doctor used to be on Deep Space Nine. The main character, of course, is the captain, a white guy. And many people with Star Trek connections work on the show, from writers to directors to guest stars.

And there’s another new TV series, one that doesn’t look a lot like Star Trek of any generation, one that started out pretty damn dark and got darker before the new season lightened up quite a bit, one that is heavily serialized, and has some new elements that seem hard to fit into canon as we thought we knew it. (No, I’m not talking about the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise, though it fits just as well.) The main character isn’t the captain or even a white guy. It doesn’t have too many people who worked on past incarnations of Star Trek, either.

Obviously I’m talking about The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve seen a lot, and I mean a lot, of disgruntled Star Trek fans proclaiming that The Orville is the real new Star Trek and Discovery is an abomination. And you know what? They’re wrong.

Star Trek — the original — wasn’t like much of anything else at the time. Star Trek, the animated series, was different from the original in several ways — being an animated half hour show, for one, but it also introduced new regular characters and new technology (life support belts and an early version of the holodeck). Then in 1979 live action Trek returned, but everything looked and felt different — uniforms, the ship, relationships between characters, and holy cow, the Klingons. Then the very next movie changed the look again, with a more military feel and new uniforms, and a new character with some kind of history with Spock, and suddenly Kirk has a son?! And Spock dies?!

1987: a whole new ship, a whole new crew, a whole new look and feel, and some significant changes to what we knew about the Federation and Starfleet. Meanwhile in the movies, suddenly Spock has a half-brother. 1992: a TV show not even set on a ship, but on a starbase, where instead of seeing something new every week, we see a smaller number of things, but in much more detail, and supporting characters evolve and become as important as the regulars. Then Voyager takes us away from the Federation and all that’s familiar and plops us a long, long way from home. And Enterprise is a prequel series that doesn’t look like the original series at all, and suddenly the Vulcans are a lot different, and…

Do you get where I’m going with this?

Every time Star Trek comes back, it’s different. It tries something new. It changes its format. It changes its balance of continuity/arc elements and standalone stories. It brings in new people behind the scenes. Even if it doesn’t quite go as initially planned — Voyager and Enterprise had a tendency to do TNG retread stories too often — they started with the goal of going where no Star Trek series had gone before.

Which brings me to The Orville and Discovery. Discovery is unmistakably going where no Star Trek has gone before in many respects, despite frequent nods to canon, from using characters like Mudd, Pike, Spock, and Sarek to revisiting (previsiting?) the Mirror Universe. The Orville is a retread of TNG, from its look and feel to its supporting characters too obviously drawn from TNG characters to its plotlines to… well, at least the focus on dick jokes was new, if immature. But The Orville is bound and determined to go exactly where Star Trek has already been before. Seth MacFarlane knows and loves Star Trek, but instead of taking the next step into the final frontier, he’s stepping back. He’s making a show in 2019 that looks like 1989. Discovery, on the other hand, is moving forward, making Star Trek that looks and feels like 2019. The Orville is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like watching TNG reruns with someone cracking jokes. Discovery, on the other hand, has me wanting to see what comes next. The characters matter a lot more to me, and so do the ongoing arc elements.

The real Star Trek is the one with Star Trek in the title. Not just because it’s in the title, but because it’s doing what Star Trek has always done.

(And how cool is it that it’s doing well enough that we know we’re getting several more new Star Trek series?)

Review: Life on Mars novels, part two July 16, 2017

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getMake sure you’ve read part one, below, and that you’ve seen all of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Spoilers!

Actually, I don’t want to say too much about these two. If you care enough to read this, just go read the books now.

Borstal Slags and Get Cartwright increase the continuity and the suspense. The former does things in a somewhat annoying way, though — Same gets some very important things very, very wrong. He has some pieces of the puzzle but not as many as he thinks he does, and makes things more complicated than they need to be. In typical early episode fashion, he jumps to conclusions about who’s a villain and who’s a poor misunderstood soul, putting everyone in danger.

But that’s mostly been sorted out by Get Cartwright. By then it’s clear who the real enemy is, who’s on Sam and Annie’s side, and what exactly happened in Annie’s real life. Annie is remembering and she is having a hard time with it; she disappears. Sam has to find her before it’s too late. It’s a suspenseful trip out of Manchester that puts the characters on less familiar ground.

Ashes to Ashes never really gives us all that much information about Sam and Annie, so there’s room for suspense. Overall, though, the book ends in a satisfying way, neatly tying up the story threads built up in previous volumes, giving a few characters chances to shine, and I’m glad to have read it. It also works well with Ashes to Ashes. I recommend this to fans of the two series.

Review: Life on Mars novels, part one June 30, 2017

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Life on Mars: Blood, Bullets & Blue Stratos

Why you may want to read this: there are four books that tell what happened to Sam Tyler after the end of the TV series.

Might as well start with the basics: Life on Mars was a British TV series about Sam Tyler, a modern day police officer who’s hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. There were two series of eight episodes each, followed by a sequel series, Ashes to Ashes, in which a police officer who studied the Tyler case is shot and wakes up in 1981, meeting some of the same people Tyler reported meeting. Then there’s the US TV remake, which lasted one episode longer than the UK version, in a single US season, which had the courage to resolve things in a very different fashion. But by then it barely mattered, due to miscasting and frequent changes of tone and direction.

A few years ago, a set of four Life on Mars tie-in novels were released almost surreptitiously. Even people who reviewed things like that in magazines managed to miss the news. Apparently they were originally ebook-only, no doubt part of the problem, and only later released in paperback in the UK. All four were written by Tom Graham, apparently the brother of the show’s co-creator. Whether the creators of the show had any input into or control over the books, I have no idea. (In other words: don’t ask me if these are canon.)

So far I’ve read the first two books. Reread, actually. I read those two books as soon as I knew they existed but for some reason didn’t finish the set at the time. Now, coming off a rewatch of Life on Mars, I decided to get back to them, rereading the first two books because I didn’t remember much about them at all.

Tom Graham sets out to follow up on the TV series. Sam’s made his irrevocable decision to stay in 1973. But Graham’s writing with the knowledge of how Ashes to Ashes ended, which made some big revelations that affect both series.

So… while the plots of the first two novels (Blood, Bullets & Blue Stratos and A Fistful of Knuckles) are pretty similar to regular episodes of the TV series, with Tyler involved in CID investigations in Manchester — with plenty of action, violence, and Gene Hunt dialogue — there are other developments that move the story forward. The test card girl who occasionally appeared to Sam has changed her appearance, becoming more overtly sinister, dressed in black and carrying black balloons. Sam’s seeing her when he’s wide awake, not just dreaming or half awake in his miserable flat. He’s also sleeping badly, having nightmares — and it turns out Annie Cartwright is having nightmares, too, similar to Sam’s. Speaking of Annie, the relationship between Sam and Annie continues its slow progress with significant conversations and occasional kisses but not much more so far.

Anyway, the test card girl tells Sam there’s a devil in the dark coming for him and Annie. He’s having nightmares and visions of something ominous, something that becomes more overtly active in the second book. It looks like it’s going to keep building in the next two books, leading to — well. that remains to be seen, but in Ashes to Ashes, Gene Hunt tells Alex Price that by 1981 Tyler’s dead, and there’s no mention of Annie. Another touch of Ashes to Ashes: there’s the occasional hint that there may be more to Nelson than meets the eye.

The books aren’t perfect. The cop story plots feel a bit familiar. The named CID regulars, Gene, Annie, Ray, and Chris, appear, but all those other guys — the older bearded guy, the Ray Davies lookalike, and the rest — may as well not exist. Sometimes the tension between Sam and the A Division lads feels more like the early first season than later in the show. Some of the objectionable 1973 stuff — the sexism and all that — doesn’t work quite as well without the charisma of the actors making up for it. But the second reading worked better for me than the first.

So… do I recommend them? I think I’m going to have to wait until I’ve read all four. The first two are standalone novels, for the most part, but they’re clearly building to something. I’m curious what that’ll turn out to be.

Review: Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth by Michael Blair and Joe Bucciero June 3, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Cover of Colossal YouthAn overdue Netgalley review for a long overdue book.

I first read about Young Marble Giants back around 1980. I think Lou Stathis reviewed it and made it sound pretty good. But it was 1980. I never saw a copy of Colossal Youth anywhere, so it pretty much faded out of my mind. Then, in the mid-1990s, I found a copy of Salad Days, a demo collection, in a record store, and bought it. It was pretty good, and by then it was a lot easier to order albums, so I got Colossal Youth on CD, and it was one of those albums that just fits in perfectly with everything else I listen to.

But enough about me. Colossal Youth is one of those postpunk albums that could be called antipunk, given its quiet songs, coolly amateurish and deadpan female vocals, primitive drum machine, etc, but it probably would never have existed without punk, and Hole’s cover of their song “Credit in the Straight World” shows that it isn’t really that hard to bring some YMG into noisier territory.

Everyone from Kurt Cobain to the xx, it seems, has spoken of the influence Colossal Youth had on them; you can hear it in a lot of places, odd though it must have sounded in 1979. This book sets the album and band in context as a trio from Cardiff, removed in many ways from punk, but arguably even further removed from whatever the mainstream was there at the time. It’s not one of those 33 1/3 books that talk much about the studio experience or the gear or any of the technical side of making the album, because all they had was a homemade drum machine, a ring modulator, a bass guitar, an organ, and an electric guitar — and with only three band members, few if any songs used all of those instruments, and the album only took a week or so to record.

Instead, the book talks about the music, about the contrast between the emotional lyrics written by a male band member and the unemotional way they were sung by the female band member; about being from Cardiff instead of London; about the feminism and politics that observers picked up on even when they weren’t intentional. There’s a bit about what the band members did before and after, which is especially helpful for a band with only one proper album in their discography.

The book’s a bit academic at times. You’ll see references to Susan Sontag, Julia Kristeva, Dick Hebdige, and others. But it’s still always readable and accessible.

Overall, a much-needed tribute to an album you should know.

It is happening again… May 21, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, TV.
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Less than half an hour to go, and I have no coffee, no cherry pie, no donuts. But I’m otherwise prepared. I’ve watched most of Twin Peaks and I’ve read some books on Twin Peaks. I watched Mulholland Drive again in case the Silencio rumours are true. I’ve read Mark Frost’s Secret History. I’ve also read David Lynch’s comments about not having watched the original show again, and not having read Frost’s book, so I don’t know if doing that even matters.

I didn’t watch Twin Peaks when it originally aired. I had my first real job, my first real girlfriend, my best friend from years before and miles away had moved to town, I was going out several nights a week. I saw a few minutes of one episode and figured I was coming in too late to make sense of it so I might as well not bother. I bought Julee Cruise’s Floating Into the Night, though, having heard a song on the radio and loving it.

In 1995 the new cable channel Bravo started airing daily repeats, and that’s when I got into the show. (I’d broken up with the girlfriend and the best friend had been transferred out of town, so I had plenty of free time again.) Waiting through the weekend for the next episode on Monday was an unbearable hardship. Just as well I didn’t watch it the first time around, with the long waits. I bought Fire Walk With Me and the pilot movie with the European ending on VHS. I bought Blue Velvet on VHS and loved it, too — it’s not directly connected, but it feels like it could be. I tracked down a couple of the books. I watched the show again a few times, bought soundtracks, a few issues of Wrapped in Plastic magazine when I found them, bought more books, upgraded to DVD, etc.

And I never expected the show to come back.

I got into Star Trek when it was off the air, and it came back. Same with Doctor Who. But Twin Peaks isn’t the same kind of thing and bringing it back in a way fans would recognize and respect as the real thing seemed like too much of a long shot to even consider.

And now here it is. Thirteen minutes away.

I have no idea what to expect. FWWM was significantly different from the TV series; so is Frost’s Secret History. But they’re both back with a lot of the original cast so I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.

Wish I had some cherry pie, though.

Review: Angelo Badalamenti’s Soundtrack from Twin Peaks by Clare Nina Norelli February 9, 2017

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cover103893-mediumYes, it’s another Netgalley review, written from a free advance e-copy.

A necessary addition to the growing Twin Peaks bookshelf, this short but informative book does a lot in its limited space.

It’s not just a look at the soundtrack album. Like many 33 1/3 books, this one puts the album in context, in this case as part of Angelo Badalamenti’s work, as part of David Lynch’s world, as part of a cult television series, and as music. Moving beyond the soundtrack, she writes about how the show used different versions of recurring themes and motifs linked with moods and characters. She includes the music from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and the many pieces of music made available in recent years through the Twin Peaks Archive soundtrack project, which released a couple of hundred tracks that did not appear on the commercially released soundtrack albums.

More than the coming revival of the TV series, it’s the release of so much music from the original series that makes this such a timely book. Not that you have to be a fan of the TV series to love this music; as Norelli comments, the Twin Peaks soundtrack stands on its own. It’s not a grubby cash-in, nor is it a collection of music that doesn’t stand up to listening without the visuals. Overall, a good addition to both the 33 1/3 line and the small body of books about Twin Peaks.

(And, speaking of the Twin Peaks Archive, I don’t know how long this deal will be available or how much economic sense it makes, but you can get a lot of this music dirt cheap, legally, and legitimately. If you’ve read this far and don’t have this already, what are you waiting for?)

Review: Shine On, Marquee Moon by Zoe Howe January 2, 2017

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Shine on, Marquee Moon by Zoe Howe

Another Netgalley review.

This is… an odd book. I’m not sure it knows what it wants to be, and I’m not sure what the author was trying to do, and I’m not sure how much of the author’s initial vision made it to the finished product. Was it an expose of the rock band lifestyle? A romance/chicklit novel set in the music world? A parodic take on people in the music biz? A suspenseful tale of the kinds of madness fame and the loss of it can generate? A postmodern exercise in violating the norms of novelistic storytelling? All of the above, probably. Depends which page you’re on.

The plot: the narrator works for an 80s band having a successful comeback, and she’s in a relationship with one of the band members. SPOILERS: just as they’re planning their wedding, he goes back on heroin, putting their relationship at risk, at the same time that a new guy comes into her life, and other events threaten the band as a whole. Will she stay with her emotionally crippled junkie, or go for the wholesome, open, nice new guy? Will the manager keep the band together? Will there be any explanation of how the first person narrator can describe not only events she’s not present for, but even view events from other characters’ perspectives, sometimes switching from her own perspective to another character’s viewpoint in the space of a paragraph? (For the last one, at least: no.)

Zoe Howe has mainly written nonfiction before, which may be the source of the shifting POV problems. I have her book on the Jesus and Mary Chain but haven’t read it yet. My only concern about reading other books by her is her openness to flakiness, which at times looked like it was going to lead the book in a supernatural direction, as if there wasn’t enough going on already.

The other issue: Howe starts the book talking about the importance of shared musical taste in a very Nick Hornby High Fidelityesque manner, with her narrator being almost insistent that a potential partner who doesn’t love Television’s Marquee Moon as much as she does is probably not worth continuing with. But her fiance, who supposedly loves the album as much as she does, plays in a cartoonish Duran Duran-style band. Not quite the same kind of music as Television. And the potential new love interest — I think there may be one mention that he likes the album, but that’s about it. In the afterword Howe mentions wanting to do more in the book relating to Marquee Moon, but it didn’t happen, partly due to the cost of getting clearance to quote lyrics. It might have been a good idea to drop it entirely, because it probably doesn’t mean anything to a lot of the book’s possible audience, while those who recognize the reference and know the album are going to wonder why they’re reading about an over-the-top British New Romantic band.

A little personal context: I loved High Fidelity, I quite like Marquee Moon, and I liked some of the New Romantic bands a lot, too, though this lot come across much more Duran Duran than Ultravox or Visage. I had some high hopes for this book because I remember how the Bridget Jones Diaries books were promoted in some places as being like a woman’s version of High Fidelity or Fever Pitch, but what Helen Fielding failed to do was give her flawed and unlucky in love protagonist any great passion — any kind of interests or hobbies beyond drinking and whingeing. So Shine On, Marquee Moon looked like what I was looking for back then. And now, for that matter. I haven’t found much of Hornby’s output after High Fidelity particularly enjoyable.

I didn’t hate the book. It kept me reading, and aside from POV issues, the prose was readable. But too many characters were one-dimensional, and neither the humour and suspense really paid off. I’d call it a somewhat fun but seriously flawed first try.


Goodbye, Johnny Thunders by Tania Kindersley

Edited a bit later: So I’m on the living room floor hanging out with Katie cat in front of one of the bookcases (hardcovers and trade paperbacks, literary/mainstream/historical, authors A-L), and I notice something I’d forgotten: the book Goodbye, Johnny Thunders, by Tania Kindersley. Woman in London, romance, music, hipster New York music reference, there are definite connections to be made. Kindersley’s book, based on my dim memories of reading it twenty years ago, was a bit more coherently written than Howe’s book, if (as should be obvious from its not being mentioned above) not necessarily very memorable. But at the very least the two books are linked by Richard Hell, who spent time in a band with members of Television and another with Johnny Thunders. He’s also written novels of his own — Go Now, for example. Come to think of it, I think I’ve read that, too. But I digress. Howe isn’t the first to explore this kind of territory, and I hope she won’t be the last, because the book I’m waiting for hasn’t really been written yet.