Monday, December 26, 2005

Special brew

Wasn’t Doctor Who - The Christmas Invasion great? From the beefed up theme tune to the preview of Season Two (K9! Cybermen!), it was just chock-full of absolutely wonderful moments, both light and dark. I loved it, every minute - it was just so perfectly Christmas.

I suspect we’ll be getting one of these every year for quite some time, especially if the commentary is to be believed. Woo-hoo!

Category: Movies and TV

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Down tools

Hasn’t been much activity this month, has there? And I’m afraid there won’t be for the rest of it. Hopefully all of you will also be relaxing, and enjoying the festive cheer too much to worry about your blogging endeavours.

You’re all welcome to come back as soon as you become sick of the sight of of turkey sandwiches, stilton, whiskey and Quality Street. I grant you that, in my case, that may take some time, but I’ve got a raft of entries prepared for the new year, and much, much work to do and blog about throughout ‘06, so please do keep popping in.

Until then, Merry Christmas!

Category: Uncategorised

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tales from the coalface

If you ignored Alex Epstein’s advice to check out Valuable Lessons, then click on the link now. It’s a black, bleak, brilliant, bitter book that has not a single kind word to say about working in the American television industry, and if you can read through it and still want to write, good luck to you. I'm fifty pages in and want to scrub myself with a wire-brush, the world Andrew Nicholls describes is so thoroughly repellant.

Of course, I’m in Britain, so none of it applies here.

Category: Movies and TV

Monday, December 19, 2005

Faultless hospitality

If any of you ever happen to be travelling through Chipping Norton, I recommend a quick stop off in The Blue Boar.

Tonight, the power went off within a two mile radius of Over Norton. Between 7.15 and 9.30pm thousands of homes and a lot of local farmland went without electricity. I went for a bit of a stroll through the streets, and very eerie it was too. I was nearly run over half a dozen times. I couldn’t help noticing the weight of cars parked outside our Masonic Lodge and wondering if they had anything to do with it.

Well, I found myself in the Blue, where the ever generous Mr Wilkes was treating his half a dozen customers to some wonderous free Stilton and delicious port. And not stinting on either. I’ve just arrived home, and having made myself a coffee, put the sugar in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard. I suspect I will have to clean my teeth three times before I get into bed.

I’m absolutely shit-faced and thought you’d all care for some reason.

God bless you all.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

2005 in review

Please, God let this year be over. In 2006 there will be weddings. I will be a best man. It ought to be a lot of fun.

        What did you do in 2005 that you’d never done before?
                attended a funeral. I enjoyed it so much I went to another one two months later.
       
        Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
                I’ve made the same resolutions every year for the past six. Write more, earn more, learn to drive, find a flat and fall in love. Well, I learnt to drive last year, so it’s off the list. Write more and earn more will be with me till the day I die. I still need a flat, and so far have been denied true love. Altogether now...“Tough shit!”

        Did anyone close to you give birth?
                my cousin gave birth to Poppy, the third of her brood, a whopping nine and a half pounds.

        Did anyone close to you die?
                sadly yes. More than once.

        What countries did you visit?
                goodness me. I haven’t left the UK since 1995.

        What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?
                sex. And a six-pack.

        What date from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
                June 25th. I started this blog.

        What was your biggest achievement of the year?
                learning to use a pair of clippers to cut my own hair. One more reason to interact with live humans off the list!

        What was your biggest failure?
                not quite getting an allotment.

        Did you suffer illness or injury?
                no. But don’t tell my boss.
       
        What was the best thing you bought?
                my Nan had a set of postcards of movie stars from the thirties and forties. I paid to have them framed and they now hang above my desk, looking awesome.

        Whose behavior merited celebration?
                oh, I don’t know. Ellen MacArthur?
       
        Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
               Ah, well, that's a bit personal, so I'll take the fifth.

        Where did most of your money go?
                pills. Whiskey. Whores.

        What did you get really, really, really excited about?
                um, Doctor Who.

        What song will always remind you of 2005?
                “She Will be Loved.” For cheesy and sentimental played-at-a-funeral reasons.

        Compared to this time last year, are you:
                i. happier or sadder? - bizarrely happier; despite some terrible shit having happened this year I feel far more focussed on my own wants and needs than ever before.
                ii. thinner or fatter? - probably the same, thank god. A miracle, really.
                iii. richer or poorer? - richer. Now be off, peasant.

        What do you wish you’d done more of?
                talking to people.

        What do you wish you’d done less of?
                talking to myself.

        How will you be spending New Year’s?
                probably with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s.

        Did you fall in love in 2005?
                no. It’s still on the list.

        How many one-night stands?
                absolutely none at all.

        What was your favorite TV program?
                I. Can’t. Choose. Veronica Mars. Battlestar Galactica. Doctor Who. Bleak House. The Shield. Deadwood.

        Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
                no, but I haven’t forgiven anyone either. That’s right, you fuckers, you’ll get yours.

        What was the best book you read?
                Ian McDonald’s River of Gods.

        What was your greatest musical (re)discovery?
                I’ve listened to The National A LOT this year. They’ve got some truly great hooks on Alligator.

        What did you want and get?
                a trilby.

        What did you want and not get?
                certain people have not been replying to my e-mails. It makes me quite cross. Oh, and a PSP. And I certainly didn’t get any better at driving.

        What was your favorite film of this year?
                of the very, very few that I’ve seen: NightWatch.

        What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
                this year I was twenty-nine. It was three days after my Nan’s funeral. I didn’t really do anything. I’ll be glad to get this rotten decade behind me; roll on being thirty-something.

        What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
                immeasurably? Having the true nature of the universe revealed to me.

        How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?
                fake it till you make it.

        What kept you sane?
                arrogance and ego. And blogging.

        Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
                none of them, honestly. Well, maybe Rachel Nichol’s breasts.

        What political issue stirred you the most?
                wasn’t there a General Election this year? I think that would probably be it. And my take on the whole fucked up, negligent response to Hurricane Katrina most likely created an Echelon flag.

        Who did you miss?
                my nan. Mark. Lisa.

        Who was the best new person you met?
                ask me again next year. This was a year of goodbyes.

        Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005:
                everything takes longer than you think.

        Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
                I'm staring out into that vacuum again,
                From the back porch of my mind.
                The only thing that's alive,
                I'm all there is.
                And I start attacking my vodka,
                Stab the ice with my straw,
                My eyes have turned red as stop lights,
                You seem ready to walk,
                You know I will call you eventually,
                When I wanna talk,
                Till then you're invisible.

                Cause there's this switch that gets hit,
                And it all stops making sense,
                And in the middle of drinks,
                Maybe the fifth or the sixth,
                I'm completely alone,
                At a table of friends,
                I feel nothing for them,
                I feel nothing!
                Nothing!
                        – Bright Eyes: Hit the Switch

Category: Uncategorised

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Welcome to New-Path

When I see it’s been a week since my last entry I start to feel like a ghost. Reading my own blog is like being Fred viewing Bob Arctor through a scanner darkly. Uncomfortable questions arise: what has he/I been doing, where has he/I been, what’s on his/my mind? Why do I have no recollection of the last seven days? Have entries been erased, and if so, who by? I have my suspicions. You wouldn’t like them...

Actually, it’s been a non-descript type of week. Reading: Coalescent by Stephen Baxter, The Babylon Five Scripts of JMS: Volume Two, and everyone else’s blogs. Viewing: Between the Lines on DVD. Writing: a wee spot of outlining. You know, more or less the same life as led by everyone else, where exceedingly little tends to happen over short spans of time.

Got some of the second set of dents out my car, too.

Work’s Christmas party last night, so I missed the end of Bleak House. Thank heaven for the omnibus tomorrow. And one week till Doctor Who!

Good party, too.

Laters.

Category: Meatspace

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Overpromised and underdelivered: The Ghost Squad

I'm getting a hell of a lot of hits from people searching the web for torrents, or information about The Ghost Squad, C4s new, disposable, pop cop drama.
 
In my previous post I wrote about how excited I was by the potential of the show’s premise, only to lace this with a wary appraisal of the first two episodes, which didn’t actually deliver very much.

Five episodes in and the series has continued to underwhelm this viewer. Despite my own thoughts, it’s nevertheless winning plaudits from the TV press, who compare it, to a man, to Garnett’s The Cops. The comparison is ludicrous; especially so, since a far more obvious candiate for the show’s “inspiration” exists. I’m talking about Between the Lines, whose pips The Ghost Squad is not qualified to shine. This is not mere nostalgia talking. Season one of Between the Lines is out now on DVD and rocks hard. In contrast, favoured comparison piece The Cops hasn’t been seen for over half a decade. While we’re on the subject, where the hell are my DVDs of Buried, and Tough Love/Lenny Blue?

Here’s how Channel Four punt the skein (listen to me and my fancypants jargon):

The Ghost Squad stars Elaine Cassidy as Amy Harris, a young and idealistic undercover detective, whose work soon becomes a sinister and violent journey of discovery.
 
Recruited to the Ghost Squad by the tough Detective Superintendent Carol McKay (Emma Fielding), her new and powerful boss – they soon clash when Amy doesn't tow the party line. Amy's shadow and support in the Ghost Squad is Pete (Jonas Armstrong), a thrill-seeker with a dangerous edge. Depending on each other in the edgy world they inhabit, theirs is a relationship that is always electric.

Undercover for weeks or months on each case, the set ups are costly, and Amy can't afford to fail. But what is success? In the complex world of political expediency nothing is clear cut.


Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Let’s look at it in a little more detail. “Amy doesn’t tow the party line?”. Hiffle. Pete’s “a thrill seeker with a dangerous edge?” Piffle. “Nothing is clear cut?” Old plum pud. Yes, that’s all the detail it deserves.
 
I had a joke about how fitting it is that a show called The Ghost Squad should be so anemic, but worried it was a cheap shot. But fuck it, I’ve got no good will left. This is a miserable, bloodless excuse for a show. I don’t know what the writers think they are doing, but so far they haven’t introduced a case whose outcome hasn’t been clear within the first five minutes. The plots are simplistic, their resolutions unsubtle. There’s no tension, no conflict, no suspense; nothing that happens will come as a surprise to anyone who’s switched on a television at all in their lifetimes. There’s not enough intrigue, not enough violence, not enough sex. Even last week’s lesbian clinch was dull. It’s come to something when it takes me so long to suspend my disbelief I miss the scene of girls snogging.

Look, it ought to be simple. You’ve got these undercover cops who infiltrate dodgy firms to put away corrupt officers. You can investigate any rank, for any reason, anywhere in the country. Before you even start, there are intriguing questions about loyalty, honesty, identity, and etranger you can make your characters face. Plots can revolve around what it’s like to live someone else’s life for months on end, whether it’s better to be an honest crook than a bent copper, or if you fight someone’s corner or hang them out to dry. Every episode should be a mystery that makes us curious about the characters: is he bent or isn’t he? will Amy’s cover be blown? is McKay simply furthering her own political aims? will Amy have to compromise her beliefs to get a result? is Pete in any way useful?

Instead we cruise slowly along, every single beat marked by a thousand galley slaves pulling on the oars of a bloody big ship, too fucking huge to miss, with no question at all what direction it’s headed in.

What a waste. But it’s no damn good complaining. If I’m so convinced there’s a potential for great stories in the setup, it’s up to me to find them. I am taking up the Stack challenge, of writing a spec for an existing British TV show. It may not be as sexy as Alias in its heyday (and I mean Alias as in the gestalt of the show, not J. Garner, who I’ve always thought has the features of a rough Gary Erskine sketch), but it’ll be mine.

Category: Movies and TV

What's in the box?

I had somehow missed that Christopher Nolan's next project was an adaptation of Christopher Priest's The Prestige, with Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johanssen.

Priest is one of my favourite writers, and The Prestige one of his finest novels, a haunting, gas-lit mystery involving two duelling Victorian stage magicians and the gothic secret which haunts their families for the next hundred years.

Brilliant, better than Carter Beats the Devil, the second best book ever about rival prestidigitators. In the words of John Clute:

... as an exercise in narrative control, in pretending to propound illusionary matters while never actually, I think, telling an actual untruth, The Prestige is exemplary. It is a lesson to us in the joy of story.


Bloody marvellous.

Category: Movies and TV

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Feel the ripples

Denis McGrath follows my perfunctory referral to Jane Featherstone's Guardian profile with a great post about the potential benefits to both the UK and Canada of teaming up in order to move away from the predominant six episode serial model. There are very good reasons to do this - longer running shows stand a greater chance of making back their budget in foreign sales, and provide training ground for new writers, something the UK is in real need of right now. At the moment, Featherstone states, most of our TV writers train in theatre, or on soaps, making their name in an environment which actually provides very little preparation for the move to working on a drama series. The writing talent is out there, but it is not well nurtured; moving towards a format that can actually provide a means to develop new talent is better for everyone - the writers, production company, TV stations, and the audience.

The End of the British 6-Pack?.

Category: Movies and TV

I Am Alive and You Are Dead - a speculative biography

Second hand bookstores had the most subversive influence on my young life. They conceal, in full view, devastating thought-bombs; hidden in musty pages, behind gaudy covers, a negligible cost pencilled on the title page to reassure you that you are actually buying an object, whereas this is in fact a smoke screen - you are exchanging ignorance for awareness, and you can never tell who's getting the better deal. I’ve never felt the same shameful tingle of discovery browsing through a library, or in Waterstones, as I felt when exploring the dark, narrow passageways of the second hand store on my way home from school. I shouldn't have been there, but there I was, again.

From the Belgariad to The Glass Bead Game, by way of The Brentford Triangle and Mythago Wood, second hand books, randomly selected and carried home in secret, have shaped my life.

It was above the newsagents I used to deliver papers for that I lost my innocence, aged fourteen. In one afternoon, seduced by their dark pulpy covers, I picked up Dr Bloodmoney, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Now Wait for Last Year, A Maze of Death, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I was never the same again. And all for three quid. Phil Dick changed my world.

Until that day, I had read books featuring kindly narrators, genial storytellers who were on the side of their protagonists. Suddenly I was reading about isolation, madness, betrayal and damnation as inescapable facts of life, the best we can hope for. Glen Runciter finds a coin imprinted with Jo Chip’s profile, and suddenly no longer knows if he is alive in the world, or dead, trapped in the mind of a teenaged psychopath, and that’s practically a happy ending, yes?

This Dick guy was fucked up. And he was addictive. I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to know what kind of a man could write such stories. Now, almost twenty (yikes) years later, along comes a book which, as befits my status in adult life, I have been able to purchase new, and in hardback. Golly.

Subtitled A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, I Am Alive and You Are Dead is not your ordinary biography, not a work of scholarship, of pouring over birth records, school reports, correspondence, interview transcripts - the primary evidence that gives shape to a man’s life in this objective reality. Carrere is not concerned with such minutia, and if you are the sort of reader who obsesses over such bagatelles, I suggest you look at Lawrence Sutin’s far more sympathetic, traditional biography, Divine Invasions. Sutin is as big a fan of Dick as Carrere, but both have radically different approaches to telling the story of his life, and both ought to be read to experience a full account of Dick’s madness/genius. One will tell you of the traces Phil Dick left in the world, the other attempts the more thankless task of telling you how he experienced it.

Not everyone gets there is a difference.

I've read reviews of this terrific book bemoaning the lack of an index, angry that there are too few citations, gypped there is no bibliography, no objectivity or way to tell if the author is presenting facts or supposition. Sad, really. The central questions of Dick's life's work were what is human? what is real? and it's fitting that this book should invite the reader to ask the same questions on every page. Is this an accurate portrait? Was Dick's idios kosmos really as skewed as the koinos kosmos presented in his books? Is this biography or fiction? I tend more towards reading this as a novel. A psychological thriller about a sci-fi author who suffers a nervous breakdown and comes to believe his stories are true.

It’s a pretty terrifying tale, which, like its subject, may have only the barest of relationships with objective reality. It's the story of Dick's life seen through his own eyes - a blameless man, persecuted by his government, harassed by a succession of castrating, shrewish wives, a target for secret KGB psychic experiments, prone to debilitating visions revealing the truth about our universe, his greatest fear that he is merely one of the many simulacra he portrays so movingly.

Carrere, too, often writes very movingly about Dick’s obsessions and paranoia, most beautifully in the chapter dealing with the genesis of Ubik, but also later, recounting Phil's stay in Canada, and later still, watching over his subject’s mad scribbling of his Exegesis, the eight thousand page paperweight no-one has ever been brave enough to read.

Despite both the fine writing (translation supplied by Timothy Bent) and Carrere’s undoubted affection for Phil, one can't help coming away from this book with the total, consuming impression that Dick was, well, a dick. Selfish, needy, insecure, untrustworthy and paranoid, he seemed to spend his life demanding more and more of people while offering less and less of himself. Impossible to live with, terrified of being alone; parts of the book are almost painfully uncomfortable to read, particularly when detailing the way he treated his wives. One keeps reading, both unable to tear away from this train-wreck of a life, and vainly hoping for some kind of redemption at the end of it. No such luck. Sadly, it seems, the man was an ass.

But is any of it true? Is any biography? Is the truth of a man's life to be found in records of his actions - where he lived, who he married, what he said; or in the artifacts of his imagination - 150 short stories and 50 novels; or in the analysis of his fears and nightmares? And if Phil Dick himself were merely a creation of someone elses' mind, if he died aged six months and what we think of as his life was the imagining of twin sister, Jane, what can that tell us? What does the world Dick lived in tell us about her? About us?

Whoever, whatever, Dick truly was, his tragic attempt to find truth was positively, nobly, Quixotic. In his constant search for answers to the questions of what is human? and what is real? Dick produced some of the most challenging and influential literature of the twentieth century. Sure, he was never a great prose stylist (to put it kindly), and given his abuse of every type of prescription drug under the sun (and then some), a certain lack of consistency in his work is to be expected. But the man left us with a legacy that includes The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik, A Scanner Darkly and VALIS. He left me, aged fourteen, with a completely rewired brain.

Then again, if we take I Am Alive and You Are Dead at its word, then Dick's books were real, and Phil Dick himself was Palmer Eldritch. Carrere’s book is either Ubik or Chew-Z; innoculation, or the ultimate bad trip, abandoning the reader to Dick’s malign influence. Certainly, by the time he dies, at the end of this remarkable “biography,” I felt only relief that, finally, I was free of his malevolent world-view, the trip was over and I could go back to my own, mundane, life.

And yet now, every coin I spend bears the imprint of his features.


Category: Books and Comics

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Of all the...

Sunday afternoon, me and my dad spent about two hours working out how to get the door panel off my car and then pushing dents out.

By the time we finished it looked almost as good as new.

Today, I backed into a wall. Same side. Same door. Whacked the same exact spot.

There are worse things that could happen. Fewer more embarrassing.

Category: Meatspace

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kudos to you, ma'am

Guardian Media today ran a profile of Jane Featherstone, producer of Spooks and Hustle, who has this to say:

We are going to have to start producing longer-running series...We are going to have to start the shift to US-style 26-part series. The audience are ready for it, and to have C4 without drama at the heart of its schedule can't go on.


Too right.

Here’s the link - but beware, sign-up required.

Category: Movies and TV

Friday, December 02, 2005

Oops


The side of my car didn’t look like that this morning.

But you should see the post I drove into. Ha! Oh.

I park like Frank Drebin.

I did this at my local petrol station, just as I was pulling in to get diesel. I really needed to fill up as well, otherwise I would have driven sheepishly away. No, I had to get out of the car and pretend like nothing had happened, while everyone else - and this was at 8:45 this morning so there were lots of people about - all politely pretended not to have seen anything.

I really appreciated their tact.

Category: Meatspace

Thursday, December 01, 2005

You will never work again

Thanks to Wired for alerting me of new game Bugs on Ferry Halim's utterly joycore games site Orisinal.

All of the Flash games therein are awsomely addictive, but it's the design - the music and artwork that keeps drawing me back in.

Try it - but make sure you've got some spare time first.

Category: Gaming