Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Book I Read in September

'Ink' by Hal Duncan
As I have discussed before, as I have aged, people increasingly have felt that I may have Asperger's Syndrome and as a result find it difficult to 'connect' with what they feel is 'normal' society.  Indeed this week, having introduced myself to my new manger, a colleague said 'of course, the rest of us live normal lives'.  Given her obsessions and zoning out to anyone else's words, we might contest her view of 'normal'.  Anyway, I provide this as an explanation of why I ended up reading this book having given its predecessor 'Vellum' such a bad review:  I bought the two books together, though fortunately from a charity shop.  Having been criticised at school for not completing a book ('Great Escape Stories' by Eric Williams (1962) largely because though a fan of the accounts of escapes from Colditz castle I found post-war stories had too much of a feeling of torture), I have always battled to any that I have bought and started to read.

Unsurprisingly, 'Ink' was no better than 'Vellum'.  It is 115 pages longer which is hardly a benefit.  It again contained loads of fragments typically featuring the same set of characters in multiple alternate worlds.  This time there was a parallel thread of a performance of Harlequin, Columbine, et al and parallels drawn between them and the book's characters and various personalities from ancient myths.  There is a pretentious bit at the end about how Duncan has drawn on various translations of Greek myths, but if that is the case and not simply an affectation, he has learned nothing from these works in terms of character, narrative or plot.  Instead there is simply a pile of fragments.  There are flashes of interesting ideas and settings.  One sustained one is set in Syria in 1929 in which the Ottoman Empire was able to hold on to the North of the country following the First World War and using weaponry provided by Germany is threatening the British hold on Palestine.  It is the first book I have read to feature the Yazhidi community, written before they attracted global attention from their suppression by Islamic State.

The two books promote a pro-gay agenda.  The killing of a gay character at the end of 'Vellum' is constantly analysed and recast throughout the early parts of 'Ink'.  Perhaps in 1975 this would have intrigued or even excited the reader, but in 2015 you are left feeling 'so what?'.  You need to do far more with the scenario than simply toss it out there and expect the reader to be thrilled by how daring you are being.  This is part of the problem, Duncan relishes showboating, grandstanding or whatever you want to call it.  For him showing off how erudite he can be, how he has read more serious books than you, how he can keep all these tiny balls of story in the air at one time is more important to him than actually producing a decent book,

Again a lot of good material seems wasted due to an utter lack of (self-)discipline by the author.  I mentioned before that he is a Michael Moorcock fan and references things like Rosenstrasse, Mirenburg and needle guns.  There are Moorcockesque references to drugs and rock groups.  So this is fan fiction on a large scale, 1115 pages of it in total.  However, it really lacks the deftness of Moorcock and the repetitiveness which is inevitable when fragments are piled so high, makes it much less than the sum of its parts.

I think that there is talent somewhere in Duncan.  However, his vanity has been flattered for far, far too long.  The fact that he was able to publish two such large books full of crumbs of stories shows this.  He needs to stop the grandstanding and shed the tired tropes that might have been daring forty or fifty years ago, but these days for anyone who is going to pick up his kind of book are on their cliche hitlist.  Gay characters are now simply characters, nothing more than that.  Their sexuality is a part of their make-up just as the height or hair colour or religion is of them and other characters,  It no longer warrants getting so het up about not least from the author.

I do recommend you do not bother with either 'Vellum' and 'Ink'.  I hope Duncan is not further pandered to with publishing contracts until he can actually write a story.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Worst 'Doctor Who' Episode Ever?

The internet is full of fans and haters of 'Doctor Who' so you might argue there is no need for another.  However, this blog has always been about getting the stuff stressing me, 'the tablets of lead' out of my system and into the 'waters' of the internet.  After a dormant period following some terrible days in my life, I seem to be re-engaging with blogging, so expect an erratic flow of new ideas.  The political scene is frightening at present with us beginning to see the shift to a more authoritarian state started by Blair but relished by Cameron.  We also see the return of the military threatening to overthrow the Labour leader if he was ever elected to power.  So far, so very mid-1970s.  So perhaps it is time to seek solace in a programme I started watching back then.

I was not massively excited to see the new series of 'Doctor Who' on Saturday, but I did take time out to see it live.  Ironically this was only for the woman who lives in my house, who has not watched it for eight years, to pause it because she was 'not ready'.  Unlike some, I have been quite content with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.  I thought his first series was fine.  The first series with a new actor in the role is always a bit lumpy.  Perhaps only Christopher Eccleston came in without a hitch and then proved to have gone too quickly.  Thus, I was expecting even better for Capaldi's second series.  When I say an episode might be one of the worst ever, I have to say it has been a while since I saw those featuring Sylvester McCoy and so there might have been duller and/or more disjointed ones back then, that I have blotted out.  I am, however, still, traumatised by the liquorice allsort man even now.

Back to Saturday's episode. The opening scene with the mix of biplane and bow-and-arrow and the revelation of the 'hand mines' did not disappoint.  CGI has revolutionised television science fiction series.  The reveal of who the boy in the mine field was, was excellent, really triggering a potential moral dilemma.  I was happy. Then it was pushed aside.  We had someone looking like they had come from 'Hellraiser' in a bar from the seedier side of Tatooine and then the Shadow Proclamation and so on.  Yes, it might have reference Harry Potter a bit too much, but what was worse was how we got through so many good ideas very, very quickly, almost all of which could have been sufficient for an entire story.  I am sure many fans were watching thinking how they might develop any one of these into a story.  However, they were just tossed aside, not as a teaser but almost as if they were off-cuts from a script conference.

We got the frozen aeroplanes in the sky.  I could buy this too.  It felt a little Eccleston-era meets 'Torchwood' and 'Sarah Jane Adventures', but I was not averse to that.  Clara leaping on a motorbike in a skirt and powering off to UNIT, well I guessed that was to keep the younger viewers on board who might be lost in all the darkness that had proceeded.  Yet, again, another idea that could  have sustained an entire episode was burnt up far too quickly.

Missy appearing in the dreariest of Spanish squares was more wasted content.  From there it went down hill right to the bottom.  So many potential stories had been discarded.  The Doctor turning up with a guitar and a tank, trying to riff on 'Back to the Future' was an embarrassment.  He was supposed to be in 1138 CE (and no-one calls it AD these days!) but seemed to be at a medieval theme pub in the 1990s.  Look how well 'Time Crashers' did a joust to see what is easily available these days even without CGI for the actual event (only to get the participants in and out).

The return to Skaro was a good idea.  The 1960s version of the Dalek city was nice too.  However, these were yet more fragments.  All of the actors seemed lost in what was happening.  It had turned from something that hinted at so much into a pile of 'if only' strips of story that were tossed away.  There was the potential for an excellent opening episode and a number of middle-ranking ones.  Yet what was chosen was tired, confused and down right embarrassing.  I could almost feel the millions of people turning off.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Do Not Treat My Politics as Any Less than Yours

As anyone who has read this blog down the years will not be surprised, I am pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party.  After the May 2015 election I did not have any expectation that the Labour Party will be re-elected.  The demographics are against them and as has been quoted before, the British public is Conservative and only occasionally votes Labour.  Indeed the New Labour it voted for was simply a pale blue version of the Conservative Party with a better publicity machine.  Corbyn is refreshing because he puts forward an attitude that many, if only a large minority, have felt have been missing from British politics (though clearly not the politics of Greece or other European countries) for so long.

It is not surprising that the right-wing media have attacked Corbyn on every basis from what songs he might sing to who he slept with forty years ago to his fashion sense to made-up policies they think sound poor.  In some ways I welcome that fact as it does suggest that they see him as a genuine threat to their distortions and scares peddled to the population.  If Andy Burnham had won, I doubt he would have attracted a fraction of the attention that Corbyn has done.

'The Guardian' feels that Corbyn and his camp could have rebuffed false accusations if they had had their 'media machine' set up quicker.  In some ways, however, I am heartened by the fact that it was not.  To feel an obligation to rebuff every last accusation as soon as possible is simply to play the game of the right-wing; it shows that you feel that you can be harmed by them, rather than ignoring the rubbish thrown at you because it is in fact nothing more than rubbish, often fabricated and always plastered with indignation.

Corbyn is facing a man who left a child unattended in a pub and has no grasp of how 95% of the UK population live.  Even when he is pictured on public transport, it is clearly faked.  Corbyn looks like he belongs on the underground train, travelling home from work, looking tired, like literally millions of other Londoners.  Part of the problem are the Blair years.  The Blairite government made themselves masters of media manipulation.  However, they also made themselves vulnerable by seeming to care whether one MP stepped off a very narrow line about a policy.  They created a context in which it is felt that unless an entire political party is full of drones mouthing exactly the same words on everything it has somehow failed.  This makes it very difficult for genuine debate to occur not just over the big issues but also the nuances within them.  That does not aid British democracy.  Why is it acceptable for the Conservatives to have a spectrum of opinion from people wanting immediate exit from the EU to those who want to stay in forever and yet even moderate differences on the issue are seen as a 'failure' by Corbyn.  I suppose because we lack a left-wing media.

The anti-Corbyn campaign has been so relentless that it is unsurprising that it is picked up unquestioned and every crumb used as gospel truth by a lot of the population.  I work where people generally have to have a decent level of education to be employed.  However, I have been harangued by the fact that Corbyn wants to wreck the UK economy by scrapping the Queen and he will abolish the Army the moment he comes into office.  Even then, to me such policies seem pretty rational alongside ones such as compelling schools to become academies and allowing the private sector to take over handling prisoners and hospitals.  Given how shoddy and expensive the British railway system is, why is it not shouted down whenever anyone suggests it is not re-nationalised?

I do not expect people to agree with me.  This is a democracy, there are different parties and there is a range of views within every political party no matter how the Conservatives and the media portray it.  Yet, Corbyn politics in a matter of a week have been made to appear illegitimate even to discuss and at best something very naive.  No other political leader has reinvigorated a movement in this way for decades.  Perhaps Sir Keith Joseph and following in his footsteps, Margaret Thatcher did for the Conservatives and that was forty years ago now.  Yet if I ever say anything positive about a Corbyn policy people titter as if I am foolish.  I would be happier to accept them being angry about my approach.  However, the right seems to be winning as it did in the 1980s by simply making Labour policies not seem a threat but simply not worthy of even considering and viewing anyone who proposes them as 'loony'.  It worked before, so I should not be surprised that it is working now.  It is exasperating for a number of reasons.

I could stand in a French or a Greek workplace and outline political views at odds with the people around me and they might disagree perhaps vocally, but they would not look on me as a child; they would not strip me of my right to hold that opinion.  To do so in Britain is a form of censorship which is in fact akin to the approach of dictatorships, not that of other mature democracies.  A further point is that I could state that the world was created in 7 days in 4004 BC; that dinosaur bones were laid in the strata by God to show man the passing of all things and that one day the righteous will be lifted into the skies during the Rapture and no-one would be allowed to laugh or ridicule my views without risking a disciplinary action for discrimination.  I subscribe to a political stance which is rational and in my view would be better for the bulk of people living in my country than the current policies.  Yet, because those very few who control our society and economy feel threatened by such views, they have schooled their minions in the population to ridicule and simply dismiss even the expression of that view.  Is it any surprise that people say Britain has only a partial democracy?