Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New paper on academia.edu

Here is a link to a paper I've just posted to academia.edu, which I wrote for the now defunct Open University Course AA310 Film and Television History when I was taking the course as a student. 
It's all about invasion narratives in 1950s and 1960s TV SF. _

Sunday, August 18, 2013

New post on Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space

I've put a new post up on Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space, collecting a number of interesting things I've seen recently.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Writing Fantastic London: A reading list

Among many fantastic things I was involved with at the Nineworlds Geekfest last weekend, I led a workshop on "Writing Fantastic London", a mixture of me talking about key fantastic works about London, and how they use London, and giving people the chance to write their own stories about London. I'm not sure how well it worked, and in future I would certainly give more time for discussing stories written in the workshop. 

In any case, I thought I'd give you the list of key texts I passed out (revised to include some "OMG How did I forget that!" works).

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898)
E. Nesbit, The Story of the Amulet (1906)
P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins (1934) and sequels
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids (1951)
C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
Elizabeth Beresford, The Wombles (1968) and sequels
Michael Moorcock, The Final Programme (1969), A Cure for Cancer (1971), The English Assassin (1972), The Condition of Muzak (1977)
Malcolm Hulke, Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion (1976)
Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor (1985)
Iain Banks, Walking on Glass (1985)
Geoff Ryman, The Child Garden (1989)
Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (1996)
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (1997) and sequels
Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2000-)
Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines (2001) and sequels
Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004), The System of the World (2004)
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004)
Elizabeth Hand, Mortal Love (2004)
Mike Carey, The Devil You Know (2006) and sequels
China Miéville, Un Lun Dun (2007), Kraken (2010)
Kate Griffin, A Madness of Angels (2009) and sequels
Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London (2011), Moon Over Soho (2011), Whispers Under Ground (2012), Broken Homes (2013)
Paul Cornell, London Falling (2012)
Terry Pratchett, Dodger (2012)

The following is a reading list for a Summer School I teach for Middlesex University, with duplications with the list above taken out,  It was originally prepared by the person who taught the course before me, though I've tweaked it a bit.  This course is particularly slanted towards fantasy, whilst the list above includes sf as well.

Michael Moorcock, Warlord of the Air (1971)
Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates (1983)
Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell, From Hell (1989)
Neil Gaiman, et al., Sandman: The Doll's House (1991), "Men of Good Fortune"
China Miéville, King Rat (1998), Perdido Street Station (2000)
Terry Pratchett, The Truth (2000) (other novels featuring Ankh-Morpork are relevant)
Chris Wooding, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray (2001)
Jonathan Stroud, The Bartimaeus Trilogy (three books: 2003-2010)
Ian R. MacLeod, The Light Ages (2003)
Charlie Fletcher, Stoneheart (2006), Ironhand (2007), Silvertongue (2008)
Marie Brennan, Midnight Never Come (2008)

The following suggestions were made by members of the audience (in addition to those that struck me as obvious omissions, which are in the list above):

Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish (1984)
Felix J. Palma, The Map of Time (2008)
Mike Shevdon, Sixty-One Nails (2009) and sequels
Benedict Jacka, Fated (2012) and sequels

Here are some works in which one might research London, as all the writers above have:

Ken Garland, Mr. Beck’s Underground Map (1994)
Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography (2001)
Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: the story of immigration to Britain (2005)
Jerry White, London in the Twentieth Century (2001), London in the Nineteenth Century (2007), London in the Eighteenth Century (2011)
Barry Miles, London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945 (2010)
Cathy Ross & John Clark, London: The Illustrated History (2008)

And finally, this website is still very much under construction, but it will be a great resource soon.


So, that should keep you all busy!  Feel free to add some further thoughts.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Lies, damned lies and casting rumours

There are two types of news story I automatically disbelieve unless they have some verifiable authority attached. One is football transfer rumours. Over the years I have come to conclude that most of these are concocted by sports journalists with column inches that must be filled, or agents eager to raise the profile of their clients.

The other, as you might guess from the title of this blog post, is Doctor Who rumours. I have seen so many rubbish rumours about the show over the years that I refuse to believe anything not officially announced by the BBC. Sometimes, that does mean I am dismissive of something that turns out to be true - I gave no credence at first to the casting of Billie Piper. But on the whole, I think I have a good hit-rate on this, and failed to be caught out by, for instance, the idea that the new Doctor would be announced at the Doctor Who prom.

So, we are in the midst of a flurry of rumours. The twelfth Doctor will be announced on Sunday. Who will it be?

The important point is - nobody knows. Aside from a small group of people sworn to secrecy on pain of losing their BBC Cardiff canteen privileges, nobody knows who has been cast. The journalists writing articles don't know. The punters placing bets don't know. The bookies don't know. So when someone says that Peter Capaldi is the bookies' favourite, this means nothing more than that some people have placed bets on Capaldi, because they like him or because they think he'd be good in the role, and other people have seen Capaldi going up in the rankings, thought 'oh, yes, I like him', and placed their own bets. It doesn't mean that Capaldi is any more likely to be cast than Peter O'Toole or Sooty. If he is cast, and I don't think he will be, it will be a mere coincidence that the bookies got it right.

What's a bit depressing about this is how little imagination gets displayed. Journalists and punters think of people they remember, people of whom the public are aware. So we get suggestions like Idris Elba. Now, I have no problem with a black Doctor - indeed, I think it's something that's overdue (though I'm not sure the people casting the role agree). And Elba is a fine actor. But I think the star of Luther and Pacific Rim has better things to do with his career than be the Doctor. And this is the thing with a lot of the people whose names have come up - they are generally in places in their careers where they don't need to be the Doctor. Most of these suggestions pay little attention to the sort of person who has been cast in the past. (Except the wish-fulfillment suggestions that an old Doctor will return to the role. I've been hearing these since a suggestion in the 1980s that Troughton was coming back. It wasn't true then, and it's blazingly unlikely now.)

Only twice, I'd argue, has an actor been cast as the Doctor who was bigger than the brand - when William Hartnell was cast for the show's launch in 1963, and when Eccleston was cast for the relaunch in 2005. Apart from that, Doctor Who has not been the next move for an actor who has already starred in a successful series. You could make an argument for McGann, but I'd argue his career had slipped somewhat from the heights of Withnail and I. And you could make a better argument for Tennant, but he didn't then have the public profile that Capaldi and Elba have now. [Edit: It has entirely correctly been pointed out to me that Davison was also pretty well known when cast.]

Virtually nobody had heard of Matt Smith when he was cast. His most prominent work before being cast as the Doctor was a supporting role in Ruby in the Smoke, and being part of an ensemble cast in Party Animals, a series that no-one watched and which no-one would now remember were it not for the presence in the cast of before-they-were-famous Smith, Andrea Riseborough and Andrew Buchan. So why not place a bet on James Bradshaw? Who? Exactly. James Bradshaw has been playing one-off character roles in film and television for fifteen years, and has shown recently that he has exactly the sort of eccentric intelligence the role requires in his performances as Max DeBryn in Endeavour. I'm not saying that he is going to be cast. But he'd be no more of a waste of money than Idris Elba.

Who do I think will be cast? I have no idea. I'd love it if John Hurt turned out to really be the next Doctor, especially if that meant we'd get a Doctor who was in control of the situation, rather than constantly improvising in the face of the next unanticipated development. But I don't think it will be. What I want is what I wanted last time - a middle-aged character actor who is not bigger than the show, but can make the role their own. But I suspect I will be surprised on Sunday night.