Monday, 7 December 2015


If, like all right thinking people, you enjoy audio drama you should check out Tumanbay, a new epic fantasy from Radio 4.  Apparently it's hiatorically inspired, the name Tumanbay itself being taken from a sultan, Tuman Bay, who ruled Egypt and Syria.  However, as my knowledge of middle eastern history stops with Cleopatra and starts again post WW1 I can't judge it's accuracy.  Still it's nice to find a new bit of history to potentially learn about. 

I've listened to one episode of the show and it's got off to a strong start.  It's intriguey and satisfyingly brutal, with slavery, torture and fracticide depicted as matter of fact parts of life.  The obvious comparison is with Game of Thrones, especially the politics of Kings Landing and the slave trade of Slavers' Bay.  There's some fairness to that comparison, but the characters are sufficiently different and the historical flavour gives Tumanbay enough of it's own identity to grab my attention.  

Tumanbay has a large cast, especially for radio.  I was worried this might be a problem but there are elements of first person narration that keep the plot easy enough to follow and give an insight into one on the main character's thoughts.  No-one's stolen the show but nobody's spoilt it either (and Alexander Siddig's in it, always nice to see a DS9 alumnus getting work).

I'm on-board, but it's a gritty fantasy audio drama produced by Radio 4 and staring Julien Bashir, I was always going to give it a few episodes.  The beeb have made it available as a podcast with episodes staying up for 30 days so you can listen to it while commuting or while having a walk (like I did).  You can find out more about the show and listen to it here.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Night (Bike) Rider

Guys I had another stupid misadventure. Yesterday I cycled to Selby, I set off at about half past seven, got chips and headed off back at about nine. Just as it was getting dark I remembered that I had no lights. 

I managed to get off the road before it got too dark, so I wasn't worried about cars but I was miles from the nearest street light. The York to Selby cycle track is an old railway line so it's flat and straight, which was fortunate, mostly it was light enough to just about see where I was going but things got pretty pitch black between the trees and "Between the trees" made up about 49% of the journey.

I was torn between going as fast as I could and slowing right down to avoid hitting anything in the gloom. I'd cycled out in the daylight and didn't encounter any major obstacles but I was worried that something could have fallen onto the path in the hours that had passed, a branch or stray stone that could have thrown me from my saddle, or maybe some barbed-wire across the path like in 2001 Maniacs. I opted for speed, hoping that if I got home quicker there'd be less time for something bad to happen to me.  

There were a surprising amount of people about, other night cyclists, an astronomer and multiple dark shapes that could be cats, serial killers or demonic entities. The astronomer was by far the coolest, he had a pretty meaty telescope and was doing everything by red light (which my night vision appreciated). The nerdy part of me wanted to stop and have a chat with him, but nobody appreciates strangers stopping for a chat when it's pitch black in the middle of nowhere.

I was relieved to reach Bishopthorpe and delighted when I reached York, even if I did get a bit confused and end up circling around on myself a few times at the racecourse. Never bet on me at the races, although I suspect I wouldn't be able to out race a horse even if I knew where I was going.  

Fortunately I made it home without being murdered by serial killers, demonic entities or my own stupidity, although I suspect at least one of those will have another try before too long.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Midnight Story

Mike woke up and clutched his stomach.  It hurt, his insides felt as if they'd been twisted around each other in a painful knot.  He didn't know what it was, but he assumed it was just cramp or indigestion, so he took a Rennie's and tried to go back to sleep. If it happened again he'd see the doctor.

Mike had almost been right, it was the creature inside him that had indigestion.  It slithered about beneath his skin, growing, almost ready to be born and there was nothing any doctor could do about it.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The World's End

I watched The World's End last night.  I'm not gonna write too much about the film itself, partly because it's late, I'm tired and lazy but also because it's the sort of film you want to see with as few preconceptions as possible, it's not an M. Night Shyamalan style twist film, but Wright, Pegg and co. have done a great job of keeping the majority of the film out of the trailers and it'd be a shame to miss out on that.

So what did I think of the film?  We'll I liked it, at the moment it's my favourite film of the year (so far).  Having said that it's not been a great year for films (and I've not seen Pacific Rim yet).  The World's End is a good film.  Edgar Wright brings the same top notch craft and visual flair he's brought to all his other films, there are some fantastic sight gags and I look forward to re-watching the film again and again to spot them all.  Frost and Pegg both turn in fantastic performances, I'd gone off them a bit recently, but their work here stands up with anything from the Cornetto Trilogy and the supporting cast match them ably.  Having said all that when I left the cinema I wasn't as excited about the movie as I had been about Shaun or Fuzz.

I think a big reason for this is the movie's plot.  I have no problem with the movie's writing generally, as I said above it's a very well crafted film.  However, I think it's definitely the hardest of the Cornetto Trilogy for me to relate to.  A good part of the film's plot, and pretty much all of the main characters' emotional journeys, revolve around returning to your hometown as an adult, and that's a tougher theme for me to emphasise with than the slacker's coming of age story in Shaun or Hot Fuzz's parochial paranoia.

I currently live in the town I grew up in, it's not where I want to spend the rest of my life but I don't see it as a pit I need to escape.  I've not left and laid down roots somewhere else or refused to move on and obsess over past glories.  I'm still in the process of finding my own place in the world, while all the characters in the film have either achieved or rejected this.  A lot of Shaun and Fuzz were about growing up, The World's End is about being, (or not being) an adult and that's not something that I really worry about. 

This obstacle prevented me form enjoying the film on a purely vicarious level as I could with Fuzz or Shaun.  However, it absolutely is an obstacle that will disappear with time.  I for the moment I can enjoy the film for it's jokes, it's craft and it's plot and I'm sure as I age the character's struggles will resonate with me more strongly.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

I am a grumpy old man.

I've just got back from the pub quiz.  After very nearly winning I left the pub through a throng of eighteen to twenty year olds who gathered around the door, I heard one of them say "let's get a taxi" and I despaired.  They were only going to the top of the hill! How lazy does someone have to be to take a taxi a mile and a half up a moderate incline?

When I was their age I walked home every night.  There wasn't a night out that didn't end with me strolling up the hill, by myself, in the dark.  Every Thursday I'd stumble home, crying and covered in sick, half naked.  I'd walk dazed and confused without any thought for where I was going, my homing instinct drawing me home like I was some overgrown pigeon.  I'd shuffle shoeless over the pebbles and brambles, weeping uncontrollably at my teenage state with most of a pizza smeared across my face and cheesy chips in my hair.  My shirt hung open, exposing my bald adolescent chest to the unforgiving night in all it's magnificent pearlescence.  I'd scream obscene challenges at owls both real and imagined as I plodded onwards.  I'm rambling, the point I'm trying to make is that that was the best, everyone should be like that, I'm the best, goodnight.

Monday, 24 June 2013

He is Legend

Richard Matheson died today. I've only read one of his books but it was phenomenal. I read I Am Legend after seeing the Will Smith film of the same name, I remember enjoying the film but being blown away by the book. The film was a serviceable post-trauma zombie movie, the book is a classic piece of horror literature. Dark, claustrophobic and intelligent I am Legend has maybe the most interesting takes on the vampire story I've ever encountered. It's a short, powerful book with no words wasted and something very interesting to say.

At the start of I am Legend Robert Neville is the last surviving human in a world of vampires. He spends his days hunting them and his nights locked up in his house hoping the creatures outside don't find their way in. At first the book does a fantastic job of portraying Neville as a practical, capable man struggling to maintain his sanity in the face of complete loneliness. However, as the story progresses it heads into darker and darker territory towards an ending that's as bleak as it is perfect. I struggle to thing of a work of fiction with an ending as effective as I am Legend's. The storytelling is tight, focused and fearless. Neville remains an interesting and sympathetic character despite the impossible situations he finds himself in, I found myself desperately rooting for him despite the hopelessness of his situation.

I am Legend is rightfully considered to be a classic of Science Fiction Horror and has gone on to massively influence the genre. The zombie story is particularly indebted to Matheson, his story serving as a sort of pre-cursor to the genre in a way similar to George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Despite the sometimes off-putting genre pedigree I would recommend I am Legend to anyone in a way that I wouldn't with other influential writers. Don't bother with any of the adaptations just read the book. I'm going to check out some of his other works.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Eagle Problems

Have you heard of the Lord of the Rings?  It's pretty obscure, fifty thousand pages of rambling and made up languages.  Of course you've heard of the Lord of the Rings!  Everyone and their mum's heard of the Lord of the Rings.  Everybody who has ever lived has seen the extended editions of the films read the books and had a crack at the Silmarillion for a couple of pages before giving up with a headache and going to read literally anything else.  Okay I'm exaggerating, I'm sure they are some tiny children in outer Mongolia who have never seen the Lord of the Rings but the fact remains that it's one of the cultural touch stones of Epic Fantasy.  I have spent (some might say wasted) hours of my life discussing the Lord of the Rings with friends, acquaintances and colleagues and you know what always comes up, especially when we're talking about the movies, those fucking eagles.
Not these guys
You know the ones, the giant birds of prey that turn up to rescue Gandalf from Orthanc and the Hobbits from Mount Doom.  The massive feathery killing machines that emerge from the sky when the plot demands it before vanishing without a trace.  Everyone's always going on about the eagles, "Why didn't they just ride the eagles to Mordor in the first place?" asks 6 of the first 10 results returned when you Google eagles lord of the rings in as shrill and whinny voice.  Thousands of pieces of lazy nerd humour and joyless pedantry have addressed the issue and I want a piece of that action.

I didn't have a problem with the eagles in Lord of the Rings, eagles are cool, giant eagles are cooler and I was mostly just excited to see them on screen.  Huge winged predators turning up to rescue friendly wizards and fight not-quite-dragons are exactly what you want to see in a movie when you're a teenage nerd (or an adult nerd).  Even after realising the plot hole they presented I didn't care a great deal.  The rescue of Gandalf served to establish the wizard as a powerful character with all sorts of unexpected allies and after forty thousand hours of needing a wee and watching the Return of the King I was delighted not to dwell on Sam and Frodo's escape from Mount Doom (although it was a shame to miss out on the Scouring of the Shire).  LOTR's plot isn't watertight, but none of the holes are big enough to sink it.  The problems I have with the eagles are in the Hobbit.

The eagles' appearances in LOTR both serve valuable plot functions and, aside from the "why didn't they use them in the first place?" plot hole, don't raise a great deal of questions.  They're a powerful magical race, they're goodies, here's how they help, done and dusted.  The problem arises with how they're used in the Hobbit.  In that movie Gandalf summons the Eagles again and they save the heroes, again, before dropping them off on a rock and disappearing again, the dwarves stand on the rock without saying a word before watching a bird fly to the lonely mountain.  This is the moment where the eagles become problematic.  

Why do none of the dwarves discuss the eagles?  Why doesn't Fili of Kili or whoever ask them to take them the rest of the way?  These aren't just plot problems like in the use of the eagles in LOTR, these are character problems.  The fact that the dwarves silently watch the eagles go before discussing how much further they have to travel breaks investment in the characters.  The dwarves are ignoring this incredible thing that's just happened to them to avoid raising a plot hole, so they feel like actors rather than genuine characters and the audience finds it hard to care.

This is all so frustrating because the same events happen in the books and it never feels like a problem.  The difference comes because in the books the eagles talk, they have names and dialogue.  They are characters rather than plot devices.  Tolkien presents Gwahir and pals as a group of individuals and as such it becomes easier to accept their actions.  They presumably have their own thought and interests so it's less difficult to accept that they don't save the day every time Gandalf needs them to.  By using the eagles repeatedly  without developing their character the films reduce the Eagles to a feathery Deus Ex Machina and gives the viewer no reason not to ask "Why didn't they just ride the eagles to Mordor in the first place?" in as shrill and whinny voice.