EVEN HARD MEN FALL

Sad news overnight with the passing of Lewis Collins from cancer at the age of 67.

I’ve always been a fan of Collins, from first seeing him, like many, on The Professionals, to later work on movies like Who Dares Wins and his wonderful turn as George Godley in 1988’s Jack The Ripper, which Luscious and I watched again only a couple of weeks ago as our unofficial marking of the 125th anniversary of the Ripper. It was his best performance, and encapsulated just how much warmth he was capable of bringing to what were, essentially hard-man roles, and just how clever he was at creating character with his face: Godley is a man of raised eyebrows, twitches of the lips, and shrugs, and Collins imbues him with depth that, it is easy to see, is not in the script. It’s a facet he brought to all his roles, and one which made him, for me at least, immediately likeable, no matter how much of a bastard he played. Damned if I can remember who played The Comedian in the execrable Watchmen movie, but they missed a trick by not casting Collins. He’d been playing the role his entire career. He was made for it.

There was never as much of his work as there should have been– it’s well documented that he unsuccessfully tried out for the James Bond role in the 80s, and he would have brought a Daniel Craig sense of danger to the role thirty years before Craig arrived– but what roles there are form some of my favourite TV and film memories of my 1970s and 1980s, and he is an important member of my karass: My first ever trip to the theatre was to see him in Deathtrap when it toured Perth in my teens. I’ve been a theatre lover, and a firm fan of the play, ever since, and again, it was Collins’ combination of personable warmth and simmering danger that made the experience so magnetic.

Another piece of my past is chipped away, and I’m sad to see him go.

RIP Lewis Collins aged 67
Charm and danger: magnetic qualities. 

NOT RUDE, AND GINGER. AND NINE.

Our youngest son turns 9 today. I can’t tell you how many times over the years we’ve not been sure he’d make it. It’s been a struggle for him every step of the way: from several major miscarriage concerns before he was born, to multiple operations, to his current illness, he has battled and overcome more in his few years than I have faced in my 43. He has to be home schooled, he can’t join any sporting teams, he has few opportunities to make friends and undergo the kinds of social interactions children of his age should be taking for granted.

And yet: he is the brightest, happiest, most clued-in 9 year old kid I’ve ever met: quick of thought and wit, with a boundless fund of optimism and goodwill, and a robust personality strong enough that he is unafraid to face down adults and claim “That’s your opinion, but mine is different” when we disagree over subjects of taste and perception. A huge fan of Doctor Who and Lego and Batman Beyond; a lover of music as wide-ranging as Black Sabbath and John Dowland; a writer of haiku and book reviews; budding scientist; amateur paleontologist; dinosaur freak; obsessive watcher of Gary’s Mod videos; opinionated Star Trek- DS9 fan; maths lover; science nut; Iron Man fan and all round rock ’em sock ’em rough and tumble human spider boy’s boy.

In short: he’s brilliant.

Happy birthday, beautiful boy.

DAY OF THE DOCTOR, NIGHT OF THE BATTKIDS

It may have escaped your notice (I assume I have a large readership of blind and deaf orphans who live under rotten tree stumps in the darkest corners of the Congo), but Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the broadcast of the very first Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child.

It also marked 50 years since the last American who wanted to assassinate their President actually managed to shoot straight, Seriously, for a country so obsessed with guns, you think they’d be better at using the bloody things.

We’re a tadbit fannish in our house. By which I mean Lyn and I are massive fans but pale into obscurity next to the near-pathological devotion to all things Whovian exhibited by Master 8, who we have voted ‘Boy Most Likely to Face Stalking Charges Once He Learns Tom Baker’s Postal Address’.

To mark the occasion, we took the kids to the cinema on Sunday night to attend a 3D screening of the 50th anniversary episode, Day of the Doctor. After watching the accompanying minisodes. After spending half the morning watching the The Unearthly Child story. And An Adventure in Space and Time.

I wore one of my Doctor Who t-shirts. Yes, one of. DON’T JUDGE ME! The children wore their knee-high Doctor Who socks. Master 8 wore the Fourth Doctor scarf his Mum had knitted him. Judge them. Judge them cool, for it is so.

 

They wear long socks, now. Long socks are cool.

And we were not the only ones who Who’d-up. From the plethora of t-shirts on display; to the multitudinous rainbow of scarves, (including the family of 4 who came kitted out in matching examples); to the countless fezzes; bow-ties everywhere I looked; even the girl who dressed up in a neck to toe TARDIS dress, complete with shining blue light on top of her head; we were part of a vast crowd, several hundred deep, who had come out to celebrate their tribal membership, to mark an event that will, in all likelihood, not be repeated in my lifetime: there are no other shows that will survive so long, with such a devoted fandom. There may never be. That’s the thing about phenomena– they’re rare, and precious.

Which was all well and good, and my children will carry the experience with them for all their days, but was it actually any good? Was it worth $108 to drive an hour from home to sit in a cinema and watch an extended 3D episode of a TV show we could have watched on iview that morning for free?

Yes. It most definitely was.

I’m not going to talk about the story itself, very much, except to say that it is a highly satisfying Doctor Who story. It’s scary where it needs to be, funny where it needs to be, and the triumvirate of Smith, Tennant and Hurt have an on-screen chemistry that fairly leaps out of the audience: this is a trio of actors who are thoroughly enjoying their work together, and the way they banter and jibe bespeaks a genuine enjoyment in their work. There are nerdgasm moments in abundance, from (quite literally) the fifth second (Headmaster: I. Chesterton) through the return of a classic, widely-loved monster done properly, to two of the GREATEST. CAMEOS. EVER!!!!!!!! (ahem). And along the way, writer Steven Moffat delivers the type of beautifully constructed, labyrinthine, fan-friendly romps he is capable of when focused on the pure product, untrammelled by production concerns and the need to cram an overarching storyline and multiple ‘narrative umbrella’ lines into every moment. It is, by turns, wondrous, moving, laugh out loud funny, nostalgic and tearful.

It is, in short, exactly what you want in a celebration. And while the 3D was amazing (used properly, not to layer everything with a film of schlock but to subtly alter the dynamics of select shots, to add astonishing and surprising depth to moments where the impact is truly breathtaking. For those in the know, I return your attention to The Moment’s eyes.), and the interaction between the principals was fun and engaging, and the monsters were ubercool and the plot was fun, my favourite moment was so much of a surprise to me that it may have turned me around on the series as a whole:

Clara Oswald, as played by Jenna ‘Don’t call me Louise anymore now I think I’m getting a bit famous’ Coleman is one of the least interesting companions the show has ever presented. A breathy, mile-a-minute perkiness machine with the emotional depth and nuanced performance you’d expect from a four year old jumping in puddles, she has been a source of overwhelming irritation from the moment she first appeared.

Someone sat down with her before they started filming and told her to slow the fuck down. Slow down the delivery. Slow down the reactions. Slow down the perkybouncyrightyhochum performance and let her damn face breathe for a moment before fixing itself in the straight-at-the-camera rictus grin that has been, up until now, her one and only expression. And in Day of the Doctor, at the point of the narrative when all is lost, and three incarnations of the Doctor look each other in the eye and admit that the only option open to them all is the destruction of everything they hold dear, including all their morals, all their beliefs, and all the codes they have carried with them through 1200 years of regenerations, it is Clara who steps forward– the least worthy and least likeable of companions– and reaffirms exactly why Doctor Who– the show and the character– needs a companion.

Because she reminds him why he is the Doctor, and what that means. That being the Doctor means finding another way; discovering the impossible solution; bringing the uplift that can only come from dragging the Universe towards hope, no matter the weight, no matter the cost. That being the Doctor means being the one creature in the entire breadth and depth and width of time and space who cannot give in to despair.

And I bought it, completely and without question. Because I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was six years old, and I will continue to watch it for the rest of my life, long after it ceases to be screened again (perhaps, as we all have done once already). And I do so because Doctor Who is my fairy tale, my fantasy, my wish fulfilment. Because he falls into death and despair and threat, week after week, and always, always, leaves those he touches wiser, and safer, if not always happier. And always, always, he leaves behind him a trail of companions who have experienced the wonder of travelling with him, and are changed for the infinitely better.

And always– always– like every Doctor Who fan I have ever known, I have spent my life with half an ear cocked, waiting for the sound of the arriving TARDIS.

I have bitched and whined about Doctor Who for several years now. Too often ‘NuWho’ has relied on substandard material, or ploughed the narrative of least resistance. Some of the worst Doctor Who stories I’ve ever watched– and I’ve seen just about everything– have occurred in the last eight years (Gridlock, anyone?) It has consistently resurrected classic monsters only to ruin whatever legacy of memory they may have carried with them, and while there have been a number of truly brilliant stories, after 8 years I have exhausted most of my remaining goodwill towards the program.

Until last night, when, upon leaving the cinema, I tweeted “I think I may have fallen in love again”.

And I think I have.

LET’S HAVE FUN WITH HAIKU FAIL 2013!

Amidst all the kerfuffle, I failed to notice that results had been posted for the 2013 City of Perth Library haiku competition, and I managed to avoid the ignominy of actually winning anything with any of my entries.

So, for posterity and your education adn amusement, I present you with my five failed entries:

silver-bladed leaf
etched in deep-devoted words
edges drip in red



forced restructuring
empty bed and meals for one
micro-managed loss



infomercial dreams
extruded mental products
sponsored by McSleep



neon dinosaur
confused, abandoned, alone
shadowed night attacks



grey half-life faces
earthbound plastic consciousness
collapsible minds




Ah, well. Back to trying to make my fortune from short stories and late night Baldur’s Gate playing sessions….

A FIRST, TINY TASTE OF ANTIMONY

           When your first name is a poison, and your last name is a way of making people throw up, you have two choices: you can rebel against it, and become the sweetest, loveliest child in the world, or you can be evil.

            Antimony Lavage was evil. 

— The Dreadfully Deadly Plans of Antimony Lavage.


Here’s how it works:

1. Sign up for Nanowrimo.
2. Start working on your next adult novel. Have a title. Have a rough plot worked out.
3. Write 12 000 words.
4. Listen to Luscious Lyn read the first part of her new kids novel, The Adventures of Treckie Travers, to the family.
5. Go to bed.
6. Fall asleep.
7. Wake up with the entire plot of your new kids novel in your head and be unable to think of a bloody thing until you’ve actually got the beginning on paper.

And that’s how it’s done.

Review: LEGO Space: Building the Future

LEGO Space: Building the Future
LEGO Space: Building the Future by Peter Reid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll admit that this book wasn’t what I imagined when I ordered it: rather than a collection of instructions, model images and building tips by committed veteran Lego Space MOCers Peter Reid and Tim Goddard, it is, instead, a fictional ‘future history’ of Earth’s space exploration, illustrated with some quite beautiful Lego models and sprinkled with a small number of instructions for building the smallest and most easily assembled designs used within the story. That’s no bad thing– expectations can easily be inverted, or indeed, exceeded, by the surprise of discovery.

The book is presented as a fictional narrative, highly reminiscent of the range of illustrated speculative fact books I remember growing up with in the 1970s, beginning with a short history of Terran space travel from Sputnik to the modern day, then continuing into an increasingly speculative and space operatic future, moving father and farther off-planet, via the Moon, Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and eventually, into deep space. It is sprinkled with occasional side-stories, revolving around significant technological developments, before the mockumentary style is supplanted by a character-based story of attempted alien invasion and pitched battle that finishes the book. Creating a narrative around builds, particularly those in a series such as the ones presented within this book, is an integral part of the MOC-building experience for many AFOLs. And this is, really, where the book falls short.

The pictures themselves, and the MOC models they depict, are gorgeous, and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had for an average Lego builder like me in scrutinising each design as it is presented and attempting to decipher the techniques Reid and Goddard have used to create them faced with little more than images of the final work. AFOLs will get some delight in spotting the numerous naming in-jokes and respectful nods of the head to past Lego Space themes such as Ice Planet, Mission to Mars and Blacktron, and there’s plenty to be learned about diorama design and photography techniques, just by studying the images on each page. But the story that Reid and Goddard have constructed around the images is uninspired: simple; cliched; the sort of thing that might serve for hobbyists pinning together an armature on which to hang their models but not to sustain narrative interest throughout a book of decent length. It lacks a coherent structure: moving from mock history to personalised biographies of ‘characters’ to small scale space opera and back again without direction, and with a brevity and lack of vision that does not reward repeated readings.

Had this been a coffee-table book, highlighting the images and builds alone, with technical instructions and insights into the builders behind the models, it would have been a stunning work. As a showpiece for Reid and Goddard’s brilliant creations, it’s a gorgeous book I’ll dip into time and again to research parts use and building techniques. But as a combination of story and image, it falls too short on the storytelling for me to want to *read* it again, and I’ll most likely gift it to my eight year-old, who will love the images and not have the SF-reading experience that makes him start flicking through the story to spend more time with the pictures.

View all my reviews

Review: Get Shorty

Get Shorty
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Entertaining, funny, tongue-in-cheek collision of the twinned fraudulent worlds of the small time hood and the small time Hollywood hanger-on, with a menagerie of only partially self-aware characters in the best Leonard tradition. It’s a romp in the grand old fashion, and it’s easy to see why this was such a hit as a movie– Hollywood loves nothing more than proving it’s hip to its own faults, and Leonard’s acerbic take on the grimy, desperate world that springs up in the shadows of the mega-studios is so pitch perfect that it made for prime movie material.

As always with Leonard’s work it’s the characters who provide more enjoyment than the cast-iron plot, and Chili Palmer and his cohorts are some of the best he’s created, particularly the divine comic creature Harry Zimm. The book would be worth it for the interplay between the characters alone, but Leonard’s narrative of bored loan shark using his old tricks to find a home in the B-movie business rolls along at a cracking pace, with humorous delights on every page. It’s rollicking fun, pitch perfect in tone and intent, and an utter joy to read.

View all my reviews

IF LIFE BEGINS AT 40, WHY AM I 43 AND HAVE NO LIFE?

So, I’m 43 now, and it’s weird, but I don’t feel any wiser then I did when I was 42.

Actually, it was a good turning, this year. For a start, the day of my birthday fell on my RDO, so, you know, free day off. I was gifted up the wazoo– a massive Lego set from Luscious and the kids and the 4-DVD box set of Sealab 2021 from Aiden, which pretty much covers my geekdom from front to back so I was a happy fat man. And I was the victim of a surprise birthday lunch attended by several friends, so I ended the weekend feeling like a suitably pampered and satisfied birthday boy: my thanks to Kris & Kim McMinn, Stephen Dedman and Lily Chrywenstrom for coming down to the Batthaim and making my afternoon such an enjoyable one. And thanks to my darling wife and beautiful children for reminding me that they’re sneaky bald-faced liars who can’t be trusted…. but lovely ones, who are good to me. 🙂

Multiply 9 by 14, divide by 9.14, add 9, subtract 14, multiply by some other number and take away some stuff, and it’s suitable for age 43!

Professionally, I don’t know what to make of my life. I’m at the best day job I’ve ever had, but, well, it’s still a day job, and when it comes down to it, I begrudge anything that takes me away from Luscious and the kids, and equally begrudge anything that takes me away from the one thing I want to do with my life, which is to build this writing career I thought I’d have by now. I resent work when I’m writing because it takes me away from that writing, and when I’m not writing I resent it because it’s the block that stands between me and the writing I should be doing.

And right now, I’m doing a bunch of writing. Having signed up for Nanowrimo again this year I’ve managed just under 8000 words on Canals of Anguilar, my latest novel, which isn’t Nano speed but it’s 8000 more words than I managed in October, so it’s doing what it needs to do. And while I can’t reveal details until contracts are finalised and formal announcements are formally announced, I’ve been invited to present a workshop at a pretty damned decent writer’s festival in 2014 and I’ve sold Magwitch and Bugrat, so you can officially add “children’s author” to my list of crimes against humanity. All in all, despite feeling like I’m betwixt and between in my writing career, I’m making some advances which– I’d like to think– are going to take me further afield than the small genre pond in which I’ve been swimming so far.

All in all, 43 is not a bad place to be so far.

So, for the moment, work will continue apace. Between now and 44, I’ll complete Father Muerte & the Divine and Canals of Anguilar and send them off to Agent Rich, and I’m itching to get my teeth into a crime novel, so I’d like to be well into the wordage on one by this time next year. And if I’m going to be a children’s author I’d better do that properly, too, so let’s say I’ll have another kid’s novel under my belt as well. The artists who fascinate me– and who I’ve most wanted to emulate– are polymaths, and while adult novels/children’s novels is hardly the spread of talent to match the ‘trumpeter/actor/poet/comedy God’ skill set of Spike Milligan or David Bowie’s ‘musician/actor’ oeuvre, it’s what I’ve managed to score so far so I’d best make the most of it.

That’s an awful lot of writing, especially as we continue to deal with master 8’s illness and the range of issues that come with cramming a family of 5 into a ginormous house on a single wage, but what am I going to do? I’m two years away from the goal I set myself when I got into this game– writing full-time by the age of 45– and while I’m prepared to adjust that goal I’m not resigned to doing so. All I can do is get on with it.

And while I’m wishing, I’d like a unicorn…