Photo via tributes.com


Harlan Ellison died yesterday, at the age of 84. If you’re a fan of SF, or film criticism, or have a passing knowledge of American TV, then you know what that means: we’re down one giant, and about to enter an intense period of arguing over the legacy of one of the most complex and problematic human beings ever to work in the SF field. Certainly, my Facebook feed is awash with memorials, reminiscences, and as is the way with Facebook, denunciations, already. But then, that’s the crowd I run with. At the heart of it, no matter our differences, just about everyone on my feed loves speculative fiction. We’re all true believers, and if anything, Ellison was a true believer.



To say I grew up surrounded by groundlings would be unnecessarily harsh to those few friends I did make, and who went on to better things. So let’s say I grew up surrounded by groundlings and a couple of other people.

Clearly, as this cartoon shows, I recovered from the experience.



“I don’t care what your common-law wife says, ‘Condoms of the Inner-City Waterways’

is not an appropriate subject for a year 5 nature presentation.”


Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'DonoghueMr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue by Dennis Perrin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining, but on reflection superficial, examination of an author who was a major influence in the establishment of both National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. There were obviously worms underneath the psyche of O’Donoghue, but as portrayed by Perrin, he comes across as a massively talented adolescent with the emotional control of an angry toddler. There’s a frustrating lack of depth or analysis. The acknowledgements page betrays a possible reason– despite O’Donoghue’s life touching a cast of thousands across both the Lampoon and SNL, as well as the rest of his varied career, only O’Donoghue’s wife Cheryl Hardwicke stands out, as well as Tony Hendra, Matty Simmons and Lorne Michaels for glimpses of their own works about the man. While the likes of Chevy Chase and Anne Beats discuss him in passing, the opportunity to really dig through the memories of those who knew him best seems to be shied away from.

The book is an entertaining read, and it skims across the major points of a complex and driven artistic soul, but it’s hard not to feel that the opportunity for a major examination of O’Donoghue’s influence on his contemporaries and industry has been missed, here. In all probability, this was the only chance, and it’s now been missed. Try as he might, Perrin never gets beyond the image of O’Donoghue as a tortured enfant terrible, leaving us with only glimpses of what might exist beyond that role.

It’s a book to treasure for those of us who were, and remain, fans, but it’s a bittersweet fandom: we never really get to know the man, just the image.

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The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 - 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 – 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3 by Norman Sherry

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The first two volumes of Sherry’s biography of Greene skirted hero worship by dint of sheer volume of reportage– Greene’s life was filled with momentous happenings, and simply relating them kept Sherry’s over-ripe familiarity mostly at bay. Here, unfortunately, as the subject’s life begins to wind down, there are no such brakes– what has been, until now, a mildly cringing sycophancy devolves into full blown toadying. Anyone who is apposite to Greene is portrayed as deluded, jealous, or outright wrong. Greene himself is a warrior for truth, a noble of unsurpassable grandeur, Sherry’s personal hero. The author even begins to insert himself into the narrative in an effort to tie himself to his famous subject. This is the weakest, and most tedious, volume in the series, deeply flawed and worthwhile only for a sense of completism, because Sherry has committed the cardinal sin of the biographer: he has fallen in love with his subject.

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A Night At The Opera

Oh, God. How to describe the impact the Marx Brothers have had on my psyche? You know that thing where my first reaction to everything you have to say is a wisecrack? You know how I’ve had three sons, and if they’re within five feet of me you have to keep telling me to stop rough-housing with them? You know how, every now and again, I tell you that it made sense to me? That it’s not my fault if people can’t keep up? That I’m only here to amuse myself, and everyone else is only watching?

Yeah. That.

Continue reading “10 MOVIES, 10 DAYS: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA”



And so we come to the final entry in the 10 Albums, 10 Days series. And I’m going to cap it with the beginning of a lifelong love.

I have two musical loves that prompt scratches of the head and bemused horror from the majority of those I encounter: I could have gone with Tom Lehrer’s magnificent An Evening Wasted With… here, but he only recorded three albums, and while I love him (much to Luscious’ chagrin, I can now perform an a capella version of Poisoning Pigoens in the Park with no less than three sons), my love for him is an ordinary one, without the element of weird that comes with loving the Bonzo the Dog Doo-Dah Band.

The Bonzos are something special… and something special.

Continue reading “10 ALBUMS, 10 DAYS: GORILLA”



Art should never be comfort food. It should always challenge, undermine, rebel, and otherwise find apple carts to upset. And while humour can be a reassuring reinforcement of your thought patterns, I’ve always been drawn to a rather black variation of the form.

Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, to give it its stupidly full title, is a deliciously uncomfortable viewing experience. It is absurdism writ large and painful, cut so close to the cultural bone that future archaeologists will take it as proof of cannibalism. It is, in many ways, Stanley Kubrick’s misanthropic masterpiece, and the perfect exploration of his working habits– every scene, every moment, cut and recut until they are pared down to their very minimum; no fat, no blether; simply distilled, pure, predatory, poison. It’s all tied together, of course, by the pitch-perfect performances of George C Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, and the never-better Peter Sellers.

I never quite cut it as a stand-up comedian. I couldn’t bring myself to pitch my material at the heart of the beer-and-knob-gags crowd that populated Perth’s evenings, and late in my career I developed a case of the performance yips that sunk me completely. And movies like this were partly to blame– perhaps, had I been less in love with Kubrick’s acidic perfectionism, and more a fan of, well, Porky’s…… but as an artist of a different stripe, the beautiful turns of phrase, the sublime juxtapositioning of elements, the obsessionally fierce holding to point of view and narrative voice, all have been part of my artistic education. And, just as importantly, this movie remains a sublime and simply magnificent slice of perfection, more than 50 years after the possibilities with which it concerns itself have reached their first-run nadir.

It’s still the War Room, and you still can’t fight here.



Seeing things that aren’t really there. A common human occurrence, which I’m sure has no basis in the fact that we are all weaselly little malcontencts with ideas above our station who have been raised on a diet of Disney bullshit abduction fantasies.

None of you are princesses. None of you.

Anyway, here’s a cartoon about seeing things that aren’t there. Or is it? (Bum bum BUUUUUMMMMM!)

Yeah, it is.


“Well, I can see a kitten, and a choo-choo train, and the glorious Gluznunbian War

Fleet come to visit ruination and enslavement on your entire miserable planet…”




           The song follows Charles O’Connor along the beach, as it has followed him for nearly ten years. His horse is nervous underneath him, tugging against his lead as if ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. He tightens his grip, nudges it ahead. He knows his destination.

            The mothers are waiting for him at the water’s edge. Spray shines on their black skin, beautiful, so beautiful in the morning sunlight. They do not talk to him, nor he to them. Instead they sing, as they have always sung: their bodies still, their mouths closed. The song led him out to this stretch of beach, through Fremantle, along Cantonment Street, here to where the old jetty once stood. Now the music hangs in the air between them, swaying in time to the rise and fall of waves upon the sand.

            The horse whinnies and skips sideways. Charles lays a hand on its neck, leans down in the saddle to cluck calming noises. The horse rolls its eye back towards him, and calms. Charles rubs its neck. He has always been good with horses. He has always been good with things. His wife Susan would call it a gift from God. Charles is not so sure. Inanimate objects he is good with, but people have always eluded him. It is a strange gift for a God to give, to be so good with things that cannot rear up and attack you, and to struggle so much with those who pay you, comment upon you, and use their newspapers to smear your name into oblivion.


The first draft of Song of the Water, a 3900-word story about the suicide of C.Y. O’Connor that will go out to market and be included in the Claws of Native Ghosts collection of supernatural stories set throughout Western Australia’s history, is finally complete.



Tubular Bells

When I was young, music happened in three-minute bursts. It involved someone complaining about their love life, or lack of it, or death of it, or all three, over a frenetic bashing of drums. Guitars, and possibly keyboards, accompanied, unless Big Pig were on the radio, in which case MOAR DRUMS! And it all happened in between the false chockablockofstockcockrock bletherings of the smug twats who somehow got jobs at the local FM radio station.

Then I watched The Exorcist.

As well as being the single scariest goddamn thing I have ever seen, it featured some, frankly, creepy-as-fuck music that I needed to hear again. And lo, I was told that it came from an album by a would-you-believe-he-was-only-nineteen-when-he-did-it genius, and lo, my local music shop had a copy.

And that’s when I began to understand that music could be about immersion. That lyrics were an addition, not a given. That you could close your eyes, plant your headphones onto your ears, and sink into a journey. I have never quite engaged with ‘classical’ music. But here was music made within my zeitgeist, with instruments and arrangements that were recognisably of my time, that took the tenets of older musical forms and translated them into a form that was at once familiar and challenging to my barely-formed musical sensibility.

Tubular Bells is still the album I play when I want to lie back in the bath, eyes closed, and simply float away. It’s still the tether I tie my consciousness to when I need to rise above everything and see which way the winds of my unconscious are blowing. It’s my first journey, and my most meaningful. I have developed a deep and abiding love of the concept album over the years: Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Jeff Wayne, and countless others loom large in my musical karass. But this is the album around which they all circle, the one that most fully encapsulates that sense of narrative that I love, because it supplies the tools and I write the narrative, and that is still, thirty-five years later, the purest and most exhilarating of drugs.



Young Frankenstein

For a period of my teenage years, Mel Brooks was the funniest man alive. I was, and remain, an unabashed fan of his off-color, utterly inappropriate humour. Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Producers, Silent Movie, History of the World Part One, To Be or Not To Be…… they make me snort with unrestrained, childish glee.

Young Frankenstein is something better. It’s everything Brooks’ other best films are: funny, scatalogical, sexual (Madeline Kahn was an early, intense, crush), nonsensical, and absurd. But it also shows a deep love for its source material, in a way that most of hos other parodies don’t. And it is also very, very clever. It can be argued, with some success, that the central trio of talent involved– Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Marty Feldman– were never in better form, certainly never better together. And the whole thing just hangs together so beautifully.

For most of my career I’ve been a speculative fiction writer, but the label has sat uneasily upon me. I’ve been open about it– I like being a spec fic writer, but I didn’t set out to be one. I set out to be a writer. No prefix. I’m fascinated by artists who transcend their prime activity, by polymaths, by people who aspire to break out of their artistic restraints.

Young Frankenstein stands out. It’s a sign of artists investing in something so deeply that they transcend their surrounding ouvre. In many moments within the film, their investment transcends the material itself. It’s funny, it’s anarchic, it’s everything you want in a Mel Brooks film… and then it’s a bit more. For an artist who has failed more often than he has succeeded in transcending his own ouvre, it’s an education.

And it’s still fucking hilarious.




Prince Charming

Honestly, everything you need to know about the impact this album had on me as a kid is summed up by that cover image.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know what a bogan reservation Rockingham was in the 1980s. Imagine being trapped in that environment. Imagine having the shit kicked out of you on a very regular basis by the knuckle-dragging bogan ditch-digger-to-be that surround you. Imagine not having the tools–physical or verbal– to mount any form of sustained defence, or escape. Imagine knowing, somewhere in your bones, that you simply don’t belong. Imagine not being able to pin down why you feel that way, not being able to define the artistic and creative stirrings that have yet to find voice but which will slowly and surely come to forge the path that you’ll take to claw your way out of that environment.

Then imagine this album dropping into your Christmas stocking. Imagine the first flickering of light in the back of your mind, the first moment of ‘ahhhhh!’.

Nothing sounded like Adam and the Ants. Nothing. And nothing looked like them, either. Oh, there were other new romantic bands, don’t get me wrong. But nobody with the commitment. Nobody with the elan. And just when everybody had grown used to the banderos/rancheros look and sound Adam had perfected over the preceding years, he disappeared. And returned 12 months later, looking like this.

My. Head. Exploded. So many things I could not verbalise, could barely define, sprung into focus. Later, I would encounter Bowie, and T-Rex. Madonna would rise through popular culture. I would come to love, and study, and understand film, and the way an actor can shed and inhabit skin after skin after skin. But this album– and, it should be pointed out that much of the music on it is not particularly good– was my first chameleonic moment. I caught a glimpse of something that has underpinned so much of my psychology, and certainly my art, ever since– you don’t have to be anywhere forever. You don’t have to be anyone forever.

The music has receded, but the lesson has remained, and for that– and the sense of eventual release it presaged– I will remain grateful.


High Plains Drifter

There’s some damn weird shit going on here. A stranger rides into an isolated town, rapes one of the local women, bullies the local businessmen, shoots folk, and generally terrorises the townspeople until they hire him to protect them from three Very Bad Men ™ who are returning to cause mayhem after a stint in the pokie. In response, he anoints a dwarf as Sheriff, orders the townspeople to paint every building bright red and rechristen the town ‘Hell’, and sets out a giant picnic using every scrap of food the town has to spare……

High Plains Drifter is not your average western. It’s a metaphysical rumination on the nature of evil, and the deals that marginally-honest people will make to keep hold of power. It’s downright spiritual. It operates on multiple levels at once, taking a brutalist approach to themes of betrayal, power dynamics, and heroism. It is, at once, both repellent and utterly fascinating. Its surface layer is skin thin– the expendable loner versus the trio of obvious baddies– like High Noon seen in a fun house mirror. But the surface narrative is simply the delivery medium: what’s really being discussed here is something far deeper, and far more insidious.

Clint Eastwood has always been a master filmmaker, and his record as a total jerk of a human being is also well established. High Plains Drifter is a nearly-perfect vehicle for him– a psychological examination of extreme viewpoints, in which innocence is seen as weakness and the only strength comes from a toxic masculinity that eats the person wielding it, even as it reinforces the might-makes-right conservatism that we know is central to Eastwood’s world view. It is no simple western. It is a brilliant western, and its brilliance lies in the fact that its brilliance as a western is almost entirely irrelevant to its brilliance as a truly weird psychological horror story.

It’s a jaw-dropping piece of cinematic wonder, and I find myself returning to it on a regular basis, just to watch in awe as it remorselessly unfolds its weirdness. It is a perfect lesson in character development, and how to build a narrative from nothing but rotten materials.




The General

The General is a stunningly funny film. Thing is, I didn’t realise that until the third time I watched it. The first time, I spent the whole experience with my jaw hovering just above my ankles. The second, with my face pressed up against the screen as I spent my time trying to work out how. The third time was the one where I could sit back, relax, and take in just what an unbelievable genius Buster Keaton was.

And a lifelong fascination was born.

Continue reading “10 MOVIES, 10 DAYS: THE GENERAL”



Picked up on a whim in a Subiaco market CD shop in the early 90s, after hearing only one They Might Be Giants song, this is the album that spawned a nearly-thirty year love affair. I’d never heard anything so quirky, so individual, and so delightfully obtuse before. Here was a large slice of my humour, and my thought processes, set to music. After my first wife died, I went on a comfort spending spree: along with enough KFC to seriously damage my health, and an obsession for Terry Pratchett books that lasted the better part of three years and led to a fast, sharp, deepening of my nascent relationship with Luscious (a story for another time), I took my credit card and internet connection to the music store, filling out my collection from their first album right through to Mink Car in a matter of months.

Continue reading “10 ALBUMS, 10 DAYS: FLOOD”


Meetings are for people who can’t do things via email. My last workplace was especially fond of them, to the point of non-ironically holding meetings to decide how future meetings would be held. And, of course, as anyone who has ever been subjected to these bullshit reacharound-a-ramas will tell you, if you really want to be miserable in your job, be the guy who misses the vote they inevitably hold the first time you decide it’s all a load of bullshit and decide to wander in late because nothing ever gets decided at these damn things anyway, amirite?……


“Ah, Judas. Come in. I’m afraid you missed the start of the meeting. We took

a vote on who should betray Jesus…”




I first read the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was ten years old. I read it in an omnibus volume, all three books together. The one with the cover depicting the Nazgul from the Ralph Bakshi animated movie of which we shall not speak. I read it annually, until I was well into my twenties. There is no single book that has had so much impact upon, or sway over, my life. One of the games that my good friend Sean and I enjoyed playing, as students, was to cast and set our favourite books to film: over the years I developed numerous different variations on a Lord of the Rings films.

Imagine, then, my utter joy, at finding the book at the core of my life was going to be made into a trilogy. Properly done, with serious funding, and a big cast, and all the Hollywood-tentpole-production trimmings.

Continue reading “10 MOVIES, 10 DAYS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING”


White Album

Let’s be honest: it’s not the best Beatles album. It’s not even got many of their best songs on it. It doesn’t have my favourite Beatles song (I could give you ten guesses, and you still wouldn’t guess what that is). But it is, by some margin, the oddest album the Beatles ever released, and it is the first Beatles album I ever listened to in its entirety.

Continue reading “10 ALBUMS, 10 DAYS: THE BEATLES”


Rocky Horror

I’m going to give my Mum the benefit of the doubt: despite the blurb on the back of the video box, despite the pictures, despite the reputation, it’s entirely possible that when she brought this movie home as the very first we would watch on our very first VCR (a gift to ourselves to help cope with the departure of our Dad after a particularly messy separation fought out away from  our eyes with a startling lack of success), she had no idea what it was actually about.

Otherwise, she was in such an emotional state that a movie featuring cannibalism, blow-jobs, orgies, and songs about cross-dressers wishing they were Fay Wray seemed exactly the movie to show to shell-shocked and traumatised 13 and 10 years old boys.

Whatever. The truth is, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a triumphantly anarchic mess. Part musical, part horror story, part twisted love letter to exactly the same 1950s Z-grade Rubber Suit Monster movies I hold so close to my heart, it is entirely a creature of excess. The Time Warp had been a radio and disco staple for my peers and I since primary school. That was not enough to prepare us for the triumphant entrance of Frank-N-Furter, and everything that followed I’m a Sweet Transvestite. The darker the movie became, the more Mum fell still and silent and disapproving, and the more I responded in exactly the opposite direction.

The seeds of an awful lot of my artistic… is fetishes the right word?… have their beginnings in this movie: the shock theatre (any wonder Alice Cooper entered my consciousness at roughly the same time); the combinations of joy/darkness/sensuality/outrage; the dualities; the sexualisation of fetishism and horror… as a young teen who was suddenly bereft of the father figure he was hoping would actually take a fatherly interest in him (My Dad: not one of those hey-buddy-wanna-toss-a-ball-and-learn-how-to-shave kinda guys), confirmation that the world was a nihilistic freak show where the main guiding rule was to seek out pleasure for its own rewards came at exactly the… well, choose right or wrong as your own personal feelings guide you.

Slowly but surely, I was departing from the paths that my school peers would follow. I was isolating myself: emotionally; culturally; and psychologically. There would be hard years to come, and I would be at University becfore it all began to pay off, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an important part of that beginning. There was an entire world out there– other worlds, even– where those things that were repressed and mocked in 1980s Rockingham were not only tolerated, but celebrated. It was a thought to hold onto as my school days became darker.

Seen thirty years later, it’s still a great romp with a fantastic soundtrack. The sexual and horror elements seem slightly twee now, compared to what I’ve seen in the intervening years, but somehow that only serves to add to its charm. It’s an unholy mess of a movie, every element thrown together with joyful abandon with no great care as to where they land. But by God, it’s a fun unholy mess, and one that gave me a life raft just as the water were begiining to rise.







Goon Show

This is the album that started it all. The writing career, the comedy work, the cartooning. The desire to perform, to amuse, to cast off the mantle of ordinariness and stand outside.

Eight years old, I received my first science fiction book. And deep in the back of my parents’ record collection, I discovered an oddity given to them as an emigration present by friends I don’t recall ever having met. This album. Not even music. Strange voices, spouting nonsense at a million miles an hour. By the time the Britons challenged the invading Romans to a game of football (“And another thing. You’re only allowed 11 men. I’ve counted 693 on my own so far!” “All right, I’ll send one off.”) I was intrigued. By the time Caesar ruled Briton with an iron fist, then with a wooden leg, and finally, with a piece of string, I was hooked. By the time the escaped slaves made their way to the hidden sewers beneath the Via Appia, known in the army as the famous Appia Pipe, I was addicted.

I turned the record over, and listened to the hunt for the terrible batter pudding hurler that terrified Britain (“We’ve tracked him to North Africa.” “We’ve got him cornered!”). Turned it back again. And again. Got told to play something else. Played it again, and again, and again over the years.

When my parents’ marriage imploded, and they separated, I hid the album. It was mine, now. The hell with them. I was the one who loved it. I collected more, studiously scouring through second-hand LP shops until I found each increasingly-rare prize. It kicked off a long-term hobby– collecting comedy albums on LP (never cassette, or CD, only LP)– that continued right up until the point I no longer had a player to play them on. I bought books on the Goons; copied scripts; followed their individual careers obsessively; hurried home on Saturday mornings to lie in bed at noon with my boom box turned to Radio National to catch the re-broadcasts that had been going since the 1950s, fingers hovering over the play and record buttons on the tape deck; practiced the voices; stole the jokes; performed scripts to a tape recorder with like-minded friends….. in short, the Goon Show became a cornerstone of my life. It still is.

At my very first Swancon, at my very first Swancon dinner, I made a pair of lifetime pals, sitting at the end of the table, telling each other that he fallen in de water and it must be hell in dere (Waves: Hi, Jay! Hi, Todd!). A couple of years later, I co-wrote a fan production, The Goon, Goon Hills of Earth, with the multi-talented Dave Luckett and performed it with a cast at another Swancon. 40 years later, I still listen, still laugh until tears come, still think they are the greatest comedy ensemble to ever walk the Earth. Because of this album, when I was eight.


Love at first sight. It exists.




I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fine piece of investigative journalism by Michelle McNamara into the identity of the East Area Rapist and the connections between him and other, unsolved crimes attributed to other personae. Unfortunately, as has been well documented, McNamara died before the book could be completed, and the text has been completed using a composite of notes, transcripts, and commentary by her husband and fellow amateur sleuths who occupied the message boards she frequented. The result is a patchwork narrative of wildly varying quality, and while the depth and rigorousness of McNamara’s pursuit shines through, the book as a whole feels like exactly what it is: a cobbled-together, unfinished work.

Had McNamara lived to complete the work– especially, had she lived to see the recent arrest of Joseph DeAngelo on DNA evidence– there’s no doubt that this book would have been a superb account of the piecing together of the jigsaw trail leading to him. As it is, it remains frustratingly raw and incomplete, a glimpse of the book we might have had, and have to be content with. Three stars for McNamara’s superb job, but no further because the book, ultimately, does not go the rest of the way.

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Was a time, way back when the world was young and hypercolour walked the earth, that I studied film at University. The course was, not to put too thin a wedge into it, cobbled-together rubbish: the lecturers were minor figures; the practical component seemed created to fit the few pieces of dilapidated equipment available; and the philosophies being touted owed everything to a love of 1970s Australian film and a world that had never heard of Truffaut, or Hitchcock, or, you know, any sort of film theory.

There was one good side, though. While the film analysis was rudimentary, it did, at least, mean that once a week we would gather in a lecture hall and watch movies for seven hours. The lecture hall directly across from the tavern. Just after lunchtime.