An Intense Month…

… has seen me working on the Second Draft of the newly-named And You May Find Yourself virtually every day leading to the completion of the same this evening. I’m also working on a brief for my colleague who’s going to do the cover, but once that’s been passed onto him, I want to give myself a bit of quarantine time, leave the characters for a while, then go back and start a Third Draft.

I’ve got the story into shape, I’ve settled the timeline, some scenes are pretty near sacrosanct – a lot of crucial scenes were worked and re-worked mentally before I even started writing any of them down – and others need looking at, a bit more patiently. I’ll probably try re-writing some of these, instead of polishing, cutting, adding, rearranging.

And You May Find Yourself is a sequel, but it’s also an inverse of Love Goes To Building On Sand. The one was based on things that did happen, reinterpreted in a fictional form, but this is based on things that never happened, and is in essence a Road Never Travelled. I’ve no plans for a third book featuring the same characters, although I do know things that happen in their future.

So, with a bit of luck, I should have this published no later than February 2019, though Xmas would be nice: clear the decks for something else once New Year’s Day is upon us. I’ve enough part started projects to choose from. I’m looking forward to spending some fictional time with other people after two years with my alter ego.

Film 2018: 2001: A Space Odyssey

For the first and only time this year, Film 2018 has take place not on the peace and early quiet of a Sunday morning, but the dark silence of  Saturday night. That was always my intention when it came to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic, whose themes and colours are not mean to be watched under natural light, but it fitted this weekend particularly as this is both a working Sunday and a day on which I’ve accepted a shift-slide, answering anticipated demand by doing a shift from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

I was too young for the film on its first release, in the year preceding that when Man walked on the moon and the deliberately downbeat, unsensational, ultra-realistic depiction of space travel on 2001 began its long-interrupted journey from fiction into real-life. I was to see it for the first time, a decade later, whilst living in Nottingham when, in the wake of the determinedly unrealistic Star Wars, it was reissued and I had the fortune of seeing it on the massive screen of the ABC1, an old-fashioned gigantic screen of the grand kind.

It was magnificent, truly the head trip it had long been reputed to be, especially the psychedelic Pink Floyd lightshow of the trip through the Star-Gate that leads the film towards its conclusion. Since then, I have only seen it on TV or DVD, and as I have done tonight, have made sure to do so without light from anywhere else but the screen.

It is still something of a mystery that a film so semi-mystical and indefinite came from the pen of one of SF’s hardest science writers ever, Arthur C Clarke. 2002 was inspired by Clarke’s 1948 short story, “The Sentinel”, in which the uncovering of a buried monolith on the Moon (in the shape of a pyramid), results in the sending of a signal into space. That’s all the story is: Clarke and Hard SF were about the science, the technology and the setting, not anything human or personal: what follows once the signal reaches those who placed what is potentially a warning beacon millennia earlier, is for the reader to speculate upon.

Kubrick, who produced, directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Clarke, is clearly interested in that aspect, though he is not inclined to present any definitive answers. Kubrick displaces the monolith forward and backwards in time. It appears to a tribe of apes at the Dawn of Man, stimulating them to discover the most primitive of technology (in the form of bone clubs, used to kill first tapirs for food, then rival apes for tribal domination), and it summons the last mission survivor, Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), into the Star-Gate at the end.

In between, Kubrick avoids the human, the emotional, the personal almost as rigidly as does Clarke in “The Sentinel”. Space travel is treated with rigid authenticity, as silent, slow and precise, and the little conversation that takes place, here and there, is either strictly professional or else determinedly flat and banal: as is the professional, come to that.

This was much criticised but it was a deliberate choice by Kubrick to de-emphasise traditional film-making methods and verbal storytelling. It tunes up, if you can put it that way, the film’s slowness – the modern audience, brought up on CGI and blockbusters – would most likely be screaming with frustration before we’d got half an hour in, especially with Strauss’s ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ so prominent on the soundtrack. But the hippies and the LSD-takers who embraced the film so happily were right to do so. I’ve never taken a trip in my life but I experience the film as an experience, its visuals creating a hypnotic trance in which the time the film takes becomes immaterial.

That’s why it’s such an irony that a film of this nature should come from the likes of Clarke, whose contemporaneously developed novel (which I read long before seeing the film) is decidedly more down-to-the-ground in its approach.

Fifty years after the fact, the special effects hold up magnificently. It’s all models, and the world of space is a preternaturally clean, highly plastic environment, again in keeping with its impersonal basis, but the few occasions where matte shots are needed, seeing ‘in’ through the windows of space vehicles, are seamless and effects like seeing people moving in artificial gravity that operates in multiple directions are simply and effortlessly achieved by affixing the camera to rotatable sets: for instance, Frank Poole does a training jog around the inside of a sphere, running past the camera, across the far side of the sphere and back ‘down’ the other wall effortlessly, by running along the bottom of a wheel on which the fixed camera goes around in a circle! Too bloody simple for me to work out, I had to be told.

Oh yes, and there’s the famous computer HAL (move IBM one letter back up) which breaks down and infects the mission, creating the only element of orthodox drama in the entire film, which leads to paradoxically so many famous lines (who would have thought that ‘Open the Pod Bay Door, Hal’ could become a meme before we even had memes).

The film ends with the StarChild, a much-evolved Dave Bowman, contemplating Earth. Where we go from here is where we go. Clarke wrote two sequels, 2010 and 2061, the former of which was also filmed. I have read neither nor will I read either, and I won’t ever watch the film: some people should really know better. I will stick with 2001, enjoy A Space Odyssey, and dream of where else we might have gone had the real year 2001 been anywhere near to the one of this film, rather than the sickening reality we came to bear.

Doomsday Clock 7

So the hands of the Doomsday Clock have finally ground round to the publication of another issue and we get our first telegraphed sign that, as I gloomily predicted right from the start, last year, Superman will indeed defeat and even kill Dr Manhattan, it seems by knocking his block off.

Yes, the big blue guy with the non-existent costume finally comes out of hiding in issue 7, as Geoff Johns takes a handful of his cards and throws them into the air, creating a brand new pattern when they come down but, despite the pretence, not one that makes any better sense than they’ve done so far.

What the episode does is to bring together all the participating Watchmen characters, in which pool we have to reluctantly include the Mime and the Marionette, with a small role for each of The Joker and Batman, and stir them all about. In terms of presentation, Johns mixes between Manhattan’s perceptions, rooted in a conception of time as a whole, visible from every angle simultaneously (except for one month in the future when everything goes completely black just as Superman in flying at him with one fist raised…) and the rather more linear perceptions of everyone else.

Speaking of linear terms, the actual sequence of events is a mess. The Mime and Marionette start torturing the Comedian in the Joker’s lair, until they’re interrupted by NewRorscharch, Ozymandias and NewBubastis. This pair – we can’t really count NewBubastis, though she is important – have already dumped Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl (a hero from the past and a hero from the future, each representing a team not currently existent in the DC Universe but who Johns will be bringing back), but Ozy has hung onto Alan Scott’s original green lantern (Dr Manhattan has already announced to us that Alan Scott did not become Green Lantern in this reality, the Doc having shifted him six inches over so that when the train crashed, he didn’t save himself by grabbing the lantern).

It appears that Ozy is using NewBubastis as a kind of highly-specialised gieger counter: she’s been synthesized from the fragments of DNA left remaining after the original had her intrinsic field removed in Watchmen 12, crossed with a fragment of Dr Manhattan’s DNA, making her a blind spot in his universe and drawing him to the spot.

Which works. Ozy pleads with Jon to come back to their own Universe and save everything but Jon refuses, saying he’s never going back, and leaves without Ozy being able to do anything to keep him here. But before departing, he drops a few plot-points into the mix.

Firstly, he did not spare Mime and Marionette from disintegration that time because of any sentimentality but because, from his non-linear perspective, he knew what their baby will do. No, not the one that was taken away from Marionette but the other one: the one she’s already pregnant with since arriving in the DC Universe.

The other one is that he dobs in Ozy over a slightly significant fib: Adrian Veidt’s not got brain cancer. Or any kind of cancer for that matter. Ozy has been pretending to manipulate Reggie into becoming NewRorscharch, when actually OldRorscharch was responsible for Reggie’s Dad’s complete and utter downfall.

Reggie, who has been amusing himself by punching the Joker in the mouth several times, whilst Marionette has been trying to saw Batman’s head off from the middle of his mouth upwards, takes against Ozymandias at this revelation, not to mention the whole NewRorscharch thing, ripping off his mask and doing a runner: so much for that. Mime and Marionette, happy as Larry at having another baby, take off with Not-Alan-Scott’s Lantern

Meanwhile, Ozy returns to the Owlship where Saturn Girl can suddenly read his thoughts, until he batters her and the 102 year old Mr Thunder into unconsciousness. He then flies off in the Owlship with a) NewBubastis and b) a new plan to save every world in creation. You shudder.

Cue one page of pregnant future shouts and Manhattan returning to Mars wondering whether the ultimate outcome is Superman destroying him or him destroying everything (hint: not option 2).

what we’re seeing here is Mr Oh-So-Orignal Johns handing us Ozymandias the would-be world saviour, only this time instead of a calm, ordered reflection, based on long-planned purpose, we have Ozy the madman, the megalomaniac. He may well have been that all along, if you judge by actions, but the overt maniacally smiling version is a cliche that we’re supposed to accept as superior to the Watchmen version. Nah, baby.

I shall repeat what I’ve already said, all along. Watchmen was based upon the wish to look at superheroes from a different perspective. Doomsday Clock is based upon the wish to look at them in exactly the same way they’ve always been looked at. Geoff Johns’ career profited from the existence of Watchmen even before he began this series.

So that’s going to be it for another two months. I know I’m biased (you hadn’t noticed?) but am I the only one to think that any momentum this turkey had has long since dried up and blown away? I bought Doomsday Clock 7 the same day I bought Heroes in Crisis 1. There’s five issues of one left to eight of the other: bet you I read the end of Heroes in Crisis first.

Heroes in Crisis 1

I’ve been waiting a few months for DC’s latest crossover series, both for the concept and the fact it’s being written by Tom King, a writer who has brought me back into reading Batman comics again – Batman! – for the first time since, probably, the Seventies.

Heroes in Crisis was originally billed as a seven-issue mini-series, drawn by Clay Mann, though at a late stage it was bumped up to nine issues, with issues 3 and 7 to be drawn by a second artist, which is mildly worrying. nevertheless, the concept is fascinating, and well within King’s capabilities and experience as a former CIA analyst.

The idea is that there is a place known as Sanctuary, set up and managed by the Trinity, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. It’s a refuge, a psychological refuge where traumatised superheroes can receive counselling over their experiences. Superheroes in counselling? It sounds ridiculous, but given the experiences they face on a daily basis, it’s not just logical but inevitable.

The set-up is that the series begins with a murder taking place at Sanctuary: not just a murder, but a massacre. I’ve been avoiding spoilers, especially about who dies, for weeks now.

So issue 1 is now to hand. To be honest, it’s a bit of a disappointment. What I’ve described above is, basically, about the whole of what we get. Nor is there any excessive amount of additional detail. There are dead bodies, including a number of no-marks, though the corpses include that of Citizen Steel, as in the one who’s been in Legends of Tomorrow this past two seasons.

But, and these are thrown away in a single panel without fanfare or follow-up in this issue, there are a couple of more substantial names: Roy (Arsenal) Harper… and Wally (Flash) West.

And the issue is plumped out by a running fight scene between Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, with the latter trying to stab the former, ending in a last page accusation that instead of it being Harley trying to complete her murder spree, as you would normally anticipate, she’s trying to bring in Booster because he killed everyone. She saw him.

I think we can safely assume there will be a few more twists along the way, but in terms of content, this is actually pretty thin stuff. I will be very surprised if Wally West is, or stays dead – he was ‘my’ Flash for a decade or more, through Bill Messner-Loebs and especially Mark Waid – and I will be equally surprised if Booster’s apparent culpability is the real deal, even under hypnosis, mental control, possession or any similar excuse.

It’s here, it’s begun, but given how it was sold to us, I don’t think Heroes in Crisis has travelled more than six inches yet. Roll on issue 2, and if King et al can actually keep a monthly schedule, I for one will be exceedingly grateful.

Treme: s03 e05 – I Heard Buddy Bolden Say

Our girl’s gonna be a star!

Season 3 of Treme is proving very difficult to blog because even here, at the midway point, it still feels shapeless. It’s a collection of mostly unrelated stories, rolling onwards, without any pattern. That that is what it has been from the start, and makes for a fascinating mosaic, is what frustrates me about why it’s so difficult to think about now.

It’s easy enough to summarise the various steps in this episode, which revolved around a New Orleans Xmas. We saw everybody except Everett celebrating the day in one fashion or another, though the episode gave quite a lot more time to Toni and Sofia on the one hand and Anne T., with some embarrassing inserts from Davis on the other.

Others had little more than cameos. Sonny fell off the drugs wagon at the first visible opportunity, having put up no more than token resistance. Nelson appealed to his contact to end his period in purgatory only to be told that they don’t see what he brings, ‘as an outsider’, to the project.

There’s a strong political issue over the City Council’s unanimous decision to demolish the Project Housing. The trickery over the meeting denotes an obvious fix, the white, rich community celebrate (even at the Xmas dinner table in the McAlary household, dissenting opinion McAlary D, stridently) and Nelson’s contact rejoices over the eclipse of the ‘Philistines’ even as he co-opts Delmond into the Jazz Heritage Project (without actually agreeing to tear down the fences that keep the black kids out, shudder).

But let’s look at Toni and Sofia, eating out on Xmas Day, with no real delight, both too aware of the massive missing presence of Creighton. In trying to aim for new traditions, Sofia’s interest is raised, though there’s the slightest of hints she might not be there for next Xmas. Sofia’s getting harrassed by the Police, which Toni determinedly takes up with Captain Grayson, who hates her. Not that she’s completely innocent, she’s had her PI run a check on Sofia’s musician boyfriend. It’s come out clean, but it confirms he’s 27, and she’s, what, 17 at most (though she has her own car and is licensed): Toni’s worried.

And the straits her pursuit of the Arbea case and Officer Wilson have landed them in are exemplified when Toni’s windscreen is smashed. Outside their house, at night. By the Police.

The most buoyant part of the episode was Annie’s parents coming to New Orleans for Xmas. This has Annie, in short shorts, never an unpleasant sight, cleaning furiously to try to evade the disapproving eye of mother Theresa. a splendid cameo by Isabella Rosselini. But Theresa is focussed upon her disappointment at Annie playing jazz, folk, creole, the whole mixture, and not the classical music on which she was trained. Though at the band’s performance – a band that’s now got a recording contract! – Theresa is won over by the jaunty ‘Louisiana Christmas’ Annie sings for her with best glee.

That was a fun part, deserved of its extra time.

Just to mention that Delmond has told his sisters about Albert’s lymphona, ensuring everyone turns up for Xmas day, and Janette hires one of her New York room-mates for the restaurant, even as her doubts about Tim grow ever darker and everybody else has little moments.

Season 3 is playing even more cavalierly with the conventions of television story-telling. It’s even more novelistic in its approach. Which makes for good, strong television, but hell to blog. I hope they’ve balanced it right.

We Have A Title

The second draft of The Wildly Overdue Wish-Fulfillment Sequel has been driving forward with some speed, to the point where I’m coming up on the final few chapters. So I had a word today with my boss who did the cover for Love Goes To Building On Sand, and did such a bloody good job of it too, to see if he was willing and ready to do me another cover. He’d be delighted.

Of course, the damn thing needs a title, which is always the worst part of the process. So I gave it a dose of serious thinking.

LGTBOS came about through the misremembering of a Talking Heads song-title. So, as this is a direct sequel, is there anything to be had from returning to that well? ‘Once in a Lifetime’ could easily become Once in a Lovetime and be faithful to the theme of this story, but on the other hand that title suffers from being cheap and nasty, and probably containing trace elements of sleazy to boot.

Or Road to Somewhere might serve, or possibly Road to Everywhere but the problem with that is that it’s much too generic. I am crap at titles, but when I finally hear the right one, I know it. And trying to put together something along the lines of Burning Down The Whatever just wasn’t going to cut it.

So I am juggling around these ideas whilst I’m letting YouTube autoprogress. Wherever I start from, within six tracks maximum I always get ‘All Along The Watchtower’ which I never object to, but this time I wasn’t in the mood to follow with Cream’s ‘White Room’, so I looked at the alternatives and sort-of what-the-heyed into ‘Once in a Lifetime’. and whooped.

I have a title.


Maybe with three dots after it, maybe not. But once I know, I know.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e15 – Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang

Hubba Hubba

It’s something of an achievement, I suppose. It took seasons and years to make me loathe Quark to the point where I automatically shudder at the mere thought of an episode about him. Vic Fontaine didn’t even require a full season.

There’s only one more standalone after this, thankfully, and I could have done without this. It’s a stupid story, no matter how highly rated it is. A ‘jack-in-the-box’ provision in Vic’s program triggers the arrival of mobster Frankie Eyes to throw Vic out and turn his Lounge into a sleazy cabaret of long-legged dancers and long-legged waitresses serving up martinis: Vic’s out.

Naturally, O’Brien and Bashir won’t stand for this. They can’t reset the program without wiping out Vic’s memories of encounters to date, which is our MacGuffin for everyone (including Sisko but excluding our far too sensible Worf) to dress up 1962 Vegas style for an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper, in which the casino will be robbed, Frankie’s boss won’t get his cut and Frankie gets buried in the desert.

Sisko’s belated appearance in Vic’s world gets a controversial scene in which the Captain explains that he hates the thought of the ahistorical lie behind the program. Blacks in Vegas in 1962 were not welcomed as equals, very far from it, and Sisko resents a set-up that denies that reality by pretending everything was well. Kasidy Yates counters this by pointing out that they are equal now, completely so, and that Sisko’s historical perspective is a way of perpetuating those restrictions, in his head.

That this was raised at all was controversial, though in the context of the show it felt like an out-of-place attempt to staple some inconsistent seriousness onto a determinedly unserious premise, and I disagreed with Kasidy’s blythe and bland notion that the evils of the past should be plastered over with modern sensibilities. And the whole point of bringing it up is obliterated when Sisko promptly changes gear and joins the caper crew with great gusto.

I did get some amusement out of the way they firstly ran through the complex, clockwork plan until it worked perfectly, and then Dortmundered the whole thing when it was done for real. I refer of course to the much-missed Donald E Westlake’s ‘Dortmunder Gang’ series of crime fiction in which the titular John Dortmunder creates brilliant criminal plots of the kind that ruthlessly succeed in crime fiction, only to have then screw up over the simple fact of human beings acting like human beings.

That and the sight of Nicole de Boer in waitress outfit, fishnet tights up to her cute little bum, were my only sources of pleasure in an episode that could have been written to order to leave me cold. Badda-bing, badda-bang, badda-bugger off.