Friday, 26 February 2016

Examining The Black Archive

The first Black Archive reviews are in and pretty damn fine they are too.  Sci-fi Bulletin has reviewed each of the first four titles:


The Massacre

The Ambassadors of Death

Dark Water/ Death In Heaven

And gentleman and scholar Nick Campbell has a further look at The Ambassadors of Death here.

Obviously, after reviews like that you'll be wanting to pick up a full set so here's the handy dandy link to snaffle all four of the launch titles.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Exercises in Twitter Futility, Part 3,286 in an infinite series

Presented as a cautionary tale to the curious to warn about the futility of wasting your life:  I had one of those moments this week; the sort of moment the Total Perspective Vortex from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is supposed to bestow. The moment you realise we’re just a bunch of squabbling apes on a rock spinning around a big ball of fire in the middle of a big void. Being mildly bored I was browsing through Twitter when a friend retweeted Louise Mensch’s comment about being pro-Brexit pointing out that she lived and worked in America.

(Incidentally, what poverty of linguistic imagination cooked up ‘Brexit’? A play on a smashed up compound word that barely worked when applied to Greece but at least you could see how it got there)

Rule One of Twitter. Don’t Tweet bored.  Drunk is fine, drunk tweeting can be hilarious but tweeting out of boredom is the road to hell.  I’d forgotten that Mensch is practically a right-wing parody account; no idea what she’s like in real life but she’s rabid comedy gold on Twitter. Living in Northern Ireland and having certain EU statutes underpinning the Good Friday agreement I’ve got something of a vested interest in the EU referendum; I was curious as to why someone who lived and worked outside the EU by choice was so agitated about it. So I asked her about it, like so:

Yeah, I know. You can see where it’s going.

First response no problem. She explains in service of making her point.

No problem with that at all. Then she starts being sarky:

Good one. I wasn't aware of that, I thought it was all one way traffic with hordes of emigrants looking to escape the dreaded tyranny of the EU.  The next one tickled me the most though:

'Little EUnglander'. I've not read one of her novels but it's possibly the worst attempt at wordplay in recorded history.  Which is pretty good for two words.  Let's run through the genius of it. 

  1. 'Little'. The EU is not little; certainly not in comparison to the UK. I'm still trying to work out how being pro-Europe is being small-minded in comparison to wanting to retreat to being a reasonably sized island nation at a point where the important world forces are global rather than national. What's small-minded about seeing yourself as part of a larger community than just your immediate neighbours?
  2. 'EUnglander.'  Come on. It doesn't work on any level as a pun; it doesn't scan nor can it be crowbarred to form an amusing play on Englander or EU... erm, citizen. 
  3. No way Mensch could have known it but I'm not English. Neither by birth nor residency. 
It's also stretching it a bit to say that a lot of people live and work in many countries.  It's a touch arrogant to assume that; many professions don't involve working abroad.

All this of course didn't answer my question; which was very kindly put succinctly by another user: 

And when I realised I wasn't going to get any answer, maybe a little more invective at best, I walked off; frankly that's as wise as it gets. Would that I'd realsied that half an hour earlier.  And I realised that I was getting a bit too invested in the EU debate when there'd be four bloody months of it and, quite honestly, I wasn't going to get anything to tell me why changing the status quo would be a wise idea.

And now I've wasted half an hour of my life talking about a minor conversation with a minor political celebrity on Twitter. I'm beginning to understand how easy life is for journalists these days; bored chat on Twitter, 500 words in half an hour, job done and down to the pub. Good life it you can get it...

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Black Archive Blog: Why Rose?

With the launch of the first four Black Archive titles imminent a blog about my entry on Rose; to explain why I chose it and the thinking behind my approach.  None of the actual analysis though, you'll have to give the frankly sexy and beautiful Obverse Books your cash to get that...  

Originally I was thinking in terms of my favourite stories; a fair number of them being those that congregate around the top of the polls along with more idiosyncratic choices (I pretty much considered every McCoy era story aside from Time and the Rani).  I soon realised that it was the wrong angle to approach such a choice from; it’s not your affection for a story but how much you have to say about it that counts. In that sense a lot of the most interesting stories aren’t the most successfully realised but ones where ambition has clearly exceeded grasp.  So I scrapped my original train of thought and cast around for ideas.

The final choice of Rose was partly a question of timing and partly a question of what the story meant to me personally.  The first solicitations for The Black Archive series took place in early 2015 and the early part of the year naturally saw a lot of material about the tenth anniversary of the new series with Rose being a particular focus. Most articles swerved between nostalgic and adulatory but few really analysed just *why* Rose had been so successful.   It’s the start of the mythologizing of the RTD era; it’s distant enough for the details to blur and it to become part of the show’s history. Rightly so too, in Doctor Who production terms ten years is forever; there are vast differences between An Unearthly Child and The Time Warrior or The Horns of Nimon and Survival. We’ve had four season of RTD and five of Steven Moffat plus numerous specials since that first episode. Much of the analysis had a narrow focus too; on the episode itself rather than the wider context of the TV landscape or why creative decisions made by Russell T Davies and those involved in the production of the show ended up being spectacularly validated.  I was looking  to put what was achieved with Rose into the context of the show’s own history and the popular culture of 2005.

On the personal front the episode meant everything to me as a fan too.  It catapulted the show back to the heart of British popular culture to the point of it being a default reference when talking about SF; to add to the excitement the production of the show was based five minutes from where I was living at the time. I passed the studio every day on my way to and from work and even saw Eccleston and Piper rehearsing outdoors in late summer.  For a long-term Who fan the combined thrill of proximity and success was something it was difficult to put into words.  The pinch yourself wonder of having Who back; not only having it back but having it back on Saturday night and achieving ridiculous ratings.  I wanted to capture that thrill in the book; the essence of success that we’re all quite blasé about in the wake of the show’s subsequent success.  I said earlier that much of what’s interesting about Doctor Who are the heroic failures but Rose is an exception; in terms of what it sets out to achieve it’s unarguably the most successful episode in the show’s history.* Not only in terms of the initial impact in its own country but it’s the most frequently bought drama of the past 40 years for BBC Worldwide. More successful on that front than Eastenders, Howard’s Way, House of Cards, Dennis Potter’s most acclaimed works, State of Play, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Call the Midwife, Happy Valley, This Life, Casualty, Our Friends In the North… It appealed on a national and international basis.  What was fascinating about it was why it had such universal appeal; why the revival of a 42 year old series struck such a chord.

With that overarching theme of the rebirth of the series in mind I sent Phil a proposal for the structure of the book; what seemed the most fascinating aspects of the rebirth.    He agreed them with minor modifications and some excellent suggestions for further investigation.  In keeping with the tone of the new series I was aiming to blend my analysis with a relatively light tone; reflecting the story it examined.  

Fast forward to December and just before Christmas and after some excellent feedback from beta readers (thanks, in particular to Geoff Wessel for a couple of excellent points), a some thoughtful notes from the editor which added clarity to certain areas, depth to others and generally tightened the manuscript it was ready to be sent to the publisher.  Fast forward another couple of months and you’ll see an author bouncing happily up and down after having seen the gorgeous cover artwork from Blair Bidmead and Cody Schell and having read through the beautifully put together ebook.

At the time of writing the first four volumes in the Black Archive series are at the printers and on target for their early March release date.  It’s been a privilege to be part of the launch of a series I’d be delighted to read even if I wasn’t involved; quite aside from my own title I've read an early draft of Dark Water/Death in Heaven (a breathtakingly fine set of essays) and I can’t wait to read The Massacre and The Ambassadors of Death both for the stories chosen and the authors.  Similarly the remainder of the year promises a strong selection of writers and stories which I’ll be pre-ordering. You can give Obverse your money for the first four titles here,

Now all that’s left is the always nervous wait to see what everyone makes of it.  Time to see if fingernails can be gnawed down to the bone then…

* Not necessarily in terms of the actual episode but in successfully relaunching Doctor Who.  There's a decade's worth of TV, spin-offs and foreign sales on my side here.

Hating to Love

Don't tell anyone, but I might well know something about a few of the essays in this very fine forthcoming volume...

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Black Archive Is Almost Open...

Well here's a thing.  A rather beautiful thing at that...

In case you're one of those souls whose eyesight is going due to decades spent staring at TVs or monitors it's the rather fabulous cover for the first of the Black Archive series the first four of which are released next month but available for pre-order from the modestly magnificent Obverse Books either on its own or as part of a bundle of the first four in the series.. Obviously I'd be obsequiously grateful to anyone good enough to but the book but I thoroughly recommend buying all four. 

The cover's a collaborative effort from the insanely talented pairing of Blair Bidmead and Cody Schell and you can see this and the three other spectacular covers on the Black Archive Facebook page or here. I'd say I'm absolutely delighted with it but that might be considered a ridiculous degree of understatement.  It's currently the wallpaper on my phone and I'm starting to consider texts and notifications which stop me admiring it in a near-hypnotic trance rude. 

I'll blog about this in more detail closer to the release but in the meantime keep an eye out for further announcements on the above Facebook link and feel free to get very excited at how damn fine this series is going to be.