Lexifabricographer

February 6, 2014

Update: The Barossa, Shakespeare and writing

It’s another day at work with nothing to do while my job and I continue to be ground to a fine powder by the Machinery of Government arrangements. I’ve stood in front of glaciers that get along at a quicker clip than these bloody processes. So apologies to any Australian taxpayers out there, but this one’s on your dollar.

Fiona and I spend the Invasion Day long weekend in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, touring about the vineyards and generally ignoring the rest of the world unless it pertained to a small selection of sporting events. As a side note, the Tour Down Under is quite the popular topic in South Australia around this time of the year. Luckily we arrived the day after the race had moved on from the Barossa itself.

The Barossa, it turns out, wasn’t particulary our favourite wine district to visit – that was probably the Margaret River in Western australia, although bits of New Zealand and Tasmania give it a run for its money. In fairness to the Barossa though, we were visiting just after one heatwave and just before another one, in the middle of one of the hottest summers anyone there can remember. So it was looking a bit dry and sorry for itself – excluding all the rich, well-watered grape vines, of course.

It did turn out, no surpise, that the Barossa is a good place to pick up some quality plonk though. Shiraz is the local speciality, with rieslings popular in the nearby Eden Valley. All very good, but we also picked up some excellent roses and…why am I even telling you this? If you come over to my place we can drink some. Otherwise I don’t have the wine vocabulary to describe what we drank, and if you wanted to read about wine you’d go and get James Halliday’s latest, probably.

(Actually if you do want to read about wine I can recommend The Wine Wankers blog, which is not at all up itself and has meta-tags like “humorous wine images” and “horse piss”)

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing The Essential Theatre Company’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Seppeltsfield Winery. It’s a very entertaining interpretation of one of the more fun Shakespeare plays, especially over a few glasses of red. They’re touring about the country (to vineyards, chiefly) for the next few months – check the itinerary and if you happen to be in their vicinity I can highly recommend it. Their Puck alone is worth the price of admission (as should always be the case with Midsummer…). Oh, if you’re in the Canberra region they will be at Flint in the Vines at Shaw Estate this coming weekend (Saturday 8 February) – you probably just about have time to get tickets!

On the writing front, I am closing in on my target of completing my novel manuscript by the end of February as planned. My writing streak of 400+ words is at 35 unbroken days now, and I’m averaging about 520 words a day. When I’m done, I am going to have to return to the drawing board again and review the structure of the novel – the start is too slow, the plot spends a lot of time up some blind alleys and too much of the action is delayed until late in the book. But the meat is there, so all I need to do is trim fat and rearrange some of the bones. Whether that results in fatal trauma to the story remains to be seen.

Yesterday I slapped another couple of scenes onto the short story I’m working on, which means that I think it’s done. I’ll put it away and work on something else for a week or so, then dig it out and see whether it still flows as it’s meant to. If I’m happy then, off it goes for submission somewhere.

In the meantime I’m working on a short story for this excellent little project – Unfettered by Tiny Owl Workshop – which will be an anthology of short stories inspired by a collection of beautiful, quirky illustrations by Terry Whidborne. Some lovely stuff there, and I am trying to work up a concept for each illustration before I decide which one I’ll write (I may write more than one).

And last of all, I’ve received notice that my first short story (or rather, the first one I ever submitted for publication anywhere, which spent some 14 months looking for a publisher) will be going to contract in the next week or so. So I might actually be able to use this blog to Announce a Thing! Not yet, but soon, maybe!

December 1, 2013

TMoRP Day 23 – The Day of the Doctor

Before

I have, no kidding, been waiting all my adult life for last weekend. Waiting for the 23rd of November 2013. Fifty years after the broadcast of ‘An Unearthly Child’, the first episode of Doctor Who. Roughly thirty-six years after I first saw an episode while sleeping over at a neighbour’s house where Episode 1 of ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ was playing. And something like 34 years since cliffhanger at the end of the first episode of ‘Terror of the Zygons’ so comprehensively scared the hell out of me that I wasn’t allowed to watch Doctor Who again for a year or so. Man, that stuff gets under your skin.

For most of that time, ever since 1989 when the show was cancelled amid plummeting ratings and daring experimentation, I expected that the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary would be marked somehow, probably with a slew of cash-in coffee table books and maybe a retrospective documentary with some of the show’s past stars and production staff. I quietly hoped Tom Baker would still be around to gleefully expound on his glory days.

For a while it looked like that’s all it would be. The 30th anniversary was marked with the release of the nigh-unwatchable special “Dimensions in Time”, which brings back several stars including Jon Pertwee and Liz Sladen, but also several characters from Eastenders (on whose set it was filmed, cheaply). I’m going to be honest, it was so awful and so laden with mid-nineties British pop culture references that I’ve always found it unfathomable. I’m pretty sure Ive never been able to sit through it all the way to the end.

The 35th anniversary was a little better. By 1998 the movie starring Paul McGann had come and gone and all hope was now lost that the Doctor would ever be back on the telly. So be it. We few dwindling fans still had the books to enjoy, and if the BBC Books-produced Eighth Doctor Adventures were never quite as compelling as the Virgin Books-produced New Adventures, there were still a few good ones amongst the range. One of them was Lance Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors, a book steeped in the rich continuity of Doctor Who without ever pretending to be part of continuity.  I loved reading the book, but I came nowhere near close to getting all the references. Maybe you should just read the Wikipedia explanation.

Of course, a few months before the 40th anniversary in 2003, we got ‘The Scream of the Shalka’, an animated webcast starring Richard E Grant as the Ninth Doctor. It was okay but not great, if we’re honest, but that didn’t matter because Shalka represented a brave new frontier of cheaply-made broadcast Doctor Who. At last we’d have new Who on our screens again, even if we had to painfully download each episode over slow dial-up in order to watch it on our tiny post-millenial computer monitors. That version of the future lasted all of a few weeks before the revelation, four weeks before the anniversary, that Who was coming back to broadcast television in 2005. And that Christopher-frickin’-Eccleston was gonna be in it.

Sorry, Richard E, but whatevs dude. We got Eccleston.

And all of a sudden the 50th anniversary was not only in sight, but hell, it might even get a real story. I was pretty chuffed. I wasn’t especially engaged with fandom at the time, but I’m guessing the sense of anticipation has been rising to hysterical levels in the meantime.

Approaching

What I didn’t expect was that the whole damned world would suddenly catch up to me and what I (naively) imagined was a relatively small pocket of geek fandom. Doctor Who got big. Bigger than its heydays of the Dalek-obsessed Hartnell sixties or the mad-about-Baker mid-seventies? I don’t know and can’t be arsed looking up viewing figures for the sake of a personal anecdote, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the show is currently more popular than it has ever been. It’s almost certainly generating more money than ever.

So all of a sudden we go from me and a few friends in our quiet little bubble occasionally glancing at a clock counting down to the 23rd of November, to every freaking news show in the English-speaking world (including maybe even a few in America!) joining in at the end of the countdown like a drunken New Year’s Eve crowd in Times Square suddenly catching on that something is happening on the monitors.

It’s a pretty far cry from the late 80′s when, if you mentioned to someone that your favourite show was Doctor Who, you’d be asked “Oh, is that still on?” (Until it wasn’t, obviously). Then you would cry a little inside, because Sylvester McCoy’s last two seasons were really damned good, especially if you ignore the existence of ‘Silver Nemesis’.

Personally though, the other thing I didn’t anticipate was falling sick – or rather discovering that I’d fallen sick a long time ago. Instead of having an ever-tightening sense of anticipation and excitement, I was just too damned tired to get that worked up about the anniversary. Instead of engaging on a year-long blogging project talking about my love for the show, I couldn’t even muster the energy to watch new episodes more than once. (Happily there were more than enough excellent anniversary-themed blogging projects going around, so the absence of my contribution is hardly a critical hole in the conversation).

Instead of finding a way to celebrate for an entire year, I got tired and went to bed early. I can still feel the judgmental glare of my younger self, who probably thought some themed viewing parties and perhaps a little cosplay was in order. Stow it, young ‘un. Grumpy old future-self is taking a nap.

But as the date drew nearer (and I started treatment on my protracted sleep deprivation) I started feeling that old buzz again. The excitement of new Who. The sense that something big was going to happen. The expectation that the BBC and Steven Moffat would pull out all the stops to deliver a major event.

The teasers – or spoilers if you prefer – started leaking out. The anniversary story would feature the return of an old monster. It would be a multiple-Doctor story. Gallifrey would feature somehow. There would be time travel shenanigans. Daleks? Yes, probably Daleks!

And then came the end of Season 7B, and the sheer WTF ending of “The Name of the Doctor”. There was a regeneration we never knew about, the version of the Doctor who fought in the Time War and killed all the Time Lords (except one or two) and all of the Daleks (except for one or two million) and destroyed Gallifrey. The one who endured the trauma that left Eccleston’s Doctor with PTSD. The one who did something so profoundly un-Doctorish that he’s been in denial about it ever since.

Okay. That was a pretty compelling setup. I was onboard.

During

(Spoilers from here on in)

When it came, the anniversary was an embarrassment of riches. I’m hard-pressed to tell you which bit I loved the most.

Mini-episode: First there was the last little teaser mini-episode, ‘The Night of the Doctor’. Paul McGann *finally* got to reprise his portrayal of the Doctor onscreen, and it was short but perfectly formed. I was just transported with glee to see him back in the part. The highlight for me was his salutatory recitation to his departed companions from the Big Finish audio plays. Hilariously the list ignored the ones from the BBC’s own line of books, although I felt a bit bad for the long-suffering Fitz Kreiner, who I thought deserved a shout-out. Don’t worry Fitz, you’re still part of my head-canon. Also, it was nice that they brought back the bonkers not-even-pretending-to-be-scientific mysticism of the Sisterhood of Karn. McGann’s performance was an intense distillation of nearly ten years of playing the part in audio plays. He turned a good script into a goddamn tour de force. In six minutes, ‘The Night of the Doctor’ underscored what a damned shame it was that we never got to see the McGann Doctor (even if a series in the vein of the 1996 movie would probably have been terrible)

(Also: “Will it hurt?” Yeah, I sort of sob-laughed at that).

Anniversary: It was big. It was an event. It starred three Doctors at once and jammed all the rest in at the sides. It dropped a nuclear retcon right in the heart of the new series. It was a transformative event that nudges the show in a new direction without fundamentally altering its premise. It was sentimental, yes, but at least the sentiment this time around was redemptive optimism.

It pretty much did what an anniversary show should do. It celebrated the past and reinvigorated the future. In no small part, it did the latter by being simulcast worldwide, drawing an almost-unprecedented audience for any form of television, let alone a piece of children’s drama. (And let’s all be thankful they didn’t take the opportunity to do a callback to the Archangel Network from the climax of ‘The Last of the Time Lords’.)

I have minor complaints, of course (I wouldn’t be a Doctor Who fan if I didn’t). The sight of the airlifted TARDIS being choppered over London was a piece of pointless, bewildering spectacle that somewhat over-egged what was already a pretty rich pudding. Most of the scenes with Elizabeth I were more stupid than they were wacky, and disappointingly sexist in a story that did better with its other female characters. I disagree with the premise going around that they did fundamental damage to the character of the Tennant Doctor, but a lot of people invested in his performance disliked those scenes intensely, and I can’t much argue the point.

(Except to say – ZYGONS! Fuckin’ boo-yah!)

I also don’t really know what to make of the appearance of Tom Baker, but I have also concluded that I don’t care much. It was in there because he was one of the most beloved parts of a long-running television series, not because it made particular story sense. (And frankly, even though I can’t quite make sense of it, him turning up as either an implausibly well-informed curator or a future incarnation of the Doctor living out his retirement on one of his old bodies is no more nonsensical than the continuity errors in ‘The Five Doctors’ or any part of the plot of ‘The Three Doctors’).

Docudrama: And then came the surprise highlight of the anniversary, An Adventure in Space and Time, the dramatisation of the making of the original series in 1963. Going into this I had some mixed feelings – the actors playing Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert and William Hartnell are all dead ringers for their counterparts. The teaser shots of David Bradley as Hartnell in particular looked scarily good. On the other hand it was written by Mark Gatiss, one of the modern Doctor Who writers of whose work I’m not especially fond. So I was expecting it to be an interesting look back at British television production in the 1960′s, and not much more than that.

Instead, it was a heartwarming and touching drama about bravery and the inevitability of change. For his faults, Gatiss’ nostalgia-steeped perspective on Doctor Who served him well here. The historical touchstones of the show – Daleks crossing the Thames in a deserted London, the extras walking about in the ridiculous butterfly-man Menoptera costumes – never overwhelmed the intersecting stories of Lambert’s rise to confidence and success and Hartnell’s arrogance softening as his health begins to decline.

Purists might decry the absurd moment toward the end when a confused Hartnell, almost too overcome by emotion and ill health to record his final scene, looks across the TARDIS console to see Matt Smith smiling encouragingly at him. It was a blatant vote of thanks to the man who started it all from a lifelong fan (Gatiss and probably everyone else involved with the production). I don’t know what Hartnell would have made of the fact that his program would go on to survive him (and two of his successors for that matter) but it’s easy to imagine he’d be pleased.

Hell, I hope that Doctor Who outlives me too. I never want to see the last episode again.

Coda: It wasn’t an official part of the anniversary, not exactly, but Peter Davison’s hilarious fly-on-the-wall faux-documentary The Five(-ish) Doctors Reboot was a delightful bonus. Davison (aka the Fifth Doctor), Colin Baker (the Sixth) and Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh) are all awaiting for a call from Steven Moffat to invite them to be in the 50th anniversary episode. When the invitation is not forthcoming, they take matters into their own hands. Clearly made with love for the new show from the stalwarts of its past, it’s wry and hilarious, with a gratuitous host of cameos by Doctor Who luminaries all too willing to take the piss out of themselves. John Barrowman’s bit is especially amusing and there are several surprise appearances that top even that. It’s well worth a look, especially if the anniversary episode itself was not to your tastes.

Afterward

It’s taken me a week to get through this entry, which is pretty indicative of the energy I have for writing at the moment. Things are weird at work, I am contemplating a new career and meanwhile the recovery of my lost sleep remains a slow business. I think I’m going to have to call time on the Month of Relentless Positivity, seeing as I wasn’t even able to hit my mark in two months (and that’s why NaNoWriMo has not appeared anywhere on my radar this year. Next year I might plan ahead and do NaNo, but probably not in November).

But at least I have Doctor Who to keep me sane. Roll on, Christmas special. Let’s see what you’ve got for us.

 

November 15, 2013

TMoRP Day 18 – The [Spoiler] of the [Spoiler] Mini-Episode

Filed under: geekery,the month of relentless positivity — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:56 pm

(No Spoilers follow)

In less than 10 days, the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who will be broadcast around the universe (some areas will be on delayed transmission, obviously. Sorry, viewers on Saturn). As is their wont with the massive over-promotion of television events that basically everyone who cares would have watched anyway, the BBC have produced a six-minute mini-episode introducing the main movie-length special.

You can watch it on Youtube here.

WARNING: It spoils the living shit out of a surprise part of the anniversary episode that they managed to keep completely under wraps all year. At least, I wasn’t aware of it and I have been paying at least some attention. I’m guessing that nobody else knew either.

So, if you are cheerfully oblivious about what the anniversary episode is about, or you don’t want to know any more than you already do about what’s going on in the story, maybe just save that link and come back in a couple of weeks.

I couldn’t resist, figuring (correctly) that since a couple of people in my Twitter feed gave it away anyway, I might as well check it out. It is glorious, wonderful geekbait, hearkening back with unabashed love for what’s come before and what comes next. It was penned by Steven Moffat, doing exactly the sort of thing that he does well.

Not that I have much fear of there being a long discussion thread about this, but please don’t spoil either the mini-episode or the details of the anniversary in the comments. Save it for the day of broadcast (Sunday 24th) when I will for once know precisely what the topic of my TMoRP post will be.

August 6, 2013

You had one job to do

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,property magnatism — Tags: , , , , — lexifab @ 2:57 pm

This is the 600th post on this iteration of Lexifabricographer [1]. For reasons I am not well equipped to examine at the moment, I have had this idea that I should mark the occasion with a special post. Yes, despite the fact that this could not possibly be a more meaningless milestone. All week I’ve been trying to think of a suitably worthy discussion topic. Each time I’ve failed, then gone off and found something else to do.

Obviously, what I should be doing is a classic Lexifab post of context-free observations and underdeveloped comments about two or three unrelated topics that occur to me as I type them. because everyone loves those, don’t they?

(Well, they might, but until I do a few and then examine the new analytical tools, how will I know?)

The Next of the Doctors

So they announced that <spoiler>Peter Capaldi</spoiler> will be taking the part of the twelfth-or-thirteenth Doctor when Matt Smith departs at the end of the year. So, the Doctor will continue to be a white bloke for the next three to five years. Once again my desperately unrealistic hopes of a Helen Mirren, Chiwetel Ejiofor or Sophie Okenedo Doctor will have to be shelved, as such hopes ever are. I find that this time around I am too tired of making the argument for a female Doctor, much less the surely-not-all-that-controversial possibility of casting a non-white actor, to even bother engaging in the discussion much.

That said, I like Peter Capaldi very much as an actor and I am sure he will be just as marvellous in the role as everyone else who ever got the job. He has an expressive face with the capacity to do both “angry” and “concerned” and his comic timing appears sound. What’s of more interest – and I have to say concern – is whether the hyper-fluid, breathless and often incoherent storytelling that has marked the Moffatt era so far, will continue after Matt Smith’s departure. That style of drama has its positive points but seems to favour being clever over being smart a little too often for my tastes. [2]

If it were me – and let us be honest it never will or should be me in charge of Doctor Who – I’d take the opportunity of casting a slightly less spritely-appearing actor (Capaldi is 55, which is OMG as old as William Hartnell was when he took the role) to extend the metaphor into the meta a bit. I think it would make a nice change to enjoy a period of slightly less rushed and deliberately confusing storytelling, where the exploration of character has a bit of space to happen naturally in amongst the exploding space-skyscrapers and timey-wimey shenanigans.

LISTEN TO ME I SOUND LIKE A CRANKY OLD MAN GET OFF MY TIME-LAWN YOU DANGED KIDS WITH YOUR HOVER-MOTORBIKES AND YOUR SPARKLY TIME-STREAMS

Deadlines whoosh by

I still haven’t finished my novel manuscript. July was almost a complete washout, thanks to sleepiness and, I’ll be honest, a solid spoonful of disenchantment with both the story and my ability to tell it. In the last week or so some of the wind has returned to my sails and the manuscript-so-far, while undoubtedly riddled with structural defects and rookie errors, doesn’t look all that bad. I’ll put a fair chunk of the blame on the tiredness for that one.

My novel critiquing group is owed a finished manuscript in eight days. They’re not going to get one. Even if I took the next week off work I doubt I could get to the finish line on that one. Lucky for me, they’ve all been extraordinarily patient and have generously agreed to read whatever I have done at that point. It would have been good to be able to hand over something with THE END typed on the last page. I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it (and sometime soon I’ll need to take a much closer look at everything from my approach to outlining, my writing session discipline and the reasonableness of my self-expectations to see where improvements can be made in future).

But the crit group have been ruthless in their dissection of each others’ work over the course of this year. Weak characters, inconsistent settings and rambling plots have been unearthed in even the most polished of manuscripts. (Not by me, I might add – I fear I was among the softer, less helpful critics in the group. Most of the time I couldn’t spot an error in plot logic even if you explained it slowly with flowcharts). They are going to have a field day with mine – but the crucial part is that they will probably identify problems that I don’t already know about. And they might very well come up with ideas that are better than mine.

So I have one week to go through what I’ve written so far and at least fix all the typos so they don’t have to deal with those…

Tax time

Back in real life, however, what I have to spend the rest of this week and probably some part of the weekend doing is getting my tax documents and spreadsheets together. While we have highly paid accountants to work out the intricate tax details of our investment property empire (such as it is), we can’t really afford to just throw all our receipts at them and let them do all the work. Which means that around this time every year I have to pull together a ten-page spreadsheet of itemised income and expenditure statements, together with the usual huge bundles of invoices, bank statements and income summaries.

So far the only fun thing about preparing this  year’s spreadsheet has been adding a line item in my income statement for income from writing. First step on the long and probably neverending journey to a professional career in writing! If nothing else, it gives me a target to aim at for next year.

 

 

[1] The previous iteration still exists, mostly unlinked-to, like a confused and irritable ghost meandering about the halls of an orange-hued gothic manor. Do not attempt to engage it, for its ill-focused ennui is both parasitic and contagious, a bit like all the comment spam that has nestled in it for warmth and nutrients.

[2] That said, I found more to like than dislike in the eight stories of Season 7B than in any previous stretch of the Twelfth Doctor run, even though those very qualities have been wound up to Ramming Speed.

May 5, 2013

Conflux Roundup – A swirl of vague impressions

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:03 am

A week on from the end of Conflux, I still don’t have it all straight in my head. It was an overwhelming experience. On the one hand, that’s ridiculous – it was a gathering of about two or three hundred people, confined to a single building across about six rooms and a couple of eating areas, which is not exactly the World Economic Forum in Davos.

On the other hand, I wanted to do everything, be everywhere and talk to everyone. The sheer impossibility of those mathematics, the number of hard choices and the opportunities regrettably foresworn all did my head in. I do have a few regrets – mostly around people I was a bit too shy and starstruck to introduce myself to, even though intellectually I know it would have been fine and not the rude intrusion that it seemed like in my head – but overall I had an amazing time.

Conflux has a well-earned reputation for being a writers’ con. Nearly all the panels are geared towards the art, craft, business and/or love of writing speculative fiction and editors, agents and publishers have a strong presence alongside the creative types. There was a great sense of energy and of a vibrant, welcoming community that wanted nothing more than to sit down and talk about writing. I had a wonderful time with it.

Discussion panels made up most of the program – I would have attended a dozen or so over the course of the weekend. There were three in particular that I loved: the Horror one late on the first night, moderated by Kirstyn McDermott and featuring a cast of horror fiction luminaries, in which sparkle vampires were roundly denounced and the film versions of The Mist and The Road were compared and contrasted to great effect. Then there was the so-called smackdown between small-press and mainstream publishers, in which Russell Farr of Ticonderoga, Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot and agent Alex Adsett were all largely in furious agreement that the Big Six (or Five, now) publishing houses are on the brink of apocalypse (it was more interesting and erudite than I make it sound, of course). And finally there was the panel exploring the Essence of Steampunk, which concluded that steampunk is largely comprised of everything that seems like it might be steampunk – but it got there by a fun and somewhat digressive route.

One of the great parts of the con for me was the number of people who had opportunities to pitch novels to publishers and agents. As is no doubt often the case with these things, heaps of people had manuscripts to flog and the program allocated five-minute slots with industry professionals. On top of that, the program included workshops on preparing pitches and dealing with agents and publishers. All good stuff for those in a position to take advantage of it. (My manuscript is nowhere near that state).

The international guests of honour were terrific. Marc Gascoigne, managing director of Angry Robot Press, was the main drawcard for me (not that I needed one, you understand, I was going anyway). Angry Robot one of the hottest and most interesting international spec fiction publishers on the planet right now. But more important to me, Gascoigne was an early writer on Shadowrun game books and tie-in novels way back in the late eighties. I would like to have had the chance to chat with him about that. Alas, the opportunity didn’t come up (or at least if it did I missed it). And I didn’t know anything at all about the other intentional GoH, Nalo Hopkinson, a Caribbean-born American writer. But after seeing her interviewed by Justine Larbalestier, I want to read more from both of them. They were such fun, engaging speakers. Hopkinson came to her writing career comparitively late in life, which I found encouraging. I’m definitely including their stuff in my next Amazon and/or library trawl.

(Oh dear, this is starting to get longer than I intended, and I still didn’t mention the Masquerade or the Regency ball or the Steampunk-themed high tea. That’s because I didn’t actually go to any of them, but I was rather pleased that things like that were there for people who like that sort of thing.)

If I hadn’t been at least a vaguely responsible parent, I’d probably have done what most of the interstate con attendees did, which was to stay up all night nattering in bars and getting roaring drunk in room parties. I suspect that’s where all the most interesting conversations were taking place.

Not being an experienced con-goer I wouldn’t know. Tell you what though, if all Australian speculation fiction cons are as wonderful, as informative and as much fun as Conflux 9, then I have every intention of making a habit of this con-going thing.

October 31, 2012

MRP Day 30 – New Star Wars (A cautious woohoo!)

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,the month of relentless positivity — lexifab @ 11:19 am

Twitter is alive this morning with the horrific groans of an internet-stopping nerdgasm [1] with the news that Disney has paid something like four billion bucks to prise the mouldering corpses of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises out of George Lucas’ gold-plated fingers.

Despite the prequel trilogy – about which I will say nothing because this is the Month of Relentless Positivity and I have almost nothing positive to say about them – I am still more or less a Star Wars fan, in theory if not in practise. Back when bubble gum cards were a thing, I remember my brothers and I collecting the first Topps The Empire Strikes Back series with passionate intensity. I think between us we managed to complete one set, but we must have had about thirty of that one card showing Luke in the bacta tank. Star Wars was never my top fandom (that would be Doctor Who) and over the years it has slipped below Star Trek (or at least some of Star Trek), Babylon 5  and other mass-culture fictional universes in terms of my enthusiasm.

That said, there are obviously good stories that can be told in the setting – The Knights of the Old Republic games are great (well, I didn’t play the MMO, but I heard good things about the storylines), and I’ve enjoyed the few episodes of the Clone Wars animated series that I’ve watched, even though it focuses on characters from the prequels. I have been waiting with cautious optimism for the live action television series that has been in production for the past couple of years [2].

I’m primed, in other words, for there to be new Star Wars – as long as it’s good. And as John Scalzi points out, putting the setting into the hands of the rapacious Disney entertainment megaglomerate might not seem like a great fit for creative freedom, but both Pixar and Marvel have gone from strength to strength since being added to the Empire of the Mouse.

So I’m hopeful we can look forward to the usual cutting-edge visual design that has always been a hallmark of the Star Wars movies (even the prequels) being placed in the service of good storytelling (which was only ever a hallmark of Empire, and arguably Star Wars [3]). At the very least, I hope they will make films that I would be happy to show to my kids before they are teenagers, unlike the prequels. We will see soon enough though. The first new movie – Episode 7, apparently – is scheduled for release in 2015, with two more sequels by the end of the decade.

Then again, perhaps more interesting is that the Disney-Lucas deal includes the LucasArts games properties, which means in theory we might also one day see Monkey Island or Grim Fandango up on the big screen. And that would be hot.

 

[1] Which unfortunately is drowning out coverage of the post-hurricane recovery on the US east cost and basically everything else that might be happening somewhere on Earth.

[2] Come to think of it, I haven’t heard anything about that for a while. Wonder if this development will kill that project stone dead?

[3] Nobody actually calls it A New Hope, right?

May 30, 2012

Wednesdays are linkspam days

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 3:43 pm

I’m halfway through a bunch of things and coming up on my self-imposed deadline to finish things. So instead of starting something new to post up here, I’m just going to flag a bunch of things that caught my interest when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else.

Recently Neil Gaiman did a speech to the 2012 graduating class from University of the Arts in Philly about living a life in the creative arts. It’s wonderful. But at 15 minutes it is rather too long for my internet-atrophied attention span to follow [1], so instead, here is a rather awesome cartoon version.

Ticonderoga Press has announced the table of contents from its upcoming The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2011 anthology. Having read four of the stories from a list of 32 and found all of them to be top-notch, I have already decided to pick this one up (due in July) and am hunting around my local bookstores for the 2010 collection.

Stunning (and completely spoilery) plot analysis of The Avengers: http://exurbe.com/?p=1368  If you have seen the movie and came away with the infinitessimally faint hint of dissatisfaction that perhaps the cunning and complexity of the villain’s scheme was not quite up to the standard traditionally ascribed to him, then read this essay and marvel at its subtle genius [2]

Next week I am going to plug a bunch of podcasts. You have been warned.

 

[1] Not really. Go watch the vid. Or just listen to it. Gaiman is terrific.

[2] Which goes almost wholly unrevealed amidst the witty snarking and multi-’splosion hijinks [3]

[3] By the way The Avengers is making a serious play in my head for the best action movie of all time, though I suspect on subsequent viewings it will again lose ground to the masterwork that is Die Hard. But it is, I contend, better on every level than any of the Indiana Jones or Star Wars movies.

 

 

May 15, 2012

Here comes the uppercut, right to the sinuses

Filed under: fitter/happier,geekery,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 2:56 pm

Okay, this isn’t a health complaint. Not really. Not when I have a friend who has been diagnosed with diabetes in the last few days. That’s something worth complaining about.

But seriously, did I really need to get a body-trashing, head-stuffing cold so soon after the bronchitis (which might possibly have been a side effect of undiagnosed whooping cough?).

Yeah, no I didn’t need that.

It’s halfway through the month and so far I haven’t finished any of the things I said I wanted to. I have made progress on the novel re-outline (Outline 1, let’s call it) and the cyclone short story is about half-done. The only significant personal accomplishment was to catch up on all the Marvel superhero movies that precede The Avengers, so that now I can watch The Avengers just a few short weeks after everyone else did :)

Oops, looks like I have a meeting I forgot about. To work!

EDIT: According to the admin dashboard, the second post after this one will be the 500th Lexifabricographer entry [1]. I should think about doing something special. Hint – it will probably be an otherwise unpublishable short story.

 

[1] To clarify – the 500th since the original version was buggered up by Blogger and Andrew replaced it with this bland but far more functional WordPress version. [2]

[2] One of these days I must learn how to dress up the display so it looks a little less like the UI of a text editor.[3]

[3] Something to add to my indistinguishable-from-infinite list of distractions from writing.

 

March 8, 2012

Spamwave and Linkage! (They Fight Crime)

Filed under: administraviata,geekery,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 4:21 pm

Spamwave!

Woah. I just checked the Lexifab dashboard. Anyone wanna hazard a guess about which link I added or trigger-word I used in the Books of February post to attract a dozen brand new spam commenters? (All tragically deleted now, and may the good Lord ha’ mercy etc)

I will open the betting with “steampunk-themed torture porn”. Any takers?

Linkage!

So that this piece of bloggerel [1] is not a complete waste of your valuable internet time-wasting time, here is an extremely valuable link. I am almost certain that it does not come from the spam comments mentioned earlier.

Against Big Bird, The Gods Themselves Contend In Vain  - Scott Lynch, who will hopefully someday overcome the significant difficulties standing between him and the completion of the Gentlemen Bastards series, has contributed to the intellectual discourse on popular culture with this insightful analysis of the most insane Sesame Street special ever broadcast. I don’t recall ever seeing this one, but it’s hard to believe it’s stranger than the time they all went to Hawaii and discovered that Mr Snufalupagus is the walking dream-avatar of a sleeping mountain. Really. The late ’70′s were a great time for bogglingly weird children’s television.

 

[1] Yup, pretty sure that’s a word now. Your OED will update automatically.

February 4, 2012

Dare to be Stupid

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge,the interweb she provides,trolling — lexifab @ 1:36 am

These days when I delve into the pages of that venerable commentator on American music and culture, Rolling Stone Magazine, it’s invariably for the political analysis, which is a bit like claiming to only read Playboy for the articles. Nevertheless there are rare occasions when it manages to pierce the rigid carapace of indifference to music I’ve built up over a couple of decades or so of inattention. There is one musician out there about whom I continue to Have Strong Opinions.

I’m speaking, of course, of my hero and spirit guide, Albert Matthew ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, the undisputed comedy folk-rock piano-accordianist champion of all time. To celebrate the release of his landmark intermittently-outstanding 13th studio album AlpocalypseRolling Stone recently ran a reader’s poll to ascertain once and for all which songs – from a catalogue spanning more than a hundred songs over more than 30 years – are his top ten best songs.

Unsurprisingly, they mostly got it wrong. If I may smugly namecheck a Weird Al song in order to score a cheap internet-point, ‘Close but No Cigar’, people.

Oh sure, they managed to display the odd patch of good taste and common sense amongst their so-called “best of” picks. So why of why did they have to go and despoil a perfectly good list by rounding it out with the bland, the obvious and the tediously popular? See, this is why crowdsourcing is going to ruin culture.

You know what it means when there’s someone wrong on the internet, right? I’m gonna have to school them ignoramuses, track by track. Listen up.

Number 10: One More Minute. Okay, look, tens-of-thousands-of-Rolling-Stone-readers. Here’s where you went wrong right off the bat. Al’s doo-wop ballad lamenting the breakdown of a relationship is NOT the tenth-best thing he ever wrote. It’s THE best. Come on, people. Now, there are going to be people who argue that this is not Al’s best song, nor even a good one. What can I say? There are people who will argue that the sun’s not coming up tomorrow if someone else asserts it on the internet. Those people are unaware of – or conveniently forgetting – that ‘One More Minute’ selflessly contributes one of modern culture’s finest entendres – I’m stranded all alone at the gas station of love/And I have to use the self-service pumps – and that this is the least of its comedic achievements. I will say no more. If this song cannot find a place in your top five, your education is sadly incomplete.

Number 9: All About the Pentiums. Oh. My. Meh! This is just ridiculous. There are times when Al can effortlessly demonstrate what it takes to be at the top of the parody game. This inexplicable hit is not one of those times. First rule of sound-alike novelty songs: start with a good song. Puff Daddy’s inferior doggerel about the shallow pursuit of the appearance of wealth may have been rather popular in 1997. Is it still a respected classic of the hip-hop genre? I haven’t heard it on my shitty local FM golden oldies station recently! Getting back to Al, there’s certainly good material here – making fun of nerds and being a nerd is a rich vein to mine, and not particularly one I have a problem with. There’s some good jokes – What kind of chip you got in there, a Dorito? and You’re just about as useless as jpegs to Helen Keller – but the rapping’s sketchy and the jokes are scattershot and fail to build to anything. Everything weak about this song he got right ten times over with ‘White and Nerdy’.

Number 8: Smells Like Nirvana. This is more like it. Starting from a strong base – the so-called anthem for an entire generation – and working from a good premise – nobody understands any of the words of the so-called anthem of a generation – Al turned Nirvana’s crashy slacker masterpiece around on itself. It’s hard to bargle nardle zous/With all these marbles in my mouth. Al’s (insane, contrarian) critics often make the claim that all his songs are about food, but really only a handful are. It’s just that these happened to have included two of his biggest hits, ‘Eat It’ and ‘Fat’. (Kurt Cobain famously almost declined his permission for the parody because he thought it would be about food). This, arguably his best parody, aims a little higher, making fun of the original song and its performers, with outstanding success. The recent ‘Perform this Way’, sending up the fact that Lady Gaga is a dead-set loon, succeeds at this as well, though not so sublimely. The ‘Nirvana’ lyrics are perfect – Well we don’t sound like Madonna/Here we are now, we’re Nirvana/Sing distinctly, we don’t wanna – the instrumentation is a precise recreation of the drums-and-feedback Nirvana sound and the shot-for-shot video clip manages to ridicule and laud the original at the same time. This is a great song about a great song that sounds just like it. Meta.

Number 7: Dare to Be Stupid. Nearly everybody knows that Weird Al Yankovic is famous for comically substituting his own lyrics to a well-known piece of music. This other thing he does is to parody a famous band’s signature sound, producing a song that is likely to be indistinguishable from the rest of that band’s output (except those bands that are unlikely to be singing jokes about food, the internet or being a terrible relationship partner). ‘Dare to be Stupid’ is a sharp imitation of Devo at the height of their fame (i.e. post-’Whip It’) and stylistically it sticks the landing. But the joke – bad advice offered to stupid people – wears out fast. There are many better examples of Al’s style-parodies. He’s done at least  of them (three on the latest album). The best include ‘Dog Eat Dog’ – which would be one of my favourite Talking Heads songs if they had anything to do with it – ‘Germs’ (Nine Inch Nails, as if Trent Reznor hadn’t passed the point some years ago of self-parody), and ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’, which really could be a They Might Be Giants song. He’s even done two songs in the style of the Beach Boys – ‘Trigger Happy’ apes their early surfboards-and-hotrods style and ‘Pancreas’ is a lost track from Pet Sounds. Here’s what I think – it’s the cheesy direct-to-comedy parodies that attracts Al’s wider audience, but it’s the style parodies that the fans come back for.

Number 6: Yoda. A contender for top three, without a doubt. Al’s first foray into Star Wars filk-singing was to convert ‘Lola’, The Kinks’ classic song about picking up a transsexual in a bar, into a recap of Luke Skywalker’s Dagobah training montage. Sure, it was dated almost the minute came out, but it still holds up (possibly because it calls back to the one inarguably good movie in the entire Star Wars series). Al’s been finishing his shows with this song one and off for 25 years. That’s because it’s great. And because everyone loves chanting the Yo-yo-yo-yo-Yoda bit.

Number 5: The Saga Begins. Oof. First up, it’s a terrible name, yes, but it would have been more terrible to try to cram one of George Lucas’ awful planet names (Coruscant or Tattooine would have been the contenders, I guess) into a joke renaming of ‘American Pie’. Forget that, though, because by Al’s standards this is a pretty ordinary parody. Considering the Maclean song is one of the most recognisable dirges in American music, many of Al’s lyrics don’t match up with the scanning of the original. Worse, it’s just a retelling of The Phantom Menace, which is bad because it’s a retelling of The Phantom Menace, a story we could really have done without being told even once. TSB does score points for its great final verse, which sums up in four lines what it takes George Lucas nearly an hour to depict onscreen – And in the end some Gunguns died/Some ships blew up and some pilots fried/A lot of folks were croakin’/The battle droids were broken. Lucas could wish he still had that kind of storytelling economy. It perhaps deserves some admiration too for being released just after the movie premiered – Al wrote it solely on the basis of what he could pick up from preview trailers, internet spoilers and sheer guesswork. But there’s no need for more than one Star Wars-related song on the list of any right-thing Al fan. ‘Saga’ falls well short of ‘Yoda’.

Number 4: Eat It. Here’s what I think happened with the Rolling Stone survey. I think it’s just faintly possible that the vast majority of people who responded to it had never listened to a Weird Al album at all! I know, right? They remember seeing this on TV back in 1984 and thought “Yeah, that was funny I’ll vote for that.” Because…durrr.

‘Eat it’ is the crass and obvious choice of the ill-educated oik who thinks parody songs need to be about food and contain belching sound effects. On an unrelated observation, ‘Eat It’ was number one on the Australian music charts and nowhere else in the world. Let me tell you – not only is this not the fourth best Weird Al song, it’s not even the best song on the ‘Eat It’ album (‘Midnight Star’ is). Hell, it’s not even the fourth best parody song on the album: ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Theme from Rocky XIII’, ‘King of Suede’  and ‘I Lost on Jeopardy’ are all flat-out better, funnier songs. Go to hell, ‘Eat It’.

Number 3: Albuquerque. Then again, there’s this – an insane, 11-minute rambling anecdote about starting a new life in New Mexico, boxes of weasels and…hell, I duno. It’s weird. Go listen to it. I’ll give the Rolling Stone readers this much, when they’re trolling an online survey, they really commit to the gag.

Number 2: White and Nerdy. Good parody, sharp lyrics, and surprisingly adroit rapping. ‘White and Nerdy’ is basically a reprise of the ‘All About the Pentiums’ joke, but with more serious commitment to the dorkiness, which is what makes it funny. I wouldn’t necessarily have it in my top ten, but it deserves a special mention for being the flagship song on the return-to-form Straight Outta Lynwood album, which broke the curse of the 90′s (during which Al’s popularity was in a bit of a slump, by which I mean not even hardcore nerds like me would listen to him).

…which brings us to

Number 1: Amish Paradise. You’re kidding me, right? This is one of those Oscars-envelope-mixup things, right, where the award for Best Song got mixed up with the award for Most Adequate Reinterpretation of Some Garbage Coolio Ripped Off from Stevie Wonder? Is that what this is? I mean, I guess ‘Amish Paradise’ is funny, but it’s not that funny.

I would have accepted an out-there selection like ‘Christmas at Ground Zero’ or ‘Bob’ or ‘Hardware Store’. If one of the slightly-less-popular parodies like ‘Living with a Hernia’ or ‘Like a Surgeon’ had gotten over the line, I would have nodded with no more than one eyebrow raised. If you’d randomly picked one of the medley polkas – a joke that started out funny, got less and less funny with each successive album, until it finally came around full circle and became funny again – I could have gotten behind that. This, though? This toothless poke at all the obvious jokes that anyone would think of five minutes after watching Witness?

That hurts, Rolling Stone Magazine readers. It’s like you’re not taking this seriously at all.

 

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