So, the first leg of Operation: Gobshite has finally landed1, and it’s radio related. This Sunday was the first ever episode of The BookWorm, a little book show that I co-host with my friend Ninfa Hayes and produced by AL Johnson. You can catch it every Sunday on Fab Radio International
It’s meant to be a rather irreverent look at the book world. We’re not Radio 42 by any stretch of the imagination, and are quite far removed from taking ourselves seriously. We love books, and draw our inspiration from the fantastic worlds we find between the covers. We also laugh a lot. It’s pretty much an excuse for me to do some of the things I love to do; talk to creative people and get enthused about creative things.
It’s a relief to have the first show live and done. After weeks of practice, worry, pondering and generally messing about we finally went live, and it was glorious. Things didn’t go completely smoothly, but that’s all part of the fun.
This is not my first radio show; I presented a rock radio show in college, and I’ve been a contributor to other cool shows in the past, but The BookWorm feels like I’ve finally found my groove. Time will tell, but it’s been a fun ride so far. Listen live at 12pm GMT3 Every Sunday.
1: Like a Martian War Machine, the charmingly titled Operation Gobshite has three legs. Talking nonsense on a Radio Show is only one part of this.
2: Fab Radio International is very much about being alternative. It’s very much influenced by the sort of innovation, co-operation and free-thinking that defines the city of Manchester, and it has this wild feel to it that is rather fun.
3: 7am EST. Sorry colonials.
I’ve been trying to write a blog post about Doctor Who, regeneration and the role of The Doctor being played by a woman for some time now. Mostly I go round in circles and learn a little bit more about my own tastes, personal prejudices and slowly gain a greater understanding of inequality and sexism. It’s a very useful intellectual exercise for me, but consistently makes for a bloody boring wall of text as I1 waffle on. I’ll try to make it less dull, without tying myself up in knots about how to make the world a more egalitarian2 place.
So duly warned, here are some things to consider about regenerations.
1) Every regeneration is a reboot – I think people get distracted by the fact that because Doctor Who’s reboots happen as part of the narrative, rather than outside it, that this makes changing the show’s format some how easier. It’s not. The story and casting are only part of making a show. Casting Tilda Swinton (for example) as The Doctor is as easy to do as casting Katee Sackhoff as the next James Bond.
2) Having a preference for a certain shape, colour, gender or anything else in your future timelords does not make you a bigot, in the same way that preferring Roger Moore to Sean Connery as James Bond does not automatically make you anti-Scottish.
Being a bigot is the thing that makes you a bigot. For example, if your reason for not wanting Tilda Swinton to play The Doctor boils down to “girls smell”, then you need to have a word with yourself.
If, however, every time you close your eyes and picture The Doctor and you see someone who is short, bald and male (and your list of preferences are all actors who resemble Danny Devito) then that’s just your taste and your shouldn’t let anyone tell you that your tastes are wrong or weird; they’re your tastes and you should enjoy them as they’re part of who you are.
3) Casting, if done well, should be based on who the producers of the show think they could do the best work with. No other criteria should enter into it. Which brings me on to point 4.
4) The only way you’re going to get to make the decision is to become the next show runner of Doctor Who. If you’re so inclined, you should make this a personal goal3. I also think speculating on who the next show runner is just as interesting as trying to guess who the next Doctor is. I suspect it’ll be Mark Gatiss next, but I’d love it to be Jane Goldman.
1: I’m fat white bloke of average height in his late 30′s. I’m happy with my body and gender and very happily married to a rather lovely lady. As such I feel I have very little to add that hasn’t already been said by other fat white lucky sods.
But I like to waffle on, so there.
2: Being an egalitarian does not mean you only have to eat eagles. Hmmm, eagles.
3: A hall of fame that includes the likes of Verity Lambert and Russel T Davies.
A well placed, witty yet dismissive one-liner can be the bane of any fandom, as anyone who’s a fan of Babylon 51 can attest when the someone quotes Spaced at them for the hundredth time.
So I fully expect that with the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the dull and unoriginal will trot out the tired old joke about Suzanne Collins’ hit series that “The Hunger Games is Battle Royale with Cheese”. I promise I won’t hunt those people down and beat them with a Pulp Fiction DVD2. There’s a lot to get annoyed by this gag though; let’s break it down.
It was funny a couple of years ago, but only a little bit funny. A dry gag on a boring day, though one with a hint of malice to it. Unlike a meme, it hasn’t evolved into anything more amusing. It’s also a terrible comparison. Koushun Takami’s 1999 novel is much more of a thriller, filled with direct commentary on turn of the century Japanese attitudes to youth , whereas Suzanne Collins novel is much broader in scale, owing more to 1984 than anything else. Both deal with the turbulent emotions of the young, and share a similar idea. But saying one comes from the other is a little like saying Star Trek and Star Wars are copies of each other, because they feature conflict in space.
What people are really doing is trying to claim that The Hunger Games copied the Battle Royale, and that the latter is somehow superior to it’s clone. If you’d seen both movies, or (gosh) bothered to read both books, would strike you as obvious bollocks. They’re trying to claim kudos for identifying one work as some how better than the other, without examining either.That irritates my internal critic, because both books (and their movies) are worth your time, just in different ways.3
The ‘joke’ teller is pulling the old trick of saying “Hey, I was into this when it was obscure”, which at the very least is gauche, if not out and out false. Surely, if you’re a fan of this sort of dystopian fiction, you’d be talking about William Goulding? It also puts the boot into Young Adult fiction. For some ood reason people lump the The Hunger Games in with The Twilight Series4, because they’re aimed at the young. There’s a dash of snobbery here; a sort of ‘how dare young people enjoy dystopian fiction’ going on, which is out of order when you stop and think about it.
1: If everyone who memorised the line from Spaced had actually watched Severed Dreams or The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, well they’d probably still take the piss, but in a less boring way.
2: Though if I did, I’d leave the DVD in the DVD player first.
3: The Battle Royale translation into English is a bit tricksy and a bit dry; try the manga instead. The Hunger Games is a better read though, it really is.
4: A rant for another day, but I do frown on those who rip into Twilight/i> fans, because I remember what it was like to be young and into something everyone thought was rubbish.
A little over 18 months ago, the Black Library ran a submissions window for fiction requesting one thousand words worth of writing sample. Today, they finally put us all out of our misery and announced that if you had not been contacted by now, then you had not made the cut.
Eighteen months is a long time. I’ve been published a few times since then, and worked as a professional journalist and sub this year. Fortunately this means my writing has improved by a reasonable amount, reading this submission made me cringe slightly.
Still, for the curious (and for the record), below is a copy of the document I inflicted on the hard working editors in Nottingham. It ends abruptly, because it’s meant to be a sample. Thinking back, I could have compressed it into a very short story, but I didn’t want to at the time.
A Duel of Shadows - A Grey Knight story by Ed Fortune
In a future filled with secrets both dark and terrible, mankind’s greatest asset in a hostile galaxy are the Adeptus Astartes; post-human warriors so rare and powerful that most men consider them to be angels. The rarest of these are the Grey Knights; mankind’s greatest creation in the field of warfare. A single Knight can achieve things that other Astartes could never do even in great numbers. And yet for all their glory and power, only a privileged few know that they exist. Only the elite, or the deeply unlucky.
Brother Ladion pondered this as he escorted his charge through the woods. Elias Garret was a deeply unfortunate man. Once a decorated soldier in the Imperial Guard, he had decided to abandon his post and flee as far as he could. Unlike most deserters, Garret had done quite well. He had fled many, many light years away from the men that he had left to rot. He may have even gotten away with it, had not the eye of the holy Inquisition glanced in his direction.
Ladion considered the man; he looked like no-one special, just another mortal – albeit an underfed and grubby looking one with a broken nose and watery blue eyes. The Inquisition had not explained to the Grey Knight why he had to intercept this specimen; only that he must do so swiftly. His chapter’s own seers, the Prognosticar’s, had agreed and the mission had been assembled with great haste – so much so that he was still carrying equipment from a previous mission.
Still, the task had been pretty simple so far; the feral world Garret was hiding on had few places for a man to hide, and Ladion had been able to avoid revealing his presence to the primitive villagers living on the world, thanks in part to the remarkable interceptor gear he was carrying, a device that allowed Ladion to teleport short distances, though at great personal risk to his safety and sanity.
Ladion scanned the forest for threats; it would not do to grow complacent. After all, even the simplest mission could take a turn for the worst. “Stand still!” the Space Marine said as he placed his ceramite-clad hand on the shoulder of his charge. The man whimpered as Ladion took a firm yet relatively gentle grip, taking care not to crush the man with his power armoured fist. Diagnostic runes scrolled across the Grey Knights field of vision as his tactical helm fed him a plethora of targeting information. And yet every gauge, every symbol, every tell-tale sign, was green. There was no danger.
And then in a flash of silver light, Garret vanished. Ladion stumbled as lightning lashed across his massive frame, the strange energy unable to damage the space marine’s armour. In less time than it would take a mortal to think, Ladion focused his mind, drawing upon the training unique to those who would become the Emperor’s elite. He replayed the last few picoseconds in his mind’s eye, and understood what had happened. Garret had been dragged into the warp by one of the alien creatures that call themselves the Eldar.
Only one such creature amongst that ancient race would perform such a trick; Warp Spiders were a faction of Eldar who gleefully dove into the hellish realm known as the warp, using that other dimension as a way to bypass terrain and distance in the real world. It was an ability that Ladion knew all too well, though he would only ever perform such a stunt when absolutely necessary. Whereas the alien’s power came from corruption and arrogance, the wargear Ladion used to pierce reality relied on the Grey Knight’s heroism and purity of spirit to keep him safe.
Ladion knew, with a certainty that came from the core of his being, that entering the warp was insanity. And yet, amongst the diversity of beings who dwelt within the Imperium of man, only his kind, the Grey Knights, were trusted with the technology. Only beings girded with the purity of purpose such as he could brave the perils of this unreal sea.
The device on his back discharged its eldritch power, and with an actinic stench, Ladion entered the warp. Immediately the warrior was assailed by the strangeness of the realm, a constant murmuring of inhuman voices clawing at his mind with every move he made.
Ladion ran, the miraculous technology of his armour adding to the strength of his legs as he moved at a remarkable pace. The chatter of runes and targeting information that was constantly fed to him via his tactical helm ceased; in the warp, none of that mattered. Ladion looked across the strange landscape, searching for his target as well as the swiftest way out the twisted dimension known as the warp.
The alien was clad in strange armour; it looked impossibly fragile and incredibly deadly at the same time. Jutting from the creature’s back were long limb-like extensions, each terminating in a large, bulbous weapon. Its victim, the unfortunate Elias Garret, was held onto the back of the armour, one of the strange weapons pinning him in place. The deserter’s face had grown pale, the strange land into which he had been plunged clearly damaging his very being.
Just as the Warp Spider prepared to step through a crackling portal into reality, Ladion dove towards the back of the creature, arms outstretched. In one swift move, he pushed the eldar’s head down whilst scooping up Garret with his other arm. The sheer momentum of his charge pushed all them through the portal. Silvery power lashed across all of them as the three bodies manifested in the real world.
The intricate technologies that allow such travel are very precise, and are not designed for such heroics. Perhaps this is why, upon reaching the real world, that all three figures found themselves crashing downwards through the forest canopy. Ladion was the first to react, curving his armoured form round his mortal charge.
So, from the 24th of November onwards, I’ll be teaming up with my friend Ninfa Hayes to present and co-produce The Book Worm. The show will be hosted on Fab International Radio, a new station that launches that date. It’s one of those new fangled Internet radio stations, which means we don’t have to worry to much about polluting the airwaves.
It dovetails in nicely with the work I’m doing for Starburst, and it means that the more recent interviews I’ve done with authors and publishing types have been recorded for radio as well as text (which makes the process a little different, though not by much. I’ll explain that in a future post).
I’ve done radio things before; my first media gig was hosting a late night alternative rock show when I was 16 on a very local and parochial station. Luckily, no tapes survive of this particular sin against sound and sense. I also reviewed movies1 for the same station, doing a bit of a Mark Kermode impersonation at the time. (I had the quiff and the correct level of pretentiousness. In fact I still have those things.) The last radio thing I’ve done was the rather fabulous Programmed For Damage, an alternative music show filled with weird tunes and nonsense. I didn’t really do much on that show except watch my friend Phoenix do all the hard work and talk nonsense.
The BookWorm is just the start of some fun things I have planned for 2014. You may be able to guess that it’s all going to be tied in to telling stories, talking about cool things and generally having a laugh, but watch this space.
More details on the station launch, when I have them.
1: Not the first time I reviewed books though; I’d been doing that for the school paper for a while before the local station opened up. First book review I ever did was Good Omens, in case you’re wondering.
I wrote this a couple of years ago for an open-call to submissions. Never got a call back, and looking at it, I can see why. Anyway, I thought I’d share
The Hope-Eater Spore
Many horrors lay in wait for those who dare to delve into abandoned buildings and derelict space craft, but some are more subtle than others. Not every monster that inhabits the forgotten corners of the Imperium will use a wicked claw or crooked fang in order to end you, instead preferring to destroy you slowly. One such terror is the Hope-Eater, an innocuous looking black fungus that lurks in dark, damp places. It can survive almost any environment, being highly resistant to radiation, toxins and similar environmental factors, and only the most specialised of Magos Biologis could tell the difference between regular mould and the dreaded Hope-Eater.
The spores of The Hope-Eater can enter the body by being inhaled or via direct contact with the skin. Once contact is made, the microscopic organism makes its way through the body to the brainstem, where it settles and grows. Tiny tendrils slowly sprout from the organism, attaching itself to the brain. The effects on the victim begin with a gradual decline in motivation and confidence. As the organism grows in strength, the host becomes more and more negative and less able to feel joy of any kind. They will also be actively negative, encouraging others to see the down side of everything, and victims have a tendency to complain about almost anything.
The Hope-Eater also affects the parts of the brain that trigger psychic activity. As the fungus becomes stronger, the victim begins to unwittingly release psychic energy into the warp. These signals are tainted with the victims own sadness, and attract specific warp predators, the raven-like Sorrow Keepers. These daemons are drawn to despair and misery. As they begin to feed on the victim’s psychic essence, the lack of hope leaks into the real world as the host organism exudes an aura of despair and loss. This often manifests as a foul yet hard to identify stench and a subtle dimness of light around the host.
In many cases, the affliction can continue for many solar years, the victim growing more and more soul-less and drone-like with every passing day. This normally goes unnoticed; life in the Imperium for the average citizen can be mind-numbing and soul destroying, and as the victim’s body and soul get consumed by this disease, they become better at dull repetitive tasks, having neither the will or imagination to cope with anything more challenging. This may even result in promotion for those who particularly dull jobs before infection.
As the ailment progresses, the Sorrow Keepers begin to manifest in the real world. Key moments of misery and deprivation cause the daemons to manifest, and overtime, a single persons suffering can generate large flocks of the creatures. These daemons roam the area, using their powers of terror and fear to herd potential victims into areas where the Hope-Eater lurks.
If left untreated, the host will eventually seek a dark, quiet corner in which to end their lives. They instinctively approach a dark, dimly lit area where the Sorrow Keepers nest, and wait for the daemons to tear them apart. When the bird-like monsters are finished, all that are left are millions of Hope-Eater spores, waiting to begin the cycle of misery once again. Symptoms are easily noticed, but often mistakenly attributed to other causes, such as pollution or mutation. In addition to growing despondency, the infected weep black tears and in advanced cases, thick black veins can be seen around the targets neck and spine. The infection can be readily treated with expensive fungicidal medicines, however, most Inquisitorial agents prefer to use the more reliable method of execution followed by cremation. Information on the Hope-Eater is severely restricted by Imperial authorities, making it unlikely that your average citizen will be able to get help. The Hope-Eater’s ability to create psychic ability in its targets has lead some of the more radical sorts of Inquisitors to investigate ways of using the fungus to manipulate the latent psychic power in humans.
Characters who spend too long in area infected with the Hope-Eater must make a challenging (+0) Toughness check or become infected. Characters immediately pass if they are wearing environmental protection such as rebreathers or filtration plugs and do not have exposed areas of skin. The spore can lay dormant in a body for many years, and only the later stages are incurable. If correctly identified early on, a challenging (+0) Medicae roll will remove any infection.
Sorrow-Keepers look like over-sized ravens with eyes made of blue flame and feathers composed of shadow and soot. They have never been known to speak, but do emit a mournful cry that instils fear in the weak willed. They avoid direct confrontation, preferring to herd their targets into dangerous areas.
Movement: 8/16/24/48 Wounds: 10
Skills: Awareness (Per), Concealment (Ag) +30, Dodge (Ag), Psyniscience (Per), Shadowing (Ag) +30, Silent Move (Ag) +20,
Talents: Swift Attack
Traits: Flyer (12),Daemonic (TB 3), Dark Sight, Daemonic Presence: All creatures within 20 metres take a–10 penalty to Willpower Tests as the air seems to darken and a sound of weeping can be heard faintly in the background. Fear 3, From Beyond, Natural Weapon (Talons),Warp Instability,
Psychic Powers (Psy Rating 1): Caw of Despair (Psychic Threshold 5; 10m; one target; Willpower Test or take 1 point of Intelligence damage, gain 1 Insanity Point and spend 1d10 actions fleeing to a location of the daemon’s choosing. ).
Weapons: Talons (1d10+3 R; Tearing, Warp Weapon).
Threat Rating: Malleus Minoris
There is an odd thrill in discovering that a particular artist or creator that you admire presently has also created things in the past that you also really liked, especially when you can learn more about that persons process simply by rewatching or re-reading their old stuff. A recent example for me was rewatching all of Press Gang1
For those not lucky enough to be British teenagers in the 80’s, Press Gang was a kid’s tv show that told the tale of a newspaper ran by school children. It isn’t a school newspaper, the premise is that it’s a local paper targeted at the youth audience2. This Junior Gazette is ran by the tyrannical Lynda Day (played by Julia Sawalha (who would go on to be the straight woman in Absolutely Fabulous), and she is supported by a cast of misfits including a chap called Spike3, who spends most of the series trying to pursue Lynda romantically.
At its heart, it’s a drama about truth and beauty, and yes, I know how that sounds, but hear me out. The beauty in this case isn’t the constant struggle for romance and happiness (though that is part of it), but the burning desire for unobtainable perfection. Lynda wants the paper to be perfect, Spike strives to be desired by all, the marketing manager Colin wishes to own all the money in the world and so on. The cold light of truth shines on all of these desires and is represented by the newspaper itself, which every episode must carry on no matter what. This allows the show to be silly and serious at the same time; one part of romantic comedy farce and the other part serious teen drama.
This is the framework for some rather dazzling stories that still work to this day. I thought that the more melodramatic scenes that involved themes such as teenage suicide, abuse and the death of the young would have less of impact on me now that I’m a more world weary type of chap, but the show still packs an incredible punch and this is all due to the incredibly well rendered characters and the wit and wisdom that seems to be burnt into almost all of the dialogue.
It certainly isn’t perfect; it suffers a little bit from the ‘moral of the week’ formula all too common in Eighties dramas, and is hampered by that decades unwillingness to be blunt about what it’s trying to say4. The performances are superb, and when it is good it is very, very good. Some of the ideas and scenes are clearly a first draft for more memorable moments of Moffat’s later shows; the slapstick of Coupling can be seen in some of Press Gang’s sillier moments (usually featuring the hapless gobshite Colin), and the relationship between Lynda and her best friend Kenny has echoes with Holmes and Watson in Sherlock.
The old show is well worth a re-watch, but be warned; you will find yourself rewriting the last episode in your head for weeks, if not years, to come.
1: Of course I’d known for years that Moffat was behind Press Gang and Coupling but the thrill only becomes obvious when you take the time to experience the earlier works again.
2: The 80’s were obsessed with capturing ‘youth audiences’ as if young people were this new and strange alien culture that had recently come to Earth. Looking back on it all, I cynically wonder if the 40-something commissioning editors weren’t merely trying to recapture their own youth.
3: Played by South London’s own Dexter Fletcher with a not-as-good-as-you-remember American accent, He went on to be in a wide range of British movies, typically as ‘slightly crazy cockney geezer’. We try not to talk about his stint as the presenter of kids show Games Master.
4: Back in the 70’s and 80’s, TV programming made the mistake of taking idiots with too much time on their hands too seriously. This severely hampered what could talked about on telly, especially children’s drama. Proto-trolls such as Mary Whitehouse and her ilk deserve their own blog post however, so I’ll talk about them some other time.