A Game of Clones

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment

They are currently about a dozen novels sitting on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf at the moment. 1. Given that fantasy is ‘in’, roughly two-thirds of those are fantasy novels. Can you guess what it says on the back of all but one of those books?

They all claim that if you like A Game of Thrones or George RR Martin then I’ll love this book. Not only is this boring, it’s also utterly useless as a piece of promotional material. I don’t believe a word of it, think “ho hum” and skip past the blurb. An opportunity wasted all due to a lack of originality. Then I get snarky.

For a start, in what way like A Game of Thrones is it? Does it feature a vast and complex fantasy world with warring family factions? Incestuous characters? Extremely awkward sex scenes? Or am I to assume that the novel series is going to take a long time to get to a conclusion? Also, how like George RR Martin. His body of work is pretty broad – I assume they mean his popular fantasy series but they may be implying it’s a clever anthology series or proto-urban fantasy. His style has evolved over the years, which George RR Martin do they mean?

I wonder how many stud animals are called Winter?

I wonder how many stud animals are called Winter?

I get why blurbs are written this way. A Game of Thrones is very popular right now and marketing types want to grab a little bit of that success in order to shift units. The problem is that over using a limited number of names makes a nonsense of the process. They can’t all be identical and I am hoping they aren’t. It also diminishes us all. It insults the famous author by implying that their unique and popular voice is easily mimicked. It insults the creator of the novel by implying that the book is derivative and most of all it insults the reader by assuming that we will only recognise a limited number of names.

Comparing things to other things is a valid way of describing anything, but you have to assume a broad palette. Good blurbs that name check other writers use lots of different names. If a book claims to be reminiscent of four or five different people, I have a better chance of recognising who some of them are, and get a better feel for what the work is like. Using less well known authors also celebrates and promotes the diversity of writing styles out there, and surely getting the word out there is the aim of game?


1: I say shelf, it’s a stack. I tend to keep all the board-games, DVDs, books and other physical objects awaiting critical evaluation in one place in order to keep a track of what’s going on. E-books and the like means that I can’t really tell at a glance how much work I’ve got to do, but it’s a handy rule of thumb. A dozen is a good number, busy without being too busy.

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Categories: Books

Life Sized Imperial Knight Titan, anyone?

February 24, 2014 Leave a comment

So if you’re a massive Warhammer 40,000 nerd (which you may have noticed that I am) then you won’t have missed the fact that they’ve recently launched models of the Knight Titans. These are meant to nine-metre tall walking robots that do the scouting and skirmish work for much larger giant robotic killing machines.

I am a big fan of this idea, and it got me thinking about Zoids, those robotic skirmishing toys from the 80’s which happened to also have a great comic strip written by none other than Grant Morrison. They too were meant to be dinosaur sized, the smaller ones clearing the way for the bigger ones.

Someone even made a huge model of the big daddy of all Zoids, Zoidzilla. It was on Blue Peter and did the rounds at various fayres and festivals of the time. It roared and looked cool.

This is the only picture I could find of it. A family snap of chap called Alex Light. He doesn't look like that anymore :)

This is the only picture I could find of it , a family snap of chap called Alex Light. He doesn’t look like that any more 🙂

So this got me to thinking; maybe someone will make life-sized Imperial Knight? They’ve done Drop-Pods and tanks in the post, how difficult would it be to make a giant killy robot statue? (Probably very, but still).

Wouldn't fit in the back garden, sadly.

Wouldn’t fit in the back garden, sadly.

Categories: Geek

True Believers

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

On today’s show we talked to Stuart Mulrain, who is organising The True Believers Convention.

The plan is to create a regular UK based Comic Convention at the famous Cheltenham Racecourse in early February. If they pull it off, this will make a rather splendid start to the convention season. This will also nicely book-end the Leed’s based Thought Bubble, which happens in November, which feels like way too long to wait.

Looks super, thanks for asking.

Looks super, thanks for asking.

You can find out more on oktruebelievers.com and they’re currently running a Kickstarter with some interesting rewards.

Categories: Comic Books

Mr Banks versus The Grumpy

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

More and more these days, it seems every Hollywood movie that comes out immediately hits a wall of criticism for simply existing, often weeks before anyone has actually seen the thing. The movie that’s currently enjoying this sort of attention is Saving Mr Banks, a star studded retelling of the production Mary Poppins, focusing on media mogul Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and the creator of the Mary Poppins and children’s author, PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson).

Predictably, it’s already drawn criticism that the film doesn’t focus on Traver’s back story enough; she was an interesting person with a rich and full life, and the movie focuses on a narrow band of her experience. Those looking to fling mud also point out that Disney have made a movie about their founder that paints him in a positive light, which is an odd criticism when you consider it; why would a light-hearted feature about the creation of a classic children’s movie overfill it’s plate with the darker side of the human condition? Critics seem keen to dig out their grudges against Hollywood and Disney and particular, and whine at length at about how unfairly the material has been treated.

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

This approach both confuses and amuses me. Because if I wanted to be educated and informed, I’d pick up several books on the matter, perhaps seek out a few documentaries. Movies like this are meant to entertain first and foremost1. Being critical of this sort of movie whilst failing to acknowledge it’s validity as a source material is to fundamentally miss the point.2. A word to the wise; simply ranting about how a dramatisation isn’t as historical accurate as you want it to be is one of those things people do to appear deep and clever, but typically reveals them to be pedantic, shallow and rather mean instead.

Disney can be relied on to entertain; that’s their job and they’ve gotten better and better at it over the years. If you’re expecting Disney to teach you the real and true history behind some of its classic works, then that’s either naïve or you’re deliberately looking for things to be snarky about.

Let’s be honest, most of us had not even thought about Travers until this film came out. The movie is almost fifty years old, so many of saw the film on telly when we were too small to consider who made the film or what its origins are. It’s a familiar thing that has always been there, so it’s likely that you’ve taken its existence for granted. That fact alone makes Saving Mr Banks something I want to see, I would hazard a guess that those who already knew about Traver’s life are now vastly outnumbered by those who have gone out and educated themselves as a result of this recent exposure.


1: Put it this way, you are as likely to learn real Scottish history from Highlander as you are from Braveheart.

2 : I call this the Daniel Day Lewis effect. To my knowledge, Lewis has never appeared in a movie based on history that didn’t take total liberties with the source material.

Categories: Geek, Movies, Rants

The First Show

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Books, Geek

Regeneration Speculation

November 22, 2013 3 comments

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.

5) With that in mind, lobbying the BBC to produce a version of Doctor Who with a female lead is the wrong approach. Producers should feel free to pick whomever they’re happy working with. Tell the BBC you want more sci-fi and fantasy shows with female leads and female show runners. Then when the job for show-runner comes up, shout your preferences from the rooftops.

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. You can’t be an egalitarian without being a feminist by the way; can’t be for an equal society without dealing with the most obvious imbalance.

3: A hall of fame that includes the likes of Verity Lambert and Russel T Davies.

Categories: Geek, TV Tags: ,

Lord of the Flies, with cheese

November 9, 2013 Leave a comment

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, this 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 odd 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 fans, because I remember what it was like to be young and into something everyone thought was rubbish.

Categories: Books, Movies