Not The Fox News: The Booksmart Chef Maneuver

 

So I’ve checked outside and it’s all still on fire. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s so egregiously and completely on fire that everyone can see it. The countryside is burninated. The peasants are burninated. The thatched roof cottages are going DOWN. It’s just a fact at this point.

That means, like I say, everyone can see it and if everyone can see it that means you don’t have to see it all the time. The single upside to culture-wide multi-quadrant fucktastrophe is ubiquity of observation. You’re not going to miss anything, or miss an opportunity to do some good, by stepping away for a few hours. Or as Mike Doughty puts it….

First off, and miraculously still playing in theatres, Booksmart. Directed by Olivia WIlde (13 from House) from a script by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogekl and Katie Silberman. it stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as Amy and Molly. Amy is recently out, kind of terrified and a straight A student. Molly is class president, a Supreme Court justice in waiting and absolutely prepared to take down anyone or anything that stands in her or her friend’s way. They are brilliant, hard working, relentless and have never partied once. They had more important stuff to do. Until, on the last day of school, Molly discovers the kids who partied got into the same universities they did and makes a solemn vow; they’re going to have fun. By any means necessary. Cue the music.

What follows is this beautifully balanced tango between abject teenage mania and painfully well observed characters. There’s a moment where Amy correctly guesses why Molly is acting a certain way towards another character that will break your heart with its honesty. Likewise, Amy’s catastrophic first kiss is romantic until it turns hilarious until it turns horrifically embarrassing. The movie features the single best written and acted argument I’ve seen this century, as the girls go from light-heartedly messing with each other to absolutely cutting loose. The frantic nature of late stage adolescence is hard coded into every single frame and it’s at times a hard watch but always for the best reasons.

It’s also relentlessly funny. From the opening dance off to the magnificent final few seconds Booksmart is never well behaved, always goes for the best, smartest joke and always surprises you. It’s also littered with excellent cameos, the best of which by far is Billie Lourd as possibly supernatural, definitely massively high partygoer Gigi. Hilariously angry, completely driven and painfully sweet, Booksmart is a modern classic. Miss it at the theatres? Track it down on digital August 20th and blu-ray in early September.. It’s more than worth it.

 

Which brings us nicely to Chef. Written, directed by and starring Jon Favreau it follows chef Carl Casper through the worst, and also best, night of his life. Carl works at a high end Californian restaurant and on the night a big critic comes in, he’s told to ‘play the hits’ rather than experiment. He does. It goes badly. He freaks out. It goes badlier (a word). He freaks out again and he’s fired. Until, with the aid of his ex-wife’s ex-husband, he buys a food truck and rediscovers the simple joy of cooking and of being a father.


On paper it looks sappy as hell but Favreau is a man who never met a piece of dialogue he didn’t love, or a scene he couldn’t frame. From opening to closing, Chef is a love letter to food and what food it is. With technical assistance from Chef Roy Choi (Whose Kogi food truck I have eaten from and remains one of the best meals I have ever had in my life), the techniques and recipes all work. But even more importantly, so does the culture. Carl works constantly, intoxicated and obsessed by food and Favreau, who trained with Choi, shows us everything. The rambunctious, cheerfully foul nature of every kitchen. The strict hierarchies, fierce loyalties and cut throat ambition. All of it stacks up and, brilliantly, evaporates once the truck gets on the road. It may be cramped but you can see Carl breathe out, see Favreau’s burly shoulders droop as his guy rediscovers his love for the game. Given Favreau made Chef after several massive blockbusters, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between Carl and his creator too.

But the movie really soars in the gentle way it explores Carl’s burgeoning friendship with his ten year old son, Percy. Emjay Anthony is fantastic as a calm, focused kid who wants more and has no problem telling his dad where to get off and he Favreau have great chemistry. The movie also takes the brave step of casting Carl not so much as a bad guy as not a very a good one. He knows he’s a bad father and husband and while he tries to do something about it, there’s always the work, always the food. He and John Leguizamo as best friend Martin are born to that world. Inez, his ex-wife played by Sofia Vergara and girlfriend Molly played by Scarlett Johannsson are far less lucky. Molly in particular exists solely to gaze adoringly at Carl while he makes her lunch and then tell him to go find his bliss.

That element is a hard ask but get past it and Chef is the very best comfort food. Favreau is a great leading man, funny and naturalistic. There’s a wide variety of fun cameos including several familiar Marvel faces. The food looks amazing, the creativity behind it is inspiring and the movie does a lot that’s smart, subtle and kind. Also do eat before seeing it. Or take notes while you are. Chef is available to buy now and honestly, get it. If a really great grilled cheese sandwich (And this movie features the best grilled cheese sandwich in cinema history) was a movie, it would be Chef.

So there you go, a little cinematic comfort food for these trying times. Dig in, trust me it’s worth it.

Not The Fox News: Don’t Be Nelson

About once a decade, everything lines up. A half dozen major cultural juggernauts all come into land at about the same time and some poor soul is paid to write the ‘GEEK CULTURE IS OVER. WE SHALL NEVER SEE ITS LIKE AGAIN’ piece. Hey if the check clears and the piece doesn’t hurt anyone, go with God. We’re in one of those times now. Game of Thrones has under half its super short final season to go. Avengers Endgame is all over theaters everywhere and the ninth core Star Wars movie has been confirmed as the end of the Skywalker saga. If this was a concert, we’d officially be into the ‘Freebird’, ‘Hotel California’, ‘Thrift Shop’, ‘Single Ladies’ phase of the night.

These are emotional times. As geeks, as people who are alive in the ocean of digital information that 21st century life is, we assemble our armor from what attracts our attention. That top line is from Hamilton by way of Brooklyn Nine Nine. I’m writing this wearing an Autobot symbol t-shirt, on an iPad with a sticker of Hunk from Voltron on the case. Why Hunk? He’s a big, articulate, kind dude who likes cooking. Why the Autobot symbol? Have you met me? All this stuff is intellectual property, and yes all we do when we interact with culture is keep IP’s alive. Go too far with that and you get to the kind of extremism that lives on the outskirts of very dark places. But be aware of the dangers of over-investment and culture becomes the lock pick for the door of life. You understand the world through the culture you use to interact with it. It’s why far left folks in the US default to Harry Potter metaphors. It’s why far right folks in the US invoke Newt Gingrich. It’s al so why the ‘don’t politicize fiction’ argument is just a massive Kaiju of willful idiocy, stomping across he innocent city of modern life. Like the song goes, yes it’s political, everything’s political.

But at the core of any cultural interaction is emotional engagement. Emotional engagement is the fuel that drives story, its what’s makes us care about everything from soap opera to Shakespeare and everything in between. Stories are mirrors. You can’t see what they’re reflecting without truly understanding it and that understanding has, as the price of admission, caring. We laugh at Jon Snow kissing Dani with one eye open and focused on her dragons. We cry as Leia hugs Rey, knowing whatever happens we’ll never see one of them on the big screen again. We prepare the re-hydration salts for Endgame, as an epochal crew of portrayals prepares to take its final bow. We know this will wreck us. We know we’ll learn and be stronger in the broken places. HEMINGWAY understood this for God’s sake. But the exact people who’d carry his boxing gloves for him and drink only Big Ernie approved whiskey seem to have forgotten this lesson. Instead, they listen to this guy.

Don’t do that.

The last few years have unleashed an impressive barrage of awful phrases onto the battered, flaming hulk of the English language. ‘Fake news’ is far and away the worst but ‘snowflake’ is the most insidious and, for me, the most toxic. It’s most commonly used to attack people who’ve dared to express an emotional response to something. Like, for example, not being happy about their rights to exist as humans being debated. Or pointing out demonstrable hate speech on a social media platform run by a sentient beard who thinks you can minmax yoga. It’s a terrible term, a blunt instrument used not just to insult your opponent but insult the very idea of emotional engagement. Linguistically, it’s a nuke. Everyone’s got them and they lay waste to everything around them. Every time it’s used, someone gets pushed further away. It’s a weapon designed to not just mock the idea of emotional engagement but the idea of emotional engagement with others. And what’s one of the biggest ways we engage with others?

Shared cultural joy. Fandom.

Gate-keeping in fandom is, often, what’s for every meal. This particular stripe of it instantly pushes my rage buttons because I’m a cishet notional and have fought the stiff upper lip my whole life. I was tremendously lucky to have awesome parents who weren’t afraid of their own emotional responses. I still took twenty years to realize that my emotions were something I was supposed to release in a healthy fashion as opposed to burying them. I honestly think this is one of the reasons why the default response for so many people is hipster snark. If you laugh at something you push it away from you and you focus your attention, and others, on what it is not how it’s affected you. That’s understandable. I’ve done it myself, more than once and will again.

But it never lasts. And it never should.

Kate Bush once sang just being alive, it can really hurt and she wasn’t lying. Modern life is exhausting and at times like this, when the support structures we rely on are evolving, it can be even more so. At times like these it’s all too easy to fall back on defensive behavior and cover up instead of letting yourself get affected. But affected doesn’t always mean hurt, and covering up just means no one else can see you. Now more than ever, we all deserve to be seen.

So, the stiff upper lip is bullshit. Hipster snark is bullshit. Laughing at other people for their emotional honesty is bullshit. All clear? Great. I’m off to load up on tissues and re-hydration salts before seeing Endgame again. See you next time

Not The Fox News: Batfleck No More

Just under six years ago, I wrote this.

Just under ten hours ago, it was confirmed that the next Batman movie, The Batman, will arrive in 2021 and Ben Affleck will not be the visible chin in the suit.

What a weird six years, that’s somehow only produced three movies he’s actually played the role in, it’s been. I stand by my original column too; Affleck was an excellent choice for the role and one that the studio pretty clearly had absolutely no idea what to do with from the jump off. He was writing, directing and starring in the Batman movie. Then he was starring and writing. Then he was just starring. Now he’s going to be in the audience. In the interim, he turned in a good performance in a film full of occasional brilliance and frequent mystifying stumbles, a visibly weary and yet still weirdly charming turn in a film broken in two by numerous problems at every level and rode on a shiny purple Lamborghini. He deserved better, and after a while, you could kind of see him realizing that. And so did we.

So what now? Or rather who now?

Well, Matt Reeves is a safe pair of hands, that’s a given. I mean, sure, everyone has an Under Siege 2: Dark Territory somewhere but look past that and you’ve got Cloverfield, which is a legit epochal piece of cinema. Hate found footage movies all you want but Cloverfield is never less than visually impressive and changed the grammar of blockbusters in general and monster movies in particular. From there Reeves directed the critically acclaimed remake of Let The Right One In and made the revamped Planet of the Apes trilogy not only his own but a strikingly intelligent, modern and bleak retelling of what could have so easily been a goofy cash in. And he wrote all of them too. Behind the camera is just fine, no worries there.

But in front of the camera, there’s an opportunity. An opportunity to break accepted wisdom and actually do something genuinely new and revolutionary with the character. We know Reeves wants to cast a young Bruce and that the movie is planned as an actual detective story with a large rogue’s gallery as opposed to the yelling nocturnal punch fest that so many other Batman movies end up as.

So here’s how you do it. Or rather, how I’d do it.

David Mazouz

The kid has held Gotham, a series of 42 minute explosions, together for five years. He’s literally grown into the role, on screen and has the exact combination of presence, compassion, gravitas and literal batsarse crazy eyes to sell it. Plus you get instant good will from the Gotham crowd, you reward Mazouz for carrying that show on his back for five years and if we’re really lucky? The greatest version of Alfred Pennyworth ever committed to screen comes with him. ‘Ave iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!

Michael B. Jordan

Oh you know this makes sense. Jordan is a fiercely intelligent performer and uses that intelligence in the service of his roles. He’s arguably the lynchpin of Black Panther and his Shakespearean Killmonger is, hands down, the best villain the Marvel movies have had to date. Imagine that intelligence, that focus, put to cleaning up Gotham City.

Then there’s the physical dimension. Jordan’s extraordinary work in the Creed movies shows he’s ridiculously physically capable too. Plus he’s a legit geek so there’s instant good will from the hard to win over members of the audience and his best performances sit absolutely in the sweet spot Reeves seems to want; a young, driven, slightly impulsive Bruce completely focused on his work but perhaps over-extending himself. It’s Creed in a cowl, and Jordan knows that territory very, very well.

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 16: Oscar Isaac attends the European Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)

Oscar Isaac

Just let me have this one. I know the age gap probably isn’t big enough and Isaac’s blockbuster dance card is going to be good and full for the next few years anyway. But very few people could be Bruce Wayne better than him. Isaac’s sophisticated without being sleazy, intense without being goggle eyed crazy pants and he can do grounded, mournful decency and swashbuckling charm with equal ease. Often in the same scene. I accept he’s probably out of the range but if we can’t get him as Batman, then surely he’s a Commissioner Gordon in waiting.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 05: Colin Morgan attends the UK Premiere of “Testament of Youth” at Empire Leicester Square on January 5, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Colin Morgan

Morgan’s two best known performances in the UK are as Merlin in Merlin and Leo in Humans. The two roles are a textbook demonstration of his range and why he’d be a good fit for the cowl. Morgan can do seething intensity, emotional damage and comedic awkwardness effortlessly and all of them with a guiding intelligence. Bruce Wayne as a player of games, as a mask worn by Batman is something Morgan could absolutely ace. Plus he looks good in a tux so there’s that.

 

There’s the temptation to complicate matters of course. To fold in other members of the Bat family, to discuss the correct Robin for the occasion that sort of thing. There’s also the compulsory requirement to point out that Batman is arguably one of the most over-exposed characters to hang a movie off if you’re looking to break new ground. He’s a guilt ridden billionaire trauma victim who sublimates his rage and guilt by punching criminals. That’s slightly facetious sure but it’s also a good chunk of the character and I worry that a younger Bruce would mean we’d have to sit through the second most overplayed origin story in comics for the umpteenth time.

That being said, there are interesting things to still do with Batman and a raft of great Bat characters that are screaming out for a movie of their own. The Reeves movie won’t be that, but it is a new start and that’s something the DCEU has begun to see real success with. Wonder Woman was great. Aquaman, book torturing idiot dude bro lead aside, was great. Shazam looks big fun and if it is it’ll triangulate the idea that DC movies work best when they work alone. So bring on the new Bat, whoever he may be. Batfleck’s era is gone, and that’s for the best for everyone, including him. Let’s see who picks up the cowl next and if their luck is any better. It certainly deserves to be.

Not The Fox News: The Good News In The Bad News

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Markus Schreiber/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6975532f)
SJ Clarkson Director SJ Clarkson attends a photo-call for the movie Toast at the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin on
Germany Berlinale, Berlin, Germany

SJ Clarkson is about to have a very good year. You don’t know their name, odds are but believe me you’ll have seen some of Clarkson’s work. She’s directed for everything from Life on Mars to The Defenders and is one of the never ending stream of excellent female directors who drive the US TV drama industry along. Clarkson’s work, most notably on the first two episodes of Jessica Jones, is known for being clean, character-centric and elegant. She’s excellent and when it was announced last year she’d be helming Star Trek 4 it was a pleasure to see her get the slot, and to see the franchise’s directorial blinkers finally be lifted It was also confidently announced that Chris Hemsworth would be returning as Kirk’s dad. Most people instantly assumed it was time for the Mirror universe but I figured time travel and some sort of Quantum Leap situation.

Regardless it’s a moot point now as Pine and Hemsworth were caught up in a contract dispute with the studio that ended with them leaving the table. Now, Clarkson has left the project to direct the pilot of the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel and serve as executive producer for the series. Star Trek 4 appears to have been indefinitely shelved as a result.

And that’s brilliant news, for basically everyone, here’s why.

Clarkson first off. I wasn’t kidding about the legions of female directors keeping US TV afloat, there are dozens of them and they’re all brilliant and underappreciated and underpaid. Sandra Oh’s gag at the Golden Globes this year about ‘FIRST MAN!’ being the default choice for directors and a movie about Neil Armstrong is funny, and sad, because its true. So any time someone makes it over the fence, as Clarkson has done here, I’m delighted. GoT: 90210  or whatever the Hell it’s going to be called is the definition of a prestige gig and there must be a ton of confidence in her for her to be put in place. Deservedly so too.

Then there’s Game of Thrones itself. The world’s angriest Ren Fair is the largest TV show on the planet by a considerable margin and, now it has finally overtaken the books, has been having visibly more fun season by season. However, it’s also got a justifiably shitty reputation for how it deals with female staff. And characters for that matter. This is a great breakdown of the show’s massive fondness for ladymurder season by season but weirdly the horrific statistic isn’t the big number, it’s the small one. In the entirety of its run the show has had 3 women on the writing and directing staff.

3.

In 73 episodes.

With none either writing or directing for the final season.

On its own, that’s a hilariously shitty metric. Placed against the show’s cheerful willingness to use rape the way some people use punctuation marks, it’s disgusting. The largest show on Earth has employed three whole entire women in its biggest roles. That’s an unforgivable failure, if absolutely nothing else, of leading by example. But it does give you a starting position to row back from and, seven YEARS LATE, that’s exactly what the production office is starting to do by hiring Clarkson.

(As an aside, Mo Ryan should be your go to for this sort of thing on Twitter. One of the best entertainment journalists on the planet.)

But what of Star Trek? Well, it’s good news for that too.

The Kelvinverse movies get a lot of hate and the vast majority of it is undeserved. The original Star Trek is great, everything in Into Darkness that isn’t Khan being whitewashed is fun and Beyond is a legitimate love letter to the franchise. In fact, Beyond is a perfect capstone for these movies for all sorts of reasons. Also THIS IS STILL THE BEST THING. It gives Kirk the test he’s always needed and ties the present of this universe to the past it shares with the core timeline. It also sets up an ending that’s elegant, could absolutely stand a sequel or two but is in no way incomplete without them. And can stand toe to toe with the ending of The Undiscovered Country and The Voyage Home, where they get the 1701-A and the music swells and I become a human avatar of ugly crying.

But most importantly, bringing the Kelvinverse into land here salutes the cast members who are no longer with us. Don’t get me wrong, part of me would love to see a fourth movie with Jaylah sitting next to Sulu. But the rest of me is quite happy with that role being filled by Anton Yelchin’s instantly likable take on Chekov, off-screen and quietly, enthusiastically immortal.

Besides, Trek’s far more at home on bookshelves and the small screen now.  The astonishing work consistently being done by novelists like James Swallow and Doctor Una McCorrmack has continued to expand the core timeline. Meanwhile, the launch of Discovery last year, the imminent second season as well as the new Picard show and recently announced pair of animated series all speak to a new found dedication to Trek on TV.

Tellingly, the existence of The Orville does the same thing.  While the show is still very Seth MacFarlane’s bad days on its bad days, the rest of it is a fascinating look at established Trek tropes through new lenses. It is to Star Trek what Scrubs is to ER, a profoundly affectionate and respectful riff playing all the right notes, just in a different order. That’s why the the people who cite it as the ‘true Star Trek’ because it doesn’t let politics get in the way mystify me so much. Not just because they’ve presumably never seen Star Trek before but perhapsnot The Orville either. Social issues are at the core of both of them. It’s just sometimes on The Orville, there’s a punchline as well. Regardless, it’s existence and success speaks to the strength of Star Trek as a small screen concept, whether it’s branded as Star Trek or not.

So like I say, this is one of those rare occasions where a project falling through is good news. Clarkson has a great new job, Game of Thrones gets to take the NO GURLS ALOUD notice off the front door of the production office and the Kelvinverse gets the ending it deserves. Plus Trek as a concept gets to grow in new ways. Seek out new life and new civilizations. Perhaps even, boldly go?

Seriously though this is great news all round. Congratulations everyone. Now, who’s working on that Chief Miles O’Brien show? Take your time, I’ll wait. And turn up the beats and the shouting, yeah?

 

When Alasdair Stuart is not hosting PseudoPod and Escape Pod, or running Escape Artists Inc., he’s professionally enthusiastic about genre fiction on the Internet at places like Tor.com, Barnes & Noble, The Guardian, Uncanny Magazine, SciFi Now and MyMBuzz. He’s an ENie-nominated tabletop RPG writer for his work on Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space. His other RPG writing includes Star Trek, The Laundry Files, Primeval, Victoriana, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, N.E.W. and Chill, meaning he’s got a playbook for any variety of invasion you can name.  He also makes ketchup sometimes and can bake the HELL out of focaccia. Read about his ongoing culinary adventures, as well as a whole lot of pop culture enthusiasm in his weekly newsletter, The Full Lid, published every Friday around 5pm.

He lives in the UK with the love of his life and their ever expanding herd of microphones. Follow him on Twitter as @AlasdairStuart, or at his blog, The Man of Words.

Not The Fox News: Turn The Page, Do The Thing

Good news everyone! I’m reliably informed by people in other time zones that 2018 does in fact end! Seriously, folks, the 1st of January 2019 has been confirmed as happening in several other places. It’s okay. It’s okay. This miserable hellscape of a year is about to be gone and the slate is wiped clean, the clock reset to zero.

I want to talk about that and why sometimes it can be frightening.

Like Ford once said, time is an illusion, lunch time doubly so. The end of a year is an entirely arbitrary temporal hinge, a left turn in our passage through linear time that it’s super easy to put a whole lot of unneeded pressure on. It’s why most fitness related new year’s resolutions don’t work, because when it comes down to it it’s only the top of the year for a little bit of time. 2019 only has that New Time smell for so long.

That can put extraordinary pressure on you, and by you, I mean us. But the thing I’m realizing this year is that pressure can be exerted two different ways. If you had a great 2018 part of you may be terrified that 2019 will be worse. If you had a terrible 2018 part of you will be terrified that 2019 will be worse. The House always wins. And the House is a Bastard.

We put ourselves under strain at this time of year even before you take into account the radical life reboots that are already rippling around the globe. Going from late nights back to early mornings if you’ve had time off, the sudden gaping hole in your day where the Quality Street used to be, the total absence of any version of A Christmas Carol. It’s always a little frightening to deal with, you always find yourself shrugging the coat of responsibility back on and wondering if it always had the mittens tied to the cuffs.

(it did. And they look awesome.)

And then you decide to run three times a week, finish a novel, write a novella and plan something else.

Here’s the thing. Do that. But add something else in too.

Downtime.

My partner and I have, between us, somewhere in the region of four jobs. She’s a lawyer, we run the podcasting company together, I’m an RPG designer and journalist, she’s an editor. We fight crime. And it really is, I am a blessed man who will go to his grave astounded at what his life is in the very best of ways.

But the one thing we absolutely stink at is downtime. And today we did something about that. Two nights off a week, one full day of weekend when we aren’t working. I promise you we will break those restrictions but I also promise we won’t do it every time. Because you need downtime and if you don’t take it, your body will take it for you. And I say this at the tail end of my second cold in three weeks, so believe me, I know whereof I hack up phlegm.

The New Year attracts us because it’s a new start. The New Year frightens us because it’s a blank page and the responsibility of what to put on there can bend you in two. Don’t let it. Or at least don’t let it for long. This is a new start. It’s one that’s unique to you and owned by everyone. It’s one arriving at the end of two of the darkest years in recent memory and with more, odds are, on the way. But that isn’t going to stop you and it’s not going to stop me either.

Write the words. Do the thing. Show it to others. Share your joy. Like the lady said, let’s get a shift on. Tomorrow is a new start and tomorrow’s on the way. I’ll see you in there.

 

When Alasdair Stuart is not hosting PseudoPod and Escape Pod, or running Escape Artists Inc., he’s professionally enthusiastic about genre fiction on the Internet at places like Tor.com, Barnes & Noble, The Guardian, Uncanny Magazine, SciFi Now and MyMBuzz. He’s an ENie-nominated tabletop RPG writer for his work on Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space. His other RPG writing includes Star Trek, The Laundry Files, Primeval, Victoriana, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, N.E.W. and Chill, meaning he’s got a playbook for any variety of invasion you can name.  He also makes ketchup sometimes and can bake the HELL out of focaccia. Read about his ongoing culinary adventures, as well as a whole lot of pop culture enthusiasm in his weekly newsletter, The Full Lid, published every Friday around 5pm.

He lives in the UK with the love of his life and their ever expanding herd of microphones. Follow him on Twitter as @AlasdairStuart, or at his blog, The Man of Words.

Not The Fox News: The Doctor Is In

Like my friend Saxon says, always start with a song.

John Lydon there, a few years out from being Johnny Rotten and a few years before splitting his time being a mouthpiece for Big Dairy and deciding Brexit was punk rock. It’s one of his best pieces of non Sex Pistols work, all righteous late ’80s piss and vinegar. Compelling argument too, because anger is an energy,  he’s right. If you ever want to gorilla up and over a problem, all you really have to do is get good and mad at it. ‘DRIVE OVER!’ As my tiny Welsh Rugby coach used to say, encouraging 500 pounds of adolescent scrum to do their best impression of a tank.

Hello Mr McGregor, by the way, if you’re reading.

Anger tends to power Difficult Men in fiction too. House? Pissed. Sherlock Holmes? Bloody furious. The Doctor? Often mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore. Peter Capaldi’s epochal run as the 12th Doctor was driven, at least in its first year, by the Doctor’s barely contained rage at everything he knew, could sense and that was not happening fast enough. That rich vein of tetchy has run through most of the previous incarnations too, always appearing in different ways. 11’s baby-faced old man persona, 6’s fundamental inability to not shout, 4’s occasional mercurial explosions of rage. 9’s tormented, embittered survivor’s guilt that often threatened to tear him and anyone near him in half as he grinned as widely as he could to keep from screaming. It’s why ‘Just this once, EVERYBODY LIVES!’ Still makes you cry a full decade and a bit after transmission. It’s the feral desperate joy of a man who wants to save everyone who, just once, can. But the thing none of these Difficult Men, or to use the correct trope, Insufferable Geniuses know is that Anger is An energy, not the only energy. And based on her first appearances, the 13th Doctor has found and is building herself around something else; kindness.

To deal with the obvious comment head on, I don’t think this has anything to do with her gender. Anger isn’t something dependent on gender and never has been. Rather, I think 13’s approach to kindness uses the decades of Insufferable Genius that preceded her as a foundation and the environment she’s dropped into as building material to create something as new as it is necessary.

Peter Capaldi’s 12 is, at the very least, my second favorite Doctor of all time so I’m not bagging on him in the slightest. But, especially in that first year, 12 was defined by his rage. ‘Am I a good man?’ Remained the driving question throughout his run and resurfaced when he flat out refused to regenerate at the end of his time. Anger at the world, at the injustice he’d seen, at the fact there were still Things To Do drove the gloriously disreputable old punk right up until his final moments when he was finally allowed not only peace but to realize that someone other than him was allowed to shoulder some of the burden. I was basically a wreck for the entire back 20 minutes of Twice Upon A Time (The Lethbridge-Stewart reveal? Not enough tissues in the world) but those final moments, 12’s curtain call, were what really got me. Especially what seemed to be a good part of the mission statement for 13:

‘Laugh hard. Run fast. Be Kind.’

It’s a moment made all the more powerful in retrospect. 12, finally at peace with himself and his end, taking his final bow and throwing a typically dignified plea out into the world as he goes. One his successor picks up in her first three seconds of life, laughing at the sheer joy of having arrived, of having so much to do and so much time to do it. The torch being passed not reluctantly but with trust. The torch being picked up not out of obligation but choice.

And 13 is unfailingly, disarmingly kind. She’s instinctively the Doctor from the first second we see her. Talking fast, solving a problem, collecting information. She knows who she is before she can remember who she is. She’s also painfully aware of the toll events take on the people around her in a way almost no Doctor has ever been before. The Tenth Doctor’s retrain of ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’ was, at times, performative. Another excuse to rails against the universe so vast and malicious that even the Lonely God couldn’t save everyone.

13 has no such front. Or indeed, any at all. She apologizes when things go wrong, compliments her friends (And they’re her friends now, not her companions. That’s important too) for dealing with their situation and is engaged with everyone, not just everything. 13 builds the suit of herself from her environment. Her accent, her friends, her Sonic Screwdriver, her costume. All of it comes not from some conveniently hand waved alien box but from a northern town on a crappy night. I actually applauded at her costume coming from a charity shop because its such a perfect choice. A Doctor with no time, or resources, for the sartorial fripperies of her predecessors, rolling her sleeves up (Literally!) and getting it done. Brilliant. A Sonic Screwdriver made out of Sheffield steel and stolen bits of a Hershey’s Kiss from space. Even more brilliant. The iconic superhero elements of the Doctor stripped away to reveal the same person they’ve always been; never cruel or cowardly. Here to help. Hates empty pockets.

And behind all of it, kindness. Whitaker has the exact steel the Doctor requires and facing down Tim Shaw the tooth-faced pound shop Predator (And I mean that as a compliment) on a tower crane is a Hell of a first ‘I’m the DOCTOR’ moment. But where she lives and breathes in the role is in her compassion. The offhand reference to how ‘everyone is capable of the most incredible
change’. The fact that she quietly positions Ryan, whose fault this indirectly is, so that he can be the one to bring the situation to an end. The fact too that she watches him try and ride his bike and doesn’t intervene. This incarnation of the Doctor is kind but not smothering, compassionate but respectful. She’s here to help, she isn’t here to do it for us and that’s a distinction the show has rarely, if ever attempted before.

It’s also one that implies a welcome fallibility. The Doctor’s decision to leave her friends to heal is one again borne of kindness. But fate, as we see in the final moments of this episode, has other plans for 13 and her odd, fractious survivor’s club. Yazmin, so determined to prove herself. Ryan, refusing to break under the pressure of his dyspraxia and working to not be defined by it. Graham, united with Ryan in grief if not love. Survivors all, none of them happy about it and all of them about to take their first steps into a world that will show them just how much bigger they all are on the inside. And do so not as a punishment, but as a kindness.

Anger is an energy. Right now it’s a mandatory one. I’m writing this on the morning an IPCC report is published, that will almost certainly be ignored, which says we have 12 years to correct or curb climate change before it begins having disastrous, Roland Emmerich-ian effects. I’m writing this in a country which in six months will merrily walk off an economic and cultural cliff because rich white sociopaths turned the very people they exploit the most into a weapon that will harm us all. I’m writing this on the other side of the Atlantic from a country I love whose President’s behavior degrades by the hour, which has just railroaded a probable sexual predator onto the highest court in the land and which looks dead set on rolling the clock back to the 1950s in every single one of the worst ways. Anger is an energy, a mandatory one.

But not the only one.

If anger is a weapon then kindness is a tool and Doctor Who has returned to place that tool in everyone’s hands where it fits so well we almost forgot we could wield it. Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Make your own future and bring people along with you when you go. That’s what this Doctor would do. Now, let’s get a shift on.

Not The Fox News: Star Trek is Punk Rock

There are two ways to view the news that Alex Kurtzman is not only going to be the showrunner for the remainder of Discovery season 2 but is spearheading the development of a fleet of other Star Trek shows. The first is to worry about the brand, nod grimly towards some of Kurtzman’s previous projects and wander off muttering about how Star Trek isn’t the same anymore.

The second is to kick a hole in the speakers, pull the plug and pogo off stage. Because, as I realized earlier today, Star Trek is and always shall be punk rock.

First off, yes Kurtzman has some ropey projects on his CV. The vast majority of people do. Not everyone has the massive success of the original Kelvinverse Trek movie, Fringe (Especially its early seasons) and the best Mission: Impossible movie on their record. Kurtzman does. And while there’s bad stuff on there as well, I’m remaining belligerently hopeful. Not only because the showrunners he’s succeeding were reportedly verbally abusive to their writers (Yell at your writers and they will eviscerate you in fiction forever) but because Kurtzman’s new deal, as reported by variety, is taking Trek the exact place it should go; where it’s never gone before.

The word is that his slate currently looks like this:

  • A confidential mini-series.
  • An animated series.
  • A mini-series focusing on Khan. Or perhaps KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!
  • A Starfleet Academy show run by Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, currently in charge of the excellent Marvel series Runaways.

How about we start with the one giving everyone palpitations. The Starfleet Academy show is a great idea that arrived a couple of decades early. The original idea was to create a second tent pole franchise that would be

  1. Cheaper

and

  1. B) Logistically far easier than bringing the original cast back together.

It’s a great idea in principle but at the time it played too much like a back door replacement and was nixed. The brilliant thing about the idea is that it works far better as a TV show than it would as a movie. Plus Schwartz and Savage have shown, with Runaways, they’re exceptionally good at exploring the lives of gifted, difficult, weird young people and that describes pretty much every Starfleet Academy class you’d care to name.

This show has the potential to be the heart of the new Star Trek TV universe because cadets are the heart of Starfleet itself. Yes, it’s a military organization, a Navy that works in X, Y and Z axes but it’s also a fundamentally altruistic, compassionate, curious organization. Starfleet exists to explore the universe, make everyone’s lives better, meet new cultures and learn from them. That’s a powerful motif at the best of times and it’s no accident Discovery’s best episodes centred this concept. It’s also an immensely powerful, hopeful platform to tell stories from. Especially now and especially with a young, presumably multi-national and multi-species cast.

Then there’s that mini-series, whose plot may not be as confidential as anyone thought. Io9 are reporting that Sir Patrick Stewart is in talks to star in what would be the first Next Generation sequel since Nemesis. That’s going to make a massively vocal fan base immensely happy, and also put to rest one of the longest standing fan conversations; What happened after Next Generation?

Better still, it gives the shows a chance to break undeniable stylistic new ground in a more permissive environment than Discovery did. A mini-series with a beginning, a middle and an end? Trek as event TV? That’s so perfect I’m stunned it’s ever been done before. And better still, to do so with Captain Picard?! That’s like Christmas coming early, having brilliant diction and knowing Shakespeare.

It’s interesting too that there are plenty of gaps to fill in the post-Next Generation time period as well as amazing stories that already exist there. Star Trek‘s tie in novels have done an astonishing job of continuing the narratives set up in the various time periods, introducing new characters and new ships, crossing over with massive success and keeping the franchise very much alive and kicking. Likewise, Star Trek: Online does an excellent job of continuing the timeline in a new era, three decades upstream. All these stories, and their creators, deserve your time and the biggest challenge these new TV series may face is threading the needle between all the various islands of established stories.

Either way, there’s lots of opportunity for cameos from familiar faces and, more importantly, a chance to tell a compelling story in a different way featuring one of the greatest characters in the franchise’s history.

But seriously, sign me up for that West Wing model if we get it.

The Khan mini-series is a little harder to parse but I can see why they’re going for it. Khan remains the most iconic villain the series has ever had, and, after the misstep of casting Benedict Cumberbatch as him in Star Trek Into Darkness, there’s certainly room for a new, definitive take on the character.

As to what the series could be about, there are a couple of possibilities that spring to mind. The Eugenics Wars have always been somewhat…movable, within Star Trek canon and an origin story that explored them would have a lot of potential. It would also, if done wrong in the current climate, be the televisual equivalent of a slow motion 4K train wreck.

What might be more interesting is an exploration of Khan and his people’s time in exile on Ceti Alpha V. Perhaps there were other visitors before the Reliant or some of them were able to get off world. Either way, it’s the show we know the least about and has the most potential as a result especially as this may well be the secret project Nicholas Meyer has been working on for the last couple of years. Let’s face it, if anyone can bring Khan back and make it work, it’s him. And if Miguel Ángel Silvestre from Sense8 isn’t in the running to play Khan then something has gone seriously wrong.

Finally, the concept of a new Star Trek animated series fills me with glee. Not just because the original did such a great job but because the new series of Voltron in particular has demonstrated time and again just how well episodic SF adapts to the format. It’s also worth noting that this could be where Stewart shows up again. He’s got years of experience doing voice work with Seth MacFarlane and it’d be oddly fitting for him to bring that skill set back to Trek.

Then there are the possibilities of what a Marvel-like approach to Star Trek open up. What if the Academy show introduces a character we see, as an adult, in a later series? Or a crossover which starts in one show and flashes back there for an episode? The Arrowverse has proved time and again how effective these storytelling techniques can be and this is new ground for Trek so anything goes.

And, of course, there are the side benefits. Discovery took endless flak for both its design choices and the fact it didn’t ‘feel’ enough like a prequel for some people. Others wanted a continuation rather than a new start and still others objected to the perception of liberties being taken with the show’s canon and design.

All of those things were and are, for me, among the show’s strongest points. And the beauty of it is now they can be again without being, ironically, the torchbearer for the entire franchise. Trek contains multitudes, and here, at last, is a chance to prove it. Any era, any approach, any subject matter.

It doesn’t matter what we get in a way because the simple act of it being presented in this way means it will be different, and new and interesting. Let Discovery be Discovery. Let the new shows build on what’s gone before. let the audience pick which flavour works for them.

So why is Star Trek punk rock and not metal? Because it’s Star Trek. Because ‘Out there, thataway’. Because of trans temporal cetacean rescue missions and coffee hidden in nebulae. Because of baseball and holographic civil rights. Because of Tom Hardy’s first big job being playing Evil Jean- Luc Picard. Because of dogs named after musketeers and officers who are emotionally compromised. Because of Saru’s ability to sense death and what he says when it isn’t approaching. Because of the untidy canon and the dubious timeline and the hundreds of novels and comics and games.

Because Star Trek is an exuberant sprint, head up, arms wide, into a future where we aren’t alone and we don’t deserve to be. It’s a universe built on hard won compassion and hopefulness, on the joy of discovery and learning and communication. Infinite Diversity in infinite Combinations and sometimes those combinations will absolutely have weird uniforms, or a strange theme tune and that doesn’t matter. Because Star Trek is a universe built on hope, on curiosity and on engaging with and learning from the other. And right now, that’s almost as punk as you can get.

Four new series. Four new takes plus more Discovery and more Orville which plays a lot of the same notes, just in a different order. I can’t wait. And I’ll see you in the mosh pit.

Not The Fox News: New Minds, Fresh Ideas, Free Comics

Free Comic Book Day, this weekend just gone, is an annual event designed to bring people into their local comics stores. Companies produce free books designed to showcase their best material, and stores buy it (Hold that thought) and give it away to customers. There are snacks, balloons, signings, parties.

I love it, firstly because it’s a great outreach tool for an industry I worked in a lot and desperately needs new blood. Secondly because each successive Free Comic Book Day drives a stake a little further into the heart of the Comic Book Guy stereotype. And, as a 6’2, 300 pound former comic store manager, trust me when I say when that worthless garbage take is finally irrevocably dead I will be the first to dance on his grave.

(Quick aside: I once wrote an extended essay on this exact subject, for a comics site. I got this BRILLIANT 3000 word rebuttal emailed to me by someone who proved, using science, that Comic Book Guy is the hero of The Simpsons. I mean, they were completely wrong, but I respect the hustle).

Anyhoo, this is the first FCBD in a while where I’ve been near a store. Crunch Comics, in Reading, is about ten minutes away from my front door and has the exact feel I always look for in comic stores. Despite being smallits clean, brightly lit, cool, tidy and has a real sense of focused energy and enthusiasm to it. It’s the exact sort of store that Free Comic Book Day should be bringing new people to and I made sure to both pick up a couple of books and order a couple of things too.
Because, remember, Free Comic Book Day is only free for you. The stores have to pay so the unspoken social contact has to be; you pick up something free, you order something or buy something.
They didn’t have much stock left, which is always a good sign, but I grabbed a couple of books and read them last night. And it’s only now, having done so, that I realize they accidentally book end everything I love about geek culture, and what’s happening to it, surprisingly well.


WARNING: GIANT ROBOTS AHEAD

Transformers: Unicorn is written by John Barber, has art by Alex Milne, colours by Sebastian Cheng and letters by Tom B Long and is the start of an official endgame for this run of Transformers comics. IDW have held the license for over a decade and in that time have done extraordinary things with it. Till All Are One is essentially The West Wing (Of Cybertron) following the struggles to maintain peace on a world full of functionally-immortal transforming heavily armored robots. Optimus Prime has dived deep into the mindset of the most important leader in Autobot history and discovered just how fallible he can be and More Than Meets The Eye and Lost Light have essentially distilled joy down into comic form.


Seriously, these books are wondrous. More Than Meets The Eye is the story of a blazing argument that leads Hot Rod and a crew of volunteers to leave Cybertron in search of what is almost certainly a myth. They screw up, a lot. They get lost even more. It’s somewhere between Hitch-Hiker’s Guide, Waiting for Godot and Red Dwarf, just with heavily armed transforming robots as the lead. Over the years, the book, and Lost Light its sequel, have explored PTSD, romance, the fluidity of sexual identity and just how in love with himself Hot Rod actually is. They’ve given a redemption narrative, one that landed no less, to the last character that you’d expect. They’ve been hilarious, tragic, heart-warming and inspirational. Everything a licensed comic is traditionally expected not to be.


Unicron is the beginning of the end. The Orson Welles-voiced planet eater is going to munch his way across these books and bring them all to an end, and, presumed reboot. And in doing so, he’s demonstrating the thing no one likes to talk about with comics in particular and stories in general. They have to end. Or rather, they should end.
Comics are long-form serials and that shouldn’t work. A serial, especially a pulp one is driven by cliff-hangers and the longer it goes the less powerful those become. The cliffs get shorter, the explosions smaller. Before long you’re going through the motions rather than telling the story and for a lot of comics, for a lot of time, that’s worked.
The harder, better choice, is to bring things to an end. In doing so, you give your characters a chance to resolve, your readers a chance to say goodbye and you leave the stage before someone yells ‘Do FREEBIRD!’. But you also deny people of that shrinking, but still present, joy of continuation. It’s a difficult path to walk, and I commend the IDW staff for making the call. I’ll still miss this guy though:


And that brings us to Doctor Who. I’ve written before (I think? If not I should) about how Who’s specific gravity dragging everything in UK pop culture back to it is by no means a good thing at times. This, however, is not one of those times.The Doctor Who FCBD offering contains three (Well…kind of…) stories featuring the Tenth, Seventh and Eleventh Doctors.

‘Catch A Falling Star’ follows Tenth Doctor companion Gabby as she falls through space to what she thinks is her death. Written by Nick Abadzis it’s a neat summation of the Tenth Doctor run featuring Gabby and has stunning artwork from Giorgia Sposito and Arianna Florean. This is truly gorgeous work, using Gabby’s own sketch journals to tell the story and finishing on a beat that’s as surprising as it is welcome. The End, it seems, has been prepared for. And this time at least, is not The End…

‘The Armageddon Gambit’ by John Freeman, with art by Christopher Jones and colours by Marco Lesko is up next. This is the Seventh Doctor and Ace at their finest, playing chess on levels their opponents don’t see coming. It’s breezy and fun and Jones’ artwork does that near impossible thing of capturing likenesses without losing fluidity of expression, Plus, again, there’s a subtle note of hacking the game so you can win here. It’s a Seventh Doctor story certainly but one with a far more grandiose (And REALLY COOL) Console room than the BBC budget ever allowed.

‘Midnight Feast’ is up next, by George Mann with art by Mariano Laclaustra and colours by Carls Cabrera. This is an odd one for me as Eleven is one of the Doctors I have the least time for. However, the story does a great job of emphasizing the best elements of that run’s style. Peckish but not sure for what, Eleven pops the TARDIS off to one of his favorite diners, resolves a dispute or two, fails to find anything he likes and is then introduced to the joys of the tuna sandwich by his companion, Alice. It’s short, breezy, fun and again, ends in a way you wouldn’t expect.

And then this happens.No warning. No dialogue. Just, BOOM.  The 13th Doctor, running headlong into the world with a massive smile on her face and trouble undoubtedly mere pages away. Jody Houser’s script, Rachael Stott’s art, Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt’s letters, it all works perfectly and works instantly. In doing so, it ties everything I’ve been talking about together.
Stories can, and should, end. Otherwise they aren’t stories they’re just doing laps with words. Empty exercises in style and nostalgia that ring hollow even as the few voices still singing along get louder.

But there’s always another way, and it’s one that these books, especially the Doctor Who one, embody;

Change.

The same notes played on a new instrument. New voices. New perspectives. Ones that honor what they’re built on but aren’t beholden to them. Stories that do not gate keep themselves and whose fans shouldn’t either. Because every new voice, every new perspective and new start shows us all something different about the stories we love. And if that isn’t amazing, I don’t know what is.

Happy Free Comic Book Day everyone. Go take your local store donuts and buy something. I’ll see you next month.

(And if you have trouble finding your local comic store, try here. Or, talk to these folks. I used to work for them and they’re good people.)

Not The Fox News: ALL Ages Welcome

Earlier today I tweeted this:

Interesting seeing ‘family friendly’ used as a perjorative in connection with Lost in Space, given that’s what 5 decades of Star Trek and every Star Wars movie ever are.

And I’d like to apologize because ‘Interesting…’ is the exact sort of lead you’d expect from:

  • -Anti-Vaxxers
  • -Passive Aggressive racists
  • -Anyone who uses the phrase ‘The Science Religion’
  • -Christians whose whole faith is summed up in that time Jesus said ‘You know what? Fuck everyone who isn’t a middle-classed white dude or white dude adjacent. YES I KNOW WHAT MIDDLE CLASS IS I’M JESUS.’

It’s an opening conversational gambit used, far too often, by the same people who close a tweet with ‘Makes you think.’ Despite the fact you know full well the only thing that has ever made them think is a crank handle shoved into the port behind their right ear.

I’m better than that.

So are you.

So, sincerely, I’m sorry.

The Netflix Lost in Space reboot is very good. It’s very good in stealthy ways that aren’t immediately apparent. It puts one of it’s faults, that the adults are all broken and kind of assholish, front and center, waits for you to call it a fault and then goes ‘HA HAAAAA! FEATURE! NOT BUG!’. The robot design is great. The show expertly balances cliffhanger-every-5-minute-peril with smart perspective shifts and location shooting that feels convincingly alien.

It’s not perfect but no show ever is in it’s first season. It is however fun, and interesting and massive hearted. It puts three genuinely excellent child actors, and a brilliantly realized sibling dynamic, front and centre and tells excellent stories with them.

It’s also family entertainment. And has been decried as such which is peak, self-righteous, backwards rocket genre nonsense. Here’s why.

Star Wars is family entertainment. Oh sure it’s never been explicitly marketed as such but those movies and cartoons especially are designed for children of all ages. You want a morality fable? Sorted. A comedic subplot involving putting the whining droid back together? Yep. A nascent acceptance of adulthood as a mantle and a gift plus cute teddy bears with spears? They got you. Star Wars is one of those pieces of entertainment that gives you what you bring to it. Likewise the Marvel movies. Likewise Star Trek. All of it. And Pixar. All of that. And every Disney movie. And about 15 to 25 acknowledged literary classics.

And countless thousands of comics. And video games. For starters.

Then there’s the fact that when you criticize family entertainment what you actually sound like is this:

‘This was built for kids?! WHY?!’

Well they’ll outlive you for a start. Eventually they’ll grow up and have money and free time. They’ll want to use both to do things they love. And if the things they love are being a fan of a TV show? Or an author? Or a comic? Then that lives on. And with it, a small part of everyone who’s ever felt joy at it.

This is why I always like the Morningstar shortlist at the Gemmell Awards, because it gives you a snapshot of where the genre is heading. It’s why I always despair at the Legend shortlists because, with some exceptions it goes to the exact sort of book that scares away newcomers.

Stories are myths. Books are myths we buy and argue endlessly in subreddits about but they’re myths nonetheless. Myths want to survive. We want them to survive. And much like the frankly concussed belief accidentally expressed by Marvel last year that ‘diversity wasn’t working’, the same authors and same book types winning the same award over and again proves one thing. A small, closed ecology. One that won’t survive without the very new blood it seems completely uninterested in welcoming.

The exact same mindset that, turned a little to the left, looks at a new TV show and goes ‘Yeah this is all ages suitable therefore it’s dull and rubbish.’

Don’t be that guy. (Because nine times out of ten? It’s a guy). Please. You deserve better and so do the rest of us and you know how we get that?

By coming in open minded. By trying new things safe in the knowledge that they won’t invalidate the old. By getting just a little lost, in the best way and trusting that we’ll find our way out to somewhere new, and better, and BIGGER. Somewhere All Ages can feel at home.

Play us out, Joey.

(Special thanks to the lovely Eamonn Griffin who directed me to these BBFC notes regarding Star Wars.)

Not The Fox News: Brand New, Retro

This Is one of my favorite pieces of art. It shares its name with a movement; Raygun Gothic. I love it. It’s chrome and enthusiastic and sleek. It’s the promise of a brave new world, a ship eternally staring heroically out at the recruiting poster that is the universe, ready to boldly go and look great doing it. It’s also a particular aesthetic and kind of art that enfolds everything from gas stations and that mooring point for zeppelins on top of the Empire State to classic William Gibson story ‘The Gernsback Continuum.’ Oh! And the wonderful short film version of it is online over here. Mildly NSFW. Totally worth it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about RayGun Gothic recently, because of a couple of things I’ve noticed in genre recently. The first is the always present belief that the genre peaked decades, or even centuries ago and that the best work available is from that time. The second is the newfound nostalgia wave that will crest and break later this year with the release of Ready Player One.

That first one is, for me, embodied by the Retro Hugos. These are the Hugo awards given for works of science fiction released before the Hugo Awards existed. For many people the RH’s are vital. For me, though, the simple reason for their existence embodies the tip of an iceberg of backwards facing futurism which is as infuriating as it is all pervasive. The desire to seek the future in the past is comes ready equipped with a pair of rose tinted goggles, but it’s also inherently reductive. Because if you’re looking back you’re refusing to look forward. And you can stare at the flights on Time’s Arrow all you want but all that means is you’ll never see the future coming.
And the thing is, the future’s here. It’s always here, arriving a second at a time, a book at a time, a cultural phenomenon at a time. There has never been a better time to work in this field. There have never been fewer barriers, never been more tools, never been more chances to do more good by talking to more people than ever before. And yet, so many of us look backwards. And these days, we don’t have to look that far back.

Enter Ready Player One, stage left, probably talking about Ghostbusters.

Full disclosure time; I loathed the book. I don’t bail out of books very often but when I do I tend to do so hard and fast and I don’t think I made it fifty pages into Ready Player One. I was there for a good chunk of this culture, I liked (And hated) it the first time round. Telling me how cool the cultural life raft I clung to because it was the only one had is not going to endear your novel to me.


And yet, in a weird way, Ready Player One is actually the exact opposite of the Retro Hugos. It’s a postmodernist re purposing of these characters and stories, the cinematic equivalent of the first Avalanches album. That, by the way, famously consisted of 900 samples and took a year to go through legal clearance outside its native Australia. It’s a new story built out of old parts and that, much like the Gus Van Sant shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, is where the art lies. Play a new tune on old instruments. Play old tunes on new ones.
Like the Retro Hugos and their ilk, there are vast flotillas of people who I know and trust who love the book and cannot wait for the movie. I’m not one of them. I will however, happily wave to them as the Ready Player One boat sets sail out across pop culture lake. And who knows, I may end up watching it on Netflix in a couple of year’s time.

But still, this idea, even travelling in two directions as I’ve shown it does here, troubles me. I suspect it’s part of a wider issue, living as I presently do, in the final months of Bigot Island’s time in the EU. There’s an increasingly tangible sense of the clock not so much being turned as shoved backwards and that seems to be permeating culture too. The thought of Dunkirk and Darkest Hour sweeping the board at the Oscars would make me skin crawl in any year but this one? More so than ever. The past is a foreign country, and yet too many of us still apply for permanent residency.

There isn’t a nice tidy wrap up here because there isn’t a nice tidy wrap up to the issue. I could write tens of thousands of words on steampunk alone and how for every fascinating dissection and questioning of the past you get there, you get at least one ‘Dirigibles! Aeronauts! Old timey racism!’ piece of trash. Likewise the endless need for comics in particular to rehash old ground, the elements of fandom that still, somehow, believe that older stories were apolitical and better and so on.
This stuff is everywhere. And that’s the problem. And that’s also the solution.
Like I said earlier, there has never been a better time to work in this field. There have never been fewer barriers, never been more tools, never been more chances to do more good by talking to more people than ever before. And yet, so many of us look backwards.
And so many more of us look EVERYWHERE.
The past holds both answers and joy, whether as a place for a cultural vacation or a foundation to build something new and better on. Look at Black Panther as an example, a film that took the inconceivably racist character Man-Ape and turned him into M’Baku who steals a good chunk of the movie’s second half. The past doesn’t have all the answers. But it can show us some of the questions we should be asking.
And so, to the future! Which doesn’t exist yet and the parts that do are often weird shaped, taste funny and have pro nouns that seem different and unsettling. AND THAT’S THE POINT. We can only take the future in small doses but those doses are vital. It’s like adjusting to sticking your head under water while you swim, it feels fucking HORRIFYING for the first few times and then…it just…clicks. You get comfortable. You speed up.

You progress.

And you do so by not just re-learning something you used to do, but by trying something new at the same time.

Kind of like using an old rocket ship design as art.

Enjoy your ray guns, folks. And use them to carve something no one has ever seen before into the industry. It’s your time.