How a Douglas Adams quote explains modern society

Confused, puzzled and angered by things like Brexit, the ongoing nightmare of Donald Trump, the various strains of nostalgia politics and the rise of gammon-faced people from the right and left, and just generally everything?

Well, the late, great Douglas Adams has a quote from the Salmon of Doubt that explains everything!

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

So there you go, the modern world explained!




Losing Harlan Ellison

I have a Harlan Ellison story. Lots and lots of people who’ve been in, or are fans of, comics, SF, fantasy or just fans of his writing have a story. I’ve told mine before but here it is again. In 1985 at a SF convention in Glasgow, Ellison was guest of honour and was having great fun pissing off and entertaining all the right people because even as a young lad somewhat awestruck at being even in the same city as one of his heroes, I could see that Ellison danced the line between genius and arsehole easily. One minute he’s be amiable and chatty, the next he’d be annoyed and angry but he’d never compromise himself. His comments about writers getting paid show this.

So back to the story. I was working a dealers table selling comics and Ellison came in to have a shufty at our stuff. He picked a few things up and much to everyone’s surprise knew more about British comics than I’d have suspected. I was wearing a Marvelman badge, and spinning off the conversation from Warrior, Ellison asked if we had any for sale which we didn’t. He then asked if he could have mine. I eventually gave him it because this was my hero and I didn’t want to disappoint.

Ellison later came over to me in the bar, offered to get a drink and we ended up chatting about how great Dreamscape was. Indeed, it still is.

Ellison then had to move on with his small entourage but I was a happy lad as he’d signed a copy of The Glass Teat which is one of the greatest books of criticism ever published.  That book is something that influenced why I started this blog, and in fact it wasn’t until Ellison’s death I realised how much he’d shaped me growing up.

See, that wee story I have is something I’ve pulled out often over the years because it is a great wee story. The part of the story I usually miss out is when Ellison talked about not compromising which is something I don’t think Ellison did once in his life which led him to do great things, not to mention some awful things.

But that idea that someone can’t compromise because once you do it then becomes a game as to how far you’ll go without fully compromising yourself. I can’t remember when I did start compromising and although my life was better in some ways, a wee part of me was dead.

I’ll miss Ellison not being around. I’ll miss not being able to see if there’s a new soundbite  that I can use to help me sum up current events, and with current events being horrible I think we’ve lost a guide at a bad time.We’ll still have his mountain of work but we’ve lost a voice who could be good or bad, arrogant and uncompromising but always had something worthwhile to say. There will never be another like him.

Goodbye and thanks for whatever small lessons you’ve given me. I’m going to watch Dreamscape later and wallow in the memories of 1985.

I shall be going to Worldcon in Dublin in 2019

Next year in Dublin is the 77th World Science Fiction convention and bollocks to it, I’m going. It’ll be in this rather impressive building.

I done a few science fiction conventions both as a punter and as a trader back in the 1980’s and 90’s, and seeing as it’s going to be a plane ride away it strikes me as churlish not to go. As it stands today the plan is to fly to Dublin on the 14th August next year and then enjoy the convention before returning on the 20th. Of course Brexit may well mean I’m using leaves and beakers to trade.

So if you intend to go give me a shout and mine’s a orange juice and soda water…

About the Star Trek: Discovery finale…

I’ve mentioned previously how much I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery and how against a core of fan’s howling at the moon, it has managed to actually do something different with the Star trek formula. This week was the final episode of the first season and from here in there’s spoilers.

The last half of the first season has been superb. Based in Star Trek’s Mirror Universe where baddies are goodies and vice versa, this allowed the writers to play with the idea of what is Starfleet and what are the principles of the Federation. Plus it had Michelle Yeoh fighting…

That kick Yeoh does at 1.22 is, well, more than impressive for someone of 55. Anyhow, everything was set for a fantastic finale then I saw Akiva Goldsman’s name smeared over the credits like dripping phlegm. Goldman is the man who brought us Batman and Robin, and who’s writing C.V is peppered with shite. Shite which makes Hollywood money so he’s managed to get into a position beyond his actual talent and thus was the finale of Discovery placed into his hands.

It was to be utterly nice; average. If I was being honest I’d say I was utterly let down by it mainly because it was badly written. The main plotline of the Klingon War was finished too quickly and characters barely had time to breathe as the episode tripped and stumbled to a close which didn’t feel earned. We’ve followed these characters (And I think what Discovery has been great at is introducing new characters into Star Trek that are more than variations on a theme, plus in Stamets and Tilly they have a pair of fantastic characters to build on, while Doug Jones is doing tremendous work as Suru.) through hell, and them *poof* everything’s solved and we’re onto the cliffhanger.

Before I get to that cliffhanger I can’t make it clear how much of a shame this was. It could have been better as opposed to alright at best but now they’ve told the big over-arcing storyline in the first season I hope they learn from their mistakes in their second. Build on the characters more and give the bridge crew more to do than just look over their shoulders at Suru but that cliffhanger. Again, spoilers, but if you’ve read this far you probably don’t care by now.

At some point they would have to deal with being in the same era as when Pike captained the Enterprise, but to my surprise they’re going right into it now and isn’t that a lovely looking Enterprise?

So with the promise of big things in season 2 Discovery I hope improves, learns from mistakes made and becomes better because we need a good, positive bit of Star Trek so now we’ve got over the grim war, we can build up the positive vision of the future we could all do with dreaming about.

From Earthsea to Manchester

Yesterday saw the deaths of writer Ursula Le Guin and musician Mark E. Smith. Both were much, much more than just a writer and a musician and both were complicated people which has made some of the reactions to their deaths highlight just how polarised, and even simplistic some people can be.

Le Guin wrote science fiction and fantasy. She defended what she wrote as SF, and didn’t take the easy option of classing her work as something the middle class literati would accept without turning their nose up as something as ‘common’ as SF. She threw out SF stories which challenged you as a reader to think about ideas that were human and alien. Her fantasy tales of Earthsea were liberally ‘borrowed’ by writers lesser than her (I expect J.K Rowling’s cheque got lost in the post…) and she built utopia’s that seemed functional. I soundly recommend The Dispossessed as it is one of the finest books ever written and you need to search out her essay The Stalin in the Soul if you’ve ever slaved in a job wishing you’d quit to become an artist.

Had the left in the UK adopted her as much as the hippies in the 1970’s did, then things might be very different. Her vision of utopia, equality & sane, evidence driven policy mixed with frankly, a Punk aesthetic which brings me nicely to Mark E. Smith. Smith was The Fall; a post-Punk band which was more than a band. Drawing from a massive amount of influences Smith recreated himself as something we don’t do much anymore as he became an original. One of his big influences is H.PLovecraft (you can hear The Fall as a Lovecraftian band very easily) which brings me to this wonderful bit of telly as Smith reads Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space.

It will be the music & the thought behind it that Smith should be remembered for. My favourite period are the Brix Smith years. Partly because the material appeals more to my pop-punk sensibilities, but also because Smith seemed settled and at a creative, not to mention, commercial, high.

Even having a genuine hit and everything in the charts! This is also the video that made me fall for Brix Smith. Sigh…

And Smith even tried to sing.

But go back and listen to his early stuff. It is simply amazing to hear how mature it is in the sense that Smith had a clear vision of what he wanted to sound like.

And of course the English national anthem they never had.

The Fall live of course was a lottery. Some times like a gig in Leicester in the early 90’s, or at the Astoria in London in the late 90’s, or at Strathclyde Uni in the 80’s, they were astonishing. Sometimes like Reading Festival in 1999 they were a shambles. As for Smith he could be a prick. He was often someone who came over as dislikeable at times, but then he was also as good as gold. I once saw him hanging around after a gig in London chatting to folk. Fact is, he, like any of us, was a complex person.

Yesterday took from us two original thinkers and creators. Both were complex, often uncompromising human beings who always to be there it seemed. Both were amazingly prolific. Both seemed to be invulnerable. Both are gone and from Earthsea to Manchester we’re all a little bit diminished for their passing.

What I thought of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

From the off there’s going to be SPOILERS, so you’ve been warned…

The Last Jedi has been getting some strange reactions from hardcore fans (this entitled rant sums up much of the negative response from some fans) as if the film they saw was not what they expected, which seems to have been a sort of retread of Empire Strikes Back with lots of lightsabre fights which is sort of is but it also does something different. It’s also about giving up on things and creating fresh beginnings from nothing.

Set just after the events of The Force Awakens, we find the resistance under threat of being wiped out by the First Order, while Rey has found Luke Skywalker in the hope of getting him to return to the resistance and help fight the First Order. At this point what you expect to happen, doesn’t as the First Order virtually wipe out the resistance, and Luke is unwilling to return as he’s wracked with guilt in regards what happened with Leia and Han Solo’s son, Ben, better known as Kylo Ren. In the first third of the film there’s a lot of Chekhov’s guns being cocked and they all go off in the second and third act and its how they go off that’ll shape how much you like this film.

A large chunk of The Last Jedi is about telling you that what you want in life isn’t what you’ll get so Luke doesn’t come sweeping back heroically (initially) but is tired, old and bitter about one fatal flaw he made that let down his sister, his best friend and their son while at the same time helped create a monster that threatens the weak and vulnerable across the galaxy. Luke’s redemption comes because he lets things go, destroys the things he’s collected (the remnants of the Jedi religion) and decides to sacrifice himself to spark people’s imagination to do something off their own back. The arc of Finn and new character, Rose, is essentially telling you the war is being fed by big business and there will always be people there to exploit as long as the war continues.Essentially he big thrust of the film is telling you hard truths about the world that you do have to move on, and that big corporations will exploit you and give you what you want if you let them. It is quite odd especially to see the latter in a Disney film and in the week where they’ve bought 20th Century Fox to become the sort of mega-corp Philip K Dick would have written about.

Problem is in the second act director Rian Johnson drifts. Scenes become overlong, tiresome and boring. There’s too many meaningful stares, padding and exposition not to mention at times one wonders just how crap the First Order are if they can’t work out how to destroy three resistance ships moving in what seems like first gear. The middle of the film is flabby and bloated, and really, 10-15 minutes could be lost from the film and it’ll be a better film.

Here’s a great video to show how the first Star Wars benefited from sharp editing.

Some hard decisions about cutting and rearranging scenes was needed to stop the middle from deflating because the film suffers. It isn’t til we get to Snoke’s death (and gloriously teased to be fair) that the film kicks back into gear and all the threads set up in the first act play out to ends in the third. Not all of them tidily (as after all, another film is coming after this in 2019 to wrap everything up) but that’s ow life sometimes is.

For a film that had to provide a weight to this new trilogy, set up the third film and add some character to the new characters, it pretty much succeeds. Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron is equal parts brave and heroic pilot crossed with a lunatic who should be shot out an airlock. John Boyaga’s Finn doesn’t really do much and he feels underused in the film as his character is the only one of the new characters who isn’t that changed by the end of the film like Rey, Poe and Kylo are.. Daisy Ridley’s Rey comes into her own as she realises her place in the universe, and the fact she’s come from nothing rather than be the offspring of noble or ‘special’ blood makes her a more proletarian hero to lead a rebellion than a princess or the son of a lord…

Adam Driver steals the film though. His Kylo Ren is a mix of emotions and motivations as we realise it was Luke that pushed him towards Snoke with that shameful act that pushed Luke into hiding. We’re taken to think he’s turned back from the dark before realising he’s fully embracing it and becoming what looks like the grand villain of the films.His big showdown with Luke is gloriously shot and is an example of how to edit a film brilliantly.

The legacy cast do what they need to do, Mark Hamill does a fine job as a broken Luke who gradually becomes more like the Luke we know as he’s exposed to what’s familiar to us (the Millennium Falcon, Chewie, R2D2, Rey), and as for Carrie Fisher’s final (?) performance as Leia she has a weight of poignancy in some scenes that comes from not just her early death in 2016. Her meeting with Luke isn’t going to leave many dry eyes.

Overall The Last Jedi works. It needs to lose some of its running time, for sure but as a film that could have lazily just had Rey and Luke turn up, fight Snoke and Kylo as the resistance held on against the First Order before having everything wrap up in a big fight in the last film of this trilogy. Instead Rian Johnson pushed things out of the comfort zone while maintaining a familiar enough structure to not break the diehard fan’s head too much. As a film it also looks amazingly lush, with an eye for flair, colour & light that sets it apart from increasingly homogeneous blockbusters like the Marvel films.

The next test for the film is how it works as part of a trilogy overall and we won’t know that til 2019, so we’ll meet up back here in 2019 to see the final part of this set of films before Rian Johnson embarks on a new trilogy as Star Wars will never, ever end while there’s people out there like us to exploit…

This UFO episode from 1971 is years ahead of its time

The Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series UFO was a feature of my youth but on the whole I remembered it as a fairly decent bit of often camp TV SF. In the last weeks I’ve watched a few episodes and one leaps out as something not just different, but decades ahead of time in terms of meta-commentary.

Mindbender features this synopsis

Lieutenant Andy Conroy is investigating a crash involving an alien craft on the Moon when he suddenly gets caught up in a Wild west type shoot-out with Mexican brigands. Back at the SHADO’s earthly base another officer, Beaver James, gets involved in another shoot-out, this time with aliens. Then a voice shouts “Cut!” and the whole is seen to be a film being made at the studios telling the story of Straker’s life. So what’s real and what’s imagined?

This is meta before the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison made careers out of it, and is arguably much more adventurous being as it takes place in what was a pretty mainstream programme of the time. Mindbender really is a superb bit of television and takes the sort of risks many a programme now would never risk in case it annoys the fans. Something like this probably did annoy fans at the time but it’s such an experimental script (possibly brought on by budgetry concerns) that it really is ahead of the curve by several decades.

Thankfully YouTube have it all, so enjoy…