Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Pint of Old Weird

Just a quick note to say that an anthology with one of my stories, Green and Grey, is out now!

You can find it here: Weird Ales, and I'm the lead story, so I'm very proud of that.






30 Blogs of Night: The Trouble with Torties



Day 30


Recently I saw an article on Facebook, which was all about the trouble with torties, the attitude that Tortoiseshells often have that leads them to present a challenge to their humans. They have a reputation for being 'difficult', and are seen as being temperamental, or having 'catitude'. As I've known two Torties quite well, both of the explosion in a paint factory variety, I thought I'd throw my tuppence into the ring.

The first Tortie I knew was Catkins, my parents' third cat, who we got when I was twelve. Kins was a little bundle of fluff, with fast paws and a keen sense of adventure. She was no bigger than your hand when we got her, only nine weeks and full of vim. From the very start, she was my Dad's cat, devoted to him, no matter how much she liked the rest of us. She would lie on his legs every evening, a long furry sporran that reached below his knees when she stretched out. Over time, we would learn she was what they called a 'character', at one point, patting my Mum's leg a she walked up the stairs and in my Mum's imagination casting her as 'the other woman'. As if to prove the point, Dad was the only one who could coax her out of trees when she got 'stuck', and if he set off somewhere we had to be sure she was indoors; given half a chance she would follow him.

She would pull herself around the bottom of my parents' bed; digging her claws into the base as the valance covered her. Despite this, and her joy at fighting Dad's hand, and pouncing upon his feet through the covers (something I've found never really stops if you let the cat know it's okay), she was a very gentle animal. I used to kiss her tummy, and if she disliked it, she would just push me away. After Leo, the ginger tom they had had before, who was a cantankerous old man and bit if he was grumpy, she was extremely good natured. Despite this, the violence she shared with my Dad seemed to make them closer.

One thing I noticed,and which remains true with my own Tortie, Dita, is that they're very vocal animals. Kins and I used to have miaowing conversations, exchanging mews for a few minutes at a time. I have no idea what we were saying, but she obviously felt it was important enough to keep the conversation going. That's how it is with Dita too, though with her it's more a case of her telling me she's hungry and could I sort out some grub for her, please? Occasionally she produces a long, chatty mew that undulates as if she's yodelling or jazz freestyling.

I don't recognise the description of either them as more likely to bite, or hiss, though. Dita is the most refined, placid cat I've ever met. She once let a friend put dice on her paws for ages before she cuffed him, and that was with her claws sheathed. I genuinely believe that if it had been Hobbes, Phil would have been bitten or clawed fairly quickly, rather than sitting there taking it until it proved too much.

I can't recall Kins being overly spiteful either, outside of occasionaly movements of being a Diva, just full of character. Both animals genuinely loved attention, albeit on specific terms, and both liked having their bellies rubbed, rarely if ever presenting the 'tummy trap', that's common with a lot of cats (where you stroke their bellies and they decide you want to play). But, to be fair, that's every cat I've ever met. All of them have their moments for fuss, and for being left alone, all of them have had places they like to be fussed, and places that are verboten. One of the first thing an 'owner' learns is that you do things the cat's way, or not at all. Kins, for example, would only consent to be held 'tree branch style', with her back legs and bottom firmly supported and her forepaws draped over your other arm. That's no different, in my book, to Hobbes' shoulder riding tendencies.

So I have to say I disagree with the idea that these cats are more difficult than other types, if anything my experience tells me that they're passionate creatures, vocal and minxy, but no worse than any other feline.

Friday, 29 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Five Favourite Anime

Day 29

I love, love, love animated films and TV, more than I like live action stuff actually. There's something about animation that lets me suspend my disbelief that much easier, and just enjoy what's on the screen. It's as if part of my mind cuts out and I can just watch without anything getting in the way, whereas the only way I can watch live action stuff these days, except in the cinema, is if I go into 'highly observant mode', looking for the choices the creators have made to support their creations through the sets, colours, and so on.

That's one reason I'm obsessed with the shoes are meant to signify in Pacific Rim, there's so much about them that they must be significant. It's also why I like Jaws and the original Wicker Man; nothing in either of those films is wasted.

I've put together a little list of my favourite Anime, most of it films. Next week, to keep the blog going, I'll do a similar thing with western animation.

1) Princess Mononoke 

Easily my favourite Studio Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke is a bloody, epic saga addressing the nature of man's relationship with the natural world and the supernatural. It follows a young warrior who slays a demon, a boar god that's been consumed by fate, as he seeks a cure for the curse that's been laid upon him in the monster's final moments. His quest leads him to a mining town, where an ambitious plan to slay the forest god and, pardon my terminology, rape the land for the iron.

He also meets Princess Mononoke, a wild girl, who with the wolf gods and battles alongside them. It's a tale of civilisation and savagery, passion that's gone astray, and man's misplaced opinion of his place in the world. And it's beautiful.





2) Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society

The last part of the Stand Alone Complex series, Solid State Society is probably my favourite Ghost in the Shell thing ever. It picks up the theme of the series, our relationship with technology, and explores it through the lens of Japan's problem with its ageing population and the social consequences of that.

It's good, solid SF, filled with fun moments, usually courtesy of the Tachikomas.



3) Fullmetal Alchemist

The only series on the list, Fullmetal Alchemist, is a really fun watch, featuring two alchemists as they seek a way to restore themselves after an attempt to bring their mother back from the dead goes horribly wrong. As they seek out the answers, they stumble onto a conspiracy surrounding the mysterious Philosopher's Stone, which is said to be able to do anything, cutting through the rules of alchemy like butter. Add in a serial killer from a country that viewed alchemy as heresy (before it was conquered by the Kaiser, and most of its population killed), the mystery of what happened to the boys' father and the nature of the mysterious black gate that haunts their dreams, and the series is replete with amazing potential which it largely lives up to.



4) Summer Wars

Imagine if Facebook wasn't just a social media site, but somewhere where every other piece of software goes through it, is accessed via it, and has become the basic operating system for the entire world. Now imagine that someone hijacks it, and holds the world to ransom.

That's the basis of Summer Wars. When a high schooler, dragged along to a family celebration of the heroine's grandmother at the family's ancestral castle, solves a mathematical puzzle, he appears to let an AI into Oz, and it starts to run riot. As the world falls into chaos, it's up to the family to stop the AI, bringing to bear a surprisingly wide and versatile set of skills as they battle it, through code, online beat 'em up gaming and even a game of Go Fish.

It's beautiful, as you might expect and also rich in the way it considers tradition and modernism, exploring whether the two are as much in opposition as they seem.



5) Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust

The sequel to Vampire Hunter D, Bloodlust takes the film world and expands it, playing with new concepts and catching up with modern ideas about vampires (which some might say weakens the monsters, as it humanises them,by making them capable of love rather than just hunger). In fact towards the end of the film, this is explored, as the man D is hunting, who's run off with a woman he has fallen in love with encounters an elder of his kind, who cares nothing for such frivolities. Beautiful, action packed and brutal in places, this is a science fantasy masterpiece,




Thursday, 28 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Why Paint Cats



Day 28

I have a theory, a piece of whimsy really, that all cats are decorated before they're born. There are great production lines where angels, or spirits, or whatever, paint designs onto pure white cats. They check ear and tail sizes, put big paws on little legs and so on. Sometimes they get mixed up, adding ears far too large to a kitten head, or a tail that's too long or short. Too many mistakes and Quality Control will get involved but 'God works in mysterious ways' covers most contingencies; certainly enough maintain good P.R. on Earth.

Their real work, however, is in decorating and here we find the great production lines coming into play as cats are sent down the various conveyor belts to be painted.

Some remain as they are, pure white. Others are simply painted all one colour, black, or grey, or any number of other kitty shades. They are simple paint jobs, the kind awarded to the newest members of the team. There's no real art to it, just a quick run over with a brush and the cat is ready for delivery.

The next lines are reserved for pedigree cats, one for each specific breed. These animals are painted with great finesse, each mark painstakingly positioned whether it's a Siamese's point or an Egyptian Mau's dots. Most of the angels never master the art, they try but fail and it's a mark of high honour to become the shift leader for the pedigree teams.

And so it goes, on and on through the vast factory complex, a never ending river of kittens, sitting perfectly still as they're painted.

At the end of the hall, the moggies are decorated in a far more freestyle fashion, Tabbies are left with white patches, or with black bits filled in. White tips are added to tails, paw pads transformed to resemble humbugs; black with a pink stripe. The angels here alternate between tools, painting with fine brushes one moment and with rollers, spray paints and the most bizarre instruments the next. Running a pasta roller over a cat's flanks to provide a specific pattern, or pressing cookie cutters dipped in paint against the animal's back to produce a particular shape.
They take their work seriously, knowing they are Heaven's true artists that while the other team might be craftsmen, it's easy to produce identical copies all the time; their work reflects the creature's soul and to look at one of their works of art is to know the animal's nature. Or so they claim.

The last production line sits at the very end of the factory floor. It is cloaked with screens and stains run down the walls. While the pedigree belts are harmonious oases of calm and concentration, and the moggy ones a bustling hive of creativity wth conversation and excitement often rising to fever pitch, the last line's angels' voices are drowned out by the squidge of machines and the sound of splatting paint.

If you were to peer inside, you would see paint guns and sprayers. Angels just launching globs of paint to splat against the cats' sides, creating chaotic markings that clash and look more like a child's scribbles than anything else. These angels are the drop outs, the washouts; the ones who have no skill but can't be fired because the Associated Brotherhood of Seraphim and Cherubim would walk out if the Archangels, AKA the Bosses, tried anything like that.

After all, someone has to decorate the Tortoiseshells.

Image result for cats on a conveyor belt
cats ready to be sorted and delivered.
And as we pull back from the factory, through the warehouse where kittens are dispatched to the living world, side by side with other animals for the first time and ascend above we can see the huge factory complex that churns out all the creatures of the Earth, all the animals, all the humans. We travel higher and in the highest reaches of the vast white city that we call Heaven, there is another factory; producing angels in exactly the same way.



Wednesday, 27 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Forest Brides

Day 27

My current work in progress is a project rather nebulously labelled as 'Forest Brides', and I began working on it in 2009. That's not to say that I'm exactly dragging my feet, but I wrote the first story back then and had no intention of going any further with it. Sacrifices was meant to stand alone, a short story with nothing else attached (though it's more of a novelette, to be honest). It concerns a woman who's sacrificed to appease a god and the discovery that everything her culture believes about the deity is wrong.

The story grew out of a few ideas, including a sexual fantasy and the idea that if the world thinks you're dead then you know true freedom and can shape yourself as you choose. Slowly everything grew together, though, for a long time, it was too explicit and ended up needing a lot of editing to make it fit for purpose. Once I got the story fixed and believing at the time that it was a novella I sent it to Sam Stone to see if Telos Publishing could publish it, and she suggested writing a book of short stories to expand the world. That was back in about 2013, and as I have six short stories and two novellas, yeah I am dragging my feet (in my defence that's partly finding time to write, getting over my tendency to people please, and struggling with my mental health and feelings of worthlessness*). My current work is to write the final two novellas and to start on a novel trilogy.

I wanted to talk a bit about the world, and how I envisage it. This ties very much into my tastes in Fantasy, the fact that I have grown bored of a lot of the standard Tolkienesque worlds, and find a lot of the tropes dull. A lot of my writing heroes are the grubby types who wrote for pulp magazines, who gave us Sword and Sorcery, and I wanted to write that sort of thing, but with a focus on female characters and the roles women adopt during their lives. So the stories not only went out to tell tales but to conjure with ideas like women as psychopomps, or as mothers. The first novella story I wrote, Hyena, set out to flip the scenario over, to show the reader how the women in the forest looked to the outside world (as meddlers in the main).

The other thing that appealed from those writers was that humans were often only the youngest race, and that the past was littered with other, inhuman, cultures. In contrast to what we now call High Fantasy, these peoples were frequently far from good, or noble, and in many cases they were downright terrifying. There was a definite shadow of the Cthulhu Mythos, and I wanted to tap into that. While I haven't explored the idea yet (it's come up briefly in Daughters of the Moon, and will be explored more in the fourth novella, as well as being a central plank of the novels), the world has had various ages that have supported life, even if that's likely to have been impossible according to the laws of nature as we understand them. The 'Oldkin' are those bogeymen that built, prospered, and warred before Man, and in some cases before the Sun's Age started, or even when there were no stars (which look like the Twili from Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess because I felt that was a fittingly terrifying way for them to look). I confess that I do draw quite a lot of inspiration from anime and computer games, and works like Princess Mononoke have been hugely influential for a lot of the things I write.

I wanted to step outside Europe too, as much as I could and focus on the outside world. As I explored the original culture I drew on African cultures, deepening the history as my original character grew and became a different person. The novellas reach out into the world, drawing on the Arabian Nights and ideas about African tribes. The story I'm writing at present is set in an Empire, that's a mishmash of various states from Rome to Persia; I'm not writing history but trying to explore a concept, namely what happens if you have a female led society, and is that really any different to patriarchal ideals? I'm not sure if that's a revolutionary idea or not. One of my friends says she got a strong Indian feeling from the original story, and I've tried to include elements of South American cultures as well. I'm sure I've failed to present my world with as much depth as the real cultures I'm liberally stealing from actually possess, but that's the nature of fiction: truth is always stranger.

Perhaps ironically one of the main challenges I've faced is in dealing with Gods, partly because I wanted to stick to a certain line, the deities I use are essentially idiot savants, they don't necessarily care about anything outside their spheres of influence. So creating gods that seemed to think presented a challenge, were they 'new gods', a more human breed, or were they something else entirely (which is what I went with, and no I'm not telling you how I got around it). The other issue is that, generally, the idea that humans worship the same gods in vastly different places is a modern idea, though admittedly we're taking modern a little lightly there. I think in the West it's first seen in the Roman period and that they managed it by basically conquering people and persuading them that their indigenous deities were basically the same as the Roman ones. Add in the mystery religions, which saw Mithras, Isis and Jesus worshipped all over the Empire before Constantine's conversion to Christianity and you can see how these deities spread. In the time before that happened it seems that you had pantheons, but they were conflations of gods who had been worshipped in specific cities and then spread. Hence, Bubastis in Egypt being the centre of Bast worship, or Athens taking its name for Athena.

I don't feel you can do that with fiction; if you have a dozen different sun gods, how is the reader to keep up, and it just makes it more likely that you'll confuse yourself. I'm sure there are some writers out there who do it anyway, explaining the different pantheons in the appendices, but I don't want to go down that route. As a result I've stuck with one sun goddess, one moon god and so on. They have varying names depending on the culture you're in, but other than that they're pretty consistent. After all, different pantheons isn't my focus, any more than being scientifically accurate is (and I don't feel it's my job as a writer to promote science, sorry).

Anyway, I should, I hope, have the novellas finished by the end of June, and am waiting to hear about a couple of the other pieces as I've sent them over to Sam  (who sent them to her bloke as far as  I know). Fingers crossed we're on and soon you'll be able to buy them with beautiful covers and so on.

*Plays tiny violin.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Logo


Too late to use properly this time, as I've only recently started mucking about with Canva, a free graphics site.

Not sure if I'll manage to blog every day after April, though I hope to, but with another run at '30 Blogs' planned for September, this will get wheeled out then.

30 Blogs of Night: Quote Tuesday


"




Day 26
"The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, yourvision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can". Neil Gaiman





Monday, 25 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Personal Taste

Day 25

It's 2012, and I'm sitting at a gaming table with friends. We aren't playing, just talking about media that's coming out. We talk about Prometheus, and I say I don't want to see it, that the trailer hasn't sold me on the film. One of my peers tells me I have to go and see it. Mentally I backtrack to something I'd heard China Mieville say at a signing only a couple of weeks before; that geeks are frightened that failing to support something will mean that nothing geeky will ever be made again, SF, Horror, and Fantasy will just sheer off into the outer darkness and we'll see nothing but rom coms and detective films for the rest of our lives.

This is the moment that I realise he's right, that geekdom can be small and petty as well as open and expansive, that for some reason I'm meant to suspend my ability to reason because 'ooh pretty'.

I feel as if I might as well burn my (nonexistent) geek card and move onto something else. The fact that now, years later Prometheus is a watchword for damn awful filmmaking and Science Fiction has not only survived but thrived makes me happy, but it made me far more wary about the experiences of fellow geeks.

I feel this way when the same friends tell me about Game of Thrones, telling me that 'nobody's nice', 'don't get attached to anyone', and 'they should call it Game of Porn'. From what they tell me, I know it isn't for me. The same friend berates me for not trying it out, despite having thoroughly sold me off it (because two of my criteria for liking something is that I must be able to like the protagonists* and that death is something significant, I'm totally fine with characters not dying randomly as a result. Also, as someone who doesn't like porn telling me that something should be 'Game of Porn', is just turning me off - literally).

Even when I eventually try the series out, fleeing the room at the end of the second episode because the fate of the dire wolf nearly makes me cry, and makes me angry, I am in the wrong and 'should just stick with it'. Needless to say, I ignore their advice.

Apparently I am in the wrong for not hopping on the next bandwagon and careering off in pursuit of the crowd. Again, it feels as if I'm meant to shut my brain off and not think for myself. It feels as if there's a bitter irony to that, after all in becoming a geek we step away from the mainstream (except that the two are becoming increasingly blurred). As I said yesterday, we look for the things we like, sorting through genres and franchises to find the ones that fit us. It seems so stupid that we then 'shame' fellow enthusiasts for not liking what we do.

A Facebook friend points out that t'was ever thus, that essentially we only ever see the tale end of the exciting things that are going on because that's when they break cover and get the spotlight; the same moment they start being flogged to death and exploited for all their worth. By the time we see the hot new thing, the people who founded it have moved on. It's all rather like the chorus of Lou Reed's 'Hangin' Round', "You're still doing things I gave up years ago'.

So far, so fickle, one might say, but I think that's how it works isn't it?

Of course, we're all behind the curve somewhere, be it in terms of music, books, or visual media. There's so much out there you can never hope to keep up. What galls though that if you're not into what's hot and try to suggest things you think other people might like, you get short shrift and your words fall on deaf ears. There's no point trying to be positive about the stuff you love because only the negative critique stuff gets noticed. This is frustrating, to say the least because it feels as if you can't even have a conversation; and it feels especially true in a world where if something doesn't exist on screen it doesn't seem to actually exist for many people. The idiot's lantern has become the barometer by which we measure the world, despite the fact that the cost of the medium means that it will always be on the back foot, reacting to trends not setting them.

We should treasure our individuality and our personal tastes, remembering that Sturgeon's Law always applies. Ninety percent of everything is crap, we just can't agree on what counts as good. I would urge you, always, to remember that and to cherish what you like. Don't be frightened to try out new things but don't feel you have to like them - use your head. You have an intellect for a reason and shouldn't be swayed by peer pressure (and I include your reaction to what I write, if I'm talking out of my bottom, you should tell me).

*If I want to be exposed to arseholes who never seem to get their comeuppance there's always the news to watch after all.





Sunday, 24 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Peter Abelard

Day 24

Today I'm going to talk about Peter Abelard, a monk of all things and a man who lived in the Early Middle Ages. Perhaps not the most obvious choice of person for me to get excited about, especially as I'm not a Christian. 

What interests me in the case of Abelard is that he was a rebel and was described as "the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th Century" by The Chambers Biographical Dictionary and that his rebellion took a particular form. Educated at the great Notre Dame cathedral school in Paris, Abelard was bright, and would often provoke fights with his tutor, William of Champeaux. Eventually, Abelard would go on to set up a rival school, first at Melun, and later closer to Paris at Corbeil. He knew Anselm, the famous Archbishop of Canterbury, who today is probably most famous for using logic to prove the existence of God, and rose in 1115 to become the master of the Notre Dame school, though this did not last long.

So far, so successful. But we're not taking into account either Heloise, the nun he fell in love with, or the work for which he is most remembered. This would be his rationalistic take on the Trinity and a work, Sic et Non, where he compiled all the places where the Bible contradicts itself into one work. To this did not go down well, would be an understatement and it is typical of the man that he remained unrepentant over its content even though the church threatened him with excommunication over its contents. Abelard was first and foremost a philosopher and scholar, and he was more focused on logic and the life of the mind than almost anyone else at the time he was writing. He squabbled with other theologians including St Bernard of Clairview who brought charges of heresy against the scholar in 1141. With the charges upheld by the Pope, Abelard was only saved from being confined to a monastery, and all his work burned, by Peter the Venerable the Abbot of Cluny, who persuaded Abelard to remain there and did the necessary legwork to convince Pope Innocent to reverse the decision, and to soothe the rift between Abelard and St Bernard.

What then of Heloise? She had been living at Notre Dame during Abelard's leadership there, and the two had fallen in love and had a child together. They married secretly, but her uncle, Fulbert, had let the secret slip and the two had had to flee. While Abelard sent his love off to a convent and paid the price when her uncle's men broke into his rooms and castrated him, the two remained in touch through letters, though much of this seems to be Heloise asking why she should become a nun as Abelard wished, given she had no calling for that life. Eventually, the two of them would be buried together, and is some twist of fate have never been separated even through the French Revolution and are now assumed to lie together in Pere Lachaise.

What I admire about Abelard, isn't his affair with Heloise, or his essentially forcing her to become a nun. No, what I admire is his use of logic, and his willingness to stand up for his beliefs, as well as his obvious intelligence. At a time when Rome was particularly picky about heresy and was merrily clamping down on anything that even looked like a slight diversion from the accepted canon, it takes guts to do something like publish Sic et Non. In a later age Abelard would have been celebrated, he possibly would have been one of the great founders of Protestantism and he did reintroduce Aristotle's works to the Christian world, paving the way for the Renaissance a few centuries after he lived. And to be honest I feel sorry for him, being castrated that way, poor bastard. 

30 Blogs of Night: The Great Geek Swindle

Or if you prefer, the Misappropriation of Geek.

Day 23 - yes this is yesterday's post, honest really guv'nor.

In the past couple of decades, something has happened to the status of geek culture. It's been shuffled out of the shadows and onto centre stage. While not held up as great literature, comic book characters are far more accepted and to an extent the idea that 'they're for children' has vanished as TV shows and movies based on these characters become ever more common. On TV it feels as if Fantasy and SF shows are more hotly pursued, with showrunners and executives all looking for the next Game of Thrones or Agents of SHIELD (or whatever). Not being a TV watcher it's hard for me to judge the content of these and there's always an element of 'more power to your elbow' if the current crop of shows are what you're after. I'm sure they're no worse than the likes of Firefly or Farscape, etc, from the later part of the last century and the early part of this one.

But.

But.

 I look at them and I wonder if this is truly doing us any good; as people, as geeks, as a community. It seems like nirvana but at the same time, I'm unconvinced that this boom of interest and products is actually beneficial. It feels as if it's far more about exploiting us in the pursuit of pure profit, than giving us anything that has true worth. I've become extremely glad I grew up in the period where American comics weren't celebrated, and where for all their garish colours and silly plotlines (because let's be honest, most comics writing is about as far from Shakespeare as you could hope to be - which isn't to say that Shakespeare didn't produce some very silly stuff) they were pretty free of observation from the outside world. That meant they were less self-consciously a product, that they could get on with storytelling and character development; something that feels rare now, especially at the 'Big Two', Marvel and D.C. where books are bound to the next crossover and everything gets rebooted every couple of years. It's only in the independent sector that the comics I remember growing up with, the ones which go for the long haul, exist, and I find that sad. This was noble storytelling tradition and it's being thrown away for shiny pebbles. The only advantage I can see is that you can jump ship as soon as the book stops being interesting, which I suppose saves you some grief. After all, if everything's going to change or be set back to point zero, what's the point of hanging around?

I'd make a similar point about all those television programmes, with the added caveat of 'how new are they'? Are they genuinely bringing us anything new, or are we just suffering from our own version of  Cop Show Syndrome? You know, being served the same stories but this time, the lead's a tough black woman with an aging father and a quirky nerd sidekick while the last show was basically the same plots but the investigator was an autistic genius with a quirky woman who was looking after hm. I fear that they do much the same things, and the differences are fleeting.

In the same way, my favourite Marvel films are the Captain America ones, simply because most of the others feel like they're composed of someone smashing action figures together, with some daddy issues thrown in for good measure. Only slightly more depressing is the idea that someone has looked at all this stuff and decided that because the protagonists have XY chromosomes women are somehow getting shafted. Honestly, I don't see how that can be, outside of pay packets and what happens with actual actresses, because at the end of the day superheroes, much as I love them, are shallow, silly roles with little meat to them. They no more tell me or any other man about what it's like to be a man in today's world than a kitten meme tells you how to look after your cat (and now someone will post a cat meme that does exactly that). Watching something like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or High Rise seems to convey more about the human condition than a thousand superhero films.

The internet hasn't helped with this, if anything it's made things worse. Now, there's no escape from all these things, and as the early days of the 'net become nothing more than a memory we can see how fully it is being used to reinforce capitalist ideals. Facebook, at times, resembles nothing so much as a schoolyard where the most popular things must be liked by everyone; while sites like Buzzfeed seem intent on not only appealing to younger users but actively stopping them from growing up. Do we need more stuff about Harry Potter, unless it's to talk about the new book? Do we need Sorting Hat quizzes and constant Tumblrs about life lessons from an admittedly well observed series of children's fiction? Similarly, can we accept that Dan Radcliffe has grown up, and gone onto other roles? He was great in Horns and has proved that he is far more than just a one trick pony. I'm sure he's grateful for the overwhelming success of the Harry Potter franchise but come on let him be an actor, let him grow and change. Tying him to that bespectacled little boy is doing him a disservice.

I'm unconvinced that any of this is actually good for the things that we claim to love, in the same way that I'm unconvinced that Waterstones selling the Game of Thrones books cheap does anything to increase the sales of any other fantasy series. Not a problem for them, or for Mr Martin*, of course and hats off to both of them for that; but a pain for anyone who actually wants to see the genre flourish and be diverse (are we going to go through a long winter of 'Martin's Shadow' now, where only'real politick' fantasy gets published?) Do we know if the Harry Potter and Twilight fans actually moved onto other books, or did they just stick to the shallows, clinging to the series they knew? There's some suggestion that they did read other things, especially among female readers but I know that the comics industry's attempts to push their products after every film and every TV series normally meet with failure. This report from the New York Times suggests that Harry Potter, despite its much vaunted effect on reading, proved to be a white elephant .

D.C. are rebranding their universe and bringing it closer to the other media, but I fear they're missing the point. People don't want to buy comics, not even if they can find them online because comics are still for children in the minds of a great many people and somehow while they can justify turning on the box or going to the cinema to watch grown men in pervert suits kick the crap out of each other, the idea of buying a graphic novel simply doesn't compute. Then too there's the fact that the serial nature of the medium works against it; the only product that increased its sales after the film came out to my knowledge was Watchmen - and that was just one book. Perhaps other standalone books have done similar things; I don't know.

'We're all geeks now', is a common cry, but I remain unconvinced. That's not meant in a snobby fashion, or to declare I'm somehow geekier than thou - to be honest, I barely recognise myself as a geek; a decade ago I wouldn't have been typing this post. And I'm not having a go at you if you are a  geek, or if your main way of exploring that is through television, despite what I say below. I'm just sick of things being bundled up, diluted to the point  where nothing fucking matters apart from how many pieces of crap get sold.

Like subculture or feminism, or a thousand other things it feels as if now it's simply too easy. You want to be a geek? Just slob in front of your telly at prime time and say you're a nerd because you liked an episode of Arrow. Buy a fucking tee shirt and wear someone's corporate branding. Be a living billboard and tell people they'll love the show. Don't think about why they'll like it, just push it incessantly. That seems to be what geekdom has become. It's changed from a place where people sorted through things and found fiction that spoke to them, that explained their lives, to the new hotness which we must all like or somehow we're letting the side down. I'd compare it to the Great Rock and Roll Swindle except it doesn't even have the decency to pretend to be rebellion. It's just become the very thing it was trying to be an alternative to, and with 360 degree marketing, has become even worse.

\Nothing is allowed to stand alone now if it breaches the market, nothing can simply be the one thing that exists. I get that TV and films are increasingly expensive to make, what with CGI and stuff, but the cost, the true cost, has been creativity, storytelling, and identity. These things have become a cargo cult, the film or TV series are just a way to sell you crap you don't need (and none of us are exactly immune to that myself included**): shiny beads washed up on the shore. It saddens me, it enrages me, because I care about these things and while some people are making things because they really care about them, most of the stuff out there comes from just one thing; the desire to part you from your cash, and to make you think you're somehow weird or edgy for it.

*By the way do read Fevre Dream if you like his stuff, it's an excellent historical novel about a Mississippi paddle steamer that just happens to have vampires in.
** As anyone who's seen my Funko Pop collection would tell you.

Friday, 22 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Comedians I Love

Day 22

I love comedy, especially radio comedy (I don't watch television). I've grabbed some of my favourites for today's blog. I should warn you that some of these are quite political (I like that sort of comedy, along with some of the more surreal material out there). Because I'm trying for brevity, a lot of these are clips from The Now Show, I don't feel it's fair to post too many long things, though there is a half hour programme second from bottom. 

Susan Calman

One of my favourites, Susan Calman is funny, pithy, and weird. She talks about giving her cats middle names and playing dress up with them, along with the Prime Suspect Day joke she played on the Tesco Man. This is actually her discussing Scottish politics for BBC Radio 4's The Now Show




John Finnemore

Another radio comic I love, John Finnemore is one of the most talented people I know of, doing sketches, a sitcom based on an airline (now sadly no longer with us), and stand up. Here he talks about religion, again for The Now Show.




Marcus Brigstocke

Another political firebrand, Brigstocke for a time was arguably the 'grumpiest man on the radio' and wore that hat very well indeed.



Natalie Haynes

Classicist and Comedian, Natalie Haynes is bright, clever, and funny. She draws a lot of her stand-up material (for all that she rarely does stand up these days) from the Ancient World. Here she discusses the Roman satirist Juvenal and what he has to teach us.



Jeremy Hardy

Bonafide grumpy git, though much of it is a pose, Hardy is a real trooper. Willing to humiliate himself on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, especially in the singing rounds, this is an entire episode of Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, his series where he explores concepts and ideas in a funny way.

Finally, as Victoria Wood died this week I'd like to post something funny she did on the radio. A semi-regular panellist on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, this is her singing Bob the Builder to the tune of I Dreamed a Dream. I know this isn't one of her own songs, but somehow I admire her more for being able to do this, it must be so hard not to just completely screw it up.




 Weirdly I feel like I've barely mentioned any of the comedians I love, and would urge you to check out Sue Perkins, Sandi Toskvig, Mitch Benn, John Holmes and dozens of other brilliant people who are waiting on your radio. I haven't even touched on sitcoms like Cabin Pressure, Bleak Expectations, Old Harry's Game, or Welcome to our Village, Please Invade Carefully. There's so much brilliant radio out there.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Columns


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Day 21

Just to blow my own trumpet for a second, here are links to the places I've guest blogged in the last couple of months.

First off I've cribbed a couple of pieces for Jed Phoenix, one on Gothic fashion in the mainstream, and the other on the book I want to write, looking at Goths and their stories as I travel a circuitous route about the UK, Europe, and America.

My Book

Goth in the Mainstream

I've also written a couple of introductions to two subcultures for Theresa Derwin, over at Terror Tree.

The first, Brassed Off, is an introduction to Steampunk, and I throw some of the things I'm concerned about into it. The second,Welcome to the Dark Side does the same with Goth.

Hope you enjoy them, and I feel I should say that I'm always happy to guest blog on appropriate sites... Rather good at being opinionated, truth be told.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: A Princess in Hiding

Day 20

Today I'm going to tell you how we got Dita, our brindle tortoiseshell cat. She's lived with us about eight years and is  a cute beast, who seems to have comic timing and a tendency towards burlesque.

The story actually begins with Hobbes, we were worried that he was lonely when we went out, in part because he's one of those cats who likes to go about with you. He used to trot up to the bus stop with us, dogging (sorry catting) our heels. The problem was that once we were on the bus, he would stay there all day. We came home to answer phone messages from concerned people, worried that he was just waiting, and waiting for us. You'd think that as a former stray he would have more sense, but no. Bless his little white paws. We didn't know at the time that he had lots of friends about the place and were worried. In addition, Eve wanted a cat of her own, having been fooled by Hobbes' pretence at a sedate nature when we first met him; cat flu with do that to a boy, apparently.  We took him down to the RSPCA and introduced him to a few Queens, and he was not happy. The Lady from the RSPCA said he looked like he was going to be submissive to a girl cat (nothing to do with him being out of his element and a bit freaked out then?) and in the end we came away empty handed.

A few months later we went back, without a ginger nutter, and with a mission to get another cat. Again, we were looking for a black cat. This has been a quest of sorts for a long time. First, because well, more Gothic innit? Second, because we'd read that black cats are the least adopted, something that breaks both our hearts (we are typical of Goths in that regard, hard on the outside but squidgy with sentimentality on the inside). We toured the narrow aisle of pens at the now defunct Barnes Hill RSPCA rescue centre, looking at the animals. We knew we didn't want a kitten, mostly because I was frightened that Hobbes might kill one, but also because of us both working. It didn't feel fair to leave a little best alone with himself.

I don't remember what the other cats were like, but I know I was looking in at one when I thought I heard Eve say 'Dita', and turned to check. She actually said Dee Dee, which was what the RSPCA staff had landed the poor cat with. She had been one of a pair, but her sister had been adopted a few days before, leaving 'Dee Dee' alone.

While most of the cats were up and prowling about, Dita just lay in her basket, letting us fuss her. She came across as quiet, and gentle, even consenting to belly rubs. We talked about it, I was unsure - I liked her but the fact she seemed so placid worried me -  but as Eve really liked her, we said we wanted to adopt her.

After the usual check where someone came around to see if we were fit hoomans to look after one of the feline overlords, and a nasty shock when we learnt we couldn't get her at the start of our week's holiday at the end of July (there being an implication that they would put her to sleep if we didn't get her straight away), we brought her home. And failed utterly.

You know how you're meant to cloister your new cat, keep them in one room and slowly make
introductions between the new cat and your old one? Yeah, didn't happen. Hobbes got into the room she was in on the first day and introduced himself by sniffing her bum. This may have set the tone for their relationship for the years to come. They do like each other, even if they aren't bosom buddies, but he quite frequently seems to bully her (we're still not sure if he's just trying to play and as she dislikes wrestling it just comes across as fighting). The thing that really stick in my mind from that day though, is coming home with fish and chips and her shouting at me in glee. She does love junk food, even being caught in the act of stealing a friend's fried chicken and having a bad habit of helping herself to chips straight from the paper, given a chance.

She's a cute little beast, as I said above. She still loves belly rubs, and is far too fond of food. She and Hobbes still fight a lot, though to be fair he isn't always the aggressor (she usually gets a look of 'oh crap what have I done, if she does start it though). At least they've never played cat flap wars, the way my friend Bert's cats did. And she seems happy, and that's the main thing, right?


Book Review: When Someone You Love is Kinky


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An approachable book, When Someone You Love is Kinky is a basic primer to alternative sexuality (specifically kink) by Dossie Easton and Catherine A Liszt and serves not to introduce the people involved in this sort of erotic experience but their friends and families. As such it is very gentle, easing the reader into the subject matter, taking the time to debunk myths and to offer reassurance that engaging in kink activities is not a one way ticket to the morgue. Beginning with a basic introduction, which not only talks about the community, but also how we got here, and how the idea that sex is one thing and one thing only (penetrative, foreplay light, man on top etc, etc) came to pass.

They discuss language, and how BDSM has its own specific terms, which may seem baffling to the beginner, or to people outside the community. There's a chapter dedicated to safety, to discussion and negotiation, which while it touches on things like safewords (a concept I fear is so esoteric to the non kinky world as to be almost alien) also dives into limits and safeguards. Age is discussed here, with a strong condemnation of the idea that children be in any way involved in kink, and a note that experience is vital if you want to get involved.

There is a discussion of community and what it means, and of the dangers of being outed to the outside world. While I've never heard of anyone losing their job for being involved in BDSM, but it obviously does happen (and here I am rabbiting on about it), or at least not outside of media and political circles where reputation and honesty were involved (Angus Deyton's sacking from Have I Got News for You springs to mind, where I believe it was felt that being the story yourself was against the nature of the show - Simon Hoggart's departure from the News Quiz was a similar affair, and he had only, well, had an affair). This chapter rounds out with a piece about kids and how much they should know (not much if anything, since you ask).

The book also serves as a chance for the authors to discuss sex negativism and to promote a more positive attitude towards sex, laying out almost a manifesto that supports basic ideas for improving your sex life; grounding it in sex therapy as well as in alternative sexualities and the experiences of the people in them. There's also a large section which tackles what to do if you find out your partner is kinky, and how to handle it. It's thoughtfully and nonjudgmentally laid out.

Most touching are the anonymous letters that pepper the book, letters to parents, to lovers, to friends. Each confides, and explains why the correspondents enjoy the things they do, each is a slice of human experience outside of the norm and brings home that it's human lives and human experiences and that none of this magically renders the people involved into monsters.