Sunday, 31 December 2006

Randall & Hopkirk


To start with, I don’t like Reeves & Mortimer…

TV stars Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have a comedy double-act that owes more to old style music hall and the moribund traditions of Morecambe & Wise than anything inspired by the postmodern lunacy of Monty Python… For the irritatingly clueless Vic and Bob, simply read Eric and Ernie: the next degeneration. With that in mind, I was not very keen on seeing the double act’s BBC remake of cult detective series Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). The original, and very British, drama starred Mike Pratt as Jeff Randall, and Kenneth Cope as the late Marty Hopkirk, and the memorable show provided many hours of happy family viewing back in 1969-70. Later on, in that land of telly disambiguation, the USA, they re-titled the show My Partner The Ghost.

Two seasons (but with only 13 episodes in total) of the remake were first aired in the UK from 2000. In November 2006, Universal Playback finally released the complete four-disc DVD boxset (630 minutes, certificate 12). The programme makers retold the basic set-up of the 30-year-old original without much variation, and subsequent episodes find the dead and living nitwits (oh, sorry, private detectives) joined on their often-farcical investigations by Marty’s long-suffering fiancée Jeannie Hurst (talented Emilia Fox, briefly engaged to Reeves, before she came to her senses… and married actor Jared Harris). Of course, the new Jeannie might well be a wryly über-feminist romantic foil development from the original TV show’s (usually simpering) secretary - played by Australian blonde Annette Andre, but the Fox version’s blatant mimicry of Charlie’s Angels’ fondness for beating up bad guys, and numerous costume changes, is hardly much of an improvement on the sub-genre’s basic ‘pretty female sidekick’ characterisation. The addition of a fourth regular, Marty’s afterlife guru and mentor, Wyvern (Tom Baker), serves as little more than an excuse for streams of cheap visual effects allowing Hopkirk to ponce about in ‘Limbo’, every soulless minute of which is profoundly monotonous if compared to the quirky inventiveness of Tim Burton’s hilarious Beetlejuice.

Okay, so we have the white-suited ghost, the dodgy spin on familiar cross-genre riffs, and a lot more scenes for the heroine, but what - if anything - does this supposedly updated Randall & Hopkirk series have to offer TV viewers in the post-X-Files era? The painful truth is that it merely borrows, often carelessly and without the delicate balancing skills of astute genre parody, from the numerous homegrown chillers and horror movies of the 1970s. And so we get assignments to sinister hotels and haunted manors, a school under threat from a gang of evil boys, a weird murder in a museum, and a visit to an island of leery folk (albeit with a penchant for hormone-spiked ale), none of which really have a crumb of originality or a shred of credibility to add to the established canon of naff supernatural fantasy or even cheesy sci-fi adventures.

The best episode, Painkillers (as directed by the series’ producer and main scripter, Charlie Higson), features Derek Jacobi and Dervla Kirwan as mad doctors in a secret underground lab, where they’re on a quest for immortality, using a faux Amazon rainforest to cultivate a rare herb which delays pain by freeing the human psyche from its physical body. It’s all of a dismally uninventive sameness, though, with scene thefts galore from familiar classic TV, harking back to Department S, The (New) Avengers, and The Champions.

My favourite bit of this entire series occurs in an early scene in the very first episode, Drop Dead… Guest star, Charles Dance, catches the incompetent pair spying on him and, with slapstick verve, repeatedly slams Vic Reeves head against the back of their getaway car. How I laughed, but wished that I could have had Mr Dance’s job for that particular scene!

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Kodak Z650


I bought a digital camera for the New Year.... Kodak Z650 from ‘EasyShare’ range, though I decided against getting a printer dock for it.

Now I'm wading through the user’s guide and learning about secure digital (SD) memory cards for picture storage, and installing software on my PC ready for loading the first batch of weekend photos to image editors on the desktop.

The palm-sized camera handles well, and initial test results (although, as yet, unprinted) are impressive. Hopefully, 6.1 mega-pixels will produce more than snapshot-quality photos, and some worth framing.

My only real concern about this new gadget is the apparent lack of ‘image stabilisation’ feature, which some online reports said causes problems at extreme telephoto. That aside, I'm quite pleased with this purchase, so far.

I will post a few (low-res) samples of early work, sometime next week…

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Brundlesheep

Be mild… be vaguely mild!

“Have you ever heard of sheep politics? Neither have I.
Sheep… don’t have politics. They’re very docile. No passion, no promises. We can’t believe in sheep… I’d like to become... the first sheep politician. You see, I’d like to, um... but... I’m meek, uh…

“I’m counting... I’m counting… I- I’m a sheep... who dreamt he was a man... and was gentle. But now the dream is over... and the lamb is awake.

“I’m saying... bah-h-h. I’ll bore you if you stay.”

(What the flock? Apologies to Langelaan, Pogue, Cronenberg, and Goldblum)

Sunday, 24 December 2006

All religion is bad


I often wonder how many people were ‘weaned’ off their parents’ religion(s), just by reading some genre literature while at a suitably impressionable age? As a teenager, my steady diet of ‘pulp’ and hard science fiction, and later reading about quantum theory, somehow managed to dispel any childish faith I once had in the existence of god.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” - Richard Dawkins

I was christened C of E, and went - or, more accurately, was sent - to Sunday school (Methodists), but I have become an - increasingly militant - atheist, and nowadays (at 45+) find that I’m rapidly losing even vague respect for anyone with religious beliefs, whether they go to ‘high church’ (prayer-sayers are all nutters, to me!), or just persist in celebrating Xmas… because they’re diehard consumers, or simply cannot shake off those bad habits (indoor-tree decorating, paper-wasting card swapping, pointless gift exchanges, turkey dinner, etc) still fondly recalled from childhood in the family home. The commercial side of Xmas clearly supports and tacitly maintains the various social events and public rituals, from building snowmen and traditional carol singing, to the televised ceremony of ‘midnight mass’.

When atheists suggest the world might be better without religion, I've noticed the response from believers is usually something like: "if religion is gone, what are you going to put in its place?" It's a mistake to assume that a godless world creates a void in society that must be filled (with 'worship' of science say religious folks!)... It makes me laugh because it seems they've missed the point of what science is and what it does. To me, getting rid of religions is not like emptying a room in your house so that you can fill it up again, it's like cleaning all the windows so that everyone can see outside better than before.

A poignant example of how religious leaders deceive the faithful is found in Muslim teachings. The infamous ‘afterlife’ compensation said to await the jihad’s martyrs is “eternal paradise with 72 virgins” … but, since 2001, scholarly reports (cited by Guardian / Ezra Klein) claim this was a misinterpretation of the Koran. Perpetrators of attacks on the 11th September who were expecting to be rewarded with six-dozen attentive wives might have been rather disappointed to learn the ‘virgins’ in question are probably not a bevy of angelic girls, but the rare delicacy of white raisins.

Of course, warmongering Islamic extremists tasked with brainwashing young men into happy suicide bombers need to promise them something more enticing than a handful of dried fruit!

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Friday, 15 December 2006

Old grey whistling test

After reporting a line fault (severe crackling noise, no broadband connection, sometimes no dial tone!) due to windy and rainy weather, got a visit from BT engineer, yesterday, and the overhead cable (split and badly corroded in places) from my house to the telephone pole was replaced.

Engineer told me they have to replace old grey wires with the newer black cable, whenever and wherever they find them, nowadays... though, usually, I suspect that's only when faults are reported.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

English?

Browsing through genre forums, I’m often amused by how quick a potentially interesting debate can lapse into blather whenever people start using Americanisms.

A recent example…
Someone makes a seemingly outrageous statement, and the first reply is:

“No way!”

Rebuttal is, perhaps, too big a word to describe what follows:

“Yes, way…”

Which then prompts another response of:

So way!”

As a website editor, it’s very tempting to post:

English, please…

Monday, 11 December 2006

Xmas spam!

No broadband link for 30 hours (Sunday afternoon to Monday teatime).
Spam build-up reached new high (for me) with 1,055 messages sorted by Mailwasher.
What's your one-day spam record?

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Robert Altman RIP

American maverick filmmaker Robert Altman died 20th November 2006.

Although I didn’t enjoy all of his films, Altman had an amazing career and produced an impressive diversity of work.

My favourites include The Player, Brewster McCloud, M*A*S*H, and Countdown. Other films like Nashville, California Split, and Fool For Love simply didn’t appeal to me.

The last Altman film I saw was Cookie’s Fortune.
I think his finest work was SF drama Quintet.

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Horror Fest

Enjoyed trip over to Portsmouth, yesterday, for Horror Fest '06 event. Saw feature films Unrest, Seance, The Slaughter, KillerKiller, Fallen Angels, plus some variably entertaining short films. My brief review of the festival is here.

Question I've been pondering over the weekend is (since the death of Hammer film studios)... is it possible to have a new boom in British horror cinema without filmmakers pandering to the American market?

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Crime lab


This week, I'm watching the 5th season (DVD boxset) of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and it occurs to me (not for first time), how much this crime drama owes to familiar horror-genre conventions, especially in the TV show's various Las Vegas 'serial killer' storylines.

The presence of William Petersen, from Manhunter, cements that particular linkage, of course, but with the frequent nightshift settings (though crime-lab staff changes mean there are more daylight scenes in CSI season 5), I'm sure that CSI would often 'feel' like a horror show, anyway, without him.

I've also seen the 1st season of CSI: Miami and a sample episode (free disc with CSI #5 boxset) of CSI: NY, but I don't think either of these TV spinoffs have the same impact or quirkiness of the original show, which is more effective in its dramatic understatements than a lot of cinema's overblown gore-fests... just compare CSI episode Big Middle (partly about obesity) to something like the disappointing Feed.

British actress Louise Lombard (remember her from the shortlived Bodyguards series?) is a weclome addition to the regular cast of CSI.

Any other fans of CSI out there?

Monday, 6 November 2006

8-legs

Here in the Village, cold snap of winter’s onset drives local eight-legged freaks mad.

Now, death wish spiders (distant cousins of death watch beetle, or suicidal horsefly) scuttle to ‘n’ fro across front-room carpet under follow-spot of cathode rays, while furtive family of industrious woodlice in dark corner sell T-shirts (well, nay, octa-shirts?) with daredevil slogans:

5tamp m3 Owt!
comb & ave go if U tink y’ard enuf

(Village creepy ’lice are not spelling bees…)

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Oii!

'Web inventor fears for the future'
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6108578.stm

"Sir Tim Berners-Lee told BBC News... he wants set up a research project to study the social implications of the web's development."


Hmm, anything like this one, Oxford Internet Institute
http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/
I wonder..?

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

10 Brit horrors

Top 10 British horror films of the 1980s

The Shining
- Kubrick's adaptation of King's novel is one of the great chillers with a brilliant Jack Nicholson performance

American Werewolf In London
- exceptional transformation effects that still look amazing today

Hellraiser
- stuff of nightmares, and I don't think Clive Barker ever made a better film

The Sender
- a cult favourite psychic mystery-thriller

Paperhouse
- surreal and uncanny, with good performances from the kids

Lifeforce
- Tobe Hopper destroys vampire-plagued London in fantastically gruesome style

Company Of Wolves
- weird and wonderful dark-fantasy interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood

The Monster Club
- comedy horror anthology full of bizarre mutant night creatures and bad rock music

Xtro
- low budget sci-fi shocker with a grisly birth scene

Link
- Richard Franklin's mad monkey thriller rewards repeat viewing

Also worth a mention...
Rawhead Rex
The Bride
Lair Of The White Worm

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Leakoids

The Leakoids: Newsalizing The Nation by Neal Wilgus is a chapbook of highly amusing 'broken' news stories and satirical 'counterfactual' reports from the murky corners of imaginary worlds. Here, we discover the possibility of Schrodinger being arrested for animal abuse, the worrying truth about the famous 555 phone number prefix used in films and TV, and that (according to the US Bureau of Historical Revisions) the 'pledge of allegiance' is a fake.

There are short-form tall tales where dogs sue for divorce, men are allowed to marry sheep, plankton rustling is rife, laughter is taxed, a ferry strike halts all traffic of damned souls across the Styx, the island of Cuba is arrested for speeding, the gold at the end of the rainbow is safely locked away by US troops, inter-dimensional border controls are tightened to limit citizenship for alienoid subversives, Gaea is admitted to hospital, and the Sun goes out...

With sketchy illustrations by Filomeno Martinez, this monstermash collection of fantastic absurdities, anything-goes what-ifs, and Pythonesque bureaucracy gone hairy-eyed wild makes for entertaining teabreak reading.

No web presence for the publisher, but Leakoids is $10 from...
Juxtopedia Press
927 Camino Hermosa
Corrales
NM 97040
USA

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

New porch

This week, I'm getting some quotes to fix-up the damaged front porch... Of course, it means that I have to actually invite double-glazing salesmen into the house. Agh! I should be on danger money.
If I have to listen to another bloody word about sills, gaskets, fanlights, safety glass, sealed units, hooks, roller-cams, trickle-vents, or extrusions... somebody will be in pain.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Krypto-mythos

I saw 4 seasons of Smallville on DVD, in recent months, and have just watched the 5th season boxset. Apart from the boredom of overdone teen-romance subplots (was Buffy ever this sappy?), I think it’s a great show with plenty of interesting variations on the comics’ mythology, a bunch of worthwhile supporting characters (ace-reporter Chloe is entirely original to this series) and some intriguing, still on-going, plot developments.

Although this show amounts to nothing less - or more - than a chronicle of the early days of ‘the last son of Krypton’, somewhat cynically reinterpreted for the post-X-Files generation, perhaps the strongest genre TV influence on Smallville is actually the short-lived Eerie, Indiana. Like that show’s tiny community, Smallville is presented as the locus of weird Americana, a rural area where the economy gets a welcome boost from corporate investment (although the Luthors’ presence in town, and interest in its residents, is rarely benevolent) in the wake of a strange meteor shower.

And in Smallville, it’s the space rocks that are wholly different. Unlike the scenario in DC’s Superman comics, where Kryptonite is normally quite inert, with little or no adverse effect on humans, the creators of Smallville decided to make 'K' stuff (including red and silver types) the cause of numerous bizarre mutations and curious super-empowering effects. So, green signifies fear, and red means danger, as never before. It’s also fun to see how the millennial Smallville appropriates industrial espionage clichés and noir thriller frissons. Typically, a sympathetic supporting character is stopped in the street, he - or she - gets into a big black limo, the mysterious car drives away into the darkness of night… and there’s yet another cliff-hanger ending to keep you guessing, until next week.

“Do you know why there are no heroes, today? It’s because we have no respect for them. Instead, we envy them, and can’t wait for them to screw up.”

Of course, as the young Clark Kent, 25-year-old actor Tom Welling is perfectly cast. He plays inner conflict, moral anguish and outrage, and awkwardness with rare skill. He is to Superboy, what Christopher Reeve was to the popular icon of Superman (in Richard Donner’s 1978 film). The makers of Smallville also won several other casting coups, starting with Annette O'Toole (who played Lana Lang, opposite Reeve, in the overly comedic Superman III, 1983) as Martha Kent, and John Schneider (still most famous for The Dukes Of Hazzard, 1979-85) as Jonathan, Clark’s adoptive parents.

Veteran of stage and screen, John Glover (who played the Devil in Brimstone, 1998-9) brings plenty of gravitas and good humour, as required, to his seemingly pivotal role as billionaire Lionel Luthor, scheming father of bitter and twisted Lex (Michael Rosenbaum). Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder also make brief appearances in Smallville, cementing its relevant and irreverent links to Reeve’s cinema Superman, more certainly than Smallville TV’s fleeting usage of John Williams’ memorable big screen score.

If there’s a serious flaw in the production of Smallville, it’s undoubtedly Kristin Kreuk as self-centred cheerleader, the simpering Lana. A pretty but often vacuous character, Clark’s high school sweetheart Lana is clearly supposed to be the key to farm-boy Clark’s ‘human’ heart, but big-eyed Kreuk’s puppy love routine soon becomes very tiresome. Smallville takes far too long before Clark grows out of his teenage crush on Lana, and he only graduates from high school after 4 whole seasons of TV (I’m sure that Buffy left school in just 3 seasons). The appearance of Lois Lane (a spiky, uncompromising role for Erica Durance) in season 4 marks a welcome change of pace for Smallville as TV drama. She’s worthy of all the hype, shaking up the basic prone-to-formula scenario of a superhero-in-training, and knocking the straw from Clark’s head (of course, each time Lois gives him a friendly punch on the shoulder, it’s actually another test of our young superhero’s learned ‘human’ vulnerabilities, a blow to his psyche), just in time for the emotional problems of his transformative experiences when confronted by his mind-boggling extraterrestrial heritage, and inevitable ascension to, and trials of, his compassionate godhood as Kal-El.

The finale of season 5 sees nearly all the main characters in one sort of predicament or danger, with moral questions and threats to mortality capping dramatic scenes with potentially terrible consequences. This amounts to a spike of so many nagging questions that Smallville fans will be left rabid for more.

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Vampire Sharkz!


I really enjoyed reading Simon Clark's novel London Under Midnight (available now from Severn House), a splendidly atmospheric horror without the usual Count Dracula cliches or tiresome gross-out elements.

The author has produced a fascinating short film, Secret Realms, Haunted Places, which looks at the locales and settings (from Whitby to London) that have influenced Clark's genre fiction.

Apart from filmed-interviews, I think this might be the first time any British writer has made a 'promo' video of this sort.

Sunday, 27 August 2006

In memory


Muriel Lee
27 August 2005

It's been a year since my Mam died.
I really miss her...

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Dwarf planet?

So this month's decision by a meeting of the I.A.U. in Prague has re-drawn the boundary of our Solar system. Pluto is classified as a 'dwarf planet'. OK, I realise that definitions are important in a field of study where things like celestial mechanics are supposed to be an exact science, but this curious astro demotion still sounds like Plan B for Planet 9 to me.

Cast your vote at: Sally Ride Science.

Friday, 18 August 2006

Top 20 Films

Here's one version of my list, in alphabetical order...

Although I'm happy with today's choices, next time I'd want to include other categories like - animation, comedy, anthology, art house, silent film, cult, foreign, romance... but never 'romantic comedy'!

All-Time Favourite Movies:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick - classic

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1989) Terry Gilliam - fantasy

Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola - war

Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott - science fiction

Blue Thunder
(1983) John Badham - helicopters

Day Of The Dead (1985) George A. Romero - horror

Dune (1984) David Lynch - space opera

Enter The Dragon (1973) Robert Clouse - martial arts

Excalibur (1981) John Boorman - myths

The Exorcist III (1990) William Peter Blatty - supernatural

Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes (1984) Hugh Hudson - adventure

Hulk (2003) Ang Lee - superhero

Licence To Kill (1989) John Glen - action

The Right Stuff (1984) Philip Kaufman - docudrama

Silverado (1985) Lawrence Kasden - western

The Thing (1982) John Carpenter - monsters

The Untouchables (1987) Brian De Palma - crime

The Verdict (1982) Sidney Lumet - legal

Videodrome (1982) David Cronenberg - weird

The Year Of The Dragon (1985) Michael Cimino - thriller

Friday, 21 July 2006

Bat man?


While closing the upstairs landing window last night, I heard a flapping sound and saw a shadow on the wall. There was a bat in the house... reminding me of Bruce Wayne's primal fear in Batman Begins.

OK, so I'm exaggerating. It wasn't a bat, only a very big moth. Biggest damn moth I've seen in the house, though! I'm not kidding that its fat body was as big as my thumb. When killed, it promptly stank so bad that I had to open the window again. I've often read how moths have a keen sense of smell. Well, this little beastie was the 'dirty-old-tramp' of all moths. A sewer-hobo moth, perhaps?

Another weekend heatwave looks inevitable. I'm sure that lions have the most sensible idea about how to cope. Don't get irritable. Stay in the shade and avoid needless activity.

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Brundlesoup

A fly got into the microwave with my cup of soup. Time for a rant...

I really hate cooking. Any food should not, I think, take longer to prepare than it takes to eat. A wise man once said, “Cooking is a science, not an Art.” (In other words, if the cook gets a recipe correct once, s/he ought to be able to get it right every time.) Forget about pretentious presentations of dinners or suppers. Just put something that looks and smells (not the offensive stink of curry, please) reasonably edible on a plate. Eat only when you’re hungry and the appearance of food becomes irrelevant. Pasta is the exception, in that it appears to be a foodstuff but isn’t. (It’s just wallpaper glue.) How did the media fall into the evil-death-trap of worshipping cooks? Why is daytime TV plagued with typically obnoxious ‘characters’ telling us how to serve ‘dishes’?

Everybody’s heard of Fanny Craddock. Delia Smith made her fortune with bestseller cookbooks. Neither was glamorous or had soulless telly shows. Now, though, we have the supposedly divine Nigella Lawson. TV chefs are the worst, however… There’s the gormlessly camp Ainsley Harriott, the drunken trendy Keith Floyd (deservedly lampooned by impressionist Rory Bremner), old crusty Rick Stein, and the loathsome Gordon (“women can’t cook”) Ramsey, who seems to believe he’s like Steven Seagal’s Casey Ryback in the kitchen. The latest gimmicky brigade of kitchen boys (Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes, etc) seem intent on proving that celebrity chefs don’t actually need anything resembling a genuine personality for TV success. Writer and novelist Steve Aylett is known for, among other things, delivering the mighty wallop of satire to famous chefs.

Why waste hours chopping, dicing, boiling and roasting? Ping! That’s my five-minute wait for a chicken snack...

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Region freedom?

Just grappling with tech jargon and mind-boggling complexity of DVD drive firmware on my (new-ish) PC. Found an online review of the player/burner saying it's hackable, and can be made DVD region-free, but - argh! - why do we still have to put up with idiotic and quite arbitrary region codes, anyway?

Now a techie points me in the right direction for downloading utilities needed to change first the drive itself, and the DVD software, then also fool WinXP so the system won't complain. Yet another learning curve looms ahead...

Later...
Another techie suggests a driver-level application, called 'Any DVD' (download from Slysoft.com) that looks worth trying out! This enables playing of any region DVD, but without having to change drive settings, risk damage to burner's warranty, or mess about with XP.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Empire adjuster


The Man Who Saved Britain by Simon Winder (Picador) is principally concerned with the world’s most famous secret agent, James Bond. It follows the author’s own ‘journeys’ through the glamorous and exciting world of 007, in Ian Fleming’s novels and the early films starring Sean Connery (knighted in 2000, and recently a recipient of the American Film Institute’s lifetime achievement award).

Winder freely admits this book is hardly a proper or fulsome social history about how a mere fictional hero salvaged the national pride of postwar Britain, but it does offer some insight into how the suave adventurer attained iconic status with the production and release of Terence Young’s Dr No (1962). Though often perceived as terribly decadent and frightfully dated nowadays, the potent Bond formula (the ultimate cinematic guilty pleasure?) remains one of the most successful movie franchises, despite all critical propaganda to the contrary. The films have generated a legacy of effortless sex and gritty or comical violence unequalled by any of the US secret agent movie series.

Even as casting producers scurry around, hoping to find a full-time replacement (Daniel Craig will star in Martin Campbell’s remake of Casino Royale) for departing actor Pierce Brosnan (who quit after the disappointing Die Another Day), this book is a canny reminder of 007’s enduring sub-cultural appeal.

Sunday, 4 June 2006

Summertime blues

Yesterday was rough. It felt like the first heat-ray blast of summer, when I opened the front door to collect parcel post, and then I spent the next six hours in sneezing fits with a severe bout of the dreaded hayfever. Hard to concentrate when I can’t even think straight. Just updating a couple of web pages on two sites took most of the afternoon. By teatime, I was knackered. Slept off the worst. Back on regular meds for the duration...

Handling domestic money matters on the Internet seems likely to be a growth industry of the next decade. I recently signed up for online banking (mainly to pay utility bills and keep a weekly check on my current account’s balance), but I continue to save time on shopping for essentials by ordering groceries from two home-delivery supermarkets (my checkout record is four and a half minutes for a full virtual trolley), and search engines have found numerous bargains for me, over the last few years, without any High Street store hassles. Of course, there’s a downside to all this. Despite my best efforts to curb spending on ‘demon discs’ I’m still buying far too many DVD boxsets and collectibles per month, tempted by budget prices and loyalty e-coupons.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Flatscreen upgrade

Catching up with the backlog while keeping up with the new stuff is order of the week.

Got my new computer delivered and set-up without major problems, though it was a day's headache to import files and transfer contacts data from the dinosaur machine onto this PC. Happily, the faster processor (Athlon 64 bit 3500+ on Windoze XP) on this system makes home-computing a pleasure, again! 'New toy syndrome' is unavoidable, and I look forward to copying DVDs, and getting website updates completed in something more like real-time, instead of having to wait endless minutes just to open Word documents as was routine failing of my previous desktop.

Got the fireplace knocked out, and bricked up, and then started re-decorating the front room. Still hunting for replacement furniture, so touring local suite shops in Newport, tomorrow.

Monday, 15 May 2006

Interzone weekend

Having purposely let my BSFA membership lapse, I decided the money saved had to go elsewhere, anyway, but perhaps it could be spent more wisely. None of the other offers I glanced at online looked as tempting as a backdated subscription to Interzone, and my first bumper fun pack of five issues arrived swiftly. Despite being told via email that IZ #200 had sold out, the helpful staff at TTA Press managed to filch one from a shadowy parallel world and, happily, that milestone edition was included in my chosen batch of back numbers.

So slickly designed you can hardly get a handle on it nowadays, this all-singing all-dancing genre magazine for thinking SF readers has evolved to meet the marketing challenges of 21st century newsstand publishing. IZ chief Andy Cox is not to be confused with a 'zine editor who's only going through the motions. With an uncompromising determination to raise production standards and a gleeful disregard for the stuffy traditions of the last century's bi-monthly serials, "Britain's longest running science fiction magazine" today sports eye-popping colour throughout and has frequently dazzling layouts, so its overall presentation is seldom less than stunning, boasting visuals from a parade of talented artists - including Jesse Speak, 'Glitchwerk', Vincent Chong, David Senecal, Ian Simmons, and the great Rik Rawling.

Despite its occasional pomposity and relentlessly camp poeticising of answers to Michael Lohr's usually straightforward questions, I enjoyed IZ #200's generally waffle-free interview with Richard Calder, a genuinely eccentric literary stylist of impeccable pedigree whose post-cyberpunk trilogy (Dead Girls/ Boys/ Things) was - for me - one of the brightest events in SF publishing during the early to mid-1990s. Calder's fiction presides over subsequent issues of IZ with the awesome delirium of his novella After The Party sprawling across #201 to #203, shoving aside - but not without a mighty effort - even top-notch material from Paul Di Filippo, Elizabeth Bear's paired stories Wax and Wane, Jay Lake's gloomy The American Dead, and Among The Living by Karen D. Fishler (weirdly, Fishler's story is illustrated by Chris Nurse... and Fishler is dead ringer for a nurse I used to know named Christine).

All that said, and nonfiction aside, the best slice of SF entertainment in #200 is, predictably enough, from Rudy Rucker (author of madcap idea-fest, Saucer Wisdom). Guadalupe And Hieronymus Bosch tells of an unlikely romantic encounter - between a 21st century American woman and Bosch himself, that whimsically redraws the whole socio-cultural map in devastating dreamscape fashion. Of course, this being a Rucker tale, the meeting that so casually knocks the home universe completely out of whack is actually enabled by a shape-shifting, cosmos-surfing, meddlesome trickster-alien. It's an instant classic of the cheesy-but-fun variety!

For #202 and #203 the page count zooms up to 80 pages (at no extra cost), yet all the editorial experimentation of recent months has settled down a bit now, and the magazine somehow feels crash-dieted rather than super-sized. I confess that some of the fiction in IZ just couldn't hold my interest beyond a first paragraph, let alone a whole column or two. With no regrets, I neglected to finish the likes of Sundowner Sheila by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, and Joseph Paul Haines' Ten With A Flag. Well, it's simply clunky dialogues, uninspired intros, or pointlessly arty aesthetics that puts me off sometimes, or perhaps an indefinable combo of unappealing abstracts and overly familiar notions. Whatever... Probably the best story in #202 is Jack Mangan's The Unsolvable Deathtrap, delivering automotive terror with a ghastly Billy Joel soundtrack. Apart from the Lake and Bear stories, I thought #203 was largely below par. A tougher read than it ought to have been. Scattering the 32 vignettes of Di Filippo's unwieldy-titled 'Furthest Schorr...' across umpteen pages might not have been very clever, I'd say. Calder's livewire 'nymphomaniad' opus reaches its broodingly pink-skied close. Calder also brings heavyweight insight to the nonfiction, interviewing Etched City author K.J. Bishop (who contributed one of the better pieces to Andrew Hook's quirky Alsiso Project anthology).

The latest IZ is #204. The opener serves up a fascinating interview (by Steve Badrich) with award-winning cover artist John Picacio, who seems a bit surprised by the observation of 'transformation' themes in his work. The first story, Longing For Langalana by Mercurio D. Rivera, had me yawning (well, I was tired after a spot of DIY woodwork) after page one, so I flipped on to Tim Akers' haunting The Song, concerning obsessed musician, Jack. Like Glenn Miller, Jack struggles to capture a unique sound. When he finally succeeds, however, the result is something quite unexpected for Jack, but fairly predictable to me. I thought the nude-cyborg art by Ales Horak was cool, but simply couldn't get interested in the story that it illustrates, The Rising Tide by someone named C.A.L. (Personally, I think that kind of byline is dreadfully pretentious.) Summer's End by Jamie Barras benefits from the impact of Marcel Blazejczyk's full-page art, a ziggurat emerging from twisted stone, but it's a shame the mediocre story owes so much to Pohl's memorable 1970s' shocker We Purchased People. Martin Gidron's Palestina has an engaging alternative-history premise featuring a sharply etched sense of place but, as with the majority of such timeline japes, it depends entirely upon offbeat-narrative twists and a shameless punchline for its effect.

The final story in IZ #204, James White Award winner A Short History Of The Dream Library by Elizabeth Hopkinson, gets my vote for the best piece of fiction this issue. Here's the rebellious alt-history for today's Britain. Hopkinson demonstrates a fizzy, eccentric imagination, and plenty of nimble wit. Hilariously satirical, brilliantly concise, and worth the price of admission alone, this story is so bloody funny you'll probably still be chuckling hysterically in your sleep. Let's see more from this amazing writer, please!

Of this magazine's regular nonfiction section (which toplines John Clute's column on books), Nick Lowe's Mutant Popcorn deserves a special plug, if only because I hardly ever agree with his film reviews! Almost perversely, Mr Lowe tends to favour everything (Spielberg's War Of The Worlds, Fantastic Four, Disney's Sky High, Nausicaa, Alien Autopsy) that I typically dislike about sci-fi cinema, and unfairly derides blatantly-subgenre movies (like Wallace & Gromit, Serenity, Doom and V For Vendetta), which I find particularly good, albeit for widely differing reasons. So it came as a relief to note that we had, at least, similar opinions about intriguing no-budget oddity Primer and Gilliam's sadly disappointing The Brothers Grimm. Lowe is a very good writer, of course, but, normally, I find his taste in SF films is appalling.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Project Fix

New team blog launched today!

Project Fix tracks the progress of The Fix magazine, to be published by TTA Press.

Sunday, 7 May 2006

Mutant X


I saw the second season of this sci-fi TV action series (about plain-clothes superheroes) on ADV Films’ region 1 NTSC DVD boxset. There are 22 episodes sprawled over five double-sided discs. Flip-discs are horrid things, but at least this complete-season package works out a lot cheaper than the five separate DVD volumes on region 2 from Contender (which costs, roughly, up to four times more, per season!), even allowing for import taxes.

Produced by Tribune, Fireworks and Marvel, on a rather modest budget, Mutant X (2001-4) struggles hard to make the grade at times, even as a run-of-the-mill adventure series. With hackneyed plotlines - occasionally borrowing elements and themes from more popular genre movies (X-Men, obviously) and TV programmes (Angel, The X-Files, Alias, and Sliders in particular), the show lacks sufficient impact to distinguish it from a host of skiffy-action rivals, past and present.

Although this second batch of episodes for the super-team of four mutant-powered heroes is more enjoyable, overall, than season one, Mutant X nonetheless suffers from much the same overly serious tone as before. The regular characters (especially John Shea as that reckless scientist turned pompous do-gooder, Adam Kane) are frequently stuck with melodramatic dialogues, which often diffuse any credibility the show might aspire to, undermines its ‘thriller’ aspects, and reduces what could have been an engrossing drama to grimly humourless drivel. Usually, I think ‘bad’ sci-fi TV is definitely better than no SF television at all but, then again, the sheer barmy, offbeat cheesiness of Mutant X typically works against its success.

What the show has going for it, of course, is a few moments of unassuming fun. As when the main cast are all on good form, the guest star isn’t such an intrusive bore, a scriptwriter manages to sneak in one or more intriguing narrative developments, and the episode’s director simply makes everything fit together perfectly, if only for a moment. Time-travel, a werewolf, stolen weaponry, a body-swapping ghost, a corrupt prison warden, a pyromaniac, a humanoid dinosaur, mad psychic brainwashing, an isolated town of paranoids, lobotomised soldiers, and numerous seemingly-evil mutants (‘power’-of-the-week very soon becomes a tiresome cliché in Mutant X), are just a few of the throwaway basics visited for this bunch of stories.

Despite the presence of stalwart Shea (who played Lex Luthor in Lois & Clark: New Adventures Of Superman), and Victoria Pratt (Xena, Cleopatra 2525) as cat-woman Shalimar, the best performer in Mutant X is certainly Lauren Lee Smith, as psychic-babe Emma, so it’s rather disappointing that she quit the show after this season’s cliffhanger finale.

Friday, 5 May 2006

New books to read

Roger Corman: Metaphysics on a Shoestring by Alain Silver and James Ursini (Silman-James Press) is a welcome, b/w illustrated, survey of the movie career of genre maven Corman "one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of motion pictures." (Although the back cover blurb makes that claim tenatively, it's a statement that many film buffs would doubtless agree with.) I'm suprised, anew, while flipping though this book's impressive coverage sci-fi/horror schlock, cheapo westerns, adventure-thrillers and obscure fantasy stuff, how many of Corman's often cultworthy productions I still haven't seen yet. Jeez, I bought The Trip (1967) on DVD over a year ago, and it's still on the shelf! (Must get that watched, soon.) So... this very smart looking book has served its purpose for me, already, reviving interest in the prolific Corman's work.

Shane Ryan Staley's Corrosion, a chapbook of assorted writings from Delirium Books, began life as an on-going website - Project Corrosion, a mix of horror and humour in the popular online-viral mode of fiction-blogs. "Freeing minds... one nun at a time" says the blurb, but I doubt any church would invite this acerbic, darkly absurdist, frequently-challenging writer to visit, let alone give him five minutes of pulpit time! This book is only volume one (in a projected series), so the "literary mayhem" looks set to continue...

British magazine Whispers Of Wickedness #12 (D-Press, Spring 2006) offers a batch of short stories and nonfiction material from contributors to the Ookami website. It's apparently edited by Peter Tennant - a strong supporter of the UK small press, and WOW is available on subscription (online via Paypal), from the site.

Read By Dawn Volume 1 (Bloody Books, a new genre imprint of Beautiful Books) is a horror anthology 'hosted' (so presumably edited?) by Ramsey Campbell, who's rightly championed as "Britain's foremost horror author" in the publicity blurb. The book's somewhat vague connection to Scotland's international horror film festival Dead By Dawn is peculiar, but it's not unheard of for movie fans to read the occasional book!

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Painting over shadows

Since my Mam died last August, and I inherited the house, I’ve been slowly but surely redecorating the place… But lately, I came to realise how important it is to me that every room gets a complete makeover and, in most cases, a change of practical everyday use. This is something that I’ve simply felt, rather than actually thought about, until just recently. All the patterned carpets and wallpapers have to go (I prefer plain colours), whether there’s much life still left in them or not, even at risk of ongoing DIY jobs turning a home into a money pit. Without being disrespectful to my dear Mam’s memory, I don’t want any part of the house to become like a shrine (portraits on display and a few keepsakes are reminders that I’ve chosen with care). Otherwise, I may probably never consider this place as my own. Does this make sense to anyone else but me?

Sunday, 30 April 2006

30th again...

End of the month is deadline for VideoVista, so it could've been a busy day for me. With review material coming in - via email - a few at a time, filed away over the last couple of weeks, while I've been somewhat preoccupied with DIY (especially a re-tile job on the new bathroom), there's now more than the usual amount still to be edited. Even after a late start, though, it's mostly all done by teatime... And just the one nuisance phone call (a wrong number) today. So, a quiet Sunday at Pigasus Press.
:)

Friday, 28 April 2006

My new PC

Finally ordered a new computer system, after struggling with techie jargon of bumf from various local shops, and checking latest advice. I asked for a high performance machine, capable of easy multitasking, and that will handle whatever I throw at it.

KIT:
Opted for Athlon 64 3500+ instead of Pentium 4, as received wisdom suggests that AMD offer better CPU performance for less money.

Windoze XP Home edition
Kingston PC3200 1500 (3 x 512MB) DDR
Deskstar T7K250 250GB hard disk
ECS NForce4 SKT939 ATX motherboard
Gainward GeForce 6600GT 128MB graphics card
Pioneer DVR-110D 16x16 DVDR/RW dual layer disc drive
19-inch LCD monitor

No modem (as I already have BB)
No floppy drive

Extras include: MS Explorer trackball mouse, as I've got used to this type, and can't use the regular sort which need moving about!

Delivery expected early in May.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Air-hogs anonymous

I don't go to meetings or anything, I'm just fascinated by the very idea of flying pigs... helicopters, too, so this fun sketch really appeals.

Generally, I prefer pigs with bat wings, rather than the feathery variety. Sightings of either breed of air-hog are extremely rare, of course, and these cryptozoological creatures do not survive in captivity. 'Kurly' (see Fax 21 report) is one of the few celeb flying pigs.

As ever, contributions to the Pigasus Press gallery are welcome from artists happy to offer their own interpreation of 'Pigasus'.

Monday, 24 April 2006

"It's a jungle out there"

I never really watch daytime TV, but recently made an exception for BBC1's after-lunch timeslot for Monk. Written by Andy Breckman (of Saturday Night Live fame) this is a wonderful US comedy-drama series (set in San Francisco), about ex-cop and widower Adrian Monk. His mental health problems (including OCD and varied phobias) have somehow made him into a brilliant, if highly unorthodox, detective with powers of acute observation that rival Sherlock Holmes.

As played by Tony Shalhoub (Galaxy Quest – remember Tech Sergeant Chen? Spy Kids) Monk is a distinctively mannered, Emmy-award winning, characterisation, managing to rise above tics and quirks, while gently mocking the afflicted. He makes us care about the weird little guy who notices all the tiny details without needing a crime lab to figure out whodunit. Beneath the slapstick and one-liners, though, Monk serves as an inspiring story of someone who finds renewed purpose in life after a complete nervous breakdown, an emotional crisis (caused by the car-bomb murder of his wife; the only crime he’s been unable to solve) that left our much-troubled hero housebound for several years.


With guest stars including the likes of John Turturro (as Adrian’s even crazier brother Ambrose!), Monk is really worth your time. The first three seasons are now available on region 2 DVD.

Sunday, 23 April 2006

It's okay; I got it...

Here’s a couple of nifty limited edition chapbooks from the brilliantly named multimedia outfit, Omnibucket.

Brainchild… a Collection of Artifacts - presents the creative output of 15 contributors in an anthology exploring ‘undead’ themes, mixing horror stories, genre prose-poetry, and nonfiction, with many garishly appropriate paintings and striking drawings – and quite surprisingly, the colour artwork far outnumbers the b/w stuff. I particularly enjoyed Mia Epstein’s critical essay My Zombie Girlfriend, which considers the evolution of un-ladylike human-flesh-eaters in movies like George Romero’s quartet of shockers, and their ghastly femme fatales’ sometimes-tenuous but often profound links to various otherworldly women in genre literature.

Eleventy Billion Miles Away by the band Blackcat Revival offers a lively CD of notable prog rock with strong jazz influences, accompanied by a heavily illustrated digest-sized lyrics’ book. The tracks deliver catchy melodies, discordant riffs, flavoursome arrangements, and imaginative lyrical content (with a rich vein of humour), unrestrained by the message-in-a-bottle intent of this quasi-concept album. Another limited edition product, this is hardly the simplest or handiest format for releasing music. And yet, its novelty value works in favour of acceptance by or at least interest from a different audience, as the publisher targets readers as much as listeners. With stunning art and slick designs generally superior to Brainchild, this attractively packaged multimedia item is a happy event indeed.

Despite the occasionally haphazard creativity, mismatched themes, un-harmonised fonts and page layouts, and the clearly intentional clash of artistic styles on display, these titles are among the very best looking small press items I have seen in recent years, certainly on a par with amazing modern classics like William L. Ramseyer’s self-published Jellyfish Mask (Buy Yourself Press, 1993).

With forthcoming titles like God’s Acre - book one: The Ravens & The Rhyme (due June 2006), Omnibucket is definitely a producer-of-quality to watch!

Same time, same planet

Where were you on Earth Day? Here in the Village, I got the leaky bathroom sink fixed, thus saving at least a few drops of (probably undrinkable) water, and made a better effort to recycle tins, bottles, and paper rubbish. It's still a work in progress, and that's the whole point, right?

But are supposedly global events such as yesterday's doing any real good? Is the green household agenda a worthwhile public pursuit when so many multinational corporations - not to mention USA.gov - refuse to agree on the problems, or even the causes of those problems?

Instead of a straightforward 'carbon tax' adding to fuel costs (a measure which impacts all users, and would probably drive inflation rates up), how come there are no easily accessible schemes to provide tax breaks at the grassroots level? I'd like to see lottery money available to fund more domestic solar panels and wind towers instead of the often-wasteful (and frequently ridiculous - see BBC news' football fitness story) projects currently being supported by lotto cash.