When It Changed on Radio 4

It was good to hear Geoff Ryman, the editor of the anthology I have a story in, When It Changed, on BBC Radio 4's Material World, talking in their science strand about the book, the scientists and writers involved, and Mundane Science Fiction. You can listen (and I always have to say, yes, even if you are outside the UK) here. The presenter, Quentin Cooper, doesn't quite get what Mundane is to begin with, but Geoff quickly sets things up, and all in all it's a refreshing visit.

In other news, I did a short interview about the Black Widow with Nick Setchfield of SFX Magazine here.

The final issue of my Dark Reign: Young Avengers miniseries is in your comic shops now. I'm very proud of it, particularly that final page.

And we're off to see Fleetwood Mac in concert tonight. I don't do 'guilty pleasures', so that's just going to be a pleasure. I'm reading all sorts of Tweets and Facebook posts about the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose, mind you, and don't think I'm not jealous. Until next time, Cheerio.

Clockwork Storybook

It's with great pride and some surprise that I find I've been asked to join the Clockwork Storybook group of writers. These guys: Mark Finn; Daryl Gregory; Marjorie Liu; Chris Roberson; Matt Sturges; Bill Williams and Bill Willingham aspire to be a kind of modern-day version of the Inklings, the group of drunkards who bothered the landlord of the Eagle and Child in Oxford by never buying more than half a beer each, and incidentally talked about elves all the time. I suspect this lot would please your average barkeep rather more.

I share my good fortune with you lot only because, in the online world, this gang of friends manifests itself as a collective blog, to which I shall now be obliged to contribute from time to time. Yes, I know, I don't post here as often as I might! But nevertheless, I'm looking forward to pitching in. Said blog can be found here.

It feels good to be part of a club that would have me as a member! Cheerio!

Young Avengers Preview

The lovely first few pages of the final issue of Dark Reign: Young Avengers are here.

And I hope to see some of you at the Royal Greenwich Observatory tonight! Cheerio!

When It Changed and Black Widow Pages

I'm pleased to report that When It Changed, the new SF anthology edited by Geoff Ryman, with a story by me in it, is now available, either from all good bookshops, or from Comma Press themselves. You can find all the details here. This is the anthology for which Michael Moorcock was kind enough to allow me to use his character Jerry Cornelius. The idea of the book is that the writers involved, including Justina Robson, Ken MacLeod, Liz Williams and Adam Roberts, are paired up with scientists, who offered us research material, and then commented on our stories in a short article after each. My pet scientist was Dr. Rob Appleby, who works on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. I'm very proud of the book, and I love how it once again sits SF and science down at the same romantic restaurant table and says hey, you kids are meant to be together. My story is called 'Global Collider Generation: An Idyll' and I hope you enjoy it. (Oh, and the biography of me on the Comma site is an old one: that 'new Doctor Who two-parter' from me they refer to was 'Human Nature'. Calm down.)



Moving to another medium, Tom Raney's art (but not the text) from the first eight pages, the pre-titles sequence, if you will, of the first issue of my Marvel mini-series Black Widow: Deadly Origin can be found here. I'm looking forward to people seeing more of this series, as there are some weird misconceptions about it out there. A hidden enemy is killing everyone our heroine, Natalia, has ever been close to: romantic partners; friends; people she was kind to in passing. It's not about 'everyone she's ever kissed'. Which the internet has twisted into something about STDs. Obviously. The first issue has guest appearances by Wolverine, the Winter Soldier and Joe Stalin, flashbacks courtesy of John Paul Leon. I think it's some of my best work, and it's pained me to hear my own rather flippant quotes be turned at an angle to portray it as something it isn't. I think that action scene shows one side of where we're coming from.

Until next time, Cheerio!

Flash Forward

I just caught up with that show, and wanted to add a quick addendum to my previous blog which covered the rest of current telefantasy in a little detail: FF is very promising. The 'ask every sensible question' approach to storytelling continues, which feels almost Arthur Clarke in its SFnalness. (Oh God, is that a word? If I just made that up, sorry, it's very ugly.) We have a black shouty boss, but he's one with tons of humane humour, and, in that his subordinates are happy to take the mickey out of him a little, he feels more like a real workplace boss than any other black shouty boss on TV. And we have the marvellous Demetri Noh, a very personable Korean lead. This shouldn't be a big deal, but the genuinely multi-ethnic ensemble (not just loads of white blokes and their one or two very nice black friends) only arrived in telefantasy with Lost, so it's still worth celebrating when a non-white character gets such screen time. The ecological niche Flash Forward is occupying is that of Heroes: if it's about one big understandable and interesting shift in the real world, then mainstream folk will love it too. And that big change can take you round the world, which was the real innovation of Heroes, that effects could now make audiences accept that they're in Munich or the Sudan. I'm genuinely interested in the storytelling challenge the show has set itself, and it's running at it like it's got plot to burn. Plus casting Jack Davenport, a man with previous in the matter of charismatically nicking other peoples' shows out from under them as a character who's going to do the romantic equivalent of exactly that is genius. (But there is a Coupling mashup video waiting to happen.) I do wonder why nobody in their flash forwards is yelling 'hey, this is then, this is that moment!' And I hope those who've read Rob Sawyer's book will refrain from spoiling the big reveal of what's doing this. But again, another bold new telefantasy show. Great stuff. Cheerio!

SFX Awards and Current Telefantasy

First up, ahem, if you're inclined to do so, please consider Captain Britain and MI-13 for Best Comic when casting your vote in the SFX Awards, which you can do here. It's pleasing to be included in the drop down menu options!

Second up, you can read me talking about the return of X-Man, Nate Grey, to the Marvel Universe in Dark X-Men here. I'm getting more and more psyched about that as the first issue approaches.

And thirdly, if you want to make an investment in the life of SF fandom, please may I direct your attention to this year's Trans Atlantic Fan Fund ballot, here. My friend Anne Murphy and her partner Brian (I put it like that because I haven't met him) are one of the voting options, and I'm one of the people who nominated them. This is a grand old SF institution (running since 1953) of the sort I love so much. The idea is that people donate small sums of money to help an impoverished fan cross the ocean to attend a convention they otherwise would have trouble making it to. You cast your vote at the same time as proferring funds, and the winning candidate gets all the money. Anne and Brian have tough competition this year, from the wildly popular multi-Hugo-winning sweetheart of an artist Frank Wu, so I wanted to speak up for them, who do so much behind the scenes, Anne being so helpful and professional as one of Neil Gaiman's minders in Montreal that I initially assumed she worked for a publisher (not that I've forgotten you, wonderfully useful publicist). And I wanted to support this fine tradition. I believe that may be the first time I've asked you lot for your money.

Okay, so, now to the meat and potatoes of this particular blog, a glance at the enormous slew of new telefantasy that's come our way lately, particularly the titles (for those reading on Blogger) listed in the poll to the right.

I find myself surprised to be so in love with Stargate: Universe. This is possibly because, perhaps unfairly, I've always regarded previous Stargate series as landfill telefantasy: only there for people to write slash fiction about; generic without a single thought towards the mainstream, where the sort of thing that can happen is dictated by what happened in previous SF TV shows and movies. Where every character is nice, and so drama becomes just a matter of will they survive the latest action sequence/emotional dilemma? Of course they will. And the one time they don't there'll be a fan campaign to get them back. This is how the core of genre TV has become survival of the nicest. But the creators of that show seem to have, nobly, decided that post Battlestar Galactica (which was the game changer for American telefantasy, however the naysayers may have been upset by its theist ending) everyone should be playing in a more competitive league now. So Universe has a bunch of characters who feel much more like real people, with some big negative traits on show (the post House/Lost realisation that actually nobody minds if the characters are gits), Robert Carlyle having been given loads to play, as a guy with lots of levels, hideous and sympathetic at the same time. That moment when the strings fade in to the soundtrack, and he gently turns to bereaved daughter and says 'you must understand, none of this... is my fault' and plays it entirely as the deflating voice of self-convinced moral cowardice... well, I actually made a little noise of amazement. Similarly, Eli, the show's geek, is introduced as our point of view character, charming and sympathetic. But put those geek references in a desert with the water running out, and the exact same guy becomes someone you want to kick. Best of all is Ronald Greer: the African American character who's not the extremely nice guy best friend of the hero who stands at the back being nice. And doesn't do much. Greer is objectionable, complicated, and probably the right soldier to have on your side in a fight. There's SGU's biggest achievement (though let's not forget Boomer in new Galactica got there first at the high end of this genre): at the heart of American telefantasy, they've finally given a black actor something interesting to do. Because your actual drama isn't about the survival of the nicest. It's about the survival of the most interesting. The three-part introductory episode's emphasis on the immediate, on the here and now details of survival, make it crack along, and one can only hope that stays in place. I worry about the news that there's going to be a resident alien on the show. And the so far charming carrying-on of all previous Stargate continuity (as a new viewer, I could have done without seeing the old Stargate team, but at least, and again, excellently, they were shown in realistic circumstances, and not with trumpets blaring celebrity cameo) may come back to bite them, if there's ever an episode about that stuff. But I have faith that this show may turn out to be Voyager done right. So far, it makes the whole previous Stargate universe, as it were, look better. I think there will be Hugo nominations.

As of course there will be for Doctor Who, as Russell ramps up his jam and cream and jelly and icing and a cherry on the top End Of Everything Grand Finale Squeeeeeeee! For which I cannot wait. And Torchwood: Children of Earth I wouldn't rule out winning the Long Form category. But that is not the category we're concerned with now. So, onwards.

The quality of Fringe baffles me. This is a show with an incredibly awkward format, so much so that the production has to keep violently wrenching about to make it work. By that I mean that our heroes work for one organisation, sort of, while actually being based at another, sort of, and their boss has not one single character to talk to when they're away from the FBI, and all sorts of other awkwardnesses. But it's like one of those aircraft that can only fly by altering its wing shape, moment to moment, but nevertheless does so extremely well. The writing staff are so clever that they seem to have set themselves this show as some sort of test or punishment, and every week pull it off magnificently without making it any easier for themselves next time. One thing in their favour is that the show thoroughly inhabits the ecological niche of The X-Files. You can point to it and say 'it's the X-Files by other means' and the audience will nod and say oh, right, I get it. Unlike that series, however, Fringe's back story episodes are often much more interesting than its monster of the week ones, which can get, a couple of times, frankly desperate. (Oddly, I thought the opening of season two felt very choppy in places after its spectacular start, but they got straight back on that horse the episode after.) They know their way, in the manner of Lost, with a telling, atmospheric room and interestingly peculiar performance. Their black character, is, unfortunately, while not quite the nice guy at the back, that other thing people of colour have always been on TV, the shouty boss. Said shouty boss is Lance Reddick, which makes it worse, because fans of The Wire will be aware that he can do bloody anything, and watching him in this show is like watching Yo Yo Ma dutifully keep time plucking a double bass. Genius creators may have realised that now, and we can only hope for some vaguely disturbing screentime with Nina. But one of the most interesting things about Fringe, for me, is the sexual dynamic. Our heroine is the gun-toting action figure, determined and driven, rather glacial with her relationships, with a hard look and a biting tone of voice. Our hero is nurturing and emotional, a tad vulnerable, back at base looking after his father, and doing doubtless vital things with test tubes. This refreshing dynamic is so unusual that it often feels like Peter isn't being given enough to do. But actually I think maybe I'm just used to the guy doing all the dynamic stuff. Someone clearly thought Olivia needed to be surrounded by family and children and soppy stuff at one point last year, but she just looked awkward amongst it, and now she's sleeping with a gun under her pillow again. They've given her a (fine actor, give her something to play, quick) gammy leg now, but also super powers. And I thought her rescuing herself from the evil mastermind after the mid-season break last year, was some kind of watershed. So yes, more of all that, please, and I continue to be fascinated by watching this show roll out a tightrope in front of itself and walk gracefully along with, with occasional waggles that make the audience gasp about the shark waiting not so far below.

Warehouse 13 is a favourite of mine, but you can tell SyFy, who tend to think like this, said that they wanted a Fringe of their own, and that the great Jane Espenson responded by going 'yes, absolutely, but with a certain homespun warmth, and kind of steampunk, oh, and the sort of character dialogue that gets called quirky and we don't hear enough of these days, and, yes, hmm, it doesn't feel very like Fringe at all now, does it? But it is good.' When it's bad, it's very bad (native American jacket episode, you know the one), because it does have a very solid format, and it's easy for a solid format to become just the things that always happen and nothing else. But the interesting stuff here is everything else: the back story; the charming characters; the almost vanished thought in telefantasy that we're not meant to be taking all this terribly seriously. They do seem to have vanished their nice black character (their Astrid, sorry!) in favour of a much less bland (and wonderful) white replacement someone for Artie to talk to, but I have faith that Their Astrid will be back in some new placing that serves her better. And they also may do more with their black shouty boss, who has some humour to her. And every now and then I do feel that it's all a bit rushed and tightly-budgeted, that just five more minutes and a few more dollars could let it breathe. But I'll bet this ramps up for a second season.

I loved the first season of Dollhouse with only very small reserve, because rather like Fringe it seemed to be an incredibly hard sell that worked only because great writers were in charge. I can't imagine starting a pitch for a show with 'so there are these mindless prostitutes...' It's about good and evil, making us follow and like a whole bunch of people who are doing terrible things. That process, of being forced by quality writing to identify with frigging war criminals is, I think, both incredibly valuable in terms of modern drama (because in real life, you and I and everyone else let people off the hook for terrible things all the time because they're on our side or have a nice smile or are our friends) and why the show tends to alienate Whedon fans, who didn't realise that the truly great creators are the ones who look at what their followers most like about them and do the opposite. (I'm thinking about Russell Davies following up Queer as Folk with Bob and Rose.) The fans who say 'I really liked that last episode, you know, the one with the clear cut moral lines' are missing the point. This show entirely depends on Eliza Dushku giving us an empathy figure, and the only (sort of) good person to root for, in her 'unreal' characters of the week and as a kind of trace element in Echo. And she's good enough to make that work. Again, hell of a tightrope act, brilliant show. I refuse to download illegally, so I look forward to season two starting this week.

Lost continues to excel. I've never seen season two, having returned to the fold for the third, and I honestly think that's probably the best way to do it, because as soon as that team had a finishing line in sight, they started playing all the surprises they were previously saving for later. The way that show functions entirely on character, revelations about 'the truth', trailers apart, having now been almost entirely given to us (there are only a couple more things we need to know), is a joy. The standard Lost shot lingers on the blankness of the human face. It's another expression of the SF question lies at the heart of Dollhouse: what are people, really? Is there anything meaningful inside that face at all? (I do wonder if J.G. Ballard ever saw this so New Wave series.) And yet, amongst that, we've found depth (or a surprising lack of it) in layers of character in so many people. From last season, I really want 'The Variable', a new take on the SF time paradox short story, with a killer twist, to be Hugo nominated, because I can't think of a single episode of television that's more in the spirit of those awards.

True Blood is yet another tightrope walk, this time between guilty pleasure vampire fun sort of parody on the one side and hard serious adult HBO show on the other. There was a wobble a couple of episodes in, but the series quickly sorted out exactly how seriously it took itself, and is now an absolute pleasure for me. In the character of Amy Burley, hippie vampire hunter for fun and profit, it presents, like a lot of these shows, a complete Nazi who we took, on first impressions, to be very cool. She terrifies me. She and our vampire lead are both pretending to be complete people (a condition which Stephen Moyer conveys with surprisingly finesse), but Bill thinks humans are worthwhile, and Amy thinks vampires are simply not on her ethical scale. And let's check the black character meter: at least two of them, both crunchy and spiky and well-played. And Lafayette is one of telefantasy's two gay men! Count them, two!

Of Flash Forward I've only so far seen the excellent pilot, which thoroughly wowed me with the very SFnal way its characters worked through every inch of the logic of the situation. But I haven't yet felt obliged to catch up with it. This is our genre's current crossover hit, though, taking the real world by storm. And again, it's all about character in the face of backstory. What we may be seeing here is a kind of post-9/11 wave, beginning with Lost, of series that explore what the meaning of personhood is against large, traumatic events that are beyond their control.

And to complete the list: I don't feel I'm in the target audience for Merlin, which, when I see a little of it, looks entirely honest, well-crafted and competent. Smallville for King Arthur seems to work pretty well. I'm just not emotionally attracted to it, but if I had children I might be a major fan.

I look forward to seeing how the poll works out, and comparing the result to the actual Hugo nominations. We shall test the wisdom of crowds! I hope I'll see some of you at the Royal Greenwich Observatory next Friday. Until then, Cheerio!




I'm Not Going to New York...

It's complicated. Half of it is being too busy to go anywhere right now, and half of it is... well, with a week to go before the event, I'd rather started to wonder if the Big Apple Comic Con was actually going to get me there. The guy who originally invited me was made redundant the day after he did so. Which doesn't fill one with confidence. But, sure enough, his boss was kind enough to honour the commitment. And there was some communication on that score. However, by the start of this week, I'd noticed that days were ticking by without any actual arrangements being made. So I finally said that if they'd already bought the air ticket, then of course I'd come, because I didn't want them to lose out financially because of me, but if they hadn't, then not to worry about it. Which resulted in... absolute silence. So when I say I'm not going to New York... well, that's my best guess as we speak.

Meanwhile, I have a couple of things to tell you about. First up, I'm part of a debate at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich, on the evening of Friday 23rd October. It's called Space: From Infinite Dreams to Recurring Nightmares, and is about where SF and the space programme are going, and if they're going there together. I'm the SF writer on a panel of science and journalism folk. You can find all the details here. The RGO has been a place of great romance for me ever since a random encounter, at an impressionable age, with TV astronomer Heather Couper led me to pursue, well, as it turned out, mostly Heather Couper, in a kind of distant, gawping way. But my failed science career and first crush, and the connection between the two, need not concern us here. I hope I won't be too lost in awe of lovely Greenwich to do my bit on the panel.

Next up, the chaps from the Geek Syndicate podcast have put up the Seventy Years of Marvel panel they did at the British International Comics Show with me, Andy Diggle, Mark Farmer and Alan Davis. They do their usual splendid job of presenting. You can find us all boggling at the size of the crowd and having our covers appear as a slide show here.

When I was at FenCon (and could I just mention, yet again, for no particular reason, how gloriously well-organised the guest liaison side of that show was?), fellow guest Keith R.A. DeCandido interviewed me about Doctor Who and comics for the Chronic Rift podcast. You can find that one here.

I ought to say something here, though he merits much more than a passing mention, about how sad I was to hear of the passing away of former Doctor Who producer, and stalwart of British television, Barry Letts. I met him on several occasions, and he was always lovely, on the last occasion, as I mentioned in a previous blog, particularly so. He was kind, calm, and honest, and he always gave one the feeling that here was someone who'd been creative in many different ways over his long career. His religious beliefs were very much part of the ethical mix of Doctor Who, a positive influence on the childhood of myself and I'm sure many others. I think fan performer Will Howells puts it better than I could in this sweet tribute:




This weekend, if I'm, you know, in the UK, I hope to blog about the various different SF shows on television at the moment. Mainly because I'm suddenly in love with Stargate: Universe, in the most surprising way. It may well encourage me to pursue a career in science... no, no, on second thoughts, I've seen where that path takes me. Until then, Cheerio.

Novelcon Live Video Streaming!

As it turns out, tomorrow's (11th October) Novelcon, about the Doctor Who novels, in Manchester, is going to be broadcast live on the internet, from 10.30am. If you fancy joining us remotely, direct your browser here.

Novelcon

Had a lovely time at the British International Comics Show: inspired by one of the panels, I bought loads of French comics. Me and Diggle did a good panel with the Geek Syndicate lads, I thought. The only problem was a rather lacking choice of official bar on the Friday night, leading to a completely splintered evening on the Saturday as everyone headed somewhere different. And the bar is what those shows are about, as the community of British comics folk sees each other so infrequently.

New Doctor Who logo: my heart was filled with joy. And anticipation. And appreciation of what policewomen are wearing these days. If Amy Pond is actually a policewoman. Oh, but she could be a policewoman from the future. A future where SFX's Nick Setchfield was Home Secretary.

Anyway, I'm vastly busy, but I thought I'd pop in to talk about Novelcon this Sunday, 11th October. It's a one day event about the Doctor Who novels across the ages, at the Lass O'Gowrie pub in Manchester, from 10am. You can get tickets and find out all the details here.

My fellow guests will be: Daniel Blythe; Dale Smith; Martin Day; Steve Lyons; Peter Anghelides; Paul Magrs; Andrew Cartmel; Trevor Baxendale; Justin Richards; David McIntee; Mark Morris; Simon Guerrier and Mark Michalowski. And the MC will be comedian and SFX blogger John Cooper. If the previous Lass event, about the Who comics, is anything to go by, there'll be all sorts of audiovisual back-up, a thorough examination of the subject matter, and loads of related fun in the gaps. A Who fan owning a pub and completely giving it over to his fellows for a specialist convention provides an excellent experience. I hope to see you there, and until then, Cheerio!