Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

Tag: science fiction (page 1 of 6)

Fifty Years of Who: Random Thoughts on Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary

Doctor Who Day of the Doctor Matt Smith David Tennant John Hurt

One of the downsides of being so busy is that I haven’t been able to blog about Who’s 50th Anniversary at all. And now that I’ve got the time, it’s over a week later, and it all feels in the past now. So here’s just a chance to put down, in quick style, my thoughts:

In short, I’m happy. My love of Who has been through a very rough patch recently – this year’s clump of episodes was the weakest since the show’s return (I don’t even want to consider the trifecta of disappointment that was Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver), and Moffat’s approach to the series has a whole selection of problems that I feel may be a bit more entrenched and a larger issue than some of RTD’s flaws. However, The Day of the Doctor turned out to be overall great fun – it suffered from many of Moffat’s excesses, Clara is still a 2-D character mostly consisting of perkiness, and the plot frequently felt like it was in danger of falling to bits, and yet it never quite did. It managed to do something genuinely emotional with the multi-Doctor story rather than the understandable coolness of “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to get all the Doctors in a room together?”, and also managed to move the story on in a way that’s probably what the show needs right now. For better or worse, Who is able to keep going because it keeps changing. Sometimes that change is good, sometimes it isn’t, but The Day of the Doctor was a rambunctious bit of fun that mostly captured the best aspects of New Who, while summing up what makes Doctor Who truly unique.

There were also unexpected surprises – like the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, with the unprecedented sight of Paul McGann returning to the role of the Eight Doctor on TV, and finally getting a regeneration scene (along with an awesome level of continuity references). There was also The Five-ish Doctors (Reboot), a wonderful half-hour slice of in-joke and comedy featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and which played like a cross between Galaxy Quest and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A little rough around the edges at times, but hilariously funny and weirdly touching at the same time.

However, for me, it didn’t matter that much how The Day of the Doctor turned out, because my 50th Anniversary needs had already been satisfied by the beautiful dramatisation of Who’s early years, An Adventure in Time and Space. I was misty-eyed within minutes (just the sight of David Bradley’s Hartnell staring with despair at the nearby Police Box was enough for me), and the whole thing was executed with a wonderful amount of style. There were occasional weaknesses early on – especially Brian Cox’s take on Sydney Newman, which felt a little *too* much like the classic cigar-chomping American – and some elements of the story just had to be folded together, or enhanced for dramatic purposes (the recording of the pilot episode was extremely rough, but it wasn’t that much of a disaster). But I can barely voice how wonderfully weird it is to see a story that I’ve known about for most of my life, which I first read about in articles in Doctor Who Weekly and books like Doctor Who: A Celebration, turned into an actual drama, and I was amazed at the way they managed to make it both a testament to the risk-taking that made Who possible, and a portrait of the tragic side of Who’s biggest strength – its capacity for change. From the farewell between Hartnell and Verity Lambert, pitched as a traditional Doctor/Companion farewell scene, to David Bradley being simply phenomenal as Hartnell finally comes to terms with what he’s losing, it was a stunning bit of drama, and the best tribute to the strange wonder of Who that they could possibly have managed.

And if you need me, I’ll be over in the corner, still trying not to think about how the 50th anniversary of Who means that the 20th Anniversary – which I can still remember – was thirty damn years ago… (*weeps for lost youth*)

Doctor Who Adventure In Space And Time David Bradley William Hartnell

The Casanova Project: Adventures in Book Design

The minute I found out that custom book binding was a thing that actually existed, and that people were using it to create their own hardback collection of comic books, my first thought was: Uh-Oh. Because right then, I knew I was in trouble.

I’ve been a design geek for ages. I spent a big chunk of the 2000s doing CD mix discs as presents for friends and family – doing them incredibly lavishly, so that they weren’t just random mixes, they were themed experiences that had been tracklisted and mixed together to a boggling degree. (You can see some of my previous work over at my design Tumblr, Discs of Fury). The potential of taking some of the comics that I’d been collecting and turning them into a uniquely designed book that I could design how I liked, of maybe even adding a small section of extras at the back… well, it blew my mind. It gave me lots of ideas, and one of them was doing a collected edition of Casanova – the mind-melting comic book by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. It’s a saga of multi-dimensional espionage and action that’s massively influenced by 1960s cult movies like Danger: Diabolik, and is also one of the most out-there and experimental comic books I’ve ever read. It’s stuck with me a lot over the last few years, and I liked the idea of giving it the lavish edition it deserved. It’s always a bit vexxing when a comic I love gets a half-hearted presentation, or is given a nice presentation but other, lesser comics get something an awful lot better. This was the chance to redress the balance, with something deserving.

And of course, because this is me we’re talking about here, it all got a little out of hand.

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Front Cover

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Spine Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Back Cover

 

This is what I ended up with, and it’s a bit of a monster. 12 issues, in all. An 8-page intro section. 4 page dividers between the first and second miniseries, and between the second and third. And then, at the back, 160 pages of extras (totalling the 60 pages of extras that appeared in the first two-colour run of Casanova back in 2006-2008, along with interviews with Matt Fraction, a script, and 30 pages of art by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon). All of which I designed myself, and tried to get looking as nice as possible.

(A note for anyone who’s thought “Hmm- looks like the graphics on the cover are a bit stretched” – you’re right. The bookbinders made a bit of an error with that, one they are hopefully (fingers crossed) going to be fixing very soon.)

I spent a huge amount of effort on this. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to design, and tried multiple versions of the cover before finally getting it right. The back cover took me almost as long, and while a few mistakes were made, a lot was learned, and I know a hell of a lot more about printing and book design than I ever did before.

One of the main reasons I did this was because Fraction, Ba and Moon were all going to be at the Thought Bubble comic con in Leeds that I was going to, which gave me a deadline and also resulted in me pulling out all the stops to make it as impressive as I could. The end result was being able to get it signed by Matt Fraction, and getting a bit overwhelmed with how amazed he was by it (I often get reduced to slightly embarrassed grinning and thinking “Don’t say anything stupid!” in these situations), and I also was able to get both artists to do quick sketches in the front and back of the book, which basically left me in a state of complete fanboy shock.

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Sketch by Gabriel Ba

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I’ll definitely be doing this again. Despite some things not going according to plan, there’s nothing like having an idea and then being able to turn it into a physical thing you can hold in your hands – a unique object that isn’t quite like any other graphic novel or comic collection out there. I might just go a little easier on the extra material next time…

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That Was The WFC That Was… (Belated Thoughts on World Fantasy Con 2013)

So, last weekend, a hefty chunk of SF/Fantasy publishing and fandom all descended upon Brighton for World Fantasy Con. It was big, it went on for five days, and it was the first con that my girlfriend and I had been to for eighteen months, which meant we were a little bit more tentative about it than you might expect.

The reasons? Well, 2012 was not an altogether good year for either of us, in a whole selection of ways, and it should tell you a lot that having a book turned down by a publisher was actually one of the easier problems I had to tackle. Personally and professionally, 2012 was a rough time, and various things happened that made me feel like the best thing to do was just retreat to the shadows, keep out of trouble, and keep my head down. World Fantasy Con struck me as a good time to return to the fold – originally I’d made enthusiastic plans (“I will have THREE NOVELS REWRITTEN and out being looked at by publishers by the time WFC arrives!”) that then became slightly less enthusiastic (“I will have TWO NOVELS REWRITTEN and out being looked at by publishers by the time WFC arrives!”) and then ultimately became realistic (“It’s okay if I actually don’t have any novels completely finished and ‘out there’ by the time WFC arrives.”)

Cons can end up slightly strange experiences when you’re not only part of fandom, and not only trying to get yourself ‘properly’ published, but also earning most of your money from working in SF/Fantasy-related publishing. I was nervous about dipping my toe back into these waters – when you’re insecure, it’s easy to get edgy about things, especially places like cons which can sometimes feel simultaneously welcoming and like the most clique-driven places you’ll find outside of an average American high school.

It didn’t help that WFC 2013 also managed a wide range of some of the worst con-related PR decisions I’ve seen, from accessibility problems, to absurdly punitive charges like the £75 charge for anyone who needed a replacement membership badge, and the £5 charges for the meeting-with-authors Kaffeeklatsch events (which, according to a Facebook post on the WFC group that mysteriously vanished a day later, were supposedly refunded after the con to those who had turned up – and if I’d known that, I might actually have gone to a couple of those events and not refused on principle). The general air of the pre-con publicity and statements were weirdly confrontational and didn’t give the impression that this was going to be anything other than an exceptionally weird and stressful time.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. World Fantasy Con may not have been an awe-inspiring experience that changed my life, and I did have a couple of emotional wobbles across the weekend (for reasons which are, to be honest, way too complicated and involved to go into), but it was a very enjoyable con which gave me the most important things about cons – new people to meet. It’s people who make cons (I should know this – I met the woman I’m currently head over heels in love with at a con), and the nicest thing about this con was not only being able to meet people I’d only previously encountered on Twitter, but also meeting people I hadn’t expected, sometimes in wonderfully surreal and drunken late-night encounters that’ll live with me for quite a while.

 Brighton Pier

Brighton itself was fascinating – a genuine old-school Victorian beach resort with plenty of faded decadence that was aided by a level of blustery wind along the seafront that nearly flattened me on several occasions. We ate out plenty, mainly in JB’s Diner, an American-style restaurant along the seafront that did an impressive burger, and also found some time to explore the bizarre and head-spinning pleasures of Brighton Pier, although we missed out on seeing the oddball magnificence of Brighton Pavillions simply from lack of time.

The WFC Comics Panel, including Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman...

The WFC Comics Panel, including Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman…

The con itself was huge, taking place across a bewildering number of levels on a layout that took a lot of getting used to, and as is traditional with cons, any aim at seeing the maximum number of panels soon flew out of the window in favour of a more improvisational approach. The panels I did see were, on the whole, very good indeed – interviews with writers like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Joe Hill, along with a talk about comics that did manage to go to some places that SF/Fantasy con panels don’t normally go. (I could start on about the general negative approach to comics from the World Fantasy ‘Board’, who govern what WFCs can do – that it would be easily possible to do a series of panels that would concentrate on the literary side of fantasy comics – but the fact that a Sandman issue won the World Fantasy Award best story in 1992 seems to have permanently scarred them, so that seems to be that…). The most interesting panel I managed was actually the Steampunk panel, which managed to be different from the usual run-of-the-mill con Steampunk panel by having Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter, the three men who actually invented Steampunk, where I found out that the Steampunk subgenre was actually kicked off thanks to an abortive series about reincarnations of King Arthur that fell through, leaving K.W. Jeter with a load of material about Victorian London and nothing to do with it…

There were also the parties. A cunning person could surf on free red wine from one publishing party to another, and there was lots of entertaining talk to be had. I met an awful lot of new people at the con – people I’ll hopefully be able to keep in touch with over Twitter – and some of the most fun moments were the least expected. Among many highlights, there was hanging out in the bar the first night with Charles Stross, the impromptu conversation about travelling across America I had with Kaaron Warren, winning a book thanks to my unexpected skill with a fairground crossbow, hearing an eye-opening late-night story from the splendid Max Edwards, as well as the encounter that myself, my girlfriend Emma and another friend had with a drunken Irish woman that was hilariously surreal simply thanks to the fact that it didn’t feel like it was ever going to end.

Nicest of all, I got to the end of the con and felt like I could actually let go of some of the stuff that had been bothering me for a while. One of the reasons I’d been troubled by the idea of cons is simply that they’re regular reminders that I’m not where I want to be, in terms of my writing, and that plenty of people are speeding ahead of me while I look like I’ve been standing still. I got an agent back in 2008, and it was in no way part of my ‘plan’ to be still trying to get myself published over five years later. But sometimes, things don’t go according to plan, and you can rail against that and complain and bitch and moan, or you can simply pick yourself up, continue onwards, and fail better. I haven’t always been good at doing that – letting go of the past – but thanks to WFC 2013, I felt like that goal was a little more achievable, like a little of the mess inside my head had been resolved.

I’m very good at feeling like I don’t quite fit in, even at places that are almost entirely populated by people who don’t feel like they quite fit in, but WFC 2013 was overall a good time for me. I know it wasn’t ideal for everyone – I certainly heard enough about organisational and communications snafus to make me thankful I wasn’t one of the amazing hard-working red-jacketed volunteers, several of which were good friends – but I came through it feeling better about myself, having had plenty of fun, and with a suitcase of new books, most of which I was able to pick up for free. And that can’t in any way be bad… I doubt that I’ll be making it to another WFC anytime soon, as the fact that it’s normally held in various areas of America basically makes it a no-go for now, but I’m glad I went, and I’ll do it again if I do get the chance.

(There’d only be one request if I ever go to another WFC – chairs. For the love of God, chairs. I realise it was principally a result of the hotel, but the only ‘lounge’ area for a con with upwards of 1500 people was a fairly small bar with limited seating. Many of the publishing parties took place in huge rooms with hardly any seating available, and by the fourth and fifth days, we were hi-jacking chairs wherever we could find them or sitting on the floor. A decently-sized chill-out area would have made a massive difference to the comfort level – and hopefully that’s something next year’s London-based Worldcon will be bearing in mind…)

Of course, in two weeks time, there’s the Leeds-based comic convention Thought Bubble, which I’m absurdly excited by, and which is likely to be a very different experience. I’ve been regularly impressed by Thought Bubble’s ability to evolve and grow as it’s become more popular, and it’s the friendly atmosphere – combined with this year’s awesome guest list – that has me looking forward to this with a giddy amount of enthusiasm…

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Video: Star Wars Uncut

Once again, the Internet and the fans give me a reason to care about Star Wars again. One of those crazy projects that seems completely demented until you see the final product and realise that yes, people actually did this, Star Wars Uncut is a crowd-sourced version of the entire original 1977 film that takes a Be Kind Rewind ‘swedeing’ lo-fi approach to expressing love for the classic SF adventure, and did it by inviting fans to remake the film however they liked. The only rule? Each group of amateur remakers only got to tackle 15 seconds of the original movie. The result is a barking made patchwork-quilt of live-action, animation, glove-puppets and the truly unexpected that all holds together a lot better than you might think. Two hours of sheer Star Wars nuttiness awaits…

Movie Trailer – The Hunger Games (2012)

If you haven’t heard of The Hunger Games yet, treasure that feeling – it’s unlikely to last very long. With the Harry Potter series having come to an end, and the death-rattle of the Twilight Saga already beginning with the release of Part 1 of Breaking Dawn, Hollywood is desperate to generate another hugely popular multi-volume teen franchise. Given the excitement that already exists around teen dystopia series The Hunger Games (and its two sequels), the upcoming movie adaptation isn’t much of a surprise, and anyone following movie news websites for the last twelve months will have been deluged by reports and rumours about casting of the various characters, making it pretty certain that even if The Hunger Games isn’t the next Twilight (in terms of impact), it’s going to be pretty damn close.

Now, the first trailer is out for the movie adaptation, directed by Gary Ross (who hasn’t directed a film for nearly nine years (horseriding drama Seabiscuit in 2003), although he’s had a major reputation as a screenwriter ever since 1986’s Big)… and I’m actually kind of impressed. The story of teenagers chosen by the government to compete in a fight to the death, it’s essentially a teen-centric fusion of The Running Man and Battle Royale, and there’s certainly a healthy dose of kookiness in the costume design and general appearance of The Hunger Games’s future world (especially in the wonderfully eccentric names – with everything from Peeta Mellark to Haymitch Abernathy). The trailer certainly isn’t without its cheesy moments, but the casting looks pretty strong – especially Jennifer Lawrence, who was exceptional in the drama Winter’s Bone and did a wonderful job as a youthful Mystique in this summer’s X-Men: First Class – and the restless, hand-held visual style actually looks like it’s going to give the film a healthy amount of edge. The fact that it’s aiming at the Twilight-related market means there’s going to be a number of people lining up to rip the hell out of The Hunger Games at the first opportunity, but I’m now genuinely interested to see how it turns out. The only question is – do I read the books first to see how it measures up, or leave myself unspoiled? Only time will tell…

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