Smile, You’re on Emoji Camera

Episode 2 of Doctor Who Season 10, “Smile,” featured emoji-faced robots (or not strictly robots), as well as Bill’s first real trip in the Tardis and into (as is proper) the future.

It wasn’t a great story, but it was a good one, and I think it was a great opportunity for character interactions.

Complaints would be that The Doctor was too quick to leap to the “blow it up” solution (shades of Lethbridge-Stewart, maybe); and that the pacing dropped off badly in the last third, with The Doc taking ages to explain things long after it was obvious that he just needed to reprogram the robots.

Still, it was, as I say, great character work — Bill is shaping up to be an excellent companion — and an amazing location. I heard that the main building is in Valencia, and parts of it looked an awful lot like the Eden Project.

I also like that the episodes are continuing one into the next. Will they carry that on through the whole season? Could they? Should they?

Everything Rhymes

Doctor Who is back! And at Easter, which still feels like the right time of the year.

Now, as you’ll know, I thought last season was the best season of New Who. I may have been being a tad hyperbolic there… but not entirely.

And now we’ve got “The Pilot,” the first episode of the new season. Introducing Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts. Among other things, I’ve got to say that this would be a great jumping-on point; a fine episode for someone new to the series to start.

The story was good, not great; there were unnecessary Daleks, but if that means they’re going to otherwise be given a rest for this season, I won’t complain; and we’ve got the mysterious vault that The Doctor and Nardole are investigating. I suspect it might be most of the season before we find out what’s going on with that.

Nice references to the past with the pictures of River and Susan; and the people who were fighting the Daleks were Movellans, apparently. I learned this on Jason Snell’s Doctor Who Flashcast podcast. I knew I recognised them, so I thought they must be Thals, and that we were right back at the start of it all. It’s a very long time since I saw either.

So, The Doctor has been lecturing at Bristol University for maybe fifty years? Intriguing. And the mini-trailer that we got as well as the usual “Next time…” is even more so. Both Missy and John Simm (presumably as The Master). The start of The Doctor’s regeneration sequence. We know he’s going to regenerate, but not, presumably till the last episode.

Though on that point, Capaldi said on The Graham Norton Show that he had already filmed his part of the regeneration scene, and the only thing they still had to film was the Christmas special. Not surprisingly he wouldn’t give an explanation of that paradox.

I have a theory, or suggestion for how things might develop. They won’t do this, and they shouldn’t; but bear with me.

In a reversal of the now-common trope of The Doctor’s companion falling for him, The Doctor falls for Bill. She, of course, is not interested. So The Doctor regenerates into a female form.

That would be to put Bill’s sexuality too much to the fore, and of course be wildly unlike The Doctor. But it amused me to consider for a few minutes.

BSFA Awards 2016 by Various (Books 2017, 3)

Interrupting my Alan Moore reading to check on the short-fiction nominees for the BSFA Awards, reprinted as ever in an A4 booklet.

Good stuff, of course, but maybe not as good as last year (though I realised that I hadn’t read all of last year’s). Let’s go through them one by one.

Warning: spoilers follow.

“The End of Hope Street,” by Malcolm Devlin

This is a strange story, set in the present day, about houses becoming “unliveable.” This phenomenon is completely unexplained, but it is disastrous, and can even be fatal. And it accepted fatalistically by the large, and largely undifferentiated, cast of characters.

“Liberty Bird,” by `Jayne Fenn

The favoured son of a noble clan races the family yacht. In spaaaaaace. But he has a shameful secret that should be neither in highly advanced future society. On the other hand, a highly advanced future society shouldn’t have a nobility. I guess societies can go back as well as forward.

“Taking Flight,” by Una McCormack

Another rich person mooches around with no real aim in life, this time in a society that has genetically engineered slaves.

“Presence,” by Helen Oyeyemi

This is the most disjointed, disconnected of the stories. A heterosexual married couple avoid communicating with each other because she’s convinced he’s about to leave her. Until they do, and it turns out instead that he wants to postpone their holiday so they can try out some sort of therapy for grieving people that he has developed. They do, and things get strange. There’s potential here, but all the initial setup about them not communicating is just ignored after they get to the point, so it could have mostly been left out. It really feels like it wants to be two or more different stories.

“The Apologists,” by Tade Thompson

A super-advanced alien race have accidentally killed all by five people of the human race. The five are put to work helping the aliens reconstruct a simulacrum of Earth, while a daily apology is blasted at them out of a sound system (hence the title). They seem surprisingly untraumatised by this situation.

“The Arrival of Missives” (Extract), by Aliya Whiteley

Not sure why this is an extract. Probably the original work is too long to fit in the booklet. A during the First World War a sixteen-year-old girl is in love with her teacher. She decides she had to let him know. The extract ends just when something out of the ordinary is revealed.

Thoughts and Conclusions

Well, I haven’t made them sound very good, have I? I did actually enjoy reading them all, but reduced to capsule summaries, they aren’t going to win any awards. Oh, wait…

I’ve no idea which one I’ll vote for.

Looking Back and Forward

My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.

But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.

Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to

Give in
Ride the punk nostalgia wave
For all it’s worth
Recycle the name of my old band
For a big reunion tour
Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were

Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.

Unfinished

The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.

“I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”

Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.

In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).

I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m talking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.

OK, But What is it Really?

The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.

Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.

Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past

according to Cambridge.

But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.

And a live performance always happens in the present.

This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.

And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.

Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.

Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3

But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.


  1. Or a mixture of old and new, as with The Rezillos. []
  2. This is why you should always save links, folks. []
  3. God, I really come from another time, don’t I? []

Punk and Hugo

I hadn’t come across Garageland London before, though I approve of the name.1 They came across my radar the other day with a piece called Cease and Desist: An open letter to Brewdog from PUNK, which says:

It has recently been brought to our attention that you are claiming legal ownership of the word ‘punk’ and are sending threatening legal notices to those you feel are infringing on that ownership by using that word.

I hadn’t heard this about Brewdog. If it’s true, they’re being beyond ridiculous (or possibly winding people up). I’ve got a lot of time for a Scottish company making craft beer, even if it’s only OK (and too damn strong most of the time: I like a beer you can drink a few of without falling over). But like the Garageland people, I thought their “Equity for Punks investment portfolio did raise some eyebrows.”

The open letter ends:

Definitions of punk are varied and debates over those definitions have been going on since before you were born. However, one thing punk is not is a bully! That goes against everything punk stands for. If you continue in this vein your punk credentials will be revoked and you will be called upon to cease and desist.

Kind regards and a middle finger salute

and is then signed by hundreds of bands. So many that I can’t really believe the website got agreement from all of them. But I heartily endorse the message.

In other good news, the Hugo Awards nominations were announced, and it looks like a great list, and also like the Puppies have been almost totally wiped out this year. Yay fandom!

I also note that one of the novel nominees is the very Too Like the Lightning that I was writing about the other day. Hugo nominated, and you still can’t buy it in Britain. Come on publishers!

Also: WordPress tells me that this is my 600th post on here. Not that many for the time the site’s been going for, but a milestone — or at least a round number — nonetheless.


  1. It’s named after a Clash song, as if you didn’t know. []

Homophobia in SF Fandom

As well as being in charge of the website of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), I also admin the association’s Facebook group. Yesterday a member posted a link to the BBC story about the sexuality of the new companion in Doctor Who. “Doctor Who gets first openly gay companion,” it says. Nice to know, but no big deal in 2017, right?

Wrong, sadly. I woke to 81 comments on the FB post. That’s a huge number by the normal standards of the group. It’s not very chatty. It turned out that a raving homophobe had stormed into the group and started to shout about the corruption of youth and I don’t know what all. The comments were a combination of his, and of calmer and more tolerant heads both calling him out and trying to debate rationally with him. To no avail.

I had no choice — nor any desire — but to kick him out the group and block him. I wrote the following, and I thought I should preserve it here;

I’ve just had to eject a member from the group for making offensive remarks to other members. And worse, making remarks offensive to other members.

Specifically he was being offensive to all our LGBT members, and everyone who supports them, or who just supports humanity and common decency.
Oh, wait, that’s all the other members, isn’t it?

Folks, I don’t need to tell you this, but it’s 2017. You can no longer argue that characters in popular TV programmes should not reflect the whole range of people in society. Nor can you make the argument that a character’s sexuality should have no place in Doctor Who, when it plainly has had a place at least since 2005.

Or don’t these people remember Rose being in love with The Doctor? Martha pining over him? Hell, go back further: Jo went off and married a male ecologist. And I’m sure at least a couple of other female companions went off with guys.

Flaunting their heterosexuality.

We won’t get any of that with Bill, at least.

Unless the next Doctor is a woman.

Publishers and Sinners

Borrowing that title from (what used to be) a regular section in Dave Langford’s Ansible newsletter.

The publishing sin in question, though, is quite astonishingly egregious, if the story is true. And I have no reason to doubt it.

There’s a book called Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. I read a review of it a year or so back and thought it sounded really interesting. But I didn’t get round to trying to get it at the time.

Something reminded me of it recently, and I tracked it down, at least to the publisher’s site that I linked to there. But I wanted to buy a copy on Kindle, and Amazon had no sign of it. This is relatively rare nowadays. Especially in SF, surely.

I tried again a couple of times, but to no avail. There are a few chapters available on the Tor website; and they were one of the first major publishers to really push ebooks without DRM, so you’d expect something there, but no.

I think you can get a Nook copy at the site above, but Nook? I mean, come on.

Anyway, eventually I duckducked in the modern style, which is to say I just typed the question: “why is ‘too like the lightning’ not available on kindle”.

I was led to a Reddit AMA with the author, wherein she said this:

That [making the book available on the UK Kindle store] can only happen if a UK publisher decides to publish it. Unfortunately UK publishers rarely publish female SF authors; a lot of them feel strongly that only male SF authors are likely to sell. If you want it to come out in the UK Kindle store, the best option is to write a quick e-mail to a couple of your favorite UK SP publishers to tell them you’re eager for these books — hearing from readers makes a big difference when publishers are considering picking up an author for localization.

Emphasis mine. If this is true — and again, I have no reason to doubt her word — I am beyond horrified that such an attitude can be prevalent at UK publishers. In 2017.

Obviously what I want to do now is to buy a physical copy, here in the UK. It’s listed on Amazon UK, but it’s not clear whether it’s an import from the US, or what. (Also very strange is the author’s credit in that entry: “Assistant Professor of History Ada Palmer.” It even makes it into the URL.)

As well as blatant sexism, this is an example of the ridiculous regionalism that publishers still try to force onto the internet age. Also film and TV companies. Luckily Apple stopped the music business doing that.

Bits don’t see borders. And neither should we. But that’s very much another conversation.

Actually, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to see if I can order it from my local bookshop. Support your local, as well fight sexism in a small way.

Classy

I just watched the last episode of Class, BBC 3’s web-only1 Doctor Who spinoff.

It is really, really good. If you haven’t seen it you should stop reading this now and go and watch. Really. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Eight episodes with special guest appearances at the start and (spoilers) the end, about five young people in the famous Coal Hill School. Famous from the very first episode of Who, of course, right up to the 50th and beyond. It’s now an academy, not surprisingly. And it seems that it it — or always has been — something of a nexus in space and time.

I’ll not say much more, as it would be hard not to get spoilery. But I will tell a little anecdote of how I watched it.

I saw episode 6 first. Why? Because I was careless, and iPlayer has stupid defaults. I went to the site and searched and found the programme, and started watching the first episode it presented me with. Because that would be the first episode, obviously, right?

Wrong. The rationale is sound: iPlayer is a catch-up service; and the episode you’re most likely to want to catch up on is the current one. So the episode I saw first was 6, “Detained”, which must have been current at the time.

Thing is, I don’t think there can have been a “Previously…” at the start — though there was later — or I think I’d have noticed. I was just impressed with how it started straight in, giving touches of backstory in moments of dialogue, so that by the time the five teenagers were locked in the detention classroom and the plot began to unfold, I was really impressed with this in medias res beginning and compact storytelling.

Well, of course, after that I realised my mistake and went back to the beginning. And when I got to 6 again it did have a “Previously…” But if you didn’t start at the beginning, it was probably the best one to start at.

Is it great? Maybe. It’s certainly got the potential to be so. It’s better than early Torchwood, maybe not quite as good as the best of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Well worth watching, and I hope there will be more serieseseseses.


  1. Well, that’s a tautology now, of course []

Again, Again

A long time ago — a long, long time ago: I can’t have been more than thirteen, maybe younger — I got an accidental book.

It was in John Smith’s in Glasgow: St Vincent Street’s glory. I thought it was now long gone, but apparently not. I was there, probably with my Mum — no, undoubtedly, as I didn’t go to Glasgow on my own till I was about sixteen — I’m guessing in about January, to spend Christmas money (often given in the form of Book Tokens in those days, of course).

I bought a stack of books. I don’t now recall what any of them were, but they were almost certainly mostly or entirely SF.

As was the freebie that I got by accident. If memory serves I paid at the checkout and gathered up my books, or more likely the assistant put them in a bag for me, and then when I got on to the train back to Balloch, I took them out to have a look.

And found I had more than I’d bargained for. Worse, more than I’d paid for. There was an extra book in my bag. One that I had never seen before, that I hadn’t chosen. One with an interesting title.

Again, Dangerous Visions, Book 2, edited by Harlan Ellison.

My immediate feeling was guilt. I had, effectively, stolen a book. I was a good catholic boy, and would never have stolen anything.

Then surprise: how had it got there? Presumably the assistant had mixed it up with the purchases of the person before me. There was probably someone sitting on a train right at the that moment, realising that one of their books was missing. Poor them.

Poor them, but lucky me. I don’t think I told my Mum it had happened. Or if I did, she must have said not to worry, it was too late to do anything; and that doesn’t sound like her. One way or another, we made no attempt to return it.

But I think among the confusion and excitement of it all, I must have been slightly annoyed that it was the second volume: not much use without that first. And that “Again”: did that mean that the whole thing was some kind of follow-on?

Obviously I know now that it did. When I went to university a few years later and met a community of fans, when they mentioned the famous Dangerous Visions (non-) trilogy, I had some idea of what they were talking about.

I’d like to say that it was some kind of formative experience. That reading those legendary short stories changed my approach to the genre, or my understanding of fiction, or what have you. But I can’t really say that it did.

I eventually read the stories. Not having the earlier volumes of an anthology doesn’t cause any problem. Though I think I took the original, Dangerous Visions out of the library. Some of them were great, but I don’t recall finding any of them particularly memorable (though you never know: some things burrow deep). But one of the titles stuck with me, and is why I started writing this today.

That was “A Mouse in the Walls of the Global Village,” by Dean Koontz. Though I couldn’t have told you who it was by, and I’m quite surprised to find that it’s Koontz, who I think of as a horror author.

It came to mind because of something my beloved was saying about this interview between George Osborne and Yuval Noah. She mentioned the “global village” idea, and my mind jumped back to the story and the cascade of memories that go with that book. I downloaded the Kindle version of the book (and the first one) and started writing this.

As I recall, that global village involved telepathy, and is very much not the one we are living in. But that doesn’t matter. It’s time to reacquaint myself with some old New Wave SF.