Welcome to the Machine

Weeks have passed, and aside from my vague Whoblogging, I’ve been keeping quiet here. My TV output has gone way down, mainly because I’m now doing a column for Vector, the BSFA magazine, and trying to sculpt my ramblings into 3,000 or so coherent words isn’t the easiest thing in the universe. (I’m also hugely thankful to coalescent for being prepared to edit out all the stuff that doesn’t work…). My most recent one was all about Torchwood, but I did try to actually tackle what I feel is conceptually wrong with the show, rather than simply bitching about the multitude of surface errors. There was a Torchwood-related link in this week’s Torque Control that said something significant (which I instantly wished I’d actually said in my article) which is that it’s a show that’s good at giving its audience what it wants (and no more) – and I think this is also true of New Who.

A story like the Sontaran 2-parter was giving its audience exactly what it expected – an alien invasion story tied in with a recognisable piece of modern tech that gave us plenty of running around and shooting, and emotional gubbins into the mix – and absolutely nothing more. There’s no real effort to subvert the now traditional Who alien invasion story structure– the show gained its success in its remixed form because of the element of surprise, and because there was nothing else like it, and there’s hardly an element of The Sontaran Strategem or The Poison Sky that you couldn’t have taken an educated guess at before watching them, because that’s how ingrained the structure of New Who has become. In two weeks, there’s an Agatha Christie-themed celebrity historical episode, and I almost feel like I don’t need to watch it because I know exactly what to expect, even down to the puns and the references (the fact that it’s from Gareth Roberts, writer of the pretty-but-really-not-much-cop The Shakespeare Code doesn’t fill me with confidence. There have been episodes of New Who that I’ve loved, and there have been episodes that I’ve hated– but I’d almost rather have a misguided mess like Love and Monsters (which, for all the elements which I couldn’t stand, was at least something completely unlike the rest of New Who) than yet another bland, routine tale of aliens wanting to conquer the Earth, or yet another montage of News Announcers saying “It’s the end of the world! AGAIN!” The only episodes I’m really looking forward to are the Moffatt 2-parter- mainly because it’s Moffatt, but also because I simply don’t know what to expect other than it’ll hopefully be really good. None of Moffat’s episodes have been that much like each other, and that’s really all I want from Who- it can be camp, it can be dark, it can be downright bloody awful, but please don’t let it be routine…

News – I have had my first rejection! One of the publishers that The Hypernova Gambit was sent to has turned it down, but still managed to say relatively nice things about it. I’m still waiting to hear from plenty of others. There are occasional positive rumblings, but nothing definite as yet. There may be news soon, or there may not be news for an age…

At the least, I’m using the time to work on the follow-up, and I managed to crack some problems today that have left the second book feeling much more like a genuine story. I’m trying to lay down enough of the story architecture so that I know what I’m doing, and can hopefully avoid some of the insane plot rewiring I had to do in order to make The Hypernova Gambit work. It’s refreshing to be working on something that’s starting to fit together, and while there are aspects of it that are still worrying me, I know I’ve got to just put my head down, keep going, and worry about the quality once I’ve got some raw material to work on. It took a while for The Hypernova Gambit to get where it is now- it’s not going to happen overnight.

This time last week was the Clarke Awards- a chance to assemble with the motley crew of SF fandom and publishing, and stand in the incredibly cramped bar of the Apollo West End while pretending we could hear what anybody else was saying. It’s a great venue for the award ceremony itself, and having it as part of the Sci-Fi London festival is absolutely a good idea – I just can’t help but miss the days when it was hosted at the Science Museum, and didn’t feel quite so much like the terribly overcrowded Eighties night I used to go to every other friday at The Wag on Regents Street… Anyway, I was pleasently surprised when Richard Morgan scooped the award for Black Man, mainly because it was the only one on the shortlist that I’d actually read, and that kind of thing is almost a guarantee that something else is going to win. Anyhow, a very deserving win – it’s his best novel so far, and while I haven’t always gotten on well with his novels after Altered Carbon (I didn’t even make it all the way through Woken Furies), Black Man is an exceptional piece of work that manages to do some really interesting themes, and ask some very pertinent questions. At some point, I’ve got to read the rest of his new fantasy, The Steel Remains – I got sidetracked by a whole shedload of manuscript reading, and it’s good stuff so far, even if it’s certainly not for those who like their fantasy cuddly and escapist.

Other than that, and a visit from my Nephew over the weekend that ended up as a massive film weekend (with a playlist that redefined the word ‘Interesting’- Dark City, The Matrix, Cube, Batman: The Movie (The Adam West one!), X-Men, Big Trouble In Little China, Justice League: The New Frontier, and Memento), my spare time has been much taken up with the arrival of Grand Theft Auto IV- one of the only games that could possibly get me to buy it on day of release. The verdict? It doesn’t quite have the charm of Vice City, or the variety of San Andreas, but it’s making up for it by being one of the most well-thought out, immersive and open-plan games I’ve ever played. I’ve been playing it a massive amount over the last week- and I’m still only 30% in – it’s not so much a game as a way of life, and the way they’ve created a near-fully functional, living breathing facsimile of New York (even down to hot dog salesmen, garbage trucks and smoke from the manhole covers) is stunning. There’s so much attention to detail here it’s breathtaking – and yes, it’s ridiculously violent, but the reason these games get so much attention isn’t because of their violence (there are rival games that are just as, if not more violent), it’s because they’re elevating game design to a genuine art form, and creating a movie-like environment that can suck you in for up to 40 hours, and still leave you with ridiculous amounts to find, play and discover. And I don’t have an XBOX Live account, so I haven’t even touched the multiplayer. I’m having fun on the streets of Liberty City, and something tells me I’m going to be there a while…

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