Saturday, 30 May 2009

Buffy without Joss

News is that there is a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie on the cards, apparently with the involvement of the original movie's producers. As of this time of writing there seems to be no involvement from Joss Whedon - which as any fan will be able to tell you is completely inconceivable.

It's just nonsense thinking anyone else could possibly play the part:

I think a letter writing campaign may be in order.


Two episodes in and I have to confess that I'm liking this a lot more than the critical response indicates that I should. I do find that the missions Echo is being sent on are a bit yawnsome (how many times can US TV remake The Most Dangerous Game?), although they're still watchable enough, but more importantly Helo's ... sorry, Ballard's investigation and all the background shenanigans at the Dollhouse seem to be laying down some interesting foundations. I also think some of the complaints I've read about the ickiness of the whole meat-dolls/slavery/programmed-prostitution are a bit misplaced as it's clearly meant to be A Bad Thing. But maybe I'm over-simplifying the issues people have with it.

I'm not entirely convinced that it's going to have enough steam to keep going for more than a season without dragging things on too long, unless we see some sort of format-altering twist, but so far I think this has been getting a bit of a rough ride. The news that it's been renewed for a second season gives me some hope that I'm not the only one.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Characters Arcs Redux

John Rogers blogging on character arcs. Very nicely made points, although he still uses the hated term. But the difference between transformation character arcs and revelatory ones is an important one - although perhaps it's not taking it quite far enough for me.

When it comes to character change, I'm a firm believer that people don't fundamentally change. I think there are core parts of our personality that will always remain set and which will affect how we normally react to a given situation. Equally though, I don't believe that this means that reaction will always be the same.

Two people could be control freaks. One of them tries to take over the whole world, the other gets all the trains to run on time. Alternatively, the person who tries to take over the world might through experience come to realise what a bad idea that is and reapply that trait in order to make the trains run on time - which is after all a much more useful endeavour.

I believe people's actions are affected by personality, by circumstance and by experience. That's what I look for in characters. If their personality changes totally then I'm not going to believe it (unless they have major brain damage or a complete memory swap). If they manage to redirect that personality though then I think that's going to be much more true to life. And if they chart exactly the same course at the end of the story as the one that they were on in the beginning then really I don't have much of a problem with that either.

I don't expect to see someone do something that is not within their makeup from the start - circumstance followed by action should reveal character, not alter it.

Even Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the most obvious choices to illustrate a character arc, does not have a character-altering encounter with his three ghosts - if you look at who Scrooge used to be, as revealled by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the story seems to be about his return to that personality, not a creation of a new one. Scrooge makes different choices as a result of the events of the story, his character does not magically transform into something completely different.

I think most writers understand this and I'm probably pointing out the obvious - but as with all the 'rules' of writing, I think people can sometimes get the wrong end of the stick and assume that all characters must transform and that a transformation is a personality change rather than a shifting of perspective/purpose based within the parameters of the character's established persona.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

I don't really need to say anything nice about this book, the back cover of my copy is plastered with seven complimentary quotes from reviewers, the inside front cover has a further six the inside back cover another six and the first three pages of the book have twelve more.

I feel as if I'm being bullied into liking this book.

The thing is, I did quite enjoy the read, short as it was. There are almost more words in the reviews dedicated to the book than there are in the book itself. At a rough estimate, I'd put the word count somewhere in the region of 50-60 thousand words. That's little more than the introduction if you're looking at a Stephen King novel. Really the book should stretch to around 150 pages, except my copy runs at 300 due to an awful lot of page space being taken up by a nice large font, never mind the large stretches of minimalist dialogue that could destroy rainforests with a few conversations.

The story itself is nothing new if you've read enough science fiction books. For the literary reviewers who turn their noses up at such genre fare though, I can imagine it came as something of a revelation. It's certainly an easy to read book - incredibly bleak in outlook but a palatable walk through despair rather than being a complete wallow. It does fall into a repetitive pattern of boy and father are hungry, boy and father find a source of food, boy and father eat food until it runs out, boy and father are hungry again, punctuated by boy and father try to avoid contact with people who might want to eat them. However, it's a decently told repetition and from a human perspective it feels quite truthful.

Stylistically it's quite sparse - sentences run on and on without a pause for breath, particularly when describing the actions of the characters, creating a mundane feel to their quest for survival. The dialogue is absent speech marks and in most cases attribution, but for that is easy enough to follow. Descriptions of the bleak environment are more poetic in nature, suggesting that it is here that the author's real interest lies. The best thing about The Road is watching the scenery out of the window.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Shakespeare's Star Trek (a bit more)

Scene II
The Enterprise - Spock's Chambers.

Enter Spock and Christine

Spock: What is this thou dares to lay before me?
Out, out, prying harridan. Shouldst I be
In need of thy soup, ask for it I would.

Enter Kirk. Exit Christine.

Spock: Captain, I present my request to thee.
To Vulcan I bid thee fly. Divergence
From our present bearing would be no more
A loss of distance travel'd by stars' light
Within the passage of two point eight days
And two point eight nights.

Kirk: Spock, what devils drive thee to make of me
Such a request?

Spock: My case I have stated and all I say,
Thine answer I require. Yea, or nay.

Kirk: Let us hear it. Thy manner perplexes.

Spock: If a woman be honest dignity
Requires she not wait upon a man
Not given to her in troth.

Kirk: Thine petition peaks curiousity
More than thy want to hurl soup against walls.

Spock: In faith I have serv'd your voice and your call
For years uncounted. My plea I have made.
Grantest thou or not.

Kirk: Since almost striplings you and I both were
Never hav'st thou sought elsewhere than my side
Refused my calls to seek a balmy shore
Whenever proffered by my hand. Why now?

Spock: Captain, in time thou surely owes enough
Such as my request not be meritless.

Kirk: Aye, but the question remains unanswered
Perchance the cause lies with thy family
A sickening?

Spock: The nature of my request lies elsewhere.

Kirk: The ship makes her heading for Altair Six
Excellent in facilities it be.

Spock: No I must take my leave upon Vulcan.

Kirk: Spock, I ask again. What troubles thee?

Spock: The call of duty wears heavy on me
I may speak no more.

Kirk: Bridge, thy captain speaks.

Sulu: [off] I await thy bidding, my lord.

Kirk: Make heading for Vulcan. Warp factor four.

Sulu: [off] Aye, aye, sir.

Spock: I thank you, captain.

Kirk: Tis oft overlook'd that even Vulcans
Be not form'd from impenetrable steel.

Spock: [Aside] No we are not.


Scene III
Enterprise - Bridge.

Officers of the ship in attendance. Enter Kirk, Spock and Chekov.

Kirk: [Aside] Three three seven two point seven by how
The firmament's spheres measure passing ages
Our course has been fix'd upon Altair Six
By way of Vulcan. First Officer Spock
Inconsistent in temperament be.
Ship's surgeon McCoy regards him with care.

Enter Uhura

Uhura: Captain, a message from Starfleet hast come.
Mark'd as urgent dost it appear to be.

Kirk: Speak, Uhura.

Uhura: To Captain of U.S.S. Enterprise
From Admiral Komack in Sector Nine
Ceremonies held upon Altair Six
Advanced to seven days hence have been.
Thou art commanded to hasten forthwith.

Kirk: Lieutenant Uhura, pen this reply.
Message acknowledged.

Uhura: Aye, aye, sir.

Kirk: Mister Chekov, set forth by the stars.

Chekov: On time's arrow we fly. Vulcan must wait.

Kirk: Make haste for Altair Six, tarry dare not.
The luck of Neptune's passengers have we.
Mr Spock. Our dial fixed to the orbits
Of kingly whims. Altair six's ruler
Makes haste so hasten we. Promise you this
When done with duty to Vulcan we speed.

Spock: My understanding I profess.


Saturday, 23 May 2009

William Shakespeare's Star Trek

Having seen the new movie, I've been going back to the old Star Trek TV series (well the remastered version of the old Star Trek TV series) - and one of the first things I noticed was how stagy the whole thing seemed. Which in turn led me to remember the over-zealous fans of the series who declared that if Shakespeare were alive in the 20th century he would have been writing episodes of Star Trek.

So I just had to have a bit of a go:



KIRK, a Captain, in the service of Starfleet
SPOCK, his lieutenant and a Gentleman of Vulcan
MCCOY, a doctor
CHEKOV, a Navigator
STONN, a Gentleman of Vulcan

T'PRING, bethrothed to SPOCK
T'PAU, a lady of Vulcan
CHRISTINE, a nurse
UHURA, a messenger

Scene I
The Enterprise - A Corridor

Enter Kirk and McCoy

McCoy: Oh Captain, hast thou a minute?

Kirk: A minute, for what purpose good doctor?

McCoy: Thy right hand, Spock. Strange behaviours have thy

Kirk: No good doctor, why dost thou ask?

McCoy: Tis nought a finger I could place upon,
Yet suffering of strange maladies dost
He appear to be. For that he were not
Of Vulcan, his mind might seem unquiet.
And for three days hence he appears not to
Have supp'd.

Kirk: In contemplative phase perhaps he be.
Would not be uncommon for Spock.

Enter Christine

McCoy: Good nurse, Miss Chapel, come hither.

Christine: Good morrow sir doctor, captain.

McCoy: What steaming elixir carries thou?

Christine: This bowl?

McCoy: Tis plomeek soup, a dish of Vulcan. Made
I wouldst venture by thy fair hand. Holdst thou
Ever hope's flickering candle within
Thy bosom.

Christine: Perchance I noticed. Spock, he eats not.

Kirk: Prithee continue thy business, good nurse.

Exit Christine

Kirk: Sawbones, my clock is winged.

McCoy: Jim, when I did suggest to Spock that his
Exam was overdue, thy first officer
In whose skull passionless logic resides
Turn'd to me and spake "Thy will cease to
Pry into behaviours personal to
Me, doctor, else I shall be most certain
To break thy neck."

Kirk: Tis hard to fathom such words from the ever
Sturdy Spock.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Star Trek

I went to see this last night with a couple of friends from work. Neither of them were familiar with any of the various TV incarnations - beyond the pop culture knowledge of the basics. I on the other hand went along having seen just about every incarnation of the show and almost every single episode (except for a number of the animated ones) and having read any number of the books. Unlike some of the fans I thought the reboot idea was a great one, but I'd been looking forward to the film with a large degree of trepidation.

Fortunately, plot coincidences aside, I loved it. So too did my two friends. t wasn't a perfect movie, but with the amount of stuff that they did get right, I was more than happy with it. For the sheer enjoyment factor it might even be my favourite of the films, but I'll leave that call for later once I've got a bit of perspective on the matter. It's certainly a much better film than the last two, holds up well with Khan and First Contact (my previous two favourites) and managed to push even more geek buttons than seeing Star Trek the Motion Picture for the first time did.

On the plotting side I still maintain that the alternate timeline angle is inspired. While the writers could have gone with a straight reboot, I think this very neatly avoids the trap of having to fit in with the expectations of the story conforming to Trek continuity, while at the same time conforming to Trek continuity - brilliant! A couple of franchise-induced shocks really kicked that one home - and it did create a sense that when it comes to the inevitable next movie, anything could happen.

And the other thing they got absolutely right - using Alexander Courage's original theme at the end - the films have previously just used the opening fanfare - the full orchestra version of the 60s theme was long overdue.

I like where they've gone with this - and perhaps more importantly I like where they're going. And my two non-fan friends agree - which is a healthy sign for the once beleaguered franchise.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Mr Weston and the Ironing

For the uninitiated, Mr Weston and the Ironing is a popular beat combo and nothing to do with a gentleman and his pressed clothing. The Mr Weston of the group is a friend and work colleague of mine. I've known him for most of the time I've been at the BBC (19 years and counting), but Tuesday night was the first time I'd been to hear his band.

I've been meaning to go for ages, but usually his gigs are at pubs in awkward parts of London at awkward times of the day (well awkward for me anyway), but as he was playing at the BBC Club in Great Portland Street, which is very handy for me catching my train home, I didn't really have an excuse not to go this time.

I always have a certain amount of trepidation when going to see someone do something musically. I'm cursed with an over-honest nature, which means that I'm not good at lying, even when it is for the common good. So when I go to these things I always dread that I'm not going to be able to find something nice to say. Fortunately in this case he was bloody good, so no qualms about being positive. Easily the best performance that evening (although I only heard one other, but everyone who was there all the time informs me that my unwarranted belief is in fact correct).

Their next gig (according to their MySpace page) is on the 28th of the month at Cross Kings in Islington, in the unlikely event that anyone reading this is in the area on that day. They'll also be playing at the Eastbourne Lammas Festival (I always thought Lammas were camel-like animals that spit, but they don't have any of those on the south coast that I'm aware of) in August.

Or you could just visit them on MySpace and listen to a couple of their songs.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Every time I think I'm finished ...

There always seems to be one little loose end that I need to tie up. This one's part of the denouement. What I'd written was a brief little summary of all the things that had happened off-stage while the heroes were busy fighting the bad guy. Only then I decided that it was a bit too easy and I needed to dramatise the scene a bit more. Which is more difficult than I first thought - but I think that's probably more because I keep distracting myself than because the scene is particularly tough to write.

In other words, time to stop blogging and get back to some real writing.