Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bus Stop

I’ve been out of the country for the last week, but I’ll get to that some other time. I want to show you this first - this is what was happening in another timezone, right in front of the industrial estate / hellhole where I work.

Some background: In the early hours of last Wednesday, a bus pulled out of the bus station, straight through both lanes of traffic, whacked a car, went through a wall and straight into the offices at the front of our estate. (A tiny bit more detail can be found here).

But that’s not what makes this picture interesting to me. What amuses me is the ad for Saw III on the side of the bus, and the tag line: “This time…he’s pulling out all the stops!”

Juxtaposition – you gotta love it.

Robert Altman 1925 - 2006

"To play it safe is not to play."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And stay out!

Change is good, isn’t it? Before Donald Rumsfeld leaves the news cycle for ever, let’s remind ourselves of some pearls from the swine:

“I am not going to give you a number for it because it's not my business to do intelligent work.” - House Armed Services Committee hearings on February 15, 2005

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.” - Department of Defense news briefing, February 12, 2002

“I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty.” - The New Yorker, 17 June 2002

“Look at me! I'm sweet and lovable!” - Foreign Press Centre, 21 June 2002

Right then. Who’s next?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Them’s writin’ words

In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned.
Heaven sought order.
But the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown.
The four worlds formed again and yet again,
As endless aeons wheeled and passed.
Time and the pure essences of Heaven,
The moisture of the Earth,
The powers of the sun and the moon
All worked upon a certain rock, old as creation.
And it became magically fertile.
That first egg was named "Thought".
Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said,
"With our thoughts, we make the world."
Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch.
From it then came a stone monkey.
The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!

Maybe some kind of explanation is in order.

So, at some point leading up to June 8 2006, I looked Sucker Punch hard in the eyes and thought “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

I had other things I wanted to do with my words, both online and off, and Sucker Punch was gnawing away at a disproportionate amount of my headmeat, so I pulled the trigger on it, and it was gone. Easy, eh?

Well, no.

One of my plans had been to start another new blog, with a totally different remit. I played with this on and off for months, but the sort of thing I had planned would have been an even bigger timesuck than this was. So that idea died on the vine quite quickly.

The other ideas, though, took fruit. I was a writing machine, frantically chipping away at my latest idea. The working title is Rotten Timing and, the more I think about it, the more I like it. What’s it about? Well, it’s about time paradox and Buddhism and zombies and London and fate and sacrifice and love and kick-ass fight scenes. Amongst other things.

I want it to be a novel, but sometimes you have to let stories take you where they want to go and, despite my best story-wrangling efforts, it is fighting me to become a screenplay. You win this round, Story!

I’ve been reading and writing, writing and reading for the last three months, filling pages, solving problems and building worlds and, slowly, slowly, all the bits and pieces are coalescing into a bigger whole. I’m loving it.

But I can’t do that all the time. Sometimes I need to exercise (and exorcise) other, different writing muscles. And then I realised that there was somewhere where I could do exactly that and it was sitting fallow in a neglected corner of cyberspace. So I pulled open the shutters and threw up the sign reading “I ASSURE YOU, WE'RE OPEN”.

Because I am, and we are. I’m back for the long haul. I hope that you are too. It’s going to be fun. Promise.

One last chunk o’fun today:

Thursday, November 02, 2006

CSI: Cardiff

So, Torchwood

We’re three episodes into the “adult” spin-off of Doctor Who, building on the phenomenal success of Russell T. Davies’s relaunch of the much-loved BBC sci-fi classic, so now is as good a time as any to pin it to the table, stab a scalpel into its guts and see what we can find.

And I’ve been struggling all week to articulate exactly what it is about Torchwood that is bugging me. And I can’t.

It’s not just the lazy pilot episode Everything Changes, which is an uninspired imitation of the Doctor Who relaunch pilot Rose, following exactly the same path: A disenchanted woman (Rose / Gwen) is bored with her mundane life and her dreary boyfriend, until she is unwittingly hurled into the life of a mysterious charismatic stranger (The Doctor / Captain Jack Harkness) and a scary yet exhilarating world of aliens and monsters lurking around every corner.

It’s not just the transparent gimmick of having Gwen saddled with the thankless audience POV role, helping us wade through all that pesky world-building exposition. (Just like Rose in Doctor Who). Good writing should cleave to the maxim of “Show, Don’t Tell”, rather than having the characters sitting around explaining everything.

It’s not just Davies’s self-indulgent insistence on having a different member of the core cast engaged in a same-sex kiss in every episode for no apparent reason.

It’s not just the truly risible second episode Day One, which confirmed all my worst fears of what an “adult” show would mean. The orgasm monster, or whatever the fuck it was, was a horrible idea. The men reduced to little piles of dust after climax was a laughable visual. Silly me, I thought “adult” meant grown-up, intelligent entertainment, as opposed to bolting gratuitous sex onto bog-standard evil alien set-ups.

It’s not just the fact that I think Davies has failed to capitalise on one of his biggest assets in the character of Captain Jack Harkness. In Doctor Who, Jack was the ideal foil for the Doctor. Whilst the Doctor is an adventurer and scientist with a dry wit and unapologetically quirky ways, Jack was his mirror image - a swashbuckling con-man overflowing with charisma and gung-ho machismo. Jack is rampantly pansexual, whilst the Doctor is virtually asexual. In Torchwood, Davies has dumped all of that characterisation, and Jack has become a much darker, brooding figure. Granted, there may be a story-driven reason for this, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

And, in fairness, the show is getting better. It has its moments. It’s OK. It’s thoroughly watchable. But I’m still disappointed by the whole package. And yesterday I finally worked out why that is.

Nigel Kneale, the creator of the Quatermass series, died yesterday. And Warren Ellis posted a small obit on his website on Kneale and the cultural impact of Quatermass. Here’s a small excerpt: “…Britain used to shut down on Quatermass night, and it’s all people would talk about the next day.

And that was down to Nigel Kneale, last of a generation of writers for British television who were determined that this common culture should always be entertaining, intelligent, challenging and groundbreaking.”

Ellis nailed it. That’s my problem with Torchwood. Despite Davies’s claims that the show is “dark, clever, wild, sexy”, it’s just not dark or clever or wild or sexy enough. It’s perfectly serviceable, but it is startlingly unambitious television. What could have been a wonderful opportunity to challenge us with a smart genre piece has been squandered on endless sequences of Men in Black running around the streets of Cardiff, labouring under the weight of an oppressive score and some shonky special effects.

In the pilot episode, Captain Jack proclaims that “The 21st Century is when everything changes, and you gotta be ready.”

Well, I’m ready. And still waiting…