Sunday, July 22, 2018

Childishreads: Bruce Coville's Alien Adventures

Premature claims to maturity went out of the window when I recently discovered ebooks of my second favourite primary school sci-fi saga (that wasn't about anthropomorphic Sega characters) and felt notably more excited than I did going in to Alan Moore's bloated novel or Alfred Hitchcock's acclaimed oeuvre. I'm not fooling anyone.

As I remember it, the interdimensional bodysharing adventures of everyboy Rod Allbright and the crew of the good ship Ferkel were unpatronising, awe-inspiring sci-fi for young nerds that went to some pretty weird places, literally and thematically. It was basically Junior Farscape.

The first three were among the privileged books preserved for posterity on four sides of Maxell D90 cassettes when I went through my slightly odd phase of recording audiobooks for fun. By the time the conclusion to the series came out a few years later, I'd moved on to "proper" sci-fi and didn't spare it a thought. Until I could finally get closure as a 32-year-old manchild.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Substantialreads: Alan Moore's Jerusalem

The short story and the sitcom episode are my preferred artistic mediums, so I generally stay away from long books. Between crowded casts of characters I can't be bothered to remember how to tell apart and serialised cliffhangers bringing timely random jeopardy out of nowhere every few chapters, I'd rather they use that paper brick to tell 100 different stories instead.

But there are exceptional exceptions, and if one of my favourite writers decides his next story needs to be the size of an old-school telephone directory to do it justice, it's got to be worth my time. This four-dimensional Leviathan's been looming intimidatingly overhead for a while, but If I'm not ready now, a few more decades of dawdling isn't going to make me any better prepared.

Alan Moore, Jerusalem

2016 / Audiobook / 1,266 pages / UK


Goes on a bit.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Alrightreads: Novelisations

Usually either a cheap cash-in or a way to 'rewatch' a favourite film or TV serial before videos came along, novelisations are a much more interesting and worthwhile endeavour when they're written by the original writer/s, taking the opportunity to embellish or improve on their scripts free from budget constraints and with the benefit of hindsight. Some of them even end up among my best books evar. Let's see how these ones get on.

David Renwick, One Foot in the Grave

1992 / Ebook / 224 pages / UK


It's been a few years since I rediscovered and thoroughly loved this series, long enough that most of the contrived crescendos and exasperated exclamations were new to me again. It may be a sequence of episodes knitted together by flimsy segues, but so are most novels. This has the distinct advantage of knowing which episodes work in advance.

If the cover and blurbs hadn't given its origins away, the snappy dialogue might, which is much too vigorous to be bound up in a book. But then there's the world-weary narration that paints each scene in such rich sardonic tones, you wonder how they'd get by without it. And as if the stuff with dead animals would have been allowed on a television "comedy" anyway! I don't believe it.

Better than the episodes?: The cast swings it.

Steven Moffat, Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

2018 / Ebook / 224 pages / UK


I've always liked the episode, which is just as entertainingly over-complicated as a non-linear time travel story with three protagonists who are all the same person interacting with himselves should be (not counting his further guest roles and cameos). The book doesn't tamper much, but it's all a bit slower so you can really take it in. Of course, it does have the additional comical complication that you can't see or hear the actors to distinguish between Doctors, but it's a safe bet that anyone reading this has watched it enough times to know who's Who. And if not, the blurring together is sort of the whole point.

Steven, bless him, clearly has anxiety that he's gone too far, writing explanatory in-character introductions to every single chapter that are unnecessary and slightly patronising, but he makes up for it with some nicely pretentious literary wank and cheeky gags that are only as canonical as you want irascible fans to be forced to accept them to be.

Better than the episode?: In a way.

Rob Grant and Andrew Marshall, The Quanderhorn Xperimentations

2018 / Ebook / 480 pages / UK


I had realistically average expectations for Rob "Formerly of Red Dwarf" Grant and Andrew "Never Watched Your Sitcoms" Marshall's cross-format sci-fi parody, and was relieved when it didn't turn out to be actually bad. That was all I asked.

Compared to the radio series, the novel has more introspection and observations from multiple viewpoints, but it's mainly just the scripts reformatted into proper sentences. That means it's a relentless sequence of six distinct, equally-portioned escapades running into each other, generally improving as it goes on. Your basic novelisation.

Better than the episodes?: Not enough.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ranking Matt Smith Doctor Who

As a '90s sci-fi snob too young for the old series to have been part of my childhood and too old for the new one, I didn't much care for Doctor Who. I started watching it a few years in regardless, and found that this colourful children's programme had a daft charm, but it was only Steven Moffat's annual disproportionately excellent episodes that kept me slogging through the rest. When it was announced that he'd be taking over, handling all the big decisions and writing a lot more of it, I decided it was probably okay to become a fan.

When I started travelling long-term, those weekly illegal TV rips over dodgy hostel Wi-Fi were a bizarrely comforting reminder of home that kept me company on ludicrously noisy night buses across Vietnam, needlessly elaborate visa runs across Borneo and unconventional Christmases in Taiwan. Since I finally settled down, it hasn't had that same role to play, and without bespoke exotic context it's gone back to being that daft programme I'm too old to be watching again. But for a while there, it was great. Even when it was rubbish.

Here's what I reckon about The Subjective Best Era of Doctor Who. Matt Smith was the actor who happened to be in it at the time, plus friends. Thanks for the company.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Ranking the Ben Wheatley films

I liked A Field in England well enough, and foolishly allowed myself to believe the comparisons of Kill List to The Wicker Man, so was a bit disappointed when Ben Wheatley didn't turn out to be the folk horror master I was over-optimistically hoping for. I still admire his singular style though, even when it's unpalatably horrible.

Here are The Top 7 Ben Wheatley Films according to someone a bit less enthusiastic than someone saying that would usually be.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Ranking the Charlie Kaufman films

I generally go through life untroubled by thoughts of Charlie Kaufman. If you were to interrogate me in the street, I might struggle to recall who he is.

But when you notice that a couple of long-term inmates on your to-watch list are by the same person responsible for several other films you've found enjoyable, original and memorable over the years, it's worth paying attention. Even if just to take that arrogant 100% hit rate down a notch (or better still, maintain it).

Here are my The Top 7 Charlie Kaufman Films. Not many, but maybe he couldn't be bothered to pad it out with mediocre ones?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ranking the Star Trek films

Oh good, something grown-up at last.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ranking the David Lynch things

I first (knowingly) watched some David Lynch films as a teenager seeking out weird shit. Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead convinced me he was a genius, then Lost Highway cooled me off. A couple of years later, I finally checked out the Twin Peaks thing I kept reading about and the cycle started again. It's come and gone a couple of times since.

This was originally going to cover all 100 or so short films, advertisements, music videos, cooking demonstrations and other Lynch-directed paraphernalia, but it turned out I wasn't sufficiently obsessed. So here's a lukewarm Lynch fan's The Top 14 David Lynch Films and TV Shows.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ranking the Stanley Kubrick films

2001 is one of my favourite films (best of luck, everyone), and I'd enjoyed a couple of the others too, but it was watching Jon Ronson's Stanley Kubrick's Boxes that made me want to know more about this passionate obsessive. It's a shame there's so little.

Here are my personal The Top 16 Kubrick Films. Three of them aren't films.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Ranking the Alfred Hitchcock films

I've always felt directors get too much credit in the film business. Not to the overblown extent of actors, obviously, but it's your screenwriters – writing their own stories rather than adapting tried-and-tested best-sellers they've bought the rights to – and your sleep-deprived, script-editing showrunners I've got the greatest respect for.

So I never gave much of a toss about Alfred Hitchcock. He just seemed to be a fat, limey knock-off of Rod Serling, who didn't even write the stories he was presenting. But when I watched a couple of films, liked them a lot, then watched a couple more, I started to get it. So then I did my customary thing and scoffed the lot over a couple of months, including all the deservedly overlooked ones no one ever talks about because they're not really worth mentioning. Still, maybe I can pluck out a couple of obscure gems for you.

Here are a non-filmmaker's philistine first-timer reactions (I'd only seen Rear Window previously) to The Top 52 Hitchcock Films. Shorts, collaborations, foreign language remakes, TV things and ones I couldn't find not included.