Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ranking (the "best" of) the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds stories

Faced with some of the tightest creative restrictions in the industry, officially licensed Star Trek novels were rarely any good.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have fan fiction that's beholden to no one and can do what the hell it likes with the characters, as long as that means turning the space adventure franchise into angsty smut. This also isn't my thing.

Somewhere between those two extremes (but still towards the safe end, because Pocket Books was publishing them) were the annual Strange New Worlds anthologies. For ten years, amateur writers from the U.S. and Canada were invited to submit their conservatively creative short stories set in the Star Trek universe for cash prizes and esteem.

I'm not sure why I never bought one of these books at the time, since I remember finding them intriguing. Presumably, spending my saved-up dinner money on two-episode VHS tapes and Smegazines was a higher priority. I got round to it eventually. Though I've mercifully limited myself to the stories ranked first, second and third by the editors of each book, rather than reading all 221 of them like some kind of Dave Warburton.

The cover images indicate which stories were awarded the Grand Prize in their respective collections. So let's see whether those all stack up neatly at the bottom, or if I have my own maverick opinions about The Top 30 Top 3 Strange New Worlds Stories.

Friday, July 7, 2017

My Top Ten Websites 2004

"I can't log on to this website to look at my friend's Nationwide-employed sister and imagine her in just her bra" - Me, apparently

Just to finish off this dooyoo trilogy that's been self-indulgent even by my standards, here's an absolutely pointless update of My Top Ten Websites 2003 from nine months later. It's the least anticipated sequel in history!

During that time, my original account was deleted when they noticed I'd been creating loads of fake accounts to click through all my reviews and fraud myself some extra dooyoo miles. I got my £40 Amazon voucher before that happened though, so pathetic crime pays. If they want it back, they can have it.

I came back under a new alias and behaved this time, which meant I also had the chance to give a second opinion on old topics and reveal the exciting progress of my boring teenage life. Fortunately, I'd leave for university five months later and my actual life could begin. During that time, I only dooyooed during the summer break when everyone else went home.

And here I am today, taking valuable time out of paid work to illustrate and [annotate] my old dooyoo reviews. Is that progress?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Ranking the Korn, sorry, "KoRn" albums when I was 15-16

"Although the song is about rape, I don't reckon it was good enough to have put on the album" - Me, apparently

I wasn't intending to do this again. This isn't going to be an ongoing catalogue as I preserve my hundreds of bad teenage reviews for posterity they don't deserve.

But curiosity got the better of me, and I was interested to see the transition in my tastes from fun, lightweight American pop punk to dark, angsty American "nu" metal as I similarly passed from care-free Year 10 into the more stressful GCSE year, from a Pre-9/11 World into a Post-9/11 World, and reached the legal age of consent. These last two points would turn out to have no impact.

These heartfelt track-by-track essays masquerading as useless consumer reviews are much too long to be entertaining to anyone but me, so here are some of the highlights:
  • Pedantically insisting on writing it 'KoRn' every single time, while clearly wishing I was able to write 'KoЯn.' Look at me now!
  • Assuming the phrase "I bum it" as a term of appreciation among my friends is in common parlance or acceptable.
  • The phrase "drugs in the form of needles."
  • The phrase "unwanted sexual abuse."
  • A 3,000-word album review containing 1,500 words of copy-pasted interview quotes.
  • These quotes being reproduced in their rambling, inane entirety like they're deep and meaningful sermons we can learn from.
Written for in 2001. Don't bother writing your own, they don't pay any more. Featuring [mean commentary] when necessary. It seemed to be a lot more necessary this time.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ranking the Offspring albums when I was 15

"I saw them live in Manchester in January on their 2001 European Tour, and those guys kicked some ass" - Me, apparently

Bit too busy to compare 100+ short stories this month, so I've invited my more eager, younger self from half a lifetime ago to share his enthusiastic, falsely confident, needlessly long opinions about one of the only bands he's ever listened to. The other band was Nirvana, who are used as the only point of comparison throughout.

This is what the absence of anxiety of influence looks like. I only [cruelly annotated] these when strictly necessary, but I didn't bother proofreading, since I didn't pay me for that. I only earned a few pence from writing these reviews for, and I'm going to need those when I discover angsty nu metal soon.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ranking the Umberto Eco novels

Because I'm a bit of a ponce, I've always found challenging art to be the most satisfying. The more unreasonably complicated and stressful the novel, the more memorable the reading experience.

When I bother to put in the time and effort, there's a high chance I'll be rewarded with a favourite book of the year. Like happened in 2016* and 2015. 2014's was a comic with no words, because you have to sabotage your own arguments sometimes. The two years before that were both Umberto Ecos.

You'd think that guarantee of satisfaction would be motivation enough to read the remaining five-sevenths of his fiction library, but I've only managed another one and a half in the years since. It's a lot of effort, isn't it?

So it's time to stop lazily reading a couple of thousand pages' worth of short stories a month and knuckle down to some grown-up reading. Here are The Top 7 Umberto Eco Novels, with their original Italian covers to make me look smarter than I am. I didn't read them in Italian, obviously.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Kids write/draw the funniest things on Amiga computers in the '90s!

I was eight (I think) when my family got our first computer, so already past the point where my juvenile Deluxe Paint art and Wordworth stories could be considered adorable and unexpectedly amusing. Fortunately, I had younger brothers.

Hard drive wipes, dismantlings and floppy disk deterioration mean it's unlikely that any of our 32-bit digital catalogue survives today. In many cases – such as the case of my "epic" sci-fi animation series The Lost Alien and the exhaustive encyclopaedia I wrote to accompany it – this is for the best. But it was a shame to lose some of the funny kid stuff.

The drawing above is a reconstruction of a drawing by my brother Michael when he was about six. There are a few things I like about it, maybe you can work them out.

The story below is a reconstruction of the first thing my brother Chris ever typed/mashed when he was about five, using the largest blube font they'd allow him. It's about a monster called Chris, the Qeen and the Qeenie (apparently different people, though they both wind up in his oss).

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ranking the William Hope Hodgson stories

I read my first W. H. H. around the same time I read my first Arthur Machen and my first Robert Sheckley. All were experiences of elation at discovering a new favourite author, followed by gradual disappointment when nothing else lived up to that first one.

That's one of the advantages of reading entire bibliographies in strict chronological order, rather than heading straight to the classics; you have to put in the work to earn the highs.

I hadn't read many of Hodgson's short stories though, and since everything of his I had "read" before was in passive audiobook form (probably when distracted by Dizzy or something), I decided to give the novels a fair second hearing reading too. Even The Night Land. People seem to love that one. I must have been mistaken. Why do I do this to myself?

So I don't have to do this a third time, here's The Top 106 William Hope Hodgson Tales.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ranking Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories

Like the western, the hard-boiled crime thriller is a genre I'm regrettably more familiar with through broad animated parodies and holodeck simulations than the real deal. The influence of the good stuff has no doubt trickled into plenty of things I like, I just won't have known.

I'd read The Maltese Falcon, starring Hammett's most famous detective (despite only appearing in a couple of stories) Sam Spade, but I knew nothing about his more long-running, eternally enigmatically anonymous sleuth.

I wonder if I'll be any the wiser after reading The Top 30 Continental Op Stories?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ranking the Red Dwarf Smegazine strips

I didn't collect the official and improbable Red Dwarf magazine at the time ('92–'94 – I was busy collecting my glow-in-the-dark T-rex skeleton). I only caught up on scattered issues a few years later, courtesy of Crewe's sole comic shop. You know, the one tucked away in the back of APS Records & CDs run by the bloke who looked like Garth from Wayne's World.

A treasure trove of interviews, time-capsule fandom and unusable blurry posters, perhaps the Smegazine's least impressive feature was its original comic strips, which are the most fanwanky tales I've ever seen in an officially licensed publication. As well as below-par adventures with the main Red Dwarf characters, we're invited to take extensive tours of  various alternative universes spinning off from specific episodes and to catch up with all manner of minor characters from the series and the novels, including long-running strips based on Rimmer's sock puppet and a Neighbours parody that had already ran its course over a few seconds in the show.

But was any of it actually any good? It seems unlikely, but let's be optimistic. Here are The Top 45 Smegazine Stories.