Sunday, 29 November 2020

Alrightreads: Five W's

John Dougan, The Who Sell Out

2006 / Ebook / 131 pages / USA

***

The rock operas and youth angst speak for themselves, so this is quite rightly the album that could benefit from some explaining – a mission this chronicler embarks on to an overly digressive degree before finally getting around to the tunes.


Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, What to Expect the Second Year: From 12 to 24 Months

2011 / Ebook / 512 pages / USA

*****

Trustworthy and reassuring guidance to keep parents on the ball, setting realistic expectations of what we can look forward to and less so. The gun safety interruption was no less chilling the second time around.


Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows

1982 / Ebook / pages / UK

****

Animating a comic always seemed like the most pointless of adaptations to me, but I'll go with the film for this one, not that I'd ever want to watch it again. I don't remember Briggs' comic panels being so cramped from childhood, maybe it's a Wagon Wheels® thing.


Unknown, Where's Sonic Now?

1996 / Ebook / 32 pages / UK

**

They got away with it, so the second barefaced rip-off is even cheekier in appropriating the Wally sequel's title without any of the skill. Sonic consumers will be happy enough just seeing those familiar zones from a couple of games ago being rendered by an anonymous artist. Say what you will about the Ladybird Sonic canon; they stuck to those comfort zones more than any of the other cash-in crap.


Sue Gerhardt, Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain

2004 / Ebook / 256 pages / South Africa

***

I didn't need quite this much scientific and anecdotal evidence to persuade me to follow my instincts, but the non-controversial title is determined to justify itself. Parents hoping for handy blog-style bullet points will have to go through and make their own. Don't be a Victorian is a good start.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Alrightreads: W

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

1963 / Ebook / 40 pages / USA

****

Not being American, this wasn't part of my compulsory childhood reading, but I understand the lasting appeal. I probably get even more out of it as a lit graduate parent than I would have back then, though it would've been fun to be scared.


Kevin Jackson,
Withnail & I

2004 / Ebook / 96 pages / UK

***

Another BFI writer taking the redundant novelisation route, it's at least interspersed with the making of and relevant autobiographical details, though the books he sources from are presumably better for that.


Jennifer Hallissy, The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, from Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories

2010 / Ebook / 160 pages / USA

**

Naturally, this is going to be a focal area at the expense of other development (as soon as she stops viewing stationery as confectionery), but this primer was largely useless. You'd get as much from skimming the chapter headings as you would reading on and having their concepts and activities patronisingly explained to you.


Bryan Charles, Pavement's Wowee Zowee

2010 / Ebook / 153 pages / USA

**

A narcissistic autobiography of how the author came to appreciate and write about the album, nagging its creators with inane questions in the process.


Hank Shteamer, Ween's Chocolate and Cheese

2011 / Ebook / 176 pages / USA

***

Prosaic defence of a former novelty band starting to take themselves seriously, distinguishing the edgy and existential from the inexcusably daft.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Alrightreads: V

Unknown, V Annual 1986

1985 / Ebook / 62 pages / UK

*

There was presumably enough (several-years-belated) V-mania among British kids to justify this pathetic cash-in, evidently brought to you by the same unsung heroes responsible for the Blake's 7 annuals based on the identical, misguided structure, astronomy questions when they run out of ideas and art that would be more appropriate for Postman Pat. For want of any kind of behind-the-scenes information there are also vaguely relevant lizard facts, drab puzzles, a board game no one's ever played and a jokes page. Here's one: "What kind of money do Visitors use? A: Weirdo (weird dough)."

I could have finally got around to reading Thomas Pynchon's V., I suppose, but I'm an idiot.


Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Violent Cases

1987 / Ecomic / 48 pages / UK

***

This early showcase for Gaiman/McKean covers similar formative traumatic ground to Mr. Punch, without the seaside whimsy. I suppose that could be a sequel, poor sod.


David Rosen, Verdi: Requiem

1995 / Ebook / 128 pages / USA

***

I always enjoy it when they incorporate enthusiastic historical reactions to liven up to the music commentary. Elsewhere, you'll find the answers or debates to FAQs such as whether it's appropriate to play this in church and what genre is it anyway?


Joe Harvard, The Velvet Underground & Nico

2004 / Audiobook / 168 pages / USA

****

Covering the relevant background, production, legacy and individual songs while debunking myths, this is as comprehensive an album celebration as you could ask for, filtered by what the writer happens to find interesting.


Richard Henderson, Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle

2010 / Ebook / 142 pages / USA

***

Appropriate adulation for the cult artist's weird debut that stood apart but probably did 1968 better than the amateurs. It could've gone a lot deeper into the technical side rather than continuing the biography, but maybe you shouldn't ruin everything through overanalysis.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Alrightreads: UK

William Shakespeare, The Illustrated Stratford Shakespeare

Collected 1982 / Physical book / 1,024 pages / UK

*****

I haven't quite finished / barely started this one yet, but at £2.29 from a charity shop, this comprehensive illustrated hardback is still one of the best value purchases I've ever made, even if I subsequently managed to worm my way out of needing to use it academically. Now that it's back on my shelf, I should give it a good seeing to.


Rupert Matthews, Haunted York

1992 / Physical book / 24 pages / UK

**

It's only a slim souvenir, but no unverified anecdote is too meagre for this credulous chronicle, whether they're well thought through, like the famous wading Romans, or they're confusing rust with blood. It's funny now, but the ghost tour was a highlight of our school trips. My brother bought this when it was his go, it beat another keyring.


Jeremy Dyson and Mark Gatiss, The EsseX Files: To Basildon and Beyond

1997 / Ebook / 128 pages / UK

****

A finely observed and very funny spoof of exactly the sort of sensationalist supernatural schlock I was reading sincerely in 1997, though I would have enjoyed this one more. The chuckles do peter out as it goes along and the same joke carries on for a whole book, but I'm impressed that they bothered.


Dan Kieran, Sam Jordison and contributors, The Idler Book of Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK

2003 / Ebook / 154 pages / UK

***

These user-generated travelogues go for the edgy suicide joke a few times too often, but it's mainly lighthearted cynicism that's made all the funnier when local MPs and tourist boards take it deadly seriously and provide offended defences. The unpopularity contest will inevitably miss out some of your own regional 'favourites,' but a later version put Stoke in the top 10, so I can't complain.


Michael Bond and R. W. Alley, Paddington Bear Collection

Collected 2017 / Physical books / 320 pages / UK

***


My mum bought her granddaughter some books to go with the bear. She likes the pictures, anyway. I was never big on the bear, but formative grooming through bedroom decor was probably more influential than Jonathan Creek on my later duffle coat fixation.


Saturday, 21 November 2020

Alrightreads: U

Mike Wilks, The Ultimate Alphabet

1986 / Ebook / 64 pages / UK

***

Maybe expecting another impenetrable Masquerade, I was disappointed that there didn't seem to be to much to these themed surrealist dreamscapes, beyond the thousands of things, but I'm not exactly catching them at their best on a laptop PDF. The numbers and enthusiasm dwindle as he approaches the end of his alphabetical odyssey, I know the feeling.


Mike Wilks, The Ultimate Noah's Ark

1994 / Ebook / 80 pages / UK

***

Hieronymus Bosch meets Where's Wally in the lazier but more engaging sequel. Learning from the ultimate pointlessness of the last one, the artist makes things more interesting by promising a prize if you can spot the lone creature travelling solo. If it's going to be his customary self-portrait in the middle, that would be an insult to those who diligently scanned each grid reference. So let's hope that's it. Update: It's not.


Chris Drake, UFO and Space 1999

1994 / Ebook / 95 pages / UK

***

Tackling two different series in less than 100 photo-dominated pages, this flimsy guide is true to the over-optimistic spirit of Gerry Anderson's live-action sci-fi shows, but it would've been smarter to stick to one or commit to either the production history or fictional profiles. It still made a decent primer to series I never really watched (and probably saved me from bothering), and his reliably horny descriptions any time a woman cropped up were amusing.


Chris Ott, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures

2004 / Audiobook / 117 pages / USA

***

A general biography of the band through regrettable Nazi edginess to dramatic finale, it emphasises the debut album in the middle to gain entry to this album-focused series, but could've been extended to the second without much trouble. It can't help being hogged by Ian Curtis, but the other whatsisnames get fair representation too.


Richard MacLean Smith, Unexplained: Supernatural Stories for Uncertain Times

2018 / Audiobook / 352 pages / UK

***

Presumably a best-of of topics covered on the long-running podcast, that means most of them will already be familiar to anyone who's spent any amount of time with similarly-named podcasts or YouTube channels that all cover exactly the same things. The presentation's more tolerable than most of those, since each X-file is appended with possible rational explanations or philosophical musings about the limits of knowledge, but he's still indulging the suggestion that there might be something otherworldly in blatant mental illness and helping to ensure these tragic victims' meme legacies, so it still belongs with the Top 5 Bizarre Unexplained Mysteries videos with a red arrow in the thumbnail reposting blurry Photoshopped clips that were debunked in 2011. I should really stop watching those.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Alrightreads: TV III

Various, Star Trek: The Further Adventures of the Starship Enterprise!

1980-81 (collected 1982) / Ecomics / 159 pages / USA

****

A race evolves beyond linear time, the Loch Ness monster attacks the Enterprise and Rand marries a pyramid of pure thought-energy. I don't know whether this trio of trippy tales represents the best of Marvel Star Trek, but they were more interesting than the average DC. Though that's partly the novelty of discovering a fairly obscure recess of the expanded universe I hadn't even known existed.

Fave: 'Tomorrow or Yesterday'


Michael French, The MiXtake Files: A Nit-picker's Guide to The X-Files

1997 / Ebook / 160 pages / UK

**

Phil Farrand would release his nitpicker's guide in time, when there was a bit more to go on than just the first three years, but this eager X-phile couldn't wait to have a crack at his own, with a little help from lurking on CompuServe forums. With most errors being along the lines of boring production gaffes or unrealistic government processes in a supernatural sci-fi show, it's somewhat less fun that the introduction promises. Then there's the annoying layout, which slips up on every other page, if we're nitpicking here.


N. E. Genge, Millennium: The Unofficial Companion, Volume One

1997 / Ebook / 153 pages / Canada

**

The most worthlessly preemptive programme guide I've come across, this covers all of half a season of The X-Files' forgotten sister show, treating each instalment as a launching pad for thematic digressions on killers, conspiracies and mythology rather than any behind-the-scenes insights. Still, "First."


David A. McIntee, Delta Quadrant: The Unofficial Guide to Voyager

2000 / Ebook / 330 pages / UK

****

The kind of flawed series that's best served by an unauthorised, opinionated guide (or maybe a blog if you're not stuck in your '90s childhood), this was a trip down the memory wormhole that gives credit where due, but doesn't have to pretend to find Neelix tolerable. As is customary for unofficial guides, it's missing the final year. This is fine with me, since I'd abandoned ship by that point too.


Steven Cooper, Steven Moffat's Doctor Who 2014-2015: The Critical Fan's Guide to Peter Capaldi's Doctor (Unauthorized)

2014-16 (updated 2016) / Ebook / 232 pages / Australia

***

It's too soon for nostalgia or a proper rewatch, but worth taking some time out to appreciate a decent (if overly serious) era before my enthusiasm waned. As, seemingly, did this critical fan's, this being the last of his books.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Alrightreads: TV II

Dave Morris, Knightmare: The Forbidden Gate

1992 / Ebook / 158 pages / UK

****

The weird, bloodthirsty YA fantasy is toned down as the Knightmare novellas become more appropriately kid-friendly and on brand. For once, I would have actually enjoyed this one as a child, but I went for the worse one with Hugo Myatt staring ominously out of the cover; a poor decision that didn't bode well for my gamebook prospects. The gamebook part was always the main appeal of these, and I was content to ride that economised loop of trial, error and junior riddles as many times as it took to get there.


Phil Farrand, The Nitpicker's Guide for Next Generation Trekkers, Volume II

1995 / Ebook / 407 pages / USA

***

"And now the conclusion." Picking up from its premature predecessor to cover the final season and first film, bringing things bang up to date for about a year, this then fills out the remaining four fifths or so of its runtime by going back over the rest of the series with input from readers to catch the subtler, duller and more pointlessly critical nits he missed. My enthusiasm for the craft has worn off a bit, but I still need to read his Deep Space Nine guide the next time I want to watch four sevenths of that series.


Adrian Rigelsford, Classic Who: The Hinchcliffe Years – Seasons 12–14

1995 / Ebook / 128 pages / UK

***

I'm picky when it comes to 'Who, old and new, so I enjoyed this celebration of the only stretch of the 20th century series that I really dig. A laid-back chat with the producer – his late script editor occasionally chipping in from beyond the grave – it's a very narrow peek through the studio keyhole, more interesting for the retrospective musings on what worked, what didn't and what might have been.


Peter David, Bill Mumy, J. Michael Straczynski, Howard Weinstein and artists, Star Trek Comics Classics: The Return of the Worthy

1990-91 (collected 2006) / Ecomics / 160 pages / USA

**

Peter David helps Bill "Lost in Space" Mumy to pen a vague tribute to his show I never saw before bowing out; J. Michael "Babylon 5" Straczynski makes his sole, unremarkable contribution to the Star Trek universe (Deep Space Nine plagiarism notwithstanding); and new regular Howard Weinstein bodes ill for the future of the series. There's a running theme of post-apocalyptic memoriam, so it's perhaps fitting that this was the last of these collections released. They arguably put out one too many already.


Neil and Sue Perryman, The Wife Has Been Assigned: Sapphire & Steel

2016 / Ebook / 96 pages / UK

***

These retro TV historians helped to make the difficult majority of Doctor Who and Blake's 7 more entertaining, so it was disappointing to only find out about this other sequel after I'd already struggled through the nonsensically drawn-out boring landmark show alone. Turns out I wouldn't have got much more out of it though, least of all clarifications.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Alrightreads: Truths

Walter Lord, The Night Lives On

1986 / Ebook / 272 pages / USA

****

Cashing in on the grave defiling, this is a worthwhile expansion beyond the scope of his earlier book that analyses the origin story and legacy and debunks stubborn myths like a spoilsport.


Jon Ronson, Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness

2006 / Ebook / 328 pages / UK

***

There's supposed to be a theme of eccentric mundanity connecting these reprinted newspaper columns, but when he runs out of those, he fills it out with his write-ups on Stanley Kubrick, cults and paedophilia rings that he couldn't find a place for in the main books. I'd heard him tell most of these stories before.


Jon Ronson, What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness

2007 / Ebook / 288 pages / UK

***

Further collected columns chronicling trivial occurrences from his week contrasted with a few in-depth investigations I'd read before elsewhere. He does tend to repeat himself.


Rhys Hughes, The Truth Spinner: The Complete Adventures of Castor Jenkins

2008-12 (collected 2012) / Ebook / 260 pages / UK

***

A well-read fibber's tall tales and extraordinary excuses, some funnier than others.

Fave: 'Flying Saucer Harmonies'


Various, The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There

2016 / Audiobook / 360 pages / Various

***

They used up the better-known authors on the first batch, though I'm not sure whether the average quality was really lower here or I'd just reached my fanfic limit. A couple stood out for being traditional X-Files done nicely, another for being desperately meta in a way I reliably enjoy regardless, and another would have gone down in infamy if they'd actually made it. Most would have been instantly forgotten. It's only mildly distressing that the generic titles of these anthologies are in the reverse order of the '90s companion books.

Fave: Kendare Blake's 'Heart'

Friday, 13 November 2020

Alrightreads: Trek Bibles

Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek is...

Read 2020

****

"She is very female, disturbingly so."

Roddenberry's legendary pitch for a cerebral yet titillating space western is obviously fascinating for nerds in its cosmetic differences on the way to the first pilot, but it's also an entertaining balancing act as the experienced showrunner pitches to execs in language they understand to slip through the more progressive casting (we didn't get the Space Jesus and Commie-baiting episodes in the end).


Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer/Director's Guide

Read 2020

***

Gene's enthusiasm for his fresh start in the drama-free 24th century is inspiring, and despite all the changes and improvements they'd make along the way, the series stayed true to his concise mission summary over seven years (even if they broke some of these rules big time). This was cobbled together late enough in development for the ship to have a design and Wesley to be male, but still early enough for some fun oddities and vague casting speculations.


Rick Berman and Michael Piller, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Bible (Revised)

Read 2020

**

Sadly not the first edition – which would be a lot more interesting in its formative brainstorming and more blatant Babylon 5 appropriation – but there are still a few little differences before they got to casting and production. The newfound freedom for interpersonal conflict is emphasised, now that Gene's dead, and in a show of faith in their prospective writers, the creators helpfully spell out what real-world allegories it is that they're doing there.


Rick Berman and Michael Piller & Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, Star Trek: Voyager Bible & Technical Guide V1.0

Read 2020

**

Series bibles are usually interesting for how strange and stilted the familiar characters are described before being fleshed out, but these descriptions show more personality and interpersonal potential than the poorly-managed show would achieve. The dry technical guide that repeats and slightly modifies a TNG reference book is truer to the spirit of the series we'd get. Yeah, I've gone off Voyager a bit since I was twelve.


Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, Enterprise Bible

Read 2020

*

If I'd got hold of these pages at the time, I would have been even less excited for the uninspired prequel I didn't bother watching than I was already. It ended up being an okay show, I guess, but when these outlines aren't shamelessly ripping off previous series, they're generic as hell. About the only original thing is the even more shameless decontamination titillation, which was evidently in there from the start.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Alrightreads: Travel

Neil Gaiman, Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion (a.k.a. Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

1987 / Ebook / 176 pages / UK

****

Misleadingly marketed as some kind of episode guide, later editions (updated by other writers when Neil Gaiman got too big to be a jobbing biographer) would more accurately reframe this as a Douglas Adams biography and career retrospective, from the Footlights and Graham Chapman co-failures through the messy success of Hitchhiker and other curious nuggets. Neil's funny and insightful narration makes for another classic if unusual literary collaboration that's better than it was contractually required to be, but as good as Douglas deserved.


Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!

1990 / Ebook / 44 pages / USA

**

Too patronising for graduates but irrelevant for children, I'm not sure who this aspirational independence primer is for, though obviously the last person it's for is someone who's done his travelling and settled down. It gets a point for nice drawings; you can improvise a more interesting story around them to entertain your preschooler.


Various, Ripley's Believe It or Not!: Odd Places

Collected 1991 / Ebook / 128 pages / USA

***

Most of these aren't particularly odd nor difficult to believe, especially in the age of 'mysterious' YouTube spam channels, and even the ones that are interesting are liable to be dubious and outdated. But don't let that stop you from sharing. Just make sure you begin each amazing anecdote about a realistically tall lighthouse with the phrase "Believe it or not..."


David Massey, Kathy Dickinson, Ian Bell and David Braben, Frontier: Elite II – Gazetteer

1993 / Ebook / 39 pages / UK

*

This unnecessary supplement fills in the lore (if you really needed to know who Grant of Grant's Claim fame was), but won't be of any practical help for making those few transactions before you get blasted out of the sky (maybe some people got further than I did).


Rhys Hughes, Sangria in the Sangraal, or Tucked Away in Aragon

2011-16 (collected 2016) / Ebook / 128 pages / UK

****

Short tales inspired by a nice place he visited, featuring sentient clouds, God and other mythological creatures and jarring sci-fi interruptions.

Fave: 'The Shapes Down There'