neadods: (sherdoc)
I've been listening to Big Finish's Beyond the Grave a couple of times this week - it's that good, and it's that scary. The premise is a fairly simple one: a British ghost hunting show called Beyond the Grave has decided to do a live show from Eagle Hill Cemetery in Collinsport on Halloween night because it's been the scene of multiple late October murders. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Because it's being portrayed from the point of view of outsiders and doesn't tie into the soap opera storylines, you don't need to know a single thing about Dark Shadows to appreciate the story. (If you do, you'll recognize all the cameos.)

And it is *terrifying!* Big Finish doesn't shy from horror - they're possibly a tad overfond of gluggy sound effects and shouting in the Doctor Who ranges - but I find this the most atmospheric and frightening by far - and I'm comparing it to the the rest of their Dark Shadows and Sapphire and Steel ranges. Considering their audio-only products, Big Finish surprisingly shies away from milking the "you're listening to the radio" format. (Even this is, technically, the sound track from a TV show.) When they embrace the concept that this is a series of transmissions they are at their strongest - it's not a coincidence that my other big Big Finish favorite is Live 34.

Beyond the Grave is available in download or on CD. There's also a trailer to listen to at the link: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/beyond-the-grave-884
neadods: (laughter)
These days, Ealing Studios is synonymous with Alec Guiness, and for good reason: The Man in the White Suit, Lavender Hill Mob, and Kind Hearts and Coronets are classics - not to mention The Ladykillers, which is infinitely superior to the remake, as it depended on plot and not crassness for its humor.

But there were many, many Ealing comedies, and some of the others are available for purchase or rental on DVD too. And that includes the delightful Passport to Pimlico.

By modern sensibilities, it starts very slowly. We're almost 10 minutes into a 120-minute film before the plot begins: an unexploded bomb left over from the war detonates, and the blast crater exposes gold, jewels... and an unrescinded royal decree signing the Pimlico district of London over to the Duchy of Burgundy. (Leading to the quote I've used as a title.)

What starts as a slightly drunken revolt against current restrictions - pub closing time? Ration books? Those are English laws, mate, we're in Burgundy! - abruptly turns real when Whitehall, determined to get its hands on that treasure and bring its citizens' revolt to heel, literally treats Pimlico as a foreign country. They didn't expect their war-battered citizens to furiously (and hilariously) fight back.

Wikipedia can provide the historical background to the plot; all the casual viewer needs to know about the tone is summed up in one shopkeeper's line: "We always were English and we'll always be English, and it's precisely because we are English that we're sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!"
neadods: (contemplative)
Every now and then, I pick up a book assuming that it won't hold my interest, that I'll just flick through it, start skimming as soon as I lose concentration, or put it down permanently as soon as I lose interest.

And then, to my surprise, I end up reading every word.

The latest of these is Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box.

Rocker Judas "Jude" Coyne has a collection of the bizarre and the ghastly - a witch's confession, serial killer art, a snuff film. So when he sees the online auction ad for a ghost, he can't resist. With a click on the "buy it now" button, it's his. He doesn't actually believe in life after death, but the story is too good; the auction too unusual. It must be his!

A few days later, he receives a black suit in a heart-shaped box. And that's when everything goes wrong for Jude and his girlfriend Georgia. A ghost really has come as part of the deal - a cadaverous man with black squiggles over his eyes, a confident smile, and a razor blade on a chain. This isn't just any ghost... this is a man who has promised beyond death to take his vengeance on Jude and anyone who would help him. His stepdaughter was one of the many women Jude loved and blew off, and when she could take it no more, she killed herself.

But Jude has been dealing some kinds of ghosts for a long, long time; his past is full of the ghosts of angry memory - his abusive family, his out of control bandmates, his many loves gone wrong. He hasn't let any of them stop him, and he's not going to let this one take him out either.

Hill lets Heart-Shaped Box do what it needs to tell the story. In some cases, this means dropping out of linear narrative; in others it means single-sentence chapters. It also means letting the ghost write what he pleases lalala dark, twisted threats lalala long streams of creepy consciousness with little punctuation that work lalala like Faulker quotes from the depths of hell lalala. (Or he sticks with single, cheerful sentences such as the constant refrain, "The dead will drag the living down.")

Hill's confidence is rewarded, because the emphasis and pacing are perfect - better than they would have been if he'd robbed the power of the words to stick with convention. Also, they serve to keep the reader guessing - as does the plot, which is far from straightforward.

Other conventions, however, are satisfyingly fulfilled. People into the music scene (or fond of wikipedia) will catch many musical references slipped easily in. Plus, there are lots of lovely horror tropes that slapped my "shiver" button hard, although again Hill doesn't go for cliches like splattered body parts or bleeding walls. (I am a sucker for TV and radio broadcasts gone wrong, and there are lots of those.)

The book garnered enough attention, and the description is so nicely visual that I'm not surprised to hear that Warner has optioned it for a movie. But until then - if you want a good, freaky read, you can't do much better than Heart-Shaped Box.

But do pick a day when you can read the whole thing in daylight.
neadods: (Default)
Considering my often-repeated disdain for RPF, writers hitching their career to more famous writers, and especially the horror/Austen mashups, it's a bit embarrassing to admit how much I enjoyed Michael Thomas Ford's Jane Bites Back.

It's crackfic, plain and simple.

Like any good parody it's internally consistent, while being based on a series of ever more ludicrous assumptions: That Jane lost her virginity and life to a secret lover. That she's been garnering rejections for her final book for 250 years. And that she's had writer's block ever since. (The part where she's furious about other people making a living repackaging or bastardizing her work - that part I can easily believe.)

Periodically moving to hide her agelessness, she is currently living in a small town in New York under the name of Jane Fairfax, running a bookstore with the help of a young woman who reminds her of her sister, and avoiding the attentions of a perfectly nice but slightly boring and all-too mortal man.

But then her placid life is shaken in several directions. Professionally, her book is finally accepted and shortlisted for early publication, throwing Jane into a whirl of publicity and jealousy that she never knew when it was her brother submitting the manuscripts on her behalf. Romantically, she is torn between her friend Walter, her stunning editor Kelly, and the return of the man who made her who she is today, a man calling himself Brian George. (For anyone who looked at that name and said "Oh no, it can't be - !" ... Oh yes, it can.)

The novel is set up for a sequel, which will probably be a mistake - this conceit won't bear much weight, much less internal development. But for now, lit lovers are going to equally laugh out loud and roll their eyes over the wreckage heaped on more than one early 19th century British author.
neadods: (academia)
"When much is taken, something is returned." This motto, printed on the cover of Pratchett's latest book, Nation is the heart of every story inside.

There are three stories. The bracket story is of Captain Sampson, who has lost the society he knows. Upon returning from a long voyage, his crew is barred from leaving the ship. Sickness rages through this slightly alternate 1800s England, sickness that has claimed the royal family. Captain Sampson must go find the remaining heir to the throne and the clock is ticking - if the heir isn't found in time, ownership of England is ceded to the French according to the fine print version of the Magna Carta. ("I thought I knew all of the Magna Carta, and I never heard of those clauses." "They are in the ratified version. You don't think barons who could hardly write their names could come up with a proper set of sensible rules for the proper running of a large country?")

The heir to the heir - she prefers to be called Daphne - has lost her way and her protection. A tsunami swamped the ship that was taking her to her father's governorship in the South Pelagic Ocean, and she is the only survivor of the resulting wreck. Scientifically minded but raised to know no task harder than embroidery, she must survive until her father's ships find her.

Mau has lost most of all - his tribe, his home, his identity, his faith, his very soul. Leaving his island home, Nation, he was taken to Boy's Island to leave behind his boy soul and start the journey to being given a man soul. But when he braves the great wave and returns to Nation, there is nothing. No men to teach him the secrets. No anchors to hold the gods to the land. Nothing and no one living except the pale ghost of a girl who flits through the waking nightmare of this empty home. He must rebuild, and in order to do so, he must decide what is worth being rebuilt.

Much has been taken. What will be returned?

I wasn't sure about Pratchett's stepping away from both Discworld and fantasy for this novel; it wouldn't be the first time an author tried to leap genres and failed to stick the landing. I should have had more faith. Pratchett at the start of his career did little more than reactive parody - wouldn't it be funny if the witches in MacBeth were the good guys? Wouldn't it be a funny running gag if "Lady MacBeth" kept handwashing with everything from water to a cheese grater? Well yes, it would, but there was no depth there. That depth came over time and experience; you can watch it grow Discworld novel by Discworld novel, and now Pratchett is a master author at the top of his game. There are still a few flourishes of fantasy - there's a small running gag about tree-climbing octopuses - but Nation can be recommended to people who would never touch a book with a troll or a witch in it.

Discworld fans will recognize elements of familiar characters - Carrot, Vimes, Lady Sybil, Granny Weatherwax, Vorbis, Teatime, Tiffany, Mr. Pin, and Drumknot, just to name a few. Pratchett does like to build on the same character traits. This is not to his disadvantage; in addition to his publishing awards, the British Brownies made him an honorary member for "writing a proper girl in a book." Everyone, from grieving Mau to confused Daphne to Daphne's uber-proper grandmother ("a mixture of Boadicea without the chariot, Catherine de Medici without the poisoned rings and Atilla the Hun without his wonderful sense of fun") ring absolutely real.

And as usual, Pratchett's writing style sparkles. He is the first writer since Thurber to make the English language dance and beg: "she had gone to straight bed with an attack of the vapors and stayed there, still gently vaporizing, until she completely vaporized at the age of eighty-six." But that doesn't mean he pulls punches. On page 8, I laughed. On page 23 there were tears in my eyes, and not from laughter. The description of Mau cleaning up the remains of - and remains in - his village will haunt you for days.

If you already love Pratchett, Nation will not disappoint. If you've never read him, Nation is an excellent introduction. And if your children like survival books like My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, or Robinson Crusoe, run-don't-walk to the store on Tuesday for the technically Young Adult Nation.
neadods: (Default)
WHO DAILY: lj user="neadods"> a href="http://neadods.livejournal.com/739801.html">reviews The Doctor Trap

A quick check of Amazon.co.uk shows that Simon Messingham has written a number of Doctor Who tie-ins... but I've read none of them, so I can't tell if The Doctor Trap is typical or aberrant.

I can tell that it's severely flawed, and that's a pity, because the premise had so much promise.

Blending elements of Assassination Bureau and The Most Dangerous Game, the Doctor and Donna have been kidnapped to Planet 1, where a bunch of hunters intend to have the hunt of their lives by tracking the Doctor down and killing him. If they fail, they become the hunted, and not just by an infuriated Doctor.

This is the kind of winner-gets-to-live competition that can make for nailbiting plots and indeed, most thrillers are based on that premise - it's the heart of Hunt for Red October and The Da Vinci Code, just to name two of the more famous examples. It's an idea that translates wonderfully to SF/F as well - Dark Knight is arguably much the same basic concept.

But it's only thrilling as long as there's a sensation of actual danger here, and it's only interesting as long as the antagonists have five brain cells to knock together between them. And this is where Messingham fumbles. The Doctor's up against an opponent who is so self-centered, predictable, and impulsive that a clever eight-year-old could play him like a fiddle. The book reached the point of no return when Sebastiene actually spelled out to the Doctor what he wanted to hear for the Doctor to get what *he* wanted. It's like reading a Sherlock Holmes story where the murderer turns around and confesses three minutes after Sherlock walks in.

There's no fun in defeating a villain like that. And although we keep being told that the Doctors (there are two of them, just to complicate issues) are trapped and working at their wit's end, there is little sense of real danger when the baddie is dumb as a stump and even random chance is in the hero's favor.

Donna is entirely sidelined, reduced to a pawn with no agency and no initiative. There's more character-building put into the androids that surround Sebastiene, who show their maker's same flaws of overemotionalism and jumping to conclusions. Is it asking too much for a little machine logic from a machine? Even one programmed to adore its maker?

For fans of previous companions, Rose gets a two-line mention. Sarah Jane, Jack, and Martha get nothing. (Considering that Martha spent a year being hunted down herself; you'd think that one of the Doctors would wonder, if for a single sentence, what she'd do in any given situation.)

It's such a shame for such a good idea, but The Doctor Trap spends as much time puncturing its own suspense as building it.
neadods: (Default)
WHO DAILY: lj user="neadods"> reviews a href="http://neadods.livejournal.com/736391.html">Big Finish's The Doomwood Curse


Jacqueline Rayner has been a favorite New Who writer since Winner Takes All, and she has returned to the Doctor Who monthly series with her fourth Sixth Doctor story, The Doomwood Curse.

Rayner has a fondness for Six, having written 100, The Marion Conspiracy, and the cracktastic Doctor Who and the Pirates for him. Doomwood isn't quite as crackalicious as Pirates - but it's pretty darn close. )

The Doomwood Curse is fabulous fun. Think of it as Northanger Abbey... with a TARDIS.
neadods: (Default)
It's the last day of the month and I'm supposed to be doing a resolutions post, but bugger that. It's going to be bad enough with this set of comments AND the fic for the meme (Am I insane, posting fic on ep night?) and then episode commentary.

Still, because to my surprise people care about this sort of thing:

iPods. Still love mine. Although everything I loaded for Media*West skipped, damnit, it was still the perfect thing to have on the car trip. Esp. when I didn't want to worry about music, so I could just set the thing to shuffle and *drive* - no changing CDs, no fading radio stations, no music I didn't like because I'm the one who loaded it in the first place.

Summer. What I love about summer around here is that cold food makes sense. And cold food is perfect when you don't like to plan meals, just forage in the fridge. "I'm hungy. Hmmm... there's some sesame bread, tomato bruschetta, mozarilla, and strawberries. Lunch!" (And a halfway decent and nutritious one too!)

The Zero Room, another Whovian fanfiction archive along wiht Teaspoon and an Open Mind (commonly called "Teaspoon"). I'm sticking with Teaspoon for now, personally, but leaving the link for future reference.

The New Adventures of Queen Victoria continues to be made of surreal win.

Also surreal, [livejournal.com profile] lizbee has got a series of book reviews that miss the point by miles. On The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy: I certainly didn't get any good, practical travel advice from this book. Stick with Fodor's and save yourself the bother.

Y'all have GOT to go see what gets said about Sam Clemens and Jane Austen. And if you scroll through the comments, there's some stuff on Shakespeare as well. "Why can't [Romeo and Juliet] end happily ever after?"

These are words that never, ever belong in the same sentence, but [livejournal.com profile] nostalgia_lj has written the world's funniest BDSM fic. Not safe for work or children, quite obviously. "It's just that I get this sort of thing a lot from villains. It's like how bondage has lost all erotic thrill for me. One time Rose tied me to the bed with my tie and I'd freed myself without thinking before she'd managed to get out of her bra."
neadods: (Default)
A quick check of Amazon.co.uk doesn't turn up any other genre books by David Llewellyn, which partially explains why Trace Memory (originally called Horaizon) is so exceedingly "meh."

A man suddenly pops into Torchwood's hub. Not "pops" in the colloquial sense, he suddenly just appears. And everyone remembers him from a previous point in their lives. Owen treated him just as he qualified as a Doctor. Gwen arrested him as a nutter. Baby Tosh told him stories. Jack shagged him. Who is he, how did he get unstuck in time, and what can be done about it?

And that, in a nutshell, is the entire plot. No wrinkles, no twists, and because the reason behind his problem is made rapidly obvious, not much suspense either. Some moderately scary villains (the cover art owes rather a lot to the Buffy episode "Hush") but with vague and easily picked-apart motives. The six-page depiction of Torchwood One at the height of its power is a lot more chilling than the ostensible bad guys.

On the other hand, it isn't utter crap either. Unusual for a Torchwood story, the plot is based on science (well, skience) rather than mysticism. The writing is competent, there's some nice character work (Ianto and Jackanto fans will certainly want to read it), and the individual scenes are interesting.

But they don't link together into a whole coherent enough to rise above mediocrity.


In other reviews, my review for The Black Dove is up on Reviewing the Evidence.
neadods: (fridge)
Because the tie-in books come in threes, I like to sort them in reading order from what I think will be the weakest to the one I'm most anxious to read, so that I will hopefully start at the bottom and end on the top.

I started the latest Torchwood trilogy with Something in the Water, and either I've mis-sorted, or this set is particularly strong. Written by Trevor Baxendale, who also wrote several NAs and EDAs as well as the recent Who tie-in Wishing Well, the blurb for Something sounded like a bog standard about a bog monster. What it is is a well-paced, well-characterized pseudo-medical thriller.

Okay, with a bog monster.

Torchwood is running a couple of hunts simultaneously; the first for sparks of random Rift energy that are appearing around Cardiff, and the second for the new enemy in town that gutted a Weevil in one blow. But Ianto's search for leads brings up the interesting story of the woman who the police think is a "serial suicide" - found floating face-down in pools and ponds, but always getting up and walking away. Her attempted deaths correlate with the "sparks" of rift energy Torchwood has been monitoring.

But they are distracted by the flu-like plague that is appearing around Cardiff. It doesn't have a name, although late in the book someone dubs it "the bloody cough," which fits on a number of levels. First you have a sore throat, then you start coughing, then you start coughing blood, and then you die.

And everyone in Torchwood, including Jack, has developed a sore throat...

Most readers will be able to spot the connection and the problem well before Torchwood (it wouldn't be Torchwood if they were *too* competent!) but the plot is as well-paced and exciting as I'd expect from any mystery novel. Dialog pegs the time between "To the Last Man" and "Reset" (it's unclear if it is before or after "Meat" as Rhys does not appear.) This is very much S2 Torchwood, with a snarkier, flirtier Ianto, a less selfish Owen, and a more centered Jack. Plenty of dialog for the Jackanto fans (the kinker ones will have to go change their knickers after one line). If you consider the books extended canon, there is also an intriguing throwaway line about the relationship between UNIT and Torchwood.

All in all, Something in the Water is a solid, entertaining read, completely in keeping with the revamped show it portrays.

x-posted to [livejournal.com profile] torch_wood
neadods: (academia)
I love this class! When I first saw Great American Music: Broadway Musicals, I figured it would be a somewhat academic retread of that PBS thing on the history of Broadway with Julie Andrews.

It is so! Much! More! Yes, he talks about the history of the art form, starting with the minstrel shows. But he also goes into the social movements & technological improvements that made each form rise, adapt, and change. (For instance, the minstrel shows fading to vaudeville as other immigrants flooded in with their entertainment, and the reduction of the number of verses in a song so that they could fit onto the original phonograph albums.)

But he also talks about the music. All about the music; its forms and evolution and evocations. Professor Bill Messenger works for the Peabody Institute of Music, with an MA out of Johns Hopkins, and he not only knows his stuff cold, he can transmit it interestingly and clearly. Unlike the other classes I've listened to, there doesn't appear to be a live audience. However, there is a piano, which Prof. Messenger uses to strip down the music he discusses into its separate phrases and embellishments. (Turns out he can't sing, though, so he does that chant-on-pitch thing when he's playing. Actual singing is provided by many original recordings and recreations.)

I'm not sure that I've ever heard lectures on A-B-A-B vs A-B-A-C song forms. He not only does that, with listening practice of simple and complex variations, but at times he disassembles songs into their component parts so you can hear the adaptations. (In a section that reminds me of the brilliant Pachelbel Rant, he dissects "Yes, We Have No Bananas" into its stolen parts... and then sings it with the "original lyrics." Since the first four notes are a direct lift from Handel, "Hal-le-lu-ja, bananas!" is worth the price of the class right there.)

The class is composed of 16 lectures, each 45 minutes long. It's a relatively recent one, as he's making references to both Wicked and Avenue Q. Currently on sale for $35 to $70 depending on media, (down from $150-250) this is a must-own for theater buffs.


And in a different-but-related subject, I still dream of someday taking the University of Central Lancashire's 3-module Contemporary Shakespeare Studies e-learning class.
neadods: (reading)
I originally started this post with a little demure "this is for the fanficcers, I wouldn't presume to tell the pros how to write" but y'know what? A great reference book is a great reference book and I'm not good at being demure anyway. Do media-oriented writing? Run thou out right now and purchase Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box. Go ahead, it's Thursday, you've got those print-out Borders coupons in your email, that'll knock a few bucks off the suggested $15 retail.

That said, I'm going to address the rest of this to the fanficcers while the pros snicker at us from the bar. Hopefully while thumbing through their surreptitiously purchased copies.

I first found out about this book from [livejournal.com profile] susanmgarrett, who recommended it herself as a Wicked-cool read. It's something any fanfic writer should read. It's clever, it's engaging, and I'd marry it if it were a man. I've got a healthy ego and 25 years of fanfic under my typewriter ribbon so I was pretty sure I didn't want to marry it, but I am in awe of Susan, I had a Borders coupon, and I'm always up for clever, engaging books, so I picked up a copy.

I started on Chapter 2 (Great Episode Ideas). By the second paragraph, I'd picked up a highlighter. By the sixth page, I'd added red pen under the highlighter for a really significant bit. ("A great story idea challenges a character's weakness or strength - it forces a character to overcome or at least face one of his flaws, or turns one of his virtues into a risk factor." Emphasis added via Bic.)

I don't usually write a full review based on 1/10th of the book, but -- Damn! Just daaaaaamn, based on this chapter alone, what a hell of a book! Worth the price of admission right here, "Great Episode Ideas" is a fast read, it's a funny read, but most importantly, it strips down the plotlines to their bones and clearly states how to build those bones back into unique skeletons upon which to hang the plot, using as illustration examples from shows ranging from The Andy Griffith Show to Lost. He also talks about what wouldn't work and why it's a horrible idea, and even tosses in examples of how showrunners have successfully smashed the rules of their own shows. (Note to self: Netflix Deep Space 9's "Far Beyond the Stars," which I've never seen.)

After all the book reviewing I can articulate why other people's plots work or not, but ask me about my own plotting and it would either be "they left this loose thread I could tie up in a short missing scene" or (these days, at least) "I want to see how fast I can strip the characters down and stick 'em together in different combos like legos." Plot is a very weak point for me, and Epstein has given me much to chew on, such as this particularly favorite part from page 48: It's the flaw or the strength that makes it a story. (If Hamlet were in Othello's shoes, and vice versa, neither play would happen. Clever Hamlet would spot Iago's treachery in a moment, and decisive Othello would kill the usurper the moment he got back from Wittenberg.)

Want your stuff to sound more like the show you're imitating? Find out how the creators are actually building it.

Alex Epstein also has a blog, Complications Ensue
neadods: (doctor08)
Big Finish #28 - Doctor Who: Invaders From Mars is a fantastic stand-alone Eighth Doctor adventure. If you are trying to make up your mind if you want to listen to the Big Finish audios, or if you want a taste of Paul McGann without investing in my oft-recommended Storm Front/Neverland/Zagreus trilogy, this is the one to get.

Written by Mark Gatiss, who also wrote Big Finish's Phantasmagoria before moving on to writing the New Who episodes "Unquiet Dead" and "Idiot's Lantern," Invaders from Mars is a delightfully twisted romp. The Doctor has promised Charley a stop in Sinagpore in the early 30s; his usual piloting skills have landed him in New York City on October 31, 1938. They soon stumble over the body of a private investigator, and when mistaken for the dead man, the Doctor can't resist playing out his Dashiell Hammett fantasies. This promptly dumps him in a mess of a missing nuclear scientist, Nazi spies, New York mobsters who've kidnapped Charley, a dangerous dame named Glory Bee, and aliens from outer space.

Because even while Orson Wells panics the country with the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, something really has landed and a lot closer than Grovers Corners...

The "American" accents are as bad as I've learned to expect from Big Finish, but they aren't that painful this time around because most of them are speaking the broken Brooklyn of the Hollywood gangster; it's possible to simply pretend that you're listening to a production of Guys and Dolls, since we don't sound like that either. (I did wonder for the entire first episode why a mob enforcer was allowing people to call him "Alice," though, until an Englishman cleared it up by calling him Mr. Ellis. We do distinguish between the two. Even in Brooklyn.) And there's one guy who has the sounds right, if you don't mind his accent changing states in the middle of the occasional sentence. (This was disconcerting but it didn't throw me too badly, at least once he got back out of Connecticut.)

However, the wordplay is so delicious that you'll be too busy laughing to sneer. I won't spoil all the jokes, but there are three Doctor quotes that really sum up the tone: "People are killed for a reason even in New York," the Doctor earnestly reassures Charley. Later he explains his grooming routine to Glory Bee: "Every now and then I treat myself to a complete makeover." And finally (and points to Paul McGann for rattling this off at speed) there's the utterly Doctorish, "You know what young carniverous mammalian monsters are like! Always getting into scrapes!"

This was a hoot and a half from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it to McGann fans and audio fans.
neadods: (tardis_calling)
I'm taking a step away from reviewing the mystery books to indulging my latest obsession doing the same for the new Who tie-in novels. First up: Justin Richards' The Clockwise Man and Jacqueline Rayner's Winner Takes All.

But first, a note on the the books themselves. BBC has been taking notes from the Harry Potter phenomina and releasing the books as smallish hardbacks with color art printed right on the covers, rather than the classic paperback style of the Target books or the New Adventures. On the whole, I think it's a good choice as it makes for a sturdier package at an only marginally higher price. (With thick paperbacks going for $6.99 here already, it's not that big a jump to pay $10 for a hardback.) At the moment there are 6 Doctor Nine books and 3 Doctor Tens, with Amazon.co.uk's publishing schedule slightly ahead of Amazon.com's. I do not know if they're planning more Nine books; that probably depends on sales. There is at least one Ten available for English pre-order.

The thing that struck me most was how aggressively British they are. There is absolutely no attempt to tone the language down for the American market (which I think they were starting to do with the Target novelizations.) This isn't just extra "u"s and "e"s and single quotes instead of double ones, this is full-bore Brit slang used in both the character and narrative voices. I think BBC decided that if so many copies of Terry Pratchett and Harry Potter were going directly from Amazon.co.uk to USA addresses, there was no reason to soften things up anymore. This is an BRITISH show and proud of it, by George! Rose isn't going to just go to the market for milk, she's going to pick up a double-pint of semi-skimmed and if the Yanks don't know what that means, they'll just ruddy have to ask someone who speaks proper English!

And so, on to the books.

The Clockwise Man
The first of the new series tie-ins. According to the book, the plot goes like this: In 1920s London, the Doctor and Rose find themselves caught up in the hunt for a mysterious murderer. But not everyone or everything is what they seem. Secrets lie behind locked doors and inhuman killers roam the streets. Who is the Painted Lady and why is she so interested in the Doctor? How can a cat return from the dead? Can anyone be trusted to tell - or even to know - the truth? With the faceless killers closing in, the Doctor and Rose must solve the mystery of the Clockwise Man before London itself is destroyed...

According to anyone who's seen enough Who, the plot goes like this: Standard Plot #5 (Aliens bringing their drama to earth with reckless disregard for human life) mixed up with Standard Plot Complication #7[D] (Tardis unavailable [stolen]).

It's certainly got everything you expect from slam-bang Doctor adventure. Aliens fitting imperfectly onto Earth? Check. Robots? Check. Conspiracy? Check. A little bit of silliness from the Doctor? Check. Plucky companion alternately helping and needing to be rescued? Check. Quirky subordinate characters? Check. Frankly, it's not a half bad standard generic Doctor adventure, if one of the cheesier, more predictable ones.

The problem is that it is a generic Doctor adventure. With a few global search-and-replaces done on the Dr's signature wardrobe piece and the companion's name, this could be anybody's adventure. The cover might have Nine and Rose, but there's nothing in the text to stop it from being Three and Liz, Four and Sarah Jane, Five and Nyssa, Seven and Mel, or possibly even Ten and Rose. And that was a disappointment to me. It's the different portrayals and character interactions that make each adventure unique.

Justin Richards has also written The Deviant Strain (Dr. Nine), The Resurrection Casket (Dr. Ten), and edited multiple info books like Doctor Who: The Legend Continues.

Winner Takes All
My dissatisfaction with the previous book only made this one shine the brighter. Winner Takes All is set mainly on Earth in modern time, so it is solidly rooted in the specific characters of Nine, Rose, and Mickey. And Rayner takes them and runs, giving each one some lovely character interaction. And not just them; she adds in a beautifully depicted supporting cast, particularly the resentfully daydreaming young Walter-Mitty style teen and the town thug.

But she doesn't forget the plot, which moves at a sprint. It's best described as "Dr Who and The Last Starfighter," since it's about video games being used as warrior recruitment. But it's not just a retread with Eccleston standing in for Robert Preston - there are quite a few plot twists thrown in, both to keep the action moving and to allow for character moments that flesh out the thrills. There's also a lot of humor, which not only works in character, it lightens up what would otherwise be a surprisingly dark, violent book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and felt that it really came across like I was watching one of the episodes, with the perfect blend of action and horror and humor. If you're looking for something that portrays Nine in all his Ecclestonian guilt and glory, this is the book for you.

Jacqueline Rayner has also written the Ten tie-in novel The Stone Rose, available in America on May 13 and available via Amazon.co.uk immediately.
neadods: (Default)
Yarn Harlot - The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl McPhee

I got this because it was 3-for-2 at Borders looked cute, and indeed it is. This collection of crafting anecdotes will sound familiar to anyone who's passionate about their hobby - the problems of storing the stash, the inability to find anything to use no matter how big that stash gets, the assurance turning to panic as Christmas looms, tackling projects that are too complex for current skills, and the like.

The chapters are very small, averaging three pages each. (I think they were probably originally posts on her blog www.yarnharlot.ca) While many are laugh-out-loud hilarious, the book as a whole has a nice mix of humor, reflection, and in some cases heartbreak. (I don't even like children and I was sobbing over the story of the sock knitted for the baby that didn't make it.)

While it's an obvious gift for knitters, I think this is a good one for any sewer, costumer, beader, and the ilk - and definately worth the buying while it stays on the 3-for-2 table. (Which still has Stiff - The Curious Life of Cadavers. That is SUCH a good book!)
neadods: (Default)
I've noticed that my friends list goes up every time I either do a long rant or post tons of stuff about feminism or misused religion. With that in mind, I'm going to...

...pimp a band right now.

There's a country station here that does what they call "The 4:30 Future File" where they play a new cut by an established artist or something by a new band, and then get the listeners to call in with ratings. I've learned about a fair number of now-famous bands before they hit because of that, or caught songs I would have otherwise missed.

A couple of times the DJ played a song called "Boondocks" by Little Big Town. I loved and jumped on Amazon to get the CD. Seeing only one LBT CD, I figured it had to be the right one and got it.

Uh, nope. Little Big Town by Little Big Town doesn't have "Boondocks" on it - but I loved the album so much I stopped caring by about the second chorus of "Pontiac," the first cut. (Tired of living a life like that/giving a love she don't get back/lies as big as a pontiac/rolling all over her.) Later cuts on the album are more soft rock ballad than country, particularly the soft, nice, and hypnotic "Never Felt Love" (Now I'm alright/I've got you in my life/and I've never felt love ever feel so right) and the even more lyrical "From This Dream," which almost has a classic Moody Blues sound.

I finally got The Road to Here. This one is much more rockabilly; "Stay" is the only soft ballad on it, and "Boondocks" (I feel no shame/I'm proud of where I come from/I was born and raised in the boondocks) is totally out-rednecked by "Welcome to the Family." (Here's some brotherly advice/If you know what's good for you you'll treat her right/'Cause Grandpa's the local sheriff/He's the judge and jury too) "Lookin' for a Reason" (Not to be Gone) is a personal favorite.

A lot of juicy love/breakup stuff to work with for the vidders, and one song that I'm already laying bets will show up shortly as the signature tune for some horror/crime show: "Bones." (You've got bones in your closet/You've got ghosts in your town/Ain't no doubt, yeah, they're gonna come out/They're waiting for the sun to go down)

Listen to the cuts on Amazon to see if LBT fits your taste; I'm putting their stuff on the auto-buy list as it comes out.


Oh, and to not disappoint the crowd, an Intelligent Design link - a Chicago Tribune article titled "It's No Fun to be a Biology Teacher in Kansas. Go to the second page to find the student who considered this an appropriate test answer:

"Although there is more than one viewpoint on the issue of how we all got here, Mr. Bingman is forcing [us into] believing his views by teaching us one-sided education. This is much as how the liberal media is forcing the public into disowning the war and Pres. Bush's policies. Despite my viewpoints I am forced to write about the theory of evolution."

And on the political side, Googlenews is now citing quite a few headlines that the Justice Dept. is pursuing the leak which publicized Bush's wiretapping of citizens without warrants. Not an investigation into the legality of that wiretapping, no, this is searching for the person who let the classified news out into the public.

May it be as fast and fruitful as the Plame investigation, which is also about leaking classified information to the press...
neadods: (Default)
Internet issues (now, I think, resolved) kept me from posting this before, but on Saturday night, we went to see "Something Dickens This Way Comes." The idea was to retell A Christmas Carol - only with three people, minimal setting, and heavily larded with Shakespeare quotes.

The end result was a lot of fun (probably the only time people will whoop with laughter at much of Hamlet) and terribly, terribly silly. Some parts were seamless, such as portioning out the characters via the Rude Mechanicals scene from Midsummer. ("What doth the Ghost of Christmas Future do?" "He points." "Oh, let me take the role! I shall point so that the ladies shall cry 'Let him point again!'") And all the ghost bits from Hamlet merged in quite nicely.

Some were labored - the petitioner asking Scrooge for charitable money didn't need to do the whole "quality of mercy" speech. And some were outright clunky - the answer to "Some would rather die than go [to the poorhouse]" really needn't have been both the "surplus population" line *and* the entire "to be or not to be" monologue.

But these shadows did not offend; on the whole it was a zany bit of fun suitable for rennies who miss Shakespeare Scum and Shakespeare buffs looking for a giggle.

On the way back we stopped by the Miracle on 34th Street; a single block in this northern Baltimore suburb (on 34th St., natch) that fancies itself up as a miracle of overdone Christmas lights. Some were tasteful, most were not, all was merry and bright.

We also shopped a bit up and down the main drag - laughed a lot at the contents of the Atomic Bookstore ("Literary finds for mutated minds") and had an excellent meal in Susan's Soba and sundaes in the place next door, as Cafe Hun took S's cell phone number, promised to call within the hour, and never did.

An excellent night out, and I'll be keeping an eye on the Balt. Shakes. Society in the future.
neadods: (Default)
In addition to some of the usual Christmas fare, I saw three movies over the weekend.

Ishq can be reviewed quite quickly: a near-fatal stabbing, two rape attempts (one serious, one "for show"), deportation, crooked cops, and two suicide attempts. Bollywood certainly has some... interesting... standards for romantic comedies.

The two I really want to talk about are Pride & Prejudice and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Both are based on time-tested books, both are remakes of beloved earlier versions, both take liberties with the plot, both have some odd directorial choices.

And both kick ass.

I'm a heretic. I don't think the Colin Firth P&P was the greatest thing ever filmed. )

As for Narnia... it's better than I ever imagined as a child, and on the whole very faithful to the book. Which means it inherits quite a few flaws, because frankly? As literature, the Narnia books SUCK. And I say this as someone who's adored them from childhood. (Aslan's right - when you're too old you get kicked out because by then you can see all the flaws.)

The problem with adapting Narnia is that you're taking a book with a very patronizing tone, a slow and simplistic plot, next to no description, and some major special effects that have to be done perfectly or there's simply no point in doing the project at all. So I think on the whole the directorial choices were excellent. Without adding stupid subplots for the sake of subplots or significantly changing the story, Adamson (how appropriate a name!) kept major characters from being dropped halfway through the book, upped the action, and added not only personality to the children's characters, but some background as well. In the book, the Blitz gets one line. In the movie, we get to see not only the danger but the stresses that the war was putting on the family. I love that Peter says things like "we were sent to get away from the war" and "Edmund, take the girls back so they'll be safe" - sensible and realistic ideas that never crossed their little imperial heads in the book.

Much of Narnia is left to the reader's imagination - the battle is told mostly in past tense as Lucy heals people, and the coronation gets half a sentence - that it is quite an accomplishment for Adamson to make those scenes so immediate and so beautiful and so fitting.

And the special effects were glorious! The phoenix and the centaurs put Harry Potter to shame. Aslan was as magnificent as anyone could dream (and Liam Neeson was the PERFECT voice!) Jadis was suitably inhuman and regal. And it is seven kinds of wrong how hot I got for James McAvoy's darlingly bashful Mr. Tumnus.

Frankly, my only complaints are tiny ones. With all the fantastic effects, why did all the faun and centaur ears have to be so obviously rubber, and lifeless rubber at that? Give 'em a little animation! And the stiff, swollen, no-neck dresses they put on Jadis made no sense to me at all.

But such tiny, tiny nitpicks. LWW kicked booty at the box office, and I hope to hear that Prince Caspian has been green-lighted. Quick, while these kids are still young enough to reprise their roles!
neadods: (Default)
If you're in the DC area and have time before November 27, run-don't-walk to the Folger box office and pick up a ticket for their delightful version of Much Ado About Nothing.

Set just after WWII, the play takes place at an English manor house (slightly bombed at the edges), which is hosting the victorious English prince, whose troops include one cocky American aviator.

Folger standard Kate Eastwood Norris plays Beatrice, with the new-to-these-parts PJ Sosko as her flyboy. Norris was tiny bit snappish even for a war-weary, heartsore Beatrice, but generally was lively and witty. Sosko, on the other hand, was an vibrant and athletic warrior (although a good foot shorter than any of the other men he was every inch a soldier - and with his excellent sense of physical comedy, the perfect baffled lover as well.) Everyone handled their roles beautifully - even Dogsberry, who usually annoys the heck out of me, worked in this charming production.

There were some changes made, but skillfully so. "Sword" and "scabbard" were changed to "gun" and "holster" to fit the costumes; "Ethiope" was changed to "basilisk" to fit the times. This version had much more drive and energy than most Ados; I realized later as I checked the script that this was because the director had left all the scenes intact, but had ruthlessly pared away any speeches that interfered with the action. It was a wise choice; nothing feels like it's missing (and indeed, nothing important is) but a lot of the unnecessary dialog is prevented from dragging down the play.

In addition to your ticket, you have ample time before the show and during intermission to check out the free exhibition entitled "Consuming Splendor: Luxury Goods in England, 1580–1680."

Bubbly, witty, fast-paced and funny, this is one of THE quintessential productions of Much Ado. Don't miss it.
neadods: (academia)
Dr. Saccio knows his stuff - he has not only researched, he has performed in, directed, and written about Shakespeare. I'm finding the class thought-provoking and yes, I'm learning things.

But at the same time, I'm really glad that this is a taped class, because if it were live, I would be that man's worst student. First is his voice - many professors have a theatrical/oratory edge to their manner of speech, but years of hammering the iambic pentameter has made him stress syllables slightly oddly in "regular speech." He doesn't quite sound like William Shatner, but I'm certainly reminded with every lecture that the genesis of the famous Shatner delivery was Shakespearean training.

The other biggie was that as he discussed the importance of blank verse in Shakespeare in Lecture 1 ("Shakespeare's Wavelengths") he talked about how much he hated it when people spoke the verse in a conversational meter and tone instead of treating it like verse. Fortunately he admitted that this was a personal opinion, because in my view, if you don't try to make the verse sound like speech, you're murdering the play. The quickest way to suck all the life out of a Shakes performance is to come at it from the attitude of "I am talking oddly and wearing odd clothes, but you will enjoy it because it is GOOD for you - like broccoli!"

Besides, it's entirely possible to use Shakespeare's exact language and make it feel fresh and modern. I think anyone who's heard the Barenaked Ladies As You Like It music is going to get the bouncy "with a hey and a ho and a hey nonny no!" stuck in their head and not think twice about the age of those lyrics.

This isn't to say that I'm not getting a lot out of the class - I am - but there's a fundamental viewpoint difference between myself and the teacher that makes me glad that a real GPA doesn't rest on this.

Word and Action has 16 45-minute lectures, covering topics like:
- The Multiple Actions of A Midsummer Night's Dream
- Love and Artifice in Love's Labor's Lost and Much Ado About Nothing
- The Battles of Henry VI
- Action in Hamlet
- Nature and Art in The Winter's Tale
- History and Henry VIII

I think after I have listened to it through, I will add it to the Team Wench Shakespeare raffle basket I'm building, which also includes Stratford's Much Ado (VHS); a boxed set of Romeo & Juliet, RIII, and Taming; Love's Labors Lost (DVD); Discovering Hamlet (VHS); the Stratford mug that lists the entire canon; and the Barenaked Ladies' Much Ado soundtrack. (I'm trying to decide if the Ladies will be such an attraction on their own that they can stand to be a separate raffle item. Or if I should put the rarity up on [livejournal.com profile] 4goodcauses and advertise it on musical, theater, and rennie communities.)

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