Saturday, 23 February 2013

Beta, Gamma, Delta

I wrote this for an 2000 AD Online Story Competition. It didn't win, but I still like it.

- - - - -

Beta, Gamma, Delta
by David Black

"What happened to the first one?" asked Nicola as she tapped in the code to open the securidoor.

"The usual, he got sought and destroyed." came her companion's reply.

His ID card said his name was Harper, but Nicola had her doubts it was real. She ran his ID three times and nothing untoward showed up. She didn't want to make him angry and yet she couldn't stop herself asking questions. She didn't want to find out how many questions would be too many.

The heavy door slowly glided open and the lights flickered sporadically as they entered a large room dominated by three large metal cabinets in front of a smaller dais.

Nicola moved from one cabinet to the next to the next as she checked the life-signs readouts. Her companion kept one eye on the door and combed the shadows in the corners of the room with the other.

The silence was too much for Nicola. She looked over at Harper and awkwardly said "The boys call them coffins."

Harper looked at her and frowned. Seeing his reaction she explained "Oh, I meant the stasis cabinets. It's just that most of people we have on ice are either criminals avoiding the death penalty or medical cases avoiding…"

Nicola chuckled and looked over at him. She laughed alone.

"Well I suppose they're avoiding another sort of death penalty."

Harper said nothing.

"It's so rare that we ever let anybody out, they might as well be dead," she continued as she crossed to the dais. She wiped a thick layer of dust off the dais and pushed a couple of buttons as all three cabinets lit up.

Harper wheeled around to look at them. His eyes darted between cabinets.

"So which one do you want?" Nicola asked.


"Well, the paperwork doesn't specify which corpse you want", then she pointed at the dais and asked "Should I push button one, two or three?"

She felt uncomfortable as he joined her at the dais and she apologised, adding "This is no way to talk about your friend."

The sword slid through her ribs with ease and cleft her in two.

"He's not my friend."

He wiped Nicola's blood off his sword. She'd never know how right she was to have doubted him. His name wasn't Harper.

He pushed one half of Nicola away from the dais with his foot and pushed all three buttons. A computer voice started a countdown and he stepped in front of the dais. As the countdown neared its end he raised his sword in readiness. It was time.

At zero, the three cabinet doors swung open as one and out stepped Johnny Beta, Johnny Gamma and Johnny Delta.

- - - - -


I should probably point out that obviously this was written for an audience that knew 2000 AD well. I'm a big fan of Strontium Dog a strip that concerns a mutant bounty hunter called Johnny Alpha. Furthermore Johnny dies in one strip and unlike other comics characters in 2000 AD stay dead. Here's one way around it.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Carruthers Camera #30

Here's five more photos that I took for the late Carruthers blog:

In What? was taken in the gift shop of National Media Museum in Bradford.

Endgame was taken through a charity shop window in Cheshunt.

Lens Tens is a shop window dummy in Wood Green.

Shattered is in Central London near Covent Garden.

I cannot remember where Napkin was taken. Well apart from, you know, on a table.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Reed Reads Discworld

So this is a bit of a first: a guest post. In a moment I'll leave you in the capable hands of Philip J Reed, whose own site Noiseless Chatter you should definitely visit. As part of a little cultural exchange, we sent each other books. I currently owe Phil a piece about Vineland by Thomas Pynchon and he has kindly written this about his experience reading Terry Pratchett:


On Reading Pratchett As A Massive Snob
by Philip J Reed, Noiseless Chatter

I'm a big reader. I almost never have less than one book in my docket at any given time, and often I'm juggling two or more. It's obsessive, I know, but few things in life give me anywhere near the pleasure of a great book. I find myself reading literally any time I find a free moment, and sometimes even re-reading the books I love, tracking down alternate versions as well, just for the chance to read through the same story while carrying around something with slightly different cover art. And unless I one day go totally blind, I can't imagine any of this will ever change for me.

But here's the rub: I'm fiercely territorial about my reading.

Because of that, some have referred to me as a snob. They're welcome to. Especially since...well, they're right. But there's a method to my snobbery. After all, reading is an investment. And though people suggest books to me all the time, and I'm also reading all the time, I can't unilaterally take everybody up on their recommendations. There simply isn't enough time.

People recommend films to me all the time as well, and I watch those. They only take around two hours out of my day, so even if I end up disliking them greatly, there was very little time lost to the experience, and at least now I'm able to talk about it. Ditto music...a full album eats up around an hour and obviously a single song is even less. I can afford to take recommendations when it comes to music. At worst I never think about it again, but at best I find my horizons expanded to encompass a whole other branch of the artform I might never have encountered otherwise. I can watch as many films and listen to as many songs as I like before I die.

But books?

No. Books are an investment. If I read quickly, I might be able to finish a novel in a week. If not, or if it's particularly long, it may take me a month. Maybe more.

A life can be measured in minutes or hours of course...but it can much more easily be measured in months. And that means that every book I read, every book I have read, and every book I will read, represents a tangible portion of my life...and I won't be able to get any of that back. There's a very finite number of books I'll be able to read before I die. I don't know what that number is, but I know it's only getting smaller, and if I did know, I'd probably drive myself insane trying to decide what I need to experience before I go.

For all I know, I may not have enough time left to finish all the books I already want to read. And what about the books I want to read again? There are so many I've tried to enjoy, but failed. Should I go back? I did that a few times...picking up old books that left me dry the first time only to have them become, on a revisitation numbered among my all-time favorites. I can't imagine a world in which I didn't go back to give Gravity's Rainbow another whirl...but what else is out there? What books do I need to revisit before I go? What other books do I need to read for the first time, so I can be disappointed by them, in order to have a chance to read them the second time, at which point my life will be changed? I need more time. There are too many books...and not enough time.

So when I decline a book recommendation, it's because I'm being selfish, yes...but I genuinely do think I'm being selfish for the right reasons. I only have a relatively small number of books I can read before I die. I need to make them count.

Terry Pratchett, as readers of this blog well know, is an author Dave touts regularly. He likes Pratchett a great deal. Additionally, I like Dave a great deal, so I give his recommendations at least some more weight than I would most others. He's a funny guy and our tastes align on enough things that I'm happy to defer to his judgment when he assures me I'll like something. (And I do insist on 100% complete assurance.) It's because of him that I've read two Pratchett novels on his recommendation, and then the other on his dime.

I've tried reading Pratchett before. Around eight or nine years ago I read The Colour Of Magic, more or less on a whim. I was a big fan of Douglas Adams, somebody else I discovered on a whim, and had heard good things about Pratchett as well. Adams was far more of a humorist than a storyteller -- which is no way is intended, nor could I imagine it, to be an insult -- and he was enough of a humorist that his comedy became somehow profound. It helped to inform my worldview every bit as much as any piece of more serious literature ever would, and that's because the enjoyment he must have had in writing every page was almost tangible. He wasn't just telling jokes...he was creating a universe around those jokes, and having a ball doing it. There's a love there that other authors, including those more respected in literary circles than Adams will ever be, simply never attain. For Adams it came naturally. It was a remarkably impressive creativity that seemed to arrive fully formed, with Adams himself giving it only the smallest polish before it was ready to be enjoyed. And my young self enjoyed it quite a lot.

Perhaps because I had Hitchhiker's on the brain, I didn't bother to ask anyone which Pratchett book to start with...I just looked up the first title in the oppressively comprehensive Discworld series and bought that.

And I didn't like it very much. I think the only reason I finished it at all was because I had the book with me during Wheel Of Fortune tryouts, and that took literally all day. (I didn't end up getting picked for the show, but I did win a visor. It wasn't worth it.) I finished the book, and then only started on The Light Fantastic because I bought them both at the same time. I was feeling optimistic, I guess.

I remember The Light Fantastic being much better, but I also remember not feeling particularly gripped. I certainly didn't feel as though I had to go out and buy the next title, whatever that may be, which I demonstrated by not going out to buy the next title, whatever that may have been.

But life went on, and more and more people began to recommend Pratchett. I'd tell them I couldn't get into him, they'd ask me what I read, and I'd name those two titles which always made them shake their heads and say, "No, you need to read..."

(They'd finish that sentence with the title of another book, in case that wasn't clear.)

Dave recommended Night Watch to me last year, a decision based on a novel project he knew I was working on. I read Night Watch because of that, but I'm still not sure what the connection was. Maybe the connection was just that he knew I'd like it...which, truth be told, is a solid enough connection for me.

And this past Christmas, he bought me Small Gods. I opened the package and immediately decided that, in return, I'd write an essay about the book for his site. I'm currently breaking that promise.

Here's the thing: I really did intend to write an essay about Small Gods. And there's a lot I'd be able to say, particularly on issues of faith, and what it means to believe. And what it means to know. And what it means to understand. There's a lot of impressively complicated musing on the nature of humanity and power in that book, and a brilliant central relationship between an actual god and the only human being who believes in Him among a nation of those who just believe they believe.

But I can't write about it, because it's been too long. I blew through it. And the same thing happened with Night Watch before it.

Reading Pratchett is compulsive. Or at least it's proven to be lately. Remember when I said if I read a book quickly it would take me a week? Night Watch and Small Gods took days. Because on the first day I'd read around 10 pages, and enjoy it. On the second day I'd read 50, because all of a sudden it got really good. And on the third day I'd finish it, because how could I not?

They're not perfect books. And they're not the sorts of things that aspire to change lives. They're the sorts of things, rather, that aspire to enrich lives, and that's what they do.

When I read, I tend to choose books that look difficult. That look challenging and complicated. Books that seem as though they will work against me...books that I'll need to out-think, rather than just read. And because of that, I'd been holding off on giving Pratchett another time.

Sure, maybe I'd like him more if I started with better titles...but would it really challenge me?

And the answer is no. But the more important answer is that that shouldn't matter anyway.

Because Pratchett writes with love. He writes with a comic and ethical urgency. In both Night Watch and Small Gods, we're plopped into interesting situations and then almost immediately swept forward by a current toward some large and looming massive conflict. I want to look around. I want to spend more time with these characters and learn about who they are...but we need to keep moving, because the flow of time is strong and these things are destined to happen.

So I get caught up. There isn't time to look around and write essays and pull flowers apart to see what makes them bloom. Because things are happening...and if we don't keep moving, they'll pass us by.

I like reading Pratchett. And I like it because it's such a simple reminder of such a simple truth: there's love in a great book, and there's fun to be had. There's a world of challenge and complexity out there, and if all you seek is some intellectual chess-match then there's a whole wealth of writers who can coldly provide that.

There are relatively few that can elevate warmth and humor to an artform. And for decades, one's been doing it right under my nose. He's not exempt from criticism, but his methods might well be immune to it.

Because he's having fun. And he's causing us to have fun. And I'd prefer not to sully that with an essay.

I prefer instead to celebrate it with a love letter.

Thanks Terry. And thank you Dave.


No, Phil. Thank you. Once again I urge you to pay Noiseless Chatter a visit and I'll keep you posted on my half of the bargain...

Saturday, 16 February 2013

13 Rooms

In 2005, Downpour Theatre assembled a group of people to write and produce a piece of theatre that would set the pattern for the later Behind The Bike Shed shows.

The idea was to create a sort of theatrical revue, written by members of the cast that was a mix of comedy sketches and more serious pieces. The resulting show was called 13 Rooms.

I wrote two monologues for the show. A piece called Patrick, which I was enormously proud of and I hope to revisit at some point in the future. It concerned an elderly man mourning his late wife. Irwin Sparkes did a fantastic job and hopefully in thirty years or so he'll be willing to do it all again.

The other monologue I wrote concerned a character called Jo and her thoughts about human nature based on her observations of traffic patterns. Zoe Alyssa Cooper was wonderful. I returned the favour by appearing in Zoe's piece, a duologue called Overheard. It was a philosophical meeting of minds across the generations. It was a privilege to do, got a great reaction from the audience and you could see the beginnings of what she would choose to write about in her subsequent plays.

Mike Everhard wrote a monologue that involved finding God In My Pocket, which I had great fun performing and featured some choice swear words.

We rehearsed in a big posh house in London that someone had access to, I suspect without the knowledge of the owner. We watched UK premiere of the first episode of Lost and and we all slept over. We got up, rehearsed some more went to the venue and did the show.

It was the beginning of an incredibly productive period of my life in which I would write far more than I could have expected, work with some really great and talented people and astonishingly at no point was it difficult. I'm very aware that I say that as somebody who simply had to turn up with ideas, rather than wrangle with logistics. Anna Masing and Sarah Wills did a brilliant job of getting this off the ground, when the rest of us just had to get it off the top of our heads.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Shada, Shalka, Stangmoor & Sssssibilant Whisssspererssss

I've written several posts complaining about various bits of various TV shows not being released on DVD. Well thankfully this is the opposite sort of post. The following Doctor Who stories are already available or have been announced for release later in the year.

The infamous and unfinished 1979 Shada was released as part of Doctor Who: The Legacy boxset alongside the documentary More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS. One of the extras is the 2003 online version of Shada, of which I had previously complained about its unavailability.

Whilst we're on the subject of webcasts, Scream Of The Shalka, the 2003 story which introduced Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor and has been cleared for release since 2005 has been announce for September.

The 1971 story The Mind Of Evil, existed partially in black and white, but has been recolourised for its May DVD release.

Sadly after partially missing stories The Invasion and The Reign Of Terror had their gaps filled with animated instalments, the forthcoming release of The Ice Warriors will have a telesnap reconstruction instead.

DVD wise, Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary year is looking good so far.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Blogging From A To Z Again

I've signed up to take part in the A to Z Challenge again. A post for every letter of the alphabet in April.

Last year, I was the 105th person to sign up and then as people dropped out I rose to number 100. This year I was slower off the mark and I am currently number 157.

Last year, I didn't really have a theme, instead I wrote about my usual subjects. This year, I have a plan. I have a plotted out, but not yet written, twenty-six connected posts.

Last year, what I wrote was often too long. This year, I've set myself a strict 1,000 word limit.

Wish me luck.