Monday, 23 January 2017

Twitter Twatter #38

December 2016:

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Outside In Boldly Goes Reviews

A couple of reviews of Outside In: Boldly Goes, which I contributed an article to...

We Are Cult
Reviewer: Don Klees
November 10, 2016

Star Trekkin’: Outside In Boldly Goes reviewed

One of the wonderful things about Star Trek is that for all its broader cultural familiarity there’s relatively little consensus on what it really is. Outside of certain obvious characters, iconography and tropes, the essence and content of the show is a bit more inscrutable. Is Star Trek a cerebral science-fiction drama or a swashbuckling space-opera? Could it be an allegory on broader cultural concerns or perhaps a self-referential reflection on its own fictional universe? The answer is, of course, all of the above – a point nicely articulated by ATB Publishing’s recently released anthology Outside In Boldly Goes.

As the promotional copy for the book observes, if you put ten Star Trek fans in a room, you’ll end up with eleven opinions. Not content with such low-key discussion, Outside In Boldly Goes collects 117 essays covering the entirety of The Original Series (TOS) and any TV or movie production that could reasonably be considered “Kirk era” from The Cage through Star Trek Beyond. Matching that broad range of topics is an equally broad range of writers mixing well-known figures in science-fiction fandom with individual – but no less insightful – fans.

The sheer diversity of approaches is on display in the first few pieces alone. Novelist Jonathan Blum’s discussion of the ahead-of-its-time drama series Star Trek could have been if The Cage had become the show’s template instead of just a fascinating first effort is followed by a riff on Poe’s The Raven recounting a viewing of The Man Trap. That in turn gives way to a spotlight on how key Grace Lee Whitney’s performance as Janice Rand was to the episode Charlie X (and another glimpse of a different show Star Trek could have become) and an obituary for Lee Kelso, one of the manifestly non-“red shirt” fatalities from Where No Man Has Gone Before.

With 117 essays and an equal number of viewpoints, not every essay is uniformly interesting. While their intent is admirable, the pieces on Space Seed and Errand Of Mercy come across as trying too hard to make a point about commercialism. In a similar vein, the essay about The Apple is working a bit too hard to set up a fairly obvious joke, though, admittedly a bit of irreverence can be welcome addition to any discussion of Star Trek. Ultimately, the strong pieces are far more numerous and offer engaging perspectives on a wide range of episodes and movies from the show’s 50 years.

Sometimes individual characters are the focus, as in the piece about For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky where Stephanie Crawford examines McCoy’s role as “the passionate, emotional center of Star Trek.” Similarly, Kate Orman’s piece about The Enemy Within and the treatment of Janice Rand therein is a stark reminder that the idealistic, progressive vision of the future Star Trek presented wasn’t always reflected in its onscreen reality. Another common thread is looking at episodes in the cultural context of their time, reflecting still potent issues such as racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield or environmental concerns in the animated story More Tribbles, More Troubles.

It’s especially nice to see The Animated Series treated with respect in this volume. The status of TAS has been inconsistent over the years, but there’s no indication that the writers here view it as anything other than proper Star Trek. Certainly, the range of approaches to it is no less varied, as shown by the whimsical entry for The Magicks Of Megas-Tu. Presented as an internal Starfleet memo regarding the possibility that Captain Kirk is a devil worshipper, it playfully references a variety of other Star Trek stories, including Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

In discussing the movies, the writers are to be commended for boldly going beyond the conventional wisdom of odd-bad/even-good. This is particularly noteworthy in the essays about Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: Generations. Graeme Burk effectively argues that the former is the only actual “Star Trek film” while Thomas Cookson’s offers an eloquent defense of “the last ‘Trek’ film to not feel written by a committee”. Kudos also to Arnold T. Blumberg for keying in on the emotional impact of the music from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.

Other highlights include essays relating to occasions where episodes of later Star Trek series tied back to TOS. In discussing Trials And Tribble-Ations Anthony Wilson finds connective tissue between that Deep Space Nine episode and The Trouble With Tribbles that makes the crossover between Deep Space Nine and TOS not just work but also seem perfectly logical. More surprisingly, Finn Clark’s piece on The Tholian Web makes a good case that the titular aliens were actually used to greater effect when they appeared in the prequel series Enterprise.

Whatever approach taken, from straightforward reminiscence to offbeat “in universe” narratives, the pieces here are above all very personal expressions. Like the people who made it, Star Trek itself is both brilliant and flawed. The measure of its fans is that so many of them can engage with it on both those fronts. Outside In Boldly Goes is nothing less than 117 testaments to the intelligence and passion of a remarkable fandom.

Outside In Boldly Goes: 117 New Perspectives on 117 Classic Star Trek Stories by 117 Writers edited by Robert Smith? is out now from ATB Publishing and you can order it directly from the publisher.

Reviewer: By Adam DiLeo
6th January 2017

The Outside In series tackles Trek in its latest effort.

There are 116 pieces of officially sanctioned moving image entertainment featuring the main characters of the original 1966 Star Trek TV series. I know that thanks to ATB Publishing’s latest entry in its Outside In series: Outside In Boldly Goes.

The general idea of the books, previously limited to the Doctor Who universe, is to gather a wide range of writers to each “review” (more on that in a moment) one TV episode or film from a given property. The viewpoints come from diehard fans to near newcomers and everything in between. Boldly Goes, as the name would suggest, applies that formula to “Kirk-era” Trek, covering all 79 TOS episodes, the 22-episode run of Star Trek: The Animated Series, the four TNG episodes featuring TOS characters, one episode each from DS9 and Voyager and all nine films starring the Kirk-era characters. (It’s not limited to stories involving the original cast; the Abramsverse Trek movies make the list as well.) There's even a bonus chapter devoted to the ultimate Trek homage film, Galaxy Quest.

While many of the writers are hardcore Trekkies (and often describe their fandom at considerable length) some are more casual fans. Others still describe themselves as more or less uninvested in the property. Pros with serious Trek cred like Robert Greenberger, Paul Simpson and the book’s publisher Arnold T. Blumberg join the founder of the official Star Trek Fan Club Dan Madsen, moonlighting scientists, historians, avowed non-fans, unlikely amateurs and more. The mixture provides variety but unevenness as well. Most chapters are highly intelligent, interesting and/or funny, but some are duds with a fair amount of jokes that fall flat, grammatical awkwardness and the odd typo here and there. Expanding the range of authors to include newbies and non-fans gives a wider spread of perspectives but their chapters aren’t of much value for longtime fans who may not find a neophyte’s opinions all that insightful.

Now about those “reviews”: there really aren’t that many traditional reviews assessing a given episode or film’s artistic merit. More common are thought-provoking philosophical pieces like Ivy Glennon’s examination of feminism in Wink Of An Eye. Indeed the greatest takeaway from many of these pieces is the hard but well-known-among-fans truth that, while light years ahead of its time on equality and social justice, the original Trek was nevertheless deeply flawed in its treatment of gender roles and stereotypes, often to the point of outright misogyny. This isn’t limited to Kirk’s well known penchant for charming alien ladies, it pervades both the casting and writing of women characters in the original series, most of whom lack any real power. No matter how formidable they appear at first, these women always seem to find themselves in need of a good man to take charge in the end.
But this is a book written for fans, mostly by devout fans. The writers who cast the objective light of modern sensibilities on the difficult areas do so with a sense of respect for the import of the original series and its progeny, and its optimism for a future free from prejudice, poverty, disease and war.

117 chapters is a lot of ground to cover so to keep it fresh writers were clearly encouraged to get creative. The result is a goodly number of chapters that veer off into the humorous or even the ridiculous. There’s an excellent obituary for one of the many redshirts who perish in the original series, complete with a local newspaper’s inaccurate rendering of Kirk’s name, a logical proof showing the object of Spock’s affection in Amok Time was a crappy Vulcan, Star Trek mad libs, a recipe book for giant blob clouds, a collectible trading card game, an “awful seductress-plot drinking game”, and countless other unique takes on the eps and films. Unsurprisingly many of the more ludicrous entries come in the sections devoted to The Animated Series because, well, one can only say “it’s not very good” in so many ways.

Outside In Boldly Goes won’t reveal any earth shaking commentary for diehards but those superfans may nonetheless find something to love, whether it's in the passionate essays about feminism and character motivation, whimsical deep dives like what might have happened if Assignment: Earth had managed to successfully spinoff a series about Gary Seven, or the goofy lampooning of some of the low points in Trek history. For the rest of us -- full disclosure, I reside somewhere between dilettante and casual aficionado, having as yet failed to see a number of DS9, Voyager and Enterprise episodes -- it’s a worthwhile read because, in addition to some laugh out loud humor and thoughtful prose, the mélange of opinions means that every so often a particular writer’s voice can sound surprisingly like the reader's own point of view at one milestone or another on the uniquely personal path of fanhood.

Outside In Boldly Goes is available now from ATB Publishing.

The Verdict
A fun book with a ton of variety, Outside In Boldly Goes has something for just about everyone. A few low points don't damage the overall quality of the endeavor, much like the show the book focuses on.

117 writers put their spin on Trek with mixed but mostly positive results in an often witty and insightful book.

(presumably out of ten)

Monday, 16 January 2017

Twitter Twatter #37

November 2016:

Friday, 13 January 2017

Time Shadows Reviews II

A couple more Time Shadows reviews...

Reviewer: Daniel Tessier
24 September 2016

I believe we're on the cusp of a new golden age of fan fiction, at least in the worlds of Doctor Who. After a few years when professional and semi-pro unofficial fiction all but dried up, there has been a resurgence in this area lately, and some of the projects have been excellent. The latest such project, from Pseudoscope Publishing, is perhaps the best in a recent run of impressive publications.

Time Shadows sees an impressive group of new and established writers come together to raise funds for the Enable Community Foundation; a charity dedicated to providing needy communities with access to the latest technology and techniques to provide replacement limbs and prostheses. It's a remarkable organisation, supported by a remarkable book.

Time Shadows gives us a wide variety of story styles and themes, although a number of them revolve around a concept of time becoming twisted or undone. The stories are of a very high standard. It's a cliché to call these collections a mixed bag, but it's true. Inevitably some stories are better than others, or, at least, better suit a particular reader's taste. However, Time Shadows is the most consistently well-written collection I've read in a long time. There's only one story in the book that I didn't particularly enjoy, and even then, I can see that it would likely suit another reader. In terms of quality, this is a huge achievement.

Going through every story, one by one, would make this a very long spoilerish review, so I'll be content to pick out some of my favourite stories. Time's Shadow, by Simon Blake, not only sets the overall feel of the book with its tale of time out of joint, but provides an unsettling and entertaining story from the very beginning of Doctor Who's history: that dilapidated junkyard back in '63. Also tied in with the earliest elements of the series is David McLain's story, Indigo, a fun diversion for the first Doctor with a fun punchline.

One of my favourite stories of the collection, The Godfather, has nothing to do with Mario Puzo. Rather, it's a quiet, rather beautiful story by John Davies, about the difficulties of growing up, that gives us a glimpse into the later life of two of the Doctor's companions. The Neither, by Ian Howden, is a very effective little adventure for Mike Yates and Sarah Jane Smith. They make such a fine pair in this story that they could have had their own spin-off series together.

There are two Cyberman stories that are particularly noteworthy for their very different approaches to the fifty-year-old monsters. Iron Joe, by Abel Diaz, sees the sixth Doctor and Peri encounter a Cyberman in the old West, an arresting and unlikely combination of images that make for quite an adventure. Andrew Blair's story, Confirmation Bias, is an absolutely devastating story that looks at the Cybermen from the opposite angle, focusing on the unbearable reality of becoming a Cyberman.

Christopher Colley manages to create both the funniest story of the collection, and one of the most affecting. After The Ball Was Over begins as light-hearted, frothy, almost Hitchhikers-esque romp before veering into an tale of guilt, that goes exists to explain the huge change in the fourth Doctor's demeanour between seasons seventeen and eighteen. The Redemption of Vequazon, by Nick Walters, has an outlandish fantasy title but delivers quite a powerful tale of morality and deliverance.

As with many collections of this nature, Time Shadows has a framing story. However, while most such stories are contrived and often quite ineffective, A Torch In The Darkness is one of the best Doctor Who stories I've read in a long time. Dale Smith, David N. Smith, Violet Addison, and Christopher Colley work together on this overarching tale, that brings the twelfth Doctor and Clara on a voyage throughout time, from the days of classical myth to the end of the universe itself. As well as capturing the Twelve/Clara relationship down to a tee, this five-part story sees the Doctor's own history explored. The stories throughout the collection are explicitly referenced as newly created events - intrusions into the Doctor's past. Indeed, isn't that what all these missing adventures are? New elements that we've fashioned to make our favourite character's life even more packed full of incident. A Torch In The Darkness also riffs on the same ideas as Listen, but takes it further and to a more powerful conclusion. In a collection that features all thirteen Doctors (and more besides), it's the crowning achievement. Exceptional.

Regeneration Who
Reviewer: Kara Dennison
17th October 2016

There is a real joy to Doctor Who charity anthologies. Minus a few thematic elements to bind the book together, they are largely free of restrictions of both what can be televised (both conveniently and legally) and what can and can’t be done within the set plot structure. It enables writers to toy with crossovers, returns to characters the series proper might have no desire to revisit, and even bits of canon that the show itself may never want to write. There’s a beautiful freedom there, both as a writer and as a reader who knows that this is just one of many fan imaginings that can be enjoyed for itself without wondering about its influence on the show’s legacy.

Time Shadows is one of the latest additions to the run of Doctor Who fanthologies, written to raise money for the Enable Community Foundation. Edited by Matt Grady and Samuel Gibb with a foreword by Gary Russell, it is a collection of new stories spanning the entirety of the televised series’s run. As is potentially guessable by the cover image, there is an especial focus on our incumbent Doctor, by way of a frame story featuring him and Clara Oswald.

What makes Time Shadows truly unique is the way it plays with the anthology format. We have a variety of writers pitching in a variety of stories — a young boy befriending an uncased Dalek, the Sixth Doctor and Peri encountering a Wild West Cyberman, and the Eighth Doctor’s run-in with Daleks and the Meddling Monk all at once, for example — which, in and of itself, is par for the course. But it’s the frame story, the overarching adventure of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara hunting down a mysterious time machine known as the Alpha TARDIS, that brings the threads together. How? Why? Where does it lead? That’s best discovered on its own. But it’s an ingenious use of the anthology format, and a brilliant way of tying together the works of a variety of authors that makes the patchwork of eras not only cohesive, but actually necessary to the plot.

As happens with a fanthology, the quality of the stories is all over the map. None of the stories truly fails as a Doctor Who story, but the writing quality itself varies person to person. Overall, there are far more hits than misses, and many of my misses may well be other people’s hits. It is important to bear in mind, though, that when picking up a fanthology, you’re not picking up a squeaky-clean, picked-over, BBC-polished product. You’re picking up a labour of love — and even if a particular writer’s voice may not be as strong as the ones around it, their passion for the show and characters still shines through in the inventiveness they bring to the concept.

So far, Time Shadows has raised more than $700 for the ECF, but there’s still a ways to go. Even leaving aside that it’s for a good cause, this anthology is definitely worth your money. It brings a degree of cleverness to the collaborative anthology format that, while present in other books, is exercised in a truly ingenious way here. There’s also a great deal of love shown for both 20th and 21st century Who, so no matter what your era, you will find something to enjoy.
Time Shadows is available to buy from the Pseudoscope Website, where you can also make donations to the ECF.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Twitter Twatter #36

October 2016:

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Time Shadows Reviews

Here's a couple of reviews of Time Shadows, the Doctor Who short story anthology, that I contributed a story too. Neither mentions my story explicitly, but it's for a good cause so here they are anyway...

Cosmic Masque
Reviewer: Jolyon Drake
December 31st, 2016

Fans of a certain age will have a shelf holding a Decalog or a Short Trips anthology, left over from the time that the short story was the perfect format for the established writers and the newcomers to share a platform for expanding the narrative of Who. Somewhere along the way, fans began producing unauthorised anthologies to raise money for a good cause, and in Time Shadows we are offered twenty short stories and one longer tale that raise money for the Enable Community Foundation.

Credit to the editorial work of Matt Grady with Samuel Gibb, that the stories feature the full range of Doctors and whilst the tone of the collection offers something for everyone, the standard is high throughout. There is a nice mixture of Earth-based adventures and alien world-building. There are villains and monsters and ghosts and time travellers. There is a wealth of well-drawn original characters, but most importantly, each Doctor and companion has a recognisable voice that makes the anthology trot along without any misfires in characterisation. What you like and dislike will marry up with how you feel about the show, because every era is represented by an author who clearly cares about and knows how to capture the feeling of the TARDIS team they have taken on.

We are given a chance to enjoy another outing for the Doctors under-represented in the written word. In Someone Took The Words Away Roger McCoy brings the ninth Doctor and Rose to a place where not a word can be wasted. The War Doctor appears in Visitor from Space! by J.R. Loflin, being grumpy and compassionate in equal measure. Meanwhile, Inertia by Pete Kempshall and The People In The Wood by Steve Hatcher are a reminder of the season seven cast and just how glorious the stories of that period can be.

Some of the contributions contain more kisses to the past, filling in gaps or offering ‘what if’ scenarios that only fans could devise. If expanding the mythology of the series is your thing, look no further than Indigo by David McLain, where the Doctor and Ian find that aliens trying to mess with the past are tampering with something surprisingly personal, or The Godfather by John Davies, where the Doctor and Jamie, fresh from The Two Doctors, show what they are capable of when they have expert control of the TARDIS. If you want to know how Mike Yates got from Invasion Of The Dinosaurs to Planet Of The Spiders, The Neither by Ian Howden will help you to fill the gap and make even more sense of our old Captain’s interest in the mystical.

My era of Who is perfectly captured in Straight On Till Morning by Chris Heffernan, with a story you could believe JNT would have commissioned on the spot – the Doctor and Mel visit a theme park where all is not right. Their investigation leads them into a world of animatronic characters from the Wizard of Oz to Peter Pan. I was taken straight back to 1987 and loved the experience.

It is good to see that a book raising money for prosthetics doesn’t shy away from using the Cybermen, and one of the stand-out stories of the collection is Confirmation Bias by Andrew Blair, where the reader is given a devastating insight into what the Doctor doesn’t know about his opponent.

Linking the collection together is A Torch In The Darkness five episodes that weave through the anthology from Dale Smith, David N. Smith & Violet Addison and Christopher Colley. Each part raises the stakes and pulls the collection together as it goes, referencing events from along the journey. In the centre, the Medusa chapter gives an appearance of the Weeping Angels crying out to be realised on television; it is worth the cover price alone. The story builds to a brave, bonkers and unlikely conclusion that reminds you how much fun the worlds of Doctor Who can be.

This anthology has left me wanting more extracts of Romana’s diary and persuaded me that the ever-growing number of stories that take place in the middle of The Daleks’ Master Plan should not be stopped. As long as the editors carry this much respect for every era of the show, nobody is shortchanged by the results, and knowing that the sale proceeds are contributing to a good cause is a welcome bonus. 
Time Shadows is available from

Trap One
Reviewer: Mark
September 12th, 2016

This collection of stories opens with the Twelfth Doctor at the end of the universe. It’s become one of this incarnation’s regular hangouts, somewhere he has visited in both series so far, in Listen and Hell Bent. On this visit an encounter with the powerful Alpha TARDIS is the catalyst for the other tales here, which are told as new memories created for the Doctor. It’s an effective framing device, as the ongoing story of the hunt for the stolen Alpha intersperses a series of adventures which span all of the character’s previous lives. These chapters, A Torch In The Darkness I -V (written by Dale Smith, David N. Smith and Violet Addison, and Christopher Colley) bind the individual stories together.

Someone has inserted the new events have been inserted into the Doctor’s timeline, much as he did to Kazran in A Christmas Carol. Some of the stories attempt to smooth out inconsistencies from the television stories, in the way that a lot of expanded universe material will, from the Missing Adventures to Big Finish. In Simon Blake’s thoughtful Time’s Shadow, we learn why Susan claimed to have named TARDISes, when every story from The War Games onwards makes this seem increasingly unlikely. But we also find the origin of the felt-tipped ‘Fast Return’ above the switch on the console from Inside The Spaceship, so there’s the suggestion that these stories did always happen in the timeline we know.

In a similar vein is After The Ball Was Over by Christopher Colley. A highlight of the collection, it seeks to explain the change from season seventeen’s carefree, witty raconteur of a Fourth Doctor to the sombre, serious season eighteen version. Most fans know that this was the result in a change of producer from Graham Williams to John Nathan-Turner, but I think this is the first in-universe explanation for this I’ve seen. Colley very effectively evokes both eras. It feels relevant by echoing the idea of the Doctor ‘going too far’ from the Hybrid arc in the recent series ten; the idea that the Doctor is just too powerful to do whatever he wants without thinking about the consequences for the rest of the universe.

Confirmation Bias by Andrew Blair is another excellent entry which explores the consequences of the Doctor’s actions. It’s a story which uses the written form to delve into the horror of the Cybermen, and cyber-conversion, in a way the TV series has not. A Doctor-lite tale, which uses the frequently infantilised persona of the Eleventh Doctor to juxtapose what a dark universe he inhabits.

The First Doctor is well-represented in this book. Kingdom Of The Blind by David Mason gives the short-lived TARDIS team of the Doctor, Steven and Sarah Kingdom a run out; while David McLain’s Indigo is fun, but it doesn’t feel quite right for the Doctor of this period to be investigating anomalies the Ship’s sensors have picked up. But it is the First Doctor’s appearance in A Torch In Yhe Darkness II: A Legendary Hero by David N. Smith and Violet Addison, that gives the reader a first clue as to the significance of this incarnation in the overall arc. The differences between his earliest and most recent incarnation provide another story beat which again chimes with a key point from series ten, in The Girl Who Died.

This is a great collection of short stories, with a really epic story running through the individual entries. This in particular feels very much of the Moffat-era: clever story-telling and resolution, the use of avatars and an end-of-the-universe setting. In a year where the BBC are not even publishing much Doctor Who fiction to make up for the lack of a broadcast series, this is an entertaining option for a very good cause.

Order now from:

Monday, 2 January 2017

Twitter Twatter #35

September 2016's twittering:

Sunday, 1 January 2017

My Predictions For 2017...

As with last year, I have once again made predictions concerning the events of the forthcoming year.

Here are my predictions for 2017:

  • Mexico will build the wall and they will pay for it, but not until substantial parts of Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and, in move that confounds cartography, Rhode Island secede from the union and become Mexican.

  • Time travel is will have going to be invented for the first time. Again.

  • Hundreds of thousands of people will be embarrassed to discover that LOL, the acronym that they have been innocently using for years, actually stands for Lusting Over Lenin.

  • Due to the critical acclaim afforded to 2016's extra second, 2017 will be awarded a second second.

  • The Carmarthenshire village of Bancyfelin will inexplicably win Miss Universe.

Happy New Year.