Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Star Wars Exhibition photos

Yes, I like Star Wars. (So do you, probably.) In the summer I visited the excellent Star Wars Exhibition. Having visited the one in 2000(?) and really enjoyed it, I was keen to visit the largest exhibition of movie memorabilia in history (!) as well.

Thinking that most of the new films where CGI, I was expecting to see the original trilogy represented more, but I was wrong and, as a result, slightly disappointed (no Chewbacca?), but I was also surprised at how much model work was actually used in the new trilogy. Considering how people go on (and on) about the use of computer generated imagery in the recent films, I think most would be surprised to see just how many old school methods were used in creation of buildings, ships and characters.

I took a photo of every model, piece of artwork and costume in the entire exhibition (geek, moi?), but these are the ones which came out best. I hope you enjoy them!

Click for larger images.

This one always makes me smile: It looks like Darth has gone for a night stroll (depending on how your monitor displays it), maybe walking his dog.

My girlfriend alerted me to some more photos here, too. I don't know the author, but I think some of them are really good. Hope you enjoyed my shots!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Cool new website...

This just a tiny post to say that there's a rather good new site here: http://www.freerice.com/index.php

You test your vocabulary skills and learn while you're at it. It is fun, honestly. Your enjoyment also has the side-effect of donating rice to poor countries, too (just go and have a look, will you).

I managed to score at my best, 41, and, at my worst, 30. How about you?

Also, hot on the trails of Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day, is May 25th's Towel Day, in memory of Douglas Adams (although Towel Day actually came long before, but that's time travel for you).

Monday, 15 October 2007

Retro write-up: Alan Moore 'Lost Girls' talk

On the 12 October 2006, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie appeared at the Institute of Contemporary Arts to talk with their friend Stewart Lee about the forth-coming release of their pornographic comic, Lost Girls. While those of us in the UK are still waiting for the official January 1st 2008 release (thanks to copyright issues surrounding Peter Pan), eBay and Amazon have mercifully allowed fans to get their eager mitts on Lost Girls now.

With Alan Moore about to make another public appearance on October 26th, in connection with Ian Sinclair's soon-to-be-published [in paperback] London: City of Disappearances (for which Moore wrote a short story, along with many other contributors), I thought I'd post my original write up of the ICA event for any Alan Moore fans who read this.

Tickets are still available, for the upcoming event, and if you decide to come, I'll see you there!

(Fans of Moore and Gebbie might also like to read their recent interview with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell author Susanna Clarke, from the Daily Telegraph.)

Here's what I wrote a year ago to this day [with some comments], in response to those asking for an account of the bearded one's public appearance:


I suppose I should write something!

It was really good. Both Melinda and Alan were great. Stewart Lee seemed a little nervous as host, and he said so, but he never explained why (the [pornographic] material or the whole set-up?), but he was still great too. He never lost the thread of the conversation and pulled Alan back when he did.

In fact, Stewart Lee did a very good job indeed. He even confronted Alan a bit about some of the aspects of Lost Girls which he thought were cartoony, and also when an audience member asked Alan that, considering he gets upset about how his work is treated by other people (namely, filmmakers), how did he think the original authors of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan would feel about his use of their characters.

Alan sort of avoided the question, apparently hoping that none of us would notice, but Stewart Lee pulled him right back and forced him to answer properly. Which he did, extremely well, too. Basically he said that, with his work, they used the same title, so many people think that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell films are taken from his writings. As a result of this, his work is diminished because he becomes associated with a crap movie he had nothing to do with, rather than a good book that he wrote.

This is of course, his real bone with Hollywood, and it's good to hear his real reasons for his hatred, rather than the usual cack-handed rationalisation he hands out by way of explanation ["they cost too much money" etc.].

Stewart Lee opened the evening by pointing out the bizarre situation: They were about to talk about a book that a tiny percentage of the audience have read and that wasn't even officially released yet. But they did do just that, and I think that they did a great job. They used images from the book projected onto a screen behind them, so they could talk about specific things.

A lot of what what said has already been said in many Moore and Gebbie interviews about the book, but it's always nice to hear it from the horse's mouth, so-to-speak, and most people there probably hadn't read the interviews anyway.

Some of the things discussed were; The original inspiration (Moore wanted to do something pornographic, but couldn't figure out how - Melinda helped him come up with the idea of Wendy and they developed it together from there). How they couldn't have done it if they weren't a couple. How they collaborated together. Moore's views on the original authors [Carroll and Barrie as probable paedophiles] (only L. Frank Baum came out 'clean' - until Lee pointed out he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan [not sure about the KKK connection, I've since looked into it and been unable to find anything supporting Lee's claim - but Baum did once print his positive opinions about the killing of Native Americans]). I'm probably not doing it justice, actually! There was a LOT of stuff discussed, followed by questions from the audience, but it all pertained to Lost Girls.

I remember one person (a girl) asked if they were fans of Angela Carter(?) and the work she'd done trying to create, I presume, female-friendly, artistic pornography. Moore explained that they both were, and Melinda went on to discuss how she'd tried really hard to make her artwork beautiful and attractive for women, too. Moore added that they'd discovered that it took very little to please a male audience (big laugh), so they'd concentrated a lot on making Lost Girls work for women.

I got to meet Moore afterwards and he, as always, was extremely gracious, even if a complement I was trying to give him got misunderstood (I said that I'd noticed the blurb for Lost Girls begun "can pornography be art?", but after reading it it seemed to me that it was the other way around: Lost Girls was a real work of art... with pornography. He took no hesitation to point out that "well, of course it's art, we just wrote that stuff for the blurb..."). Obviously I knew that Moore would think it was a work of art, but he seemed to miss the complement I was trying to give him. Of course he'd been there for two hours at that point and the queue was still out of sight, so I suppose he just took my comment at face value, and as such my comment must have seemed silly to him.

I did get to explain one other observation to him (which he liked more), and that was how hard it must have been to create characters to fit in the genre of porn. That is, in thrillers, comedies, dramas, whatever, each character behaves in a certain way which is conducive to the events in that story, whether it is 'realistic' or not. (In a thriller it could be a quickly getting over a brutal murder in order to get revenge; in a comedy it could behaving in a way in order to create a ridiculous set-up, etc.) It's important that characters in stories don't impede the story by reacting too realistically to events, but also they must behave in a way that seems somewhat real to keep the story going. If you go too far in either direction the fictional 'reality' is ruined; too real and our characters stop the story. Too conducive in making the plot work and we stop believing in the characters and, as a result, we don't care about them any more.

What I've noticed in porn that tries to have a story (and I'm sure I'm not the only one), is that any attempts to create characters that can exist in a world where they could have sex with a complete stranger at the drop of a hat, is usually unbearably contrived, and as a result it becomes a joke.

Moore amazingly managed to create characters that somehow seemed 'real', so we care about them, but they could still exist in this universe where sex could happen at any time with no emotional strings attached. In a word: Wow!

He appreciated this complement a little more and said that it hadn't been easy! (Although I'm amazed I managed to get it all out and he follow what I was saying!)

I also queued to get my copy of Lost Girls signed by Melinda Gebbie, and she was, as usual, fabulous! So incredibly nice and friendly, such a lovely person! I was there with my girlfriend and Melinda asked her what she thought of Lost Girls, and said to me, "sorry, but I'm more interested in what she thought than you!", which was really funny. My girlfriend wasn't totally comfortable discussing it with other people around (understandably), but she told her that she liked it. (Afterwards my girlfriend kept looking for an opportune moment to talk to her a bit more privately, as it was obviously something Melinda was interested in and my girlfriend had things to say, but sadly it never came.)

After we'd got the signings done, I decided to say hello to Chris Staros from Top Shelf and ended up having a really nice conversation with him. I wasn't expecting it, but he was an extremely nice guy. Me, my girlfriend and I talked to him for quite a while. Afterwards, what with how unbelievably nice Alan Moore, Melinda Gebbie and now, Chris Staros where, my girlfriend was just like "I want to work with these people... they're all so nice!!", which was very true. It seemed like Alan Moore, Melinda and Top Shelf were a perfect match for each other, and just really really nice people.

I learned some interesting things about Top Shelf too, namely that it's entirely run by two guys: One in Portland and one in Atlanta! Amazing! They've been going for ten years and they've slowly over that time become bigger and bigger, but it's still just the two guys!

Anyways, that was a quick stream-of-conciousness review of the event. Sorry if it was a bit all over the place or didn't answer any question you were hoping I was going to. (Please ask!)

I didn't see any cameras, but it's possible the event's audio was being recorded. We can only hope that someone has a bootleg of it. [One has yet to appear, sadly.] It would be well worth a listen as the night was extremely enjoyable and informative.


The excellent Lost Girls should be seeing a UK/European release on January 1st 2008.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

A brilliant idea! (Not mine.)

This is a rather brilliant idea, and I wish I could claim it as my own, but Dresden Codak creator, Aaron Diaz, (I've not read it, either) has come up with an excellent idea for a new public holiday (or indeed, just a great fancy dress idea).

December 8th, 2007 - Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day!

On Dec 8th you dress up and behave as if you are from a different century. Mr Diaz explains you choices:

#1: Utopian/Cliché Future
Star Trek! Imagine you're Picard or Kirk (or from any other similar sci-fi) and you've suddenly been sent hurtling through time.
Think all-in-one velour outfits. You're completely out of your depth, but also very polite. Interact with wonderment at all the "primitive" technology and show extreme ignorance in operating it. Expect everything to be voice-activated; vending machines, pay phones, elevators, etc.

- Ask shops if they'll accept Credits for payment. Act very "proper" and polite. If you're travelling on public transport, sit-up straight and look around at everything.

Try to "hide" alieneqsue features, like Spock ears under a sweat band, and then act self-conscious about them.

- Refer to things that don't exist, for example: "Where's the nearest matter transporter?"

- Refer to cars as "vessels" or "ships" and when travelling in one, look confused when trying to put on your seatbelt.

- Stop people in the street and ask them if they've seen any of your crew-mates, describe them as being basically human, but then add alienesque features at the end
. Eg. "Quite tall, brown hair, heavy build... big wrinkley forehead", "She's my height, with blonde hair, blue eyes, green skin, big smile", etc.

Remember: You'll be trying to "fit-in", so explain your behaviour by "pretending" you're joking: "Of course! I was thinking it had an holo-fusion reactor... How silly of me! (nervous over-the-top laughter)." Then act lost by randomly changing direction.

#2: Dystopian Future
This one offers a little more flexibility. It can be any kind of future from Terminator to Mad Max. The important thing to remember is
dress like a crazy person with armor. Black spray painted football pads, high tech visors, torn up trenchcoats and maybe even some dirt here or there. Remember, dystopian future travelers are very startled that they've gone back in time. Some starters:

- If you go the "prisoner who's escaped the future" try shaving your head and putting a barcode on the back of your neck. Then stagger around and stare at the sky, as if you've never seen it before.

- Walk up to random people and say "WHAT YEAR IS THIS?" and when they tell you, get quiet and then say "There's still time!" and run off.

- Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO"

- Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.

- Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say, "In thirty years dial this number. You'll know what to do after that". Then slip away.

#3: The Past
This one is more for beginners. Basically dress in period clothing (preferably Victorian era) and stagger around amazed at everything. Since the culture's set in place already, you have more of a template to work off of. Some pointers:

- Airplanes are terrifying. Also, carry on conversations with televisions for a while.

- Discover and become obsessed with one trivial aspect of technology, like automatic grocery doors. Stay there for hours playing with it.

- Be generally terrified of people who are dressed immodestly compared to your era. Tattoos and shorts on women are especially scary.

And that's pretty much it. Just remember, try to fit in! You obviously wouldn't want people to know you are from another when, so never admit you're a time traveller and make really bad attempts at keeping a low profile.

Not sure yet how I'm going to go... Its a toss between the past and dystopian future... leaning toward dystopia right now.

Anyone else want to accompany me on my imaginary trip through time?

What a hilarious idea, and certainly one that could down well at fancy dress parties, too! Kudos to Aaron Diaz (whoever he may be) and Flint Paper (whoever he is), whose blog I found this on!

It's the new Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Retro review: Red Dwarf - The individual novels

Occasionally my excitement for things that I used to love is reignited, and not so long ago I found my it lit up for the classic BBC TV sci-fi comedy show, Red Dwarf. It's always had a soft-spot in my heart (and undoubtedly will), and I decided to re-read the classic novels written by Rob Grand and Doug Naylor.

After seriously enjoying
Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and Better Than Life (the first two books), I decided to give the subsequent solo novels another go and see how I felt about them; Doug Naylor's Last Human and Rob Grant's Backwards.

For those who are unaware, or may have forgotten, Doug Naylor and Rob Grant wrote the first two Red Dwarf novels together (under the pseudonym Grant Naylor), but after a split in their working relationship and an aborted attempt to write a third novel together, they separately wrote two completely unrelated sequels. Unlike their work together, which was well received, their individual efforts received mixed reviews, especially from fans.

Here were my immediate reactions after reading them again:

Backwards by Rob Grant

I've just finished re-reading Backwards and I have to say that I'd forgotten how completely brilliant it was. I'd forgotten just what a good, satisfying well-paced read it is. I was also surprised (and perhaps pleased) at how little was taken from the TV series. In all, there were four ideas taken from three episodes: Backwards (obviously), Dimension Jump (the idea of Ace Rimmer) and Gunmen of the Apocalypse (pretty much the whole show, including the idea of xenophobic battledroids hunting humans).

Only really Gunmen was referred to heavily (which was an odd choice considering how much of that show was based on visual humour), and even then almost all of the dialogue was different (unlike the first two novels which copied dialogue verbatim, more often than not, when taking things from the TV series). The other ideas taken from the series were expanded and changed considerably, even more so than the first two novels.

For whatever reason, it seemed as though Grant was trying very hard not to use too much from the series, and thankfully it's not to the book's detriment.

Despite feeling like a fairly large tome, the story runs at an incredibly comfortable pace. You really get the idea that Grant could have just happily kept on writing and writing and, interestingly, I don’t think the reader would have gotten bored, either. Maybe because of this, the ending does appear a tad rushed and/or abrupt (although this may just be an illusion caused by the spelling errors that even made their way into the final chapters of paperback edition).

Still, despite it’s size and apparently rushed ending, it’s a incredibly cohesive and satisfying read. I don’t think I really noticed the journey that Rimmer goes through when I first read it (no idea why, perhaps I was too young to pick up on it), but this time it was clear to me that he was the backbone of the whole story.

There was at least one missed opportunity by Grant, though: A scene where an uptight Rimmer and a reluctant Ace talk in private to try and figure out where their lives diverged would have been utterly priceless (and could have set up the epilogue nicely, too). Bizarrely this undoubtedly interesting conversation is replaced by the “wrap things up quickly” scene from the TV series (where Lister has sudden and amazing insider-information on where the change took place). Ah, well, in another universe, perhaps.

Rimmer's personality is reset to “bastard mode”, which doesn't fit continuity from the warmer person he changed into when Lister grew older in the second book. That said, it's no surprise, as Rimmer generally works better as a character when he's at his most antagonistic, and it felt like the right starting off point for the book.

(As an aside; is it just me, or is that chapter featuring a teenage Cat and a young nubile woman in a gingham dress just a little bit weird/creepy/disturbing/wrong? Why is it in there?)

In all it was a great read, much better than even I remembered or expected. I ordered a copy of Last Human to see if it could impress as well.
Last Human by Doug Naylor

I made it 50 pages into Last Human, and I just couldn’t take any more… It’s very funny, don’t get me wrong, and there’s some brilliant lines, but it doesn't feel right. Reading it was like driving in a car in dire need of a mechanic; It looks OK and is driveable, but it keeps making such horrendous and unhealthy noises that you don't want go keep going.

For a start, Naylor clearly has no issue with messing with the entire Red Dwarf canon. Take for example, Rimmer's inferiority complex regarding his more successful brothers. Whereas Grant thoroughly explored these issues, and used them as the backbone to his entire story (turning them into something we could all relate to in process), Naylor says they're all down to the fact that Rimmer didn't get a memory implant when he was a boy. Not an inferiority complex as much as actually being inferior. Not only is the explanation completely unrelateable to the reader, but it's also completely illogical: Why doesn't he buy a memory implant now, as a grown man?

The fact that this character-changing line is tossed away in such an unemotional manner is unfortunately indicative of the care and thought seen elsewhere into the book. Another example is the amount of pseudo-science, that not only doesn’t hold up to even the tiniest bit of scrutiny, but also disregards everything we know about the Red Dwarf universe.

All over the place random scientific sounding bits and bobs that are tossed into the story and dialogue without explanation. All of a sudden even the Cat is an astrophysicist. Things like “unused time lines” (how can a parallel universe be considered "unused"? We can supposedly visit them, so do the people living in them consider their universe "unused"?) or the fact that Starbug has a “Hubble telescope” installed (I mean, come on) are just horrible.

I guess Doug would argue that it’s all about entertaining readers, and don't care about the science and technology (so long as it sounds ok), they just want a laugh, and while I can definitely agree that Last Human tries very hard to tickle your rib bones (and succeeds very often, too), I have to ask; if you're going to do the science-fiction without the science, why bother?


Reading both books gave me a very strong idea of who did what in the Red Dwarf universe. Doug Naylor was clearly the man with the funny one-liners but, unfortunately for his book, no grasp of characterisation and no exploration of ideas or concepts. Rob Grant’s book feels deeper and more satisfying, with the laughs tickling your brain more than your ribs, but it's also much heavier by comparison. The writers seem like two parts of the same brain.

When they merge they turn from two funny, talented guys into one hilarious, unique, sublime, gestalt entity. I hope they work together again at some point.

Grant Naylor, are you out there?