Blog : Posts tagged with 'fantasy'

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Books I Haven’t Read (part the tenth, maybe)

In which we criticise a Great Writer, at least by volume


With such a big pile of books each for Christmas, there was bound to be something that I wouldn’t be able to make it through. The ironic thing, though, is that this Book I Haven’t Read is probably, in one sense, the easiest read on the pile. Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett.

Back when I was a teenager, I read an awful lot of Pratchett. I must have read every Discworld book at some point by now, and I’ve got copies still of most. The Parents, being unusually observant, picked up on this: and at some stage they started buying me a copy of his latest book every Christmas. As he’s kept on producing books, this kept on happening.

Now, at one time, I did enjoy Pratchett’s books. Back when I was a teenager. He’d published about ten, fifteen or so; so there were plenty to get through without it seeming too daunting. Moreover, he hadn’t run out of ideas, and the Discworld series hadn’t started to reach critical mass. Back then, Pratchett didn’t worry too much about making his world consistant, and presumably his readers didn’t worry about it too much either.

It’s something to do with that sort of fan, though, the sort that tends to be a fan of Pratchett, that they crave consistancy and reliability. They want the world to be as solidly-built as our own, even when the fraying at the edges is fairly obvious; even when its development over time is extremely obvious.* Even if the author doesn’t worry about tying up loose edges and gluing bits of geography together, assiduous and energetic readers will start doing it for him. And they did. A lot of effort started to be put into making the whole thing “make sense” in some way, to the extent that Pratchett ended up writing entire books apparently just to make incoherency a coherent part of his universe.** That should, really, be the point where you realise that a good idea’s been taken too far.***

All of that, though, is by-the-by compared to why I didn’t manage to read this specific book. I gave up on Unseen Academicals because, well, it generally isn’t very good. It’s not a book that gave me any sort of urge to keep reading at all. The characters are rather flat and lifeless, and the Deliberate Air Of Mystery surrounding the Mysterious Characters seems, well, all too deliberate, as if someone had written it all according to the How To Write A Discworld Novel manual. If I was a fan, I might have managed to finish it. Not being, I didn’t.

All novels, as you know, like to have review quotes in their blurb. For writers starting out, it may well be from a better-known writer who has taken a shine to this novel. For better-known writers, it will be an impressive quote from a review in a Top Newspaper. You can tell a writer who’s gone too far, though. They have what Unseen Academicals has: a quote from the writer themselves, about how great their own book is.**** It’s not a good sign, when you think you’re your own biggest fan.

* Note for non-Discworld readers: the Discworld started off as a parody of swords-and-sorcery fantasy. With the sixth book it started to expand to cover parodies of other literature, and by now has covered just about every aspect of Real Life of the past 200 years or so. As a result, it’s not actually a “fantasy” world any more, apart from magic used for comedic effect.

** Well, at least one. I’ve read it, and it does read like it’s largely filler.

*** And, yes, I know I complain about consistancy in Doctor Who. But the annoyance there is more the selective consistancy; the have-your-cake-and-eat-it grab-stuff-from-anywhere approach that Russell T Davies tended to take with the programme’s backstory.

**** Douglas Adams, I have to admit, did manage to get away with this once, by not sounding serious about it.

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A Medley

In which we discuss local things, and eat pancakes


A few different things on my mind today, none of which are worthy really of a full post.

Firstly, in serious local political news, the city council’s minority Labour administration has collapsed, to be replaced with a minority Lib Dem administration. Whether the change in cabinet will lead to any changes to or abandonment of the destructive and wasteful guided busway scheme, much blogged about here in the past few months, we will have to wait and see. For that matter, there may well be changes to the rather rushed scheme to pedestrianise half of Prince St Bridge, which some people think was part of the guided busway plans; but which I think was more likely to be some sort of council sop to transport charity SusTrans, whose main office overlooks the bridge.

Talking of things round the Harbourside, regular readers might remember me talking about Folk Tales, the monthly music-and-storytelling event at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf. February’s Folk Tales was last night; however, me and K didn’t remember this until about half-seven last night, at which point we didn’t really feel like going out. Oh well: roll on the next one. I remembered, when noticing that people have been searching the internet for information about it (and finding me).

Another topical search term: “what happens to Annie in Being Human?” Episode 5 spoiler time: sharp-eyed viewers will have noticed that although Annie was on the verge of passing on to the next world, she hadn’t actually gone when the credits rolled, so will no doubt still be in the final episode. Highlight the preceding bit to read it.

Aside from that: we had plenty of pancakes on Tuesday night, as is only right and proper; and enjoyed them so much, we had more yesterday. Which is probably slightly going against the point of Shrove Tuesday, but never mind. More pancakes has to be a good thing.

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Being Humane

In which we watched Being Human


After the post last week, I felt we really should watch Being Human, the new BBC3 series set largely in Totterdown. We were, I have to say, pleasantly surprised.

I’m not going to summarise the plot here, other than: it’s a fantasy version of the classic sitcom plot. Three oddball characters who are stuck with each other – a vampire and a werewolf who are trying to appear human, who have managed to rent a haunted house.* If it is a sitcom, though, it’s the sort I’d like to write myself: the sort without very many jokes in.**

Some things were a little overused – the heavy heartbeat when Mitchell The Vampire’s blood-lust attacks came on; and the post-production effect used to make skies look darker and more interesting. Some of the mechanics of the worldbuilding don’t quite make sense, either.*** But, overall, the series was remarkably subtle and realistic. For something involving almost-immortal beasts, of course. Moreover, unlike the trailer, the characters, not the backdrop, were its main focus. It might have obviously-recognisable locations – the Totterdown house, the General Hospital, St Nick’s Market**** – and it might have bit-part actors with local accents; but so far, it could have been set anywhere. It didn’t rely on the location for anything.

I can guess how the series is going to go from here. The real test, I suppose, comes with: just how well the minor characters are treated. Will Herrick, or Lauren, become just as full a character as Mitchell? What about Annie’s fiance?***** We’ll watch it, because we’ll be intrigued to find out. And, of course, just in case, we spot anyone we know lurking in the background of a shot.

* A former grocery store on the corner of Windsor Terrace. It has pub-type glass in the front window, but as far as I can find out it was never actually a pub.

** This is a good thing; and we’re lucky that Being Human was made by the BBC’s Cardiff drama section, and not by the people responsible for the awful laugh-tracked sitcoms that pass for entertainment on BBC3.

*** Actually, Vampire Civil Wars are an interesting argument to overcome the usual objection to vampires: if they’re immortal, and all their victims became vampires, then why didn’t we get to an I Am Legend-type situation about three weeks after they first evolved? Not being up on vampire-based literature, I don’t know if anyone else has ever covered it. They must have, at some point.

**** We did both shout out “Pie shop!” when George The Werewolf ran through the market and past the Pieminister stall

***** It confirms something I’ve thought for a long time, incidentally: ghost stories really can be the saddest stories in the world.

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Last Resort

In which we can’t remember the name of something


We’re stuck.

Twenty years or so ago, there was a series on the telly. It was on ITV, and was probably made by Yorkshire. It was written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall – they who did Billy Liar, and the TV adaptation of Worzel Gummidge – and it was about Lilliputians living in Victorian England – two men and one woman. There were books based on the same characters, too, and somewhere in the house I have copies still. They were hidden by children – I remember one scene from the telly where the children’s father took up photography, and one from the book where he got his hands on an experimental vacuum cleaner.

But we’ve completely forgotten what it was called. And the internet is being no help at all – Waterhouse and Hall are just too prolific, and the books of the series don’t seem to be listed anywhere. Does anyone have an idea?

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Richard Richard Mayhew Dick

In which we’re both impressed and disappointed by the BBC


Classic mid-90s fantasy series Neverwhere has recently been released on DVD. As I hadn’t seen it since it was first shown, of course, I had to buy a copy.

I’ve read the book a few times since, most recently last summer, so I was familiar with the plot, the characters, the occasional slight fantasy cliché in the writing.* What I’d forgotten, though, was just what a ten-year-old BBC drama series looked like. I’d forgotten all about the shot-on-video look and the slightly strange sets.** It didn’t detract from the story at all – and, in many ways, it was a very innovative series – but, as a nostalgia trip, it just goes to prove how much TV production has changed in the past ten years, compared to the thirty before that.

* Such as the fantasy character not understanding real-world idioms, particularly someone introducing themselves with both their full name and a nickname, the fantasy character thinking that this is their full literal name. As in the title of this post.

** In particular, Neverwhere has one startling yet absolutely typical BBC studio-production set. The entrance room in the Portico family house: a bare white space, so that no walls are visible, just white background, with pictures of the other rooms of the house suspended at random positions and angles. As a set, it is as close to “typical BBC fantasy” as you can get; you can imagine it being created at any time in the past fifty years.

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Life in front of the telly

In which we get a bit pedantic


I was expecting to be disappointed by the ending of Life On Mars, and, of course, I was. There was no way, to my mind, that they could wrap everything up and leave everyone happy, because too many contradictory things had gone before.* The ending I had in my head was, to my mind, a better one, but that of course is because it’s the sort of ending I like.

Still, at least, the ending was a lot braver than many that could have been written – braver for the BBC to produce, I mean, not necessarily braver for the writers to write. And the “it was all in his head all along” resolution is a handy get-out clause for all the little anachronistic niggles that pedants like me notice – there’s no way a Victorian stonemason would have used nicknames like “Sam” and “Vic” on a tombstone; the game of noughts and crosses on the TV test card was wrong; and those maroon railway vans were 10 years out of date for ’73, they should have been blue to match the engine.** Like I said with Doctor Who the other week: it’s all entertainment, and we shouldn’t try to read to much into it. There’s no point searching for hidden messages, Baconian-style, when the writer is here to tell us there aren’t any.***

* specifically, episode one of series two, where the audience is at least led to believe that Sam’s behaviour in “1973” can radically alter the present day.

** which was, at least, pretty much correct for the period, albeit not entirely

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The fog

In which it’s the season of the new year


The fog is thick all over the country at the moment, but it’s only now it is affecting The South that it makes it into the news. Up here in The Forest we’ve had thick fog all week, but it hasn’t troubled the press at all. I’ve been driving the Town route home rather than the normal Country route,* because a fog-bump at 30mph is a lot safer, to my mind, than one at 70.

I’ve recently been rereading The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper, for the nth time. And with the weather gripping the country, I couldn’t help thinking about that book. It’s set at this time of year, between Yuletide and Epiphany, and as the great force of evil, the Dark, rises and attacks the land, it brings on a great freeze and blizzards, stopping anyone from leaving their home. A great freeze is rather more dramatic than all-consuming freezing fog, but the fog has the same effect, muffling us all and slowing us to a standstill.

But now it’s the 21st of December, the time the festive season really starts. The solstice is tomorrow, I believe, and the year will have turned over. The solstice is the proper new year – it’s not an arbitrary date, it’s a measurable point in the turning sky. From tonight, everything will get lighter and brighter and on its way into spring. This is the time of year for flame and warmth and remembering that sunlight will come back into our lives.

* which is longer but a lot quicker.

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The fantasy and the reality

In which we try to be Sensible


I felt slightly ill reading the lead story in yesterday’s Guardian, about an Austrian man who kidnapped a 10-year-old girl and brought her up as his secret prisoner for eight years. It’s a horrible thing to do to someone, even if he did look after her health and education. The man – his name was Wolfgang Priklopil – has since killed himself, so his motives may stay a secret; but, reading between the lines, he was trying to act out some kind of Master/slave fantasy.*

I know plenty of people who do have similar fantasies – both as the kidnapper and the kidnapped – but the difference between them and Priklopil is that they know the difference between fantasy and reality. Moreover, they subscribe to one of the strongest rules that comes with being a Sensible Perv – consensuality. It’s no different to the non-kinky world, essentially: I will only do X to you if you want X done to you. You’re free to have fantasies about kidnapping strangers, but they have to stay fantasies. To a Sensible Perv – and they make up 99.999%**** of the kinky people out there – the thought of carrying one of those fantasies out is anathema.

No doubt if a case like this occurred in the UK, there would be further calls for “violent” pornography to be banned, whether it was linked to the case or not.*** There is, after all, an awful lot of pornography and erotica on the internet that relates to this sort of fantasy, largely because it has to remain fiction. Hell, there’s probably quite a lot of it in the catalogue of Black Lace and similar imprints. Banning all that isn’t the answer. The answer is education. If the Sensible Pervs are out in the open, and easy to find, the dangerous ones are more likely to realise they’re not the only kinky people out there. All us Sensible Pervs can make sure that people like Priklopil realise that their fantasies aren’t unique, that it’s possible to fulfil them in almost-legal ways,***** and effectively train them to be a Sensible Perv too. It can be done, and it’s the only way to stop cases like this happening in the future.

* A particular BDSM** subgroup, where one person agrees to be the property of another, with no right of veto. Well, more or less. Any one-liner definition like that is bound to upset someone.

** NSFW links.

*** After all, the internet was still fairly rare 8 years ago.

**** OK, I made this number up. But it’s probably roughly correct, apart from the exact number of 9s after the decimal point.

***** I say “almost-legal” because an awful lot of what anybody, perv or not, does in bed, is technically illegal. Anything – a love-bite, for example – that leaves a mark that is more than “transient and trifling”, is Grievous Bodily Harm. What “transient and trifling” means, of course, is entirely up to the judge. For more information, ask the Spanner Trust.

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Permissive Society

In which the government wants to ban things


I know it’s only a few days since we last had a “the government are taking away your rights!” post on here, but I’m afraid it’s time for another one.* This time it’s not just about politics, though, it’s about sex too.

Over the past few months, the Home Office has been running a consultation exercise on what it calls “extreme pornography”, with the intention of trying to ban it. They were pushed into it by a single-issue campaign group called The Jane Longhurst Trust, who mistakenly believe that criminalising violent sexual images will make people less violent.

It would be nice if this were true, but it’s very clear that when you’re dealing with sexual fantasies and gratification, pushing things under the carpet doesn’t help. For years homosexuality, for example, was barely represented in the mainstream media, but that didn’t stop people being gay. Banning images of violent fantasies won’t prevent people having those fantasies and wanting to act them out. If the Jane Longhurst Trust’s members actually want to do some good, they would have to go out and educate the people with the violent fantasies, instead of pretending that if you can’t see the pictures, they don’t exist. Out of sight, out of mind, just doesn’t work.

Anyway, many many people have written in to the Home Office trying to point this out; and the summary of the results is due to be published. Whether they will be promoting it very heavily probably depends on whether or not they’re minded to go ahead with the proposed law very strongly, or if it will be quietly allowed to run out of parliamentary time. Whatever the government’s publicity machine does, there’s one group of people who will be publicising it heavily: the group set up to campaign against the new law. They’re called the Backlash, and if you want to learn more about what the government is trying to propose, and why it is a bad idea, they have written about it in far more depth than I have room to here. If you want the freedom to do what you like in the bedroom,** go and support them.

* Why? Because I promised someone I’d write about it.

** subject to what your partner tells you to do, of course

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Just another office conversation

In which a colleague scares me


Last Wednesday, in the office kitchen, making a cup of tea. A random colleague with a history of attention-seeking pops her head round the door: “I had a dream about you last night.”

“Oh yes?”

“Yeah.” They looked around quickly, to see if anyone was within earshot. “I was naked, and tied up like this” – they mimed a hands-above-head position – “and you were whipping me!”

“Riiight.” Run away! I was thinking. Run away! “Um, better go and do some work. See you later.”

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