I wrote this review of the Battlestar Galactica reboot shortly after the series finale in 2009, for Death Ray #19. The show was not entirely successful. Looking back on it, there was too much standing around talking about who may or may not be a Cylon, and not enough seat-of-the-pants pursuit across the galaxy. Cut down perhaps by a third or so, it might have been stronger. And I can’t help but think we’ve not yet had the definitive version of this story. Still excellent, though.

FOUR STARS

It’s been a long and emotionally exhausting odyssey from the end of Colonial Civilisation, but the remnants of humanity and their one-time enemies the Cylons have finally found a home, a little place, 150,000 years later, we like to call Earth (though as it turns out, ours is not the first planet to bear such a name).

To find a suitably impressive finale to a series such as Battlestar Galactica, one of the finest pieces of television of the last decade, was obviously a tough job. Perfection is impossible, more so when you’ve been carefully cultivating an audience with a million of their own pet theories. That old adage about pleasing people all of the time springs to mind. Read the rest of this entry »


A review of the DVD from Death Ray #19.

2006/18/92mins

FILM: TWO STARS EXTRAS: TWO STARS

Director: Harry Basil

Writers: Brian Cleveland, Jason Cleveland

Starring: Leah Pipes, Kristin Cavallari, Josh Henderson, Lou Diamond Phillips, Geoffrey Lewis

 Urban legend gets extra adornment in this fright flick pitched right at the slumber party market.

There’s a Texan urban legend that says a certain level-crossing is haunted. The site of a terrible rail accident, where a bus load of children were smashed to bits by a train. If you stop your car short of the tracks and put it in neutral, ghostly tots will push it to safety. This tale forms the basis of Fingerprints (so called because the kids leave ghostly handprints behind). As this tragic anecdote is more of a tour guide’s aside than a story, the film has added lunatic station masters and a psychic teen to make some sort of narrative.

Said psychic teen Melanie (Pipes) is just out of rehab, she’s not a bad girl, but her first and only dalliance with heroine led to the death of her boyfriend. She herself OD’d, but was revived, with the side-effect that she can now see the dead. Becoming intrigued by the town ghost story, she unearths a darker mystery.

Pretty boys, teen troubles and a caricature of an awkward mother/ daughter relationship put this squarely in the pink corner – this is a ghost story intended for groups of teen girlies at slumber parties. It’s therefore harmless spooky stuff (rare gory moments and drug references earn it the high age rating).

It’s pretty average stuff too. Fingerprints starts well, but loses its way, its increasingly wobbly credibility finished off by a dumb coda that pushes the film right over the rails into the realms of pastiche.

Extras: An annoying on set ‘interview’ and an above average 20 minute making of, where we learn the legend is, apparently, true.


When in York the other day I popped into Games Workshop. I usually try to go to the local GW when I’m in a town. Sometimes, I buy stuff.

As always, the store dude approaches and asks if I’m looking for anything, what army I’m into, that sort of thing. Well done GW store training programme – your store managers never fail in this regard. Partly to short-circuit the whole process, and partly because I want some recognition, dammit, I say who I am, and point out some of my books. There’s a third, slightly mischievous desire here. I do it because I want to see how the store dude reacts. Nine times out of ten there is a flicker as their mind changes gear, and their faces become neutral. A slight disengagement enters the interaction. You can see them thinking. Is he really who he says he is? Is he a lunatic? Is this a test? Sometimes that’s it. They leave me alone. (As happened in this case). Either way, BL author or a lunatic, I don’t need their enthusiastic spiel. If the shop’s less busy, after I have established that I am not, in fact, a lunatic, then conversation is forthcoming. If I were more modest, I probably would not do this at all. It’s slightly egotistical, perhaps even a little bit mean. But I don’t get out much. And writing is lonely. And I crave validation.

Sometimes, after credentials have been established, they really don’t know how to act. This is the “magic author” effect, and it happens to me sometimes. This is where folks treat you like you’re somehow special, and they say things like “You’re really talented” or somesuch, and I think, “Er, am I? Are you sure? Have you got the right man?”

Provided I don’t become convinced that the magic is real, or rather, as long as I remember that the magic might be subjectively real for the reader, but that it does not actually make me in any way special, I should avoid becoming a total knob. I’ve seen it happen many times. It can happen to anyone with even a vaguely public profile. Sometimes people buy into the magic lens they are seen through and forget the shortcomings of the person living inside their skull. This especially tragic when the person is a writer with a humble following, and not, for example, Johnny Depp.

There is only one Johnny Depp.

So we must hold on to our secret feelings of fraudulence, we writers. And I must always keep in my mind that the only magical thing about me is that I am a goblin living in a man’s world.

Lunatic and BL author. That’s probably the right internal response for future contactees.

Review: Best Served Cold

Posted: September 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

Best Served Cold
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Abercrombie’s made a big splash in the fantasy world, and, having read this, I can see why. There’s enough wit, pace and élan in Best Served Cold to entertain the most rabid anti-fantasist, let alone a simple lapsed believer like me. This is the crackling, bitter, bloody antidote to anodyne sagas. Spiked with cynicism and, indeed, spikes, Best Served Cold has as much in common with a Hollywood caper as it does with the rest of its genre.

The story concerns Monzcarro Murcatto, mercenary general in the fractured land of Styria. Dumped off a mountain by her employer, her brother (and lover) slain in front of her, she somehow survives, puts together a team of misfits and sets out for vengeance, whereupon everything gets horribly out of hand.

The setting, based on Renaissance Italy, is pitch perfect, as full of plague and poverty as it is heroism and swordplay. It feels genuinely late Medieval, only, if anything, grimmer. Even Monzcarro’s unlikely position as general is well explained (unlike those of oh-so-many powerful female characters in too many off the peg fantasy worlds). Moral ambiguity, hard violence, and that weaving of laughter, horror and pathos real life brings further make it breathe, though the brilliant characters are what really make it roar.

It’s too slick to be affecting, and the plot reversals, skin-of-the-teeth escapades, witticism and coincidences are all rather broad. In fact, although it seems more realistic than most fantasy, it actually is not. It has the hyper-real feel of a cynical play put on in the world Abercrombie describes. As a result, it struggles to say anything worthwhile, (that we think the author might be capable of it is compliment enough in this market), but this is the highest grade of adult, commercial fantasy we’ve seen for a while. Pure entertainment.

View all my reviews

Alien cauliflower

Posted: September 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

IMG_2484.JPG

I love these Romanesco brassicas! Not only weird looking, but obvious evidence as to how important fractals are in lifeforms. It’s only an approximate fractal as it’s not infinite, but that just seems picky. The number of spirals on each head follow Fibonacci numbers, apparently. This one came in my weekly organic vegetable box. I could look at it all evening.


I did this interview with Joe back in 2009. He’s a very nice man, although I am insanely envious of his success. He was living in Bath while I was there. We had mutual friends, and was invited down a few times to attend their gaming group. Annoyingly, I never could. Can you guess why? Ah yes, parenthood… From Death Ray #19.

Blood and Iron

War, death, blood and wit. There’s plenty of all in Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy world, the kind of place Tarantino would have invented if he’d read more Tolkien and watched less grindhouse as a kid. We like it, we do.

I’ll let you into a secret. Heroic fantasy shaped and formed me. It made me, at least in part, what I am today.

And then it started to bore me to death. When I picked up a new book, I had an uncomfortable feeling I had read it all before. I had. But I love fantasy, so I keep on trying, always looking for something fresh, a new take on the old stories.

With Joe Abercrombie, I think I may have found it. His is an intensely believable reality full of bone popping violence, death, skullduggery and disease. This is not your typical machine-wash medieval fayre, but two steps away from the grim actualities of life in a pre-industrial age. Like his latest book, Best Served Cold, about a mercenary captain in a fantasy version of Renaissance Italy whose quest for revenge gets out of hand. (See the review here).

It’s heroic fantasy right enough, but not in an airbrushed kind of way.

All of which Abercrombie set out to achieve. A 34-year old Lancastrian (the Yorkshire biased DR team grudgingly salutes him) raised on RPGs and fat trilogies, Abercrombie found himself in the profession of video editor, all glam and media, but also intermittent. With time to spare, he had two bold attempts at redefining the genre. The first was not so successful, the second… Well, 250,000 book sales for his First Law trilogy tells that story right enough… Read the rest of this entry »