Archive for February, 2014


This is a crazy nuts time of year. This is the way it usually goes: Coast out of Christmas, finish off the previous year’s work, hustle for this year’s work, get rained on, get struck down by successive waves of germs brought home by Benny, fill in a ton of forms various organisations I work for all need at once, become enraged by the changes various organisations I use wreak on their services all at once (and without warning), pay my tax (HOWL!) and get mildly miserable owing to a paucity of sunlight. I think I’ll be taking those vitamin D tablets again. (more…)


And this one is TOTALLY NEW! Yep, I didn’t just scrape this off a disk somewhere. It’s a book about Vikings, by Giles Kristian, published around 2007. Here are my thoughts.

I won’t bang on about the plot: Young man meets Vikings, is taken in, finds he is a natural killer and has bloody adventures in Southern England in the 8/9th century. That about sums it up.

I like Vikings, for a whole parcel of reasons. I studied them at university, and married a lady Viking. I’ve had this lying around for ages and fancied something Norse. Blood Eye adequately captures the spirit of the era and is overall entertaining, but there are some major issues with it.

Firstly, although the prose is very well written, the structure is poor, with not one but two pairs of near-identical incidents. In the first act of the book the Vikings are twice invited into mead halls, where friendly feasting turns violent. In the third act, our hero Raven is rescued at the last minute by the unexpected arrival of his Viking pals, again twice. Sure, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, but it’s slack storytelling that should have been ironed out.

Secondly, global amnesia is the hokiest plot device in the world (when we meet the protagonist he’s living in an English village and can’t remember anything from before a couple of years ago. Is he English? Is he Norse? Read the whole series to find out if he’s secretly the son of the king of Norway!) It takes a lot for me to forgive amnesia, and there’s not quite good enough in here for such forgiveness to be forthcoming.

Thirdly, there’s the odd historical inaccuracy (to my mind at least). Pines are mentioned a few times as growing in England, but there are only two conifer types native to Britain – the Scots pine and the Yew. (Yeah, yeah, picky, picky). Pines were never grown widely here until relatively recently. Also, and this is something that I always grumble about when reading Dark Age era fiction, is the level of mutual intelligibility between Norse and Old English. It’s debatable how much, but there was at least some, even the modern descendants of the languages have a lot of similarities, so Norsemen standing around talking loudly about killing Old English speakers in total safety wouldn’t be possible. As I see it, anyway – I may be wrong, I’m sure Kristian did his research.

Bernard Cornwell handles both the “torn identity” (admittedly, it’s a useful narrative in to the world) and language issue better in his Viking stories.

But, the main character is extremely engaging, and it’s well written. Perhaps I’ll check out the others in the series.


A review of Ghost Whisperer from Death Ray 16. Yes! You guessed right, my internal gear stick is out of the “can’t be arsed slot” and we’re into first gear, trundling through old Death Ray articles. Only a handful of big interviews and four issues to go, then done! Huzzah.

TWO AND A HALF STARS

Directors: Various

Writers: Various

Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad, Jamie Kennedy

The show about beautiful girl who can communicate with ghosts coasts on into another year. Rick Payne (Jay Mohr), ghost-whisperer Melinda Gordon’s professorial accomplice and series regular for two years, bows out in episode one, leaving a slot free for another male believer – step in Eli James. Like Payne, he’s an educated man, giving some backbone of learning to Melinda’s folksy wisdom and feminine intuition. Only this one is a modern-day medium too! Eli can only hear spooks, not see them, and lacks Melinda’s experience, but his training as a psychologist gives him both medical knowledge and insight into the minds of the dead. He’s a good mix of greenhorn and pro, the writers (and actor Kennedy) have done well to make the character well-rounded. It’s too often the case with supporting males these days that they are either hunks, troubled hunks, or nerds. A nice addition to the cast.

Other than friends new, it’s business as usual for the fragile beauty. Melinda is trying for a baby in between solving the woes of the departed. In episode two she has to confront her upsetting high-school past, and there are dark hints of a new, series-arching menace to her. In this case it is not a powerful ghost or dark whisperer, but the revelation that her abilities may bring with them a touch of death.

If soapy, heartwarming, forgettable drama is your thing, Ghost Whisperer continues to deliver.


The second US attempt at an adaptation of Life on Mars. From Death Ray 16. I’ve a review of the end of the series somewhere, which I’ll doubtless post. Eventually.

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Scott Rosenberg.

Starring: Jason O’Mara, Harvey Keitel, Jonathan Murphy, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Moll

 US translation of hit BBC mystery show has second stab at success.

Life on Mars US is a straight enough port of the UK’s beloved show – there’s no danger of anyone asking incredulously if this is, indeed, Life on Mars. Initially at least, the plot follows that of the UK version closely. However, we know that this will change. The most interesting thing about the series will be to see how.

First off, this is the second version of a US Life on Mars. The initial pilot was a subtler affair to that broadcast, New York-located rejig, preserving much of the Beeb’s original’s clever ambiguity. Version two takes great pains to making sure the audience knows what is going on. There’s a lingering shot on Sam Tyler’s iPod, for example, showing us the title of the song Life on Mars as David Bowie belts it out. This, and Sam’s opening monologue, aim to let audiences know exactly why the show is called what it is. Tweaks to dialogue make the concept further explicit in version two. Many of the changes are those that make it an easier sell; bigger name actors, a shorter present-day segment among them. There’s more humour in the second version, though nowhere near the amount found in the UK series, and overall the series whiffs a little of American earnestness. The first handled the police procedural better, seeming tauter and more engaging, the second is more concerned with Sam’s dilemma. There is, in the main, a lot less drinking than in the original in both.

Maybe it’s just because we have seen it all before, but neither Life of Mars US is as engaging as the UK version, though of course it’s the ongoing one that we’re more interested in. Keitel, at 69, is too old for Gene Hunt, he lacks the fire and anger of Phillip Glennister’s original reading, although he’s a better fit than Colm Meaney. Similarly, Jason O’ Mara’s Sam is more caught up in his own predicament, whereas John Simm’s Sam exhibited a greater sense of outrage at the way his new colleagues conducted police business. The chemistry between the two leads is, however, strong. A benefit to the show being a remake is that the roles of Chris Skelton and Ray Carling are closer to what they are in the UK’s Ashes to Ashes than in the initial run of LoM. They’re less comedic, and play a larger part in the show from the off. Michael Imperioli’s Ray Carling in particular presents a formidable foil to Tyler, sometimes friendly, at other times utterly hostile for being passed over for promotion in favour of Sam. Imperioli, massively ‘tached and with a leonine mane of hair, has awesome screen presence, his Ray a million miles from the cuddly, occasionally vicious meathead we know and love from the BBC’s series.

This different weighting of characters carries on right across the board. Though the focus is still on Sam and Gene, this is more of an ensemble show than its forebear, Annie has more time, and there’s a new character, Sam’s hippy neighbour.

Will Life on Mars be a successful as it has been in the UK? It’s hard to tell. On the whole, it is less of a cartoon than the UK version, but is correspondingly less entertaining. The concept is perhaps not robust enough to sustain 22 episodes over several seasons. How long audiences can hang on without some kind of definitive answer is hard to guess. If the simplified nature of the second version of the show is anything to go by, ABC probably think “not long”. As yet, we’ve seen none of the “political issue of the week” that the original exhibited, either. We’ll give it time, but, with a  three million viewer drop-off between week one and two, will the audience?


Last week, an old acquaintance of mine got in touch. He was thinking of switching careers from programming to magazines, and had a job interview at a well respected hobby magazine as a sub-editor, so he wanted to pick my brains. I figured I’d pop up his questions and my responses here, as they may prove useful and/or interesting to some of you. His questions are in bold, my answers not. [] denote an additional thought I had while preparing this for publication here. (more…)