Posts Tagged ‘Death Ray’

Five years after I started, and I’m very close to finishing my posting of my Death Ray archive online. I’ve got some large features and other bits and pieces left over from earlier issues, otherwise we’re now into matter created for the never published Death Ray #22. So, although I wrote this review of the film Pandorum over five years ago, it is in some respects, new material.

Any one who has read my book Crash will know that I love the “colony ship gone wrong” subgenre of SF, so I had a lot of time for this flawed film.




Director: Christopher Alvart

Writers: Travis Milloy, Christian Alvart

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le

Cinema’s first ‘colony ship gone wrong’ movie. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Okay?

The generation ship that goes wrong is an SF classic. Usually the vessel at the heart of the story has been on a journey for centuries, and has overrun its target/broken down/gone mad, and whose ignorant inhabitants discover the shocking secrets behind their world just before real disaster strikes. They’re all pretty samey, but it’s one of those SF conventions that is traditionally narrow in scope. Like a ghost story, the pleasure comes not from the novelty of the ideas, but from how they are presented.

The Elysium is a craft with its crew in suspended animation, not a generation ship, but when our two leads Payton (Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) awake, they’re initially amnesiac, so we get the prescribed dose of ignorance necessary for a voyage of discovery through the ship’s rusting halls; much else that follows plays by the sub-genre’s rules, to our delight. As you’d expect, the Elysium’s not in a good way: the reactor is about to blow, and it is crawling with carnivorous mutants.

Pandorum‘s been slated elsewhere, but we liked it. Naturally, as we all suspected, the Orc-like mutants are devolved crew members. How that actually happened is, like most of the back story, nicely handled and is not the movie’s main twist. Only the ‘pandorum’ aspect of the film – a deep space psychosis, and the movie’s singular original contribution to the conventions of colony-ships-gone-wrong fiction – is fumbled, being poorly integrated into the rest of the movie.

The film sags for twenty minutes in the middle, but manages to keep the tension up the rest of the time. The numerous twists come announced, but even the one every fan of this subgenre will be expecting from the opening credits (the one regarding their destination and journey time, without giving too much away) has a spin on it.

We suspect bad notices elsewhere are the result of a lack of familiarity with and fondness for this staple SF story – take away that, and you have a somewhat hokey action film patched together from many others (Alien3, Event Horizon, et al), but as we said, generation/colony ship stories are derivative anyway, and Pandorum is a more than fair attempt to put it up on the big screen; that’s where the novelty lies this time out for the subgenre, in moving pictures. Regular audiences might be left cold, but we reckon hardened SF fans will have enough appreciation of the colony ship angle to get the most out of the film.


Terry Pratchett had a big influence on me; reading his work was one of the prods that poked me in the direction of the career I now have, so I’m going to join my voice to that of the rest of the world and mourn his passing.

I remember first being exposed to Sir Terry’s work by reading an excerpt back in the 1980s in White Dwarf. The scene was the one featuring the gnome in moleskin trousers (The Light Fantastic, I think. Aficionados may know better, please set me right if it was The Colour of Magic). I picked up his first two Discworld books on the back of that, and for several years read everything he wrote. Eventually I moved on, simply because I wanted to experience other authors’ voices and worlds. But years after, when I read some of his later books, I was delighted to see that they retained their quality and wit. He did not seem to grow tired or jaded with Discworld, it was an engine of endless creativity and satire, and in that it seemed to be as much a source of delight to him as it was to his readers. (more…)

I was always disappointed by Torchwood. It had its moments, but mostly it was just very silly. I heard that series creator Davies (who I should say here is generally an exceptional writer/producer) thought Death Ray couldn’t get over the gay sex. That is not the case. We couldn’t give a monkeys, and the most moving relationship in Torchwood was a homosexual one. What bugged us was that everybody was shagging everybody else all the time, and that the team was so damned incompetent. Torchwood was arch farce, not the “grown-up” SF we were promised.This miniseries, however, was really rather good. A highpoint for the show. This review of it was originally published in Death Ray #21 in the autumn of 2009.


2009/295 mins

Directors: Euros Lyn

Writers: Russel T Davies, John Fay, James Moran,

Starring: John Barrowman, Eve Miles, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen, Peter Capaldi, Liz May Brice, Cush Jumbo, Lucy Cohu, Paul Copley

It’s shiny! It’s scary! It’s exciting! It’s got a lot less silly sex! Torchwoooood! Lemme hear you sing it Torchwoooooooooood!

Torchwood! Oh how much you have promised, and so little you have delivered, until now. What can we say? We can say: ‘Well done!’

Personally, aside from a few episodes, I’ve loathed the show. It promised us ‘adult science fiction’. Torchwood has not been adult, it has had the sensibilities of a randy teenager, and its welter of bi-curious bonking was a poor stand-in for characterisation. We don’t care who our characters are boffing, but we do like is my characters to be believable. A lot of the time, the sex was in there purely because it could be, not because it should be. It never really helped itself, Torchwood, undermining the bits that did work, like the tender relationship between Jack and Ianto. Lastly, they’re a bunch of clowns, unprofessional to the end. Above the UN? Responsible for the security of planet Earth? Bollocks. They couldn’t run a branch of Gregg’s The Bakers.

Some of this remains true in Children of Earth, where evil aliens known only as ‘the 456’ demand 10% of Earth’s children. The klutzy Torchwood are nearly destroyed. Although they put themselves back together quite neatly, the special ops outfit run by the stern-faced Johnson (Liz May Brice) is more how we’d imagine Earth’s frontline defences to work. She’s an A-grade grafter compared to Torchwood’s common room slackers. I mean, the Hubmobile gets stolen by kids. Torchwood are chumps.

There are other weaknesses in Children of Earth. Like, the Earth has stood up to bigger threats before. Would a government really destroy its best anti-ET agency to cover up something that happened 40 years ago? Would the Americans really be able to waltz in and take over? Nope.

Then there’s Ianto’s death scene. It’s very moving until until Jack (Barrowman), crouched over his dead lover, looks as if he is about to burst into song…

But it’s breakneck, and it piles on the tension. The Torchwood moments are still ridiculous, but they entertain and they’re exciting. (The epitome of both Torchwood’s general incompetence and the series pep has to be the moment when Captain Jack blackmails his way into the alien’s audience chamber. Cock out, metaphorically speaking, he tries to out macho them, and it goes horribly, horribly wrong).

There’s a dissonance between Torchwood’s Keystone cops adventures and the sober, sweaty scenes where the cabinet debate how to fulfil the aliens’ terrible demands. Peter Capaldi’s Frobisher, a hardworking mid-level civil servant ground up in the cogs of history, is a marvellous character. Ironically, when Torchwood are not on screen, it’s great televison. But mostly, the mix works well.

This is what adult means, not giggly snogging precipitated by alien jizz. This is a story no-one comes out of well, the pressure of the story stamps out well-moulded characters and good performances from all. When Captain Jack is called upon to make a sacrifice of unconscionable magnitude at the end, that is the moment Torchwood finally grows up.

Extras: ‘Children of Earth: Declassified’ (30 mins) takes us behind the scenes of the show, and Eve Myles gives us a few pages of breathy Welshness with a Torchwood audio book extract.

A decidedly odd end to this strange remake. From Death Ray #19. Read more about the show here.


The US version on Life on Mars, cancelled, takes a rather literal turn. SPOILER ALERT! We really blow the whole thing here. Meanwhile, back in 1982 DI Drake has a new set of problems to tackle.

Either the finale of the US Life on Mars is a stunningly daring piece of television, or it’s bollocks. Jury’s out. If you plan to watch it, turn away now, because there is a gargantuan spoiler on its way…

…now. Okay, so the final episode has Sam under pressure. His younger self has been kidnapped by his criminal dad Vic. Meanwhile, the mysterious phone voice that has been bugging him throughout the series gives Sam three tasks to complete if he wants to go home. Vic is confronted and shot dead as he’s about to kill Sam, after revealing that he knows Sam is his son. Annie ‘No Nuts’ is promoted to detective, she and Sam kiss. Sam tells the phone voice to get stuffed, because he likes 1973. This transpires to be the final task, and Sam is returned home… to 2035! He’s been on board a spaceship to Mars all along. What?!

We’ll be honest here and say we did not see that coming.

Sam’s been in a VR dream for the trip to Mars. He chose to be a cop in 2008, but the ship was rocked by a meteor storm, so Windy (who is actually the ship’s computer) had to tinker with his adventure, er, by sending him to 1973. The space probe that Sam kept seeing is a ship-board minibot. The ‘gene hunt’ is that for Martian ‘genetic DNA ‘ (um, is there another kind?). Annie is in command of the mission, and Keitel turns out to be Major Tom(!), Sam’s dad.

No doubt the writers will one day come clean as to whether or not they planned this from the beginning. For now, in favour of this being the intended denouement is the regular appearance of the space probe, Ray calling Sam ‘spaceman’ consistently throughout and young Sam being fascinated by space. On the other hand, if the references to hospitals and inference of angels are red herrings, they are members of a suspiciously coherent shoal. The cast make the most unlikely band of astronauts ever, while NASA would never put a warring father and son on board a long-term mission together (Sam’s time in the ’70s is sold to us as a big metaphor for filial/ paternal conflict). It makes very little sense, especially with all the scenes where Sam is not present (who’s experiencing them, eh?). The tasks are weak. There’s a flashforward to 2010, out of place alongside the ultimate denouement, and lots of silly justifications for the slang used throughout. Most egregious is the feeble “I was supposed to be in 2008” explanation for why Sam’s so au fait with the period, and that nearly breaks the concept. Wry Bowie quotes are shoehorned in quick succession to foreshadow the ending, only for Elton John to sing us out. As you’d expect, most of the plot points from earlier episodes are left guttering, like, well, candles in the wind.

It’s a brittle resolution, but to say they had to wrap it up all of a sudden, it does the job. A decidedly odd end to a mostly inferior remake.

In September 2009, Death Ray closed and my career as a journalist/editor began to wind down. Fortunately, weeks before I had secured a book contract for Reality 36. Shortly thereafter came the one for Baneblade.  I had always wanted to be a “writer with a capital W”. Unemployment enabled (forced?) me to try. My current career as a full-time (more or less) writer of fiction started.

Since then, I have written:

10 novels (one still looking for a home, if you’re interested).

Four novellas.

31 short stories (I think).

I have also edited one factual book and six magazines, provided background text for two game worlds and done various other bits and pieces.

I estimate I’ve written about 1.3 million words in that time. Not bad. When I started out on this particular road, I figured I’d give it two years to see where it was going. Initially I worked a variety of roles in publishing, but these days I’m pretty much doing nothing but fiction. Things could go either way still, as  I personally don’t believe I’m established enough to relax yet. In particular, I could really do with a non-Black Library book that sells well. But I’m safe in my basement office for the time being. I have the freedom that I craved, and have been able to bring my son up. We’ve had some lean years, but although I don’t yet think I can say “success”, I’ve moved a long way from failure.

So if you’ve bought one of my books, I must say thank you very much. If you enjoyed it too, that’s even better.

I said earlier this week that I don’t do much journalistic work any more. But I still do the odd spot of editing. The Sci-Fi Chronicles was this year’s big editorial job. As it was released yesterday, I thought I’d write a little about what editors do.

Editing is a loose word for a wide range of roles. I’ve edited special editions for SFX where I’ve been responsible for everything in the magazine bar the subject matter. That is, determining the tone, planning and commissioning the contents, controlling the production process, collaborating with the designers on the look, helping source photography, liaising with the advertising sales people, then checking all aspects of it before signing it off. On Death Ray I was working under an editor-in-chief, so had less overall say and responsibility. White Dwarf was very different, its contents being dictated by Games Workshop’s release cycle. (more…)