Sunday, 10 December 2017


Here's an impressive and rather fun short film to help tide you over till The Last Jedi comes out next week. It's only eight minutes long and looks incredible. Clearly filmed on the southern coast, it really has that Star Wars feel to it. It was written by Lorenzo Fantini and directed by Carlos Boellinger, with an excellent original score from Two Twenty Two. It stars Omri Rose, Paula Rodriguez and the amazing Veronica Jean Trickett who you may recognise from As We Are or other awesome things.

It's the Dark Times between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, and the Jedi are almost extinct...

Saturday, 9 December 2017

REVIEW: Sandman Overture

The Sandman never needed a prequel series. Really, it never needed any sequels, spin-offs or additional volumes at all, being a perfectly told epic in itself. Nonetheless, some of the extra material has been amazing, not least Death: The High Cost of Living and the original run of Lucifer. Having Gaiman back to write the untold backstory of Dream's imprisonment that created the entire story of The Sandman is exciting, but there's always the risk, as with anything of this nature, that the result will be disappointing. The Sandman was so remarkable that any attempt to revisit it will struggle to recapture the magic. Going back to explain it all is even more dangerous, since the mystery of the Endless and their origins is crucial to the appeal of the story.

A troubled publication schedule put me off Sandman: Overture about halfway through, but I suspected that it would read better in collected form. It's taken me a while to actually get round to picking the trade up, but now I have done, and I can happily confirm that Overture is a worthy successor (should that be precursor?) to the original Sandman. Gaiman pulls together a story on a truly epic scale that only really shines through when taken in as one mighty volume. It's also vital that it be read in good old-fashioned paper format, since J. H. Williams uses an artistic style that goes everywhere, in every direction, and at several points requires the book to be rotated or flipped upside-down in order to follow the sequence of events or dialogue, and that just doesn't work on a computer screen.

Williams's artwork, in combination with Dave Stewart's colours, creates a bold and powerful visual universe which is vital for Gaiman's storytelling to shine through. The key word for this story is scope. So many prequels fail by limiting the imagination of the reader/viewer by filling in too much of what might have come before. Overture expands the Vertigo universe, taking Sandman into broader, more science-fictional realms than before, giving everything a truly cosmic feel. Taking place, as Gaiman says, after Endless Nights and before Preludes and Nocturnes, Overture twists history around and brings Dream's new incarnation, Daniel, into the storyline in a vital aspect. The risk of limiting the character of Dream is averted by the most celebrated moment in the story, in which Morpheus is brought face-to-face with infinite variations of himself, in all manner of guises.

Overture takes on Endless Nights's best story and expands it by revisiting the City of the Stars, a realm that truly appears to be constructed from light, and makes it the core of the story. Billions of years earlier, Dream, or an aspect of him, failed to snuff out an insane star, leading to the imminent destruction of the universe in the present. Through his quest to put things right we visit more realms than ever before, with the other Endless taking part in events in different roles. More contentiously, we meet Dream's parents. Given that the Endless are siblings, it makes sense that there would also be parents involved, but their existence as distinct characters could have been the worst thing for Gaiman to show. Instead, Father Time and Mother Night are depicted as enormously powerful and remote beings who add to the mystery of the Endless. (They may also be viewed as the DC equivalents of Infinity and Eternity, and Gaiman's enough of a Marvel fan to have intended this.) There's even Dusk, who might just be another sister of the extended Endless family.

Even with the universe tearing itself apart in entropy and war, Gaiman keeps the story working at a personal level by pairing Dream up, for much of the voyage, with the orphaned alien girl, Hope Beautiful. To begin with she comes across as a slightly twee, spunky kid, but avoids becoming a generic character by meeting her own tragic end and then playing a vital part in the revitalisation of the universe. The balance between the cosmic and the personal is balanced well, reflecting how Dream is at once a small, flawed individual and the very essence of imagination in the universe.

Overture is far stronger when read as a novel, rather than a series of issues, and skirts that fine line between telling us too much and telling us just enough to keep the mystery interesting. I could definitely stand to see no more Sandman ever after this, though; Overture bookends The Sandman in a perfect ouroboros that should never be broken.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Inescapable truth

Of late, the news has become an ongoing name-and-shame of predatory men in positions of power, and particularly in Hollywood. In the UK, we already had our watershed moment, when the not-remotely-surprising news that Jimmy Saville was a serial child sex offender began a rush of such revelations and accusations, and in time appeared that almost everyone who worked in entertainment in the UK in 1970s was involved in one way of another. In the Premier League, accusations, and occasionally convictions, of rape and sexual assault, are so commonplace that they barely make the news anymore. It's just taken time for the US media to react to their own series of top-level assault claims.

None of this is really a surprise. Power corrupts, yes, and more than that, power attracts deeply corrupted individuals. The sudden rise in accusations, and the rise in coverage and acceptance, is a consequences of Weinstein being big enough, important enough, and revolting enough that he has forced open the floodgates. It's not as if this hasn't been happening for as long as our civilisation can remember. It's that the world at large doesn't care about the victims of these crimes until the media decides they are reportable. Until a steady stream of headlines and clickbait can be generated, it's just more "unimportant" news.  Suddenly, we're allowed to care.

However, as the #metoo phenomenon has made very clear, this shit has been happening for a long time, to virtually every woman in every walk of life. The fact that it has become clear it's the norm in Hollywood (and television, and music, and theatre) doesn't mean that it's not the norm everywhere. It is endemic. Yes, men suffer from it too, and all sorts of men - Anthony Rapp and Matt Smith experiencing it as youngsters seems less surprising than Terry Crews dealing with it at a party a few years ago, which only goes to prove that it doesn't matter who it is, everyone is potentially at risk. Nonetheless, the fact remains that women suffer from this crap all through their lives, from the mildest verbal harassment to brutal rape, and disproportionately so.The backlash against powerful men in Hollywood may indicate that western society is finally starting to look at things differently.

The smallest, least relevant problem to come from this is how people like me can discuss films and television. It has now become impossible to separate art and entertainment from a criminal culture that has thrived for decades. And while Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey get kicked off current projects, it can't erase the many, many productions of the past retroactively tainted.

I don't know what the solution to this is, other than to approach things individually and take the background of productions into account where I can.

How a white guy sitting behind his computer deals with this news is the least important thing about it, but I wanted to at least make it clear that I recognise the situation.

For now, I'll leave the commentary to people who actually have a real stake in the matter.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

TREK REVIEW: Discovery - Desperate Hours by David Mack

Desperate Hours is the first novel under the Star Trek: Discovery imprint, and sees the reliable Trek author David Mack with the unenviable task of tying the backstory of Discovery with the elaborate Star Trek novel continuity. From the get go, this was going to be a difficult task, and to his credit, Mack, under direction from Bryan Fuller, goes straight in there by setting this story at the exact intersection of the origins of Trek and its newest iteration.

Desperate Hours (perhaps the most generic title an adventure story could have) is set in 2255, one year before the fateful events of “The Vulcan Hello,” and one year after the very events written for Star Trek, those of the first pilot episode, “The Cage.” In spite of being set only two years apart, “The Cage” and “The Vulcan Hello” are worlds apart in content, style and tone, the franchise having developed in such ways that the two episodes are scarcely recognisable as being part of the same universe. Nonetheless, if any medium can make this work, it's prose, as the very distinct visual styles of these two eras of Star Trek can be glossed over, and the business of story focussed on.

There's a clear opportunity to combine and contrast characters here, with Starfleet crews from different ends of the franchise coming into collision. A crisis on the breakaway colony of Sirsa III brings both the starships Shenzhou and Enterprise into orbit to deal with the problem. An ancient alien Juggernaut is discovered beneath the surface of the planet, bristling with weaponry and capable of wiping out not only Sirsa but any planet it local space. While Captain Georgiou seeks a solution to both the alien threat and the political ramifications of Starfleet intervention on the planet, Captain Pike is called in to make carry out Starfleet's orders. With the Juggernaut potentially posing a gigantic and uncontainable danger to the Federation, Starfleet order's Pike to lay waste to the planet should no other way of stopping it become apparent.

While it's fascinating to see two captains of very different stripes at loggerheads – Georgiou is methodical and restrained, Pike more bullish and masculine – I struggle to believe that Pike, who was so memorably weighed down with the lives lost under his command in “The Cage,” would so readily accept genocidal orders from Starfleet. It's a major failing of characterisation in my opinion, and makes for a significant flaw in the novel.

More successful is the clash between Burnham and Spock. At present there seems to be no plan to bring Spock to the screen in Discovery, in spite of Burnham's relationship with Sarek and her presumed presence during Spock's childhood. Desperate Hours explores Burnham's background, clarifying some confusing elements, including the two traumatic attacks she experienced on Doctari Alpha and Vulcan, and also explores something of her upbringing, with Burnham describing herself as “culturally Vulcan.” The similarities between a human, brought up as Vulcan, and a Vulcan-human hybrid, both from the same family, would suggest that Burnham and Spock have a great deal in common and a special bond. So why do Burnham and Spock have so little to do with each other?

To put it bluntly, they can't stand each other. Their ongoing rivalry, competing in youth for the respect of Sarek and the love of Amanda, both trying to prove themselves in a stoic society, has only been exacerbated by Spock's decision to join Starfleet and his resulting schism with his father. Nonetheless, as much as they have a personal dislike for each other, there's a clear and mutual respect between Burnham and Spock, one which sees the upcoming first officer of the Shenzhou call on the junior science officer of the Enterprise for help in this extremely difficult situation. A large chunk of the book is taken up with Spock and Burnham working within the Juggernaut itself, facing a series of deadly tasks. While this leads to some fascinating interaction and sees the two learn more about each other, and so themselves, I have limited patience for narrative that takes the form of a series of puzzles, however life-threatening. Nonetheless, the exploration of both Burnham and Spock brings new depth to both their backgrounds.

The less expected interaction is between Lt. Saru and Pike's Number One, here, in line with other recent novels, given the rather obvious Una. There is further exploration of Saru's background on Kelpia, which explores his nature as a prey animal with less bluntness than the TV episodes, but the surprising part is the deep respect, and indeed attraction, to Number One. The two make an unusual but effective pairing, and their scenes together are some of the most successful in the book.

There is some exploration of the rest of the Shenzhou's bridge crew, giving a richness and realness that was missing in Discovery's pilot story. On the whole, the storyline is an enjoyable adventure, as much about human conflict as alien threat. It's quite a straightforward tale, but one with plenty of action and excitement, and in spite of the supposed danger of the Juggernaut, provides a surprisingly low-key series of events for the first Discovery novel. Then again, not every Starfleet intervention leads to interstellar war, thankfully. This time, Shenzhou and Enterprise come together and chalk this one up as a win for Starfleet. They should probably make the most of it.