The Rebel Flesh/Almost People

This is the way my fandom ends ...

There comes a point when intentions don't matter, but only results. Now six 45-minute episodes into his second series in charge of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat has this year given us precisely one (count it, one!) episode that was entertaining in and of itself and that didn't insult our intelligence.

I'm not an uberfan — I don't read novelizations or write fanfic — but I've watched a lot of episodes, in black and white and in colour, some of a lot more than once. And I can't recall seeing as consistent a stretch of bad writing, slip-shod plotting and ludicrous mis-characterizations as that which Moffat's run has so far provided us.

The fault this time out isn't Moffat's missing moral compass (see my reviews of the recent Christmas special or this series' two-part opener for my thoughts on that score) but just the remarkable shoddiness of the product.

After being teased into hoping for something better by Neil Gaiman's expert workshop in the fine art of story-telling a couple of weeks ago, "The Rebel Flesh" and "Almost People" (hereafter referred to as "Almost Rebels"), returns us to the inconsistent characterizations and nonsensical plots that have been the Mark of Moffat.

Now I can't bring myself to believe that Steven Moffat actually hates Doctor Who, but the on-screen results of his stewardship make that hypothesis as evidentially plausible as that which posits that he just doesn't understand the fundamentals of story-telling. (It shouldn't need saying, but for the record, I do know Moffat didn't write these episodes — direct responsibility rests with Matthew Graham, from whose keyboard came what was arguably the weakest episode of Series 2, "Fear Her". But Moffat is the show-runner and so ultimately responsible for what appears on our screens.

And what we do see once again leaves us — the viewers, the fans — with two choices. We can ignore the idiot plot in favour of speculations about the none-too-subtle clues About! Future! Episodes! or we can do the hard, unhappy work of picking apart the lousy construct.

(Yes, we could also turn off the set and go for a walk, or catch up as-yet unwatched episodes of Treme, but we are fans; walking away is not something we're willing to do, not yet.

So let's talk a bit about the basics of story-telling (again). Let's talk about such niceties as consistent characterization and internal logic as if they matter — even when slumming in the bastard field of children's science fiction.

(Why yes, I am kind of pissed off. There's cussing and spoilers both behind the link.)

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Review: All the Lives He Led, by Frederik Pohl

All the covers I ruined

I have a confession. Back in the lonely days of my early adolescence, I spent a lot of my free time haunting bookstores and there developed a peculiar and unsavoury habit. Not shop-lifting, but vandalism.

I had it in for Fred Pohl's brilliant novel of missing aliens and absent lovers, Gateway. Y'see, the Del Rey paperback (pictured at right) was, to put it bluntly, crap. Usually, simply opening the book wide enough to scan the middle pages was enough to detach the cover from the book's spine.

At a buck-ninety-five a copy I thought Del Rey owed its readers something better, and so made it my mission to open every copy in every bookstore I entered. I was, I self-justified, protecting my fellow readers from shoddy merchandise and, maybe, encouraging the publisher to try again. It must have worked, as I don't think Gateway has ever been out of print.

Little did I know that some years later circumstances would see me become friends with Pohl's former wife Judy Merril, or that she would one day introduce me to him at a conference she had been involved in organizing in Toronto.

That meeting didn't go so well. Though we huddled together in a doorway while sharing a smoke, I didn't want to bore him by telling him how much I'd enjoyed Gateway and Man Plus and Jem and The Space Merchants and that I had the advantage of him because I had also read his autobiography, The Way the Future Was. Worse, I was even worse with small-talk than I am now, and Pohl didn't seem to think it necessary either.

We grunted about the lousy weather and that was about it. But I digress.

In 1979, Pohl had been a professional for 40 years. When I met him in person he had been at it for about 50 and seemed to me, if not quite ancient, then certainly old. He was tall but stooped, his body showing signs of that inevitable surrender to entropy and gravity that faces all who live long enough to endure it.

In 2011, Pohl has been a pro for more than 70 years and is not only regularly writing a Hugo-winning blog, he is still writing fiction.

And so I recently scrounged up the coin to pick up his latest book — in hard-cover, no less. And frankly, given my recent experiences with paying good money for one lousy book or another I put down my money kind of nervously.

So I am doubly-pleased to be able to say that All the Lives He Led is one of the best SF novels — best novels — I've read in a while and with nary a rocket ship or time machine in sight.

The full review is inside, with very little in the way of spoilers.

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Random Gloats: Kristine Kathryn Rusch, always leaving us wanting more

The following was originally posted to my Dreamwidth blog.

I hate Kristine Kathryn Rusch. No, wait. I love Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

The truth? The truth is, I'm jealous as hell of Kristine Kathryn Rusch. For my money she's the best short-form writer in the business at the moment, and by "business" I don't just mean my usual pop-literature hunting grounds of SF (though she has a novella and a novelette in the current issue of Analog and Asimov's, respectively).

But it was when I saw her name on the cover (pictured above right) of an issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine last fall that I knew I was hooked. I bought the magazine.

Rusch is amazingly prolific and she is also never less than very good. Her science fiction stories emphasize both the science and the fiction, resulting in speculative backgrounds peopled by very real characters in imaginatively difficult situations.

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Paying For It

You're a dirty whore-monger, Chester Brown

Autobiography is a risky endeavour at the best of times; not only will the memoirist's craft be scrutinized and judged, but so too will his or her character. So it is probably a good thing for Chester Brown that he is one of the best cartoonists of his generation, because he really does have sex with prostitutes.

In fact, his latest book, Paying For It, is all about his decision to give up on romantic love in favour of sex for money.

It has become almost trendy to dabble in the sex-trade. Bookshelves groan beneath mounds of tell-all memoirs and fictions, and even relatively mainstream television has gotten into act, with no less than one-time Doctor Who companion Billie Piper disrobing on a regular business as Belle du Jour. But memoirs and fictions glamorizing the life of johns?

Maybe not so much

It is one thing to admit to taking money for sex; to confess paying for sex, on the other hand, remains quite outside the bounds of polite society.

If Brown doesn't make an explicit analogy between his "coming-out" as a john and the struggles of gay men and lesbians who braved arrest and assault when they refused to any longer closet their sexual natures, Paying For It certainly implicitly invites the comparison, if only by Brown's refusal to be ashamed.

As Brown's friend (and ex-girlfriend) Kris tells him, to most people, johns are "... creeps. Who knows what they're capable of? If I had a daughter I'd be worried about what would happen if she was in the same elevator as one of those guys."

So would you want to read a comic book by and about one?

Click here for my full review, with inevitable spoilers — not safe for work.

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Waiting for a miracle

May 21, 2011. End times!

Out into the made raving streets of Ottawa
did Raven and I venture on this day of Judgement!

And yea! the Singaporean restaurant was closed
and crowded and late were the public buses
and lo! the O-Train's route was short and kind of pointless.

And so it was, the tulips were past their best-befores
and the tourists were thin upon the ground.

And badminton, it was played on the steps of the National Archives.

The signs of doom — ah say! the signs of doomuh
were at hand ...

What result?

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