Red Dwarf XI: Give And Take

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The lateness of these Red Dwarf XI reviews will soon be legendary, but I’m saving myself the trouble of recounting the plot in even the briefest detail because anyone interested will have seen it or got hold of a better review by now.

Curiously, some of those better reviews are hailing this as a classic episode, one to rival Doctor Who, even; but it didn’t immediately grab me as such.

I have, however, figured out why that is. I sat down in front of the episode last week expecting half an hour of LOLfunnies like some of my favourite Dwarf eps; it had its moments, certainly, but as a sitcom Give and Take was a little lighter on the com than some of my personal favourite episodes.

It was, however, a properly decent bit of science fiction, and had probably the scariest villain in Red Dwarf history in Asclepius – too bad he only got one scene, although his legacy lived on and needed all kinds of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff in the second half to put right. And as is often the way with wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stories, all does not always become clear on first viewing (especially if you’ve just tuned in for the laughs).

Spoiler alert

OK, so timey-wimey sci-fi with a touch of humour… I guess comparisons with Doctor Who are not completely unreasonable at this point. But we’re here to look at the philosophy, the morality and the spirituality of the story.

Obviously with all the karma from the previous episode we’re unlikely to get too spiritually minded here if the series is going to remain more balanced than poor old Asclepius, but there are a couple of points that came up.

First: lying. Kryten’s lie mode is about as inconsistent as… well, add your own Donald punchline here. But, like a presidential candidate (allegedly) Kryten is lying for a good cause. He’s lying to save Lister’s life, and maybe even the most honest among us would tell a little white lie to save a friend. In the same exchange, Cat is being as selfish as only Cat can be, but (there’s probably room for another Trump joke here somewhere) he seems to be struggling with it, at least a little. It’s almost as if he has a tiny inner philanthropist struggling to be heard over his vain and selfish facade. (Honestly, this was supposed to about morality and stuff; if you’re getting any hint of a running mate gag from that sentence it’s on you.)

But aside from the trivial matter of whether you would give up a kidney for the man who is, essentially, your God, there are the recurring themes of identity and purpose, here embodied in a retro-styled robot which Kryten has, without hesitation, identified as a superior medi-bot which must be taken back to Red Dwarf.

Back on the Dwarf, having dispensed a lengthy and productive session of therapy for Rimmer, it eventually transpires that Notasclepius should in fact have been dispensing Dr Pepper – who probably would have been more useful to Lister, who now has less kidney than a chip shop pie.

But the boys from the Dwarf persuade Snacky that he’s not just a snack dispenser, that he has learnt more than he realises, and as a result has more potential than he realises – potential which, in a roundabout sort of way, helps them to save Lister. Follow the causal loops and there’s something else going on there somewhere, but the point of this paragraph is that we don’t always see the best of ourselves. We don’t always see beyond our perceived identity as a snack vendor, or an estate agent, that we fail to see we actually have the potential to save lives, or run a… never mind.

Snacky was made in the image of Robby the Robot, but when he realised he was more than just a snack dispenser, he made a difference to the Red Dwarf Posse. Each of us is made in the image of God… imagine what we can achieve when we accept this fact.

Red Dwarf XI: Samsara

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Now, Smasara was a return to form. Less of the Star Trek crap, more of Lister and Rimmer bickering – this time over a game of Mine-opoly, like your family after Boxing Day lunch. When they’re on form, the trading of insults between these two characters is one of the best things on TV.

On this occasion, Lister’s gloating at having finally beaten his nemesis is cut short by Kryten’s announcement that some distant relatives have decided to pay them a visit; unfortunately by the time of their arrival they have mysteriously been vaporised, leaving little more than the opportunity for a predictable but childishly amusing gag about spreading their ashes.

All of which leads our heroes inexorably towards the crashed starship from which the deceased had recently escaped, either to loot it or to figure out why the escape pod decided to nuke them. Or probably both.

Spoiler alert

I’m not going to review the rest of the series early as I did with the first episode, but if you haven’t seen it, spoilers may follow.

On boarding the crashed ship, they discover that the rest of the crew have also died somewhat abruptly, many of them involved in what, on the balance of probabilities, was unlikely to have been a game of twister. The boys split up, Scooby-style, to investigate, and while Cat is annoying Lister with his comedically fudged (but somewhat forgivable) knowledge of Earth history, Kryten and Rimmer discover that the ship contains a ‘Karma Drive’ – a system based on the Justice field from series 4, but able to reward good behaviour as well as punishing bad.

Part of the story is told in flashback from the point of view of the two escapees, Green and Barker, who we discover had resorted to hacking the Karma drive in order to facilitate an extra-marital hook-up.

And this, of course, brings us to the spiritual and moral crux of the episode: who decides what is moral? Somebody had to program the Karma Drive, and as we see in this story, anything which can be programmed once, can be reprogrammed to do something completely other.

What the Karma Drive concept gives us is a tangible way that humanity – in this case, right down to the Captain of an individual ship – is allowed to dictate morality in the Red Dwarf universe, and has created a means to police this and provide the appropriate response.

And ‘morality’ has become a much more fluid concept in the real world too; in recent years we have seen some branches of Christianity accused of rewriting morality to make the faith more palatable to the modern world, while others insist that morality is, and must remain, fixed as it was when the Bible was written. That’s an interesting debate, of course, and one which I may touch upon during NaNoWriMo (more on that story later), but at the same time, it should probably be considered that ‘morality’ is not really a concept which can easily be boiled down to a few rules, or indeed a computer program.

Jesus didn’t bring rules; he came to set us free from rules, in part by way of a simple moral code: love one another. And not in an extra-marital Twister sort of way, obviously; ultimately, Green and Barker’s plan to reverse the morality of the neutron flow (see what I did there?) came back and bit them – well, in fact it vapourised them – when they attempted the very moral act of warning the Red Dwarf posse what they had done.

All morality aside though, this is a great Red Dwarf episode very much in the ‘classic’ Dwarf mould; some may think there is too much of old stories being recycled here, but Red Dwarf IV was a terrifying 25 years ago now, so I’d argue that a fresh spin on that type of story is long overdue. If Red Dwarf XI carries on in this style, I’ll be a very happy Dwarfer.

Red Dwarf XI: Twentica

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Ah, Red Dwarf. Once BBC2’s most successful sitcom, later made a bit pants by forgetting what it was supposed to be, abondoned for a while and then, 4 years ago, resurrected by some bloke called Dave who runs a TV channel.

And now it’s back again, for it’s fourth, I think, triumphant return… but will it be as triumphant as the last?

Well, based on the opening episode of Red Dwarf XI compared to series X’s Trojan, I’d probably have to say… maybe. But that’s ok, Trojan had to erase the bad memories of series VIII and Back To Earth, so it needed to be awesome; Twentica is a very different type of Dwarf story, so from here on I’ll review it on its own merits.

Spoiler alert

As this episode doesn’t actually air on TV until next week, there will of course be spoilers.

There is no time wasted introducing the characters; they’re on Starbug, they meet some bad guys, and follow them into some kind of time warp in order to fix the pool table. Then they promptly crashland on the set of an original Star Trek away mission, only to discover they are in a version of 1950s Earth where the aforementioned bad guys enforced a Luddite revolution a few decades earlier, creating a prohibition-style underground where science is practiced in secret.

OK, I’m going to do another series X comparison now. The last series was very much Dwarf-bound. With the series opener boldly going into Star Trek territory, it seems Dave is making a statement of intent here: this is proper science fiction, but with jokes. And although this episode didn’t immediately grab me, Red Dwarf has been at its best when it was doing sci-fi above comedy, so I hope this bodes well for the series.

Twentica borrows it’s premise straight from Star Trek: First Contact, but because it’s a comedy, it can get away with it. Indeed, the fact that it unashamedly hangs a lantern on the hackneyed cliches is part of the fun of the episode. That, and Lister inadvertantly starting a lovers tiff between two simulants.

On the subject of simulants, these were artificial lifeforms – angry mechanoids, basically – created for a war which never happened. Some went rogue and have survived in deep space to provide antagonists in a universe established from the outset to be devoid of alien life. Those we encounter here are a new breed to the Dwarfiverse: Expanoids, a variety able to double their processing power every two years, which presumably has allowed them to stay in hiding for the last 28 years.

It’s an interesting point to ponder that their existence, and that of the other simulants and genetically engineered life forms which have occasionally popped up to add variety to the cast, is entirely due to humankind. Every force opposing the last human’s ultimate goal (returning to Fiji) is man made; there is no external force – no Quagaars – to blame for all the bad things that happen on the way.

And on a related point, this whole episode is about man’s relationship with technology – which has been the core of much sci-fi over the years of course – a relationship which is beautifully summed up by Lister in the closing scene.

Anyway, to summarise: Rimmer’s voices, Cat’s dancing, Kryten’s nipple nuts and Lister philosophising, it’s all here. I think it’s pretty safe to say Red Dwarf is back.

The Chip Whisperer: cover design contest

Hot on the heals of my last post, Bit#1 of The Ambivalence Chronicles now has a title – and it’s none of the possible options I offered then.

So, heading your way before the end of the year will be Bit#1 of The Ambivalence Chronicles: The Chip Whisperer.

And over the last few days I’ve run a contest at (more on that later) to find the perfect cover – and annoyingly I now have three perfect covers. Of course we all know There Can Be Only One, so I’m asking for your feedback on the final three before I make a choice.

The three finalists can be found here, so please take a minute to click through, rate and comment on the designs and help me make the best final choice. I love them all, so I’m giving no clues beyond the following:

The Chip Whisperer is a short comic fantasy novel with an 80s video game vibe and Douglas Adams wannabe humour. It is the first in a series, and some elements of the final cover will be carried forward onto later covers.

Some minor changes may be made before publication – possibly in light of your comments! – but one of them will be recognisable as the cover.

So please click on through, comment below, or follow my social media links to let me know your thoughts!

Introducing The Ambivalence Chronicles

Yes, it’s been a while. I’ve been busy – preparing for the (now imminent) launch of The Ambivalence Chronicles: a comic fantasy in 8 bits.

Unfortunately, at the point of looking for a cover, I’ve just realised Bit#1 still doesn’t have a title. Bit#2 does; Bit#7 does, but the first bit? Nope.

Yes, this could involve spoilers; venture onwards at your peril.

So this is where you come in: I have a shortlist, and am opening that up for comments. A brief series synopsis is posted here for reference; Bit#1 will feature the Ambivalence (a retired Commer ambulance), a Mini 1275GT known affectionately as Rex, a ZX81 running a strange piece of code called the Entelechus Hex, and the main attraction at a now extinct dinosaur park.

With that in mind, the title options currently look something like this, in no particular order:

– Tyrannosaurus Hex

– The Entelechus Hex

– Ambivalence

– The T-Rex, the Code and the Ambulance (that one needs a little work!)

Please do comment below or track me down on social media and let me know your thoughts!

Movie Review: Ghostbusters

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I haven’t done a movie review in ages (well, if you don’t count my Star Wars non-review), bit it kinda feels like this was required for various reasons – not least how divisive the film seemed to be before it released, like some kind of Hollywood Brexit.
Anyway, Ghostbusters is, for better or worse, a remake of the 1984 movie of the same name. A gender-swapped remake, but nonetheless a remake, hitting pretty much all the same plot points from slightly different angles. And that in itself is going to put some people off, but on the basis that J J Abrams managed to remake the original Star Wars and have it be awesome, it’s gotta be worth a look, right?

And actually, as the film started, I was pleasantly surprised. I liked all the Ghostbusters – the writers didn’t just give us Pete, Ray, Egon and Winston with boobs, they gave us… new characters. Fun, intelligent, witty, kick-ass chicks – and that’s what I wanted. I want my 10 year old daughter to see that not only can a woman be a scientist, but she can be a scientist and be hella cool at the same time. I suppose it’s kind of sad that this paragraph needs to exist, or that the whole gender-swap thing was such a big issue, but there we go, it’s out there now, and as far as I’m concerned girls can definitely grow up to be Ghostbusters.

Men, on the other hand, cannot be receptionists. And at the risk of sounding sexist, Kevin is where the whole gender-swap thing fell apart. Yeah, he’s the dumb blonde just there for eye-candy, but for me his dumbness was just too dumb; he was comedy stupid in a way that didn’t really fit alongside the Ghostbusters. This is me seeing it as a man, of course, so maybe I’m wrong, but wouldn’t it have made a better message if Kevin had at least had a couple of brain cells to rub together to show that actually, yes, you can be a pretty cool guy but do a traditionally ‘female’ job like be a receptionist. I mean, Janine was bored and snippy at work sometimes, but you never got the feeling her head was totally empty.

There’s a goat on the loose.

But enough about him, let’s talk about the ghosts. Ghosts is a fairly broad term as far as the Ghostbusters franchise is concerned; in the original movies there are ghosts of dead people, and entities from another dimension who have god-like powers in our own, and a similar mix applies here. Only, more so, because CGI has advanced 30 years in the interim, so we get a lot more weird and wonderful spectral entities zipping around New York when the Twinkie reached critical mass.

No, wait, the Twinkie was in the original. Never mind.

On the subject of Twinkies and the original movie: the cameos and callbacks. I guess it’s a thin line when remaking a cult classic with a following of its own, but for me I think they just tipped it over the edge a little. I can’t quite put my finger on why; maybe Bill Murray’s extended cameo was a bit too much without really adding anything of substance, or maybe having Janine turn round as if to say ‘surprise!’ rendered it completely unsurprising, or more likely the apparently bolted-on-as-an-afterthought appearance of Sigourney Weaver was just too hideously unsubtle for words. Oh, and Ozzy’s cameo? That should have stayed on the cutting room floor.

That said, Aykroyd and Hudson’s cameos were great; as were some of the more subtle references to the original, tucked away in the dialogue for Ghostheads and Easter Egg hunters to geek out over later. Even the appearance of Mr Stay Puft, and the unlikely means of his demise, were quite satisfying.

Being a bit of a petrolhead, of course, I would have liked a cameo by the original and iconic Ecto-1, or something like it (if there was one, I missed it!); the reboot Ectomobile was simply not in the same league – but then, they would have had to pull something pretty awesome out of the bag to top the original.

ectominiUnfortunately though, the slightly bland car and over-cooked fanservice were not the worst things about this movie. While it all started off good and fun and an interesting take on a classic, once the ‘big bad’ made his final play, it all went downhill rapidly.

Spoiler alert

I can live with Rowan hanging a lantern on the obvious wire work. I can almost live with him possessing the entire NYPD and making them strike a pose, although that was a missed opportunity for a Thriller flash-mob to end all flash-mobs. But to turn into a crappy cartoon of the Ghostbusters logo, which then grows into an angry kid in a romper suit trampling on his train set… No. I wasn’t on board for that, or the Slimer family hijacking Ecto-1 so it could become a nuke and save New York. Or, in fact, the portal jumping final scene that was lifted straight out of the climax of Big Hero 6.

Bottom line: I would have preferred a sequel, or even a reboot that took more of a diversion from the original. But it is what it is, and while it could have been more, at least half of it was a good fun flick – and even the ending I didn’t like was no worse than the end of Ghostbusters 2, which I suppose is a plus… But the new team were fun, and I could bear to watch a sequel with these Ghostbusters, especially if it took their story off in a completely original direction.

Overall: it’s not terrible. Not terrible at all.

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


This had been on my tbr list for ages, but I held off actually reading until this year because I didn’t want it to influence The Ballad of Matthew Smith or The Ambivalence Chronicles. Now I’ve finished it, it was definitely worth the wait.

By 2044 the world as we know it has crumbled into a poverty stricken dystopia, where the poor live crammed into the stacks – cheap tower blocks formed out of dozens of trailers – while the only really rich people seem to be those behind the OASIS – the free-to-use virtual multiverse into which most people choose to escape at every opportunity.

Ready Player One is the story of Wade ‘Parzival’ Watts, an orphan from the Oklahoma Stacks, who is obsessed with finding the ultimate Easter Egg: control of the OASIS, and it’s creator’s massive fortune, which is promised to the first person to can solve a series of riddles hidden within the OASIS.

It being 2044, and the riddler (James Halliday) having died in his 60s a few years prior, the riddles are based on 1980s pop culture – which pretty much makes it a book written specifically for me. OK, Dungeons and Dragons and the TRS-80 were not really part of my childhood, but Pac-Man, War Games, Monty Python, Blade Runner… there’s even a cameo appearance by a ZX80. What’s not to love?

Unless, of course, all these 80s references are just crammed into 400 pages with no thought for such incidentals as plot or characters. Luckily, that’s not the case; once Parzival solves the first clue, he is suddenly thrust into the public eye – and the eye of corporate behemoth Innovative Online Industries, which wants to win the hunt, take control of the OASIS, and promptly remove ‘free-to-use’ from its list of selling points. From there the stakes only get higher, as Parzival faces challenges real and virtual on his quest, competing against the corporate might of IOI, fellow gunters (notably Art3mis, a blogger he has long admired from afar) and his best friend Aech.

Once the hunt really starts the story rattles along at a good pace, but even before that, the massive info-dumps in the early chapters are sufficiently well-written and interesting that I felt no need to skip ahead.

There are no real twists in the plot, although there is a fairly decent kink towards the end which I enjoyed. My main criticism of the story would be that the final act seemed rushed, and lacked the tension I would have expected in such circumstances.

Even so, this is easily one of my favourite novels ever now, and a serious competitor for the Book I Most Wish I Had Written.

If you’re a gamer, or if you remember the 80s, this is well worth a look. If you’re both, and haven’t read it yet, well, you know what to do…

Camp NaNoWriMo, or A Hiatus Ending

I guess I’ve been away from this a while longer than I intended, judging by the hundreds of comments I had to delete when logging in to my blog. If you have left a comment in the last couple of months but it hasn’t been approved or replied to, I apologise, I may have been suffering from spam-blindness – although I think it’s more likely I was just suffering from spam. Please don’t let that stop you from commenting again.

Anyway, March is over, April has stopped pranking us and is getting on with the business of being a real month, bringing with it the spring session of Camp NaNoWriMo.

I have several projects bouncing around at various stages in planning, writing, or revising – none of which are making the progress I would like at the moment – and settling on something to be my Camp NaNo project proved to be an impossible task; so I didn’t. And, not for the first time, my goal for Camp NaNoWriMo this month will be simply to write, revise, plan or otherwise work on my writing career, such as it is. One of the ‘otherwise’ things was to start spring-cleaning my web presence to better suit my wider plans – hence logging in here and having to fight my way through that deluge of spam.

So Camp NaNoWriMo this month will consist of finishing a short story I’ve been playing around with, revising the forever delayed Ambivalence Chronicles, and planning an entry for the Writers of the Future contest. As well as messing about here, of course.

In the longer term, regular blogging may not fit in with all this other writing I want to do, but there will hopefully be occasional updates during April as these other projects advance.

Shorter snippets and updates will be posted as I write/edit them at, or

Superfluous Star Wars post #1138

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Did you hear they’re making a new Star Wars movie? Well, I’m not going to review it, because, face it, it’s been almost a month, you’ve either seen it or have no interest in doing so, and nothing I can say will change that. Even so, I’m going to throw my thoughts out here for anyone who may be interested in them; if you have not seen the film, consider this your spoiler warning.

Spoiler alert
So, to deal with the elephant in the room: yes, it is A New Hope: The JJ Abrams 3D Remix. The droid searching for its master on a desert planet, the retired hero, the Death Star, even the ‘Darth Vader Moment’; they’re all here. But it’s all ok, because Han Solo just goes right ahead and hangs a lantern on it:

How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that.

And you know what? I’m ok with that. It’s like the franchise is saying ‘forget those nasty prequels. The Star Wars you know and love is back now’.

And it is too – the wrecked Star Destroyer and miscellaneous other debris of the collapsed Empire made for a brilliantly post-Episode VI universe.

A lot seems to have happened in the 30-odd years since Return of the Jedi: Luke Skywalker has gone from lone Jedi to Jedi instructor to legend who may or may not have actually existed; while on the Dark Side, Supreme Leader Snoke has sprung up from who-knows-where, raised up the First Order, and armed it with an even bigger, even more powerful, but just as flawed, Death Star On Steroids.

The analogy to the rise of Nazi Germany post World War One is not entirely subtle, especially not in visual terms.

It’s a less black and white galaxy now; there are three sides, for a start, the Republic, the First Order, and the Resistance, which presumably has formed because the Republic is ineffective at resisting the Order itself. And Kylo Ren? Well, I’m not quite sure he’s the bad boy he wants the galaxy to think he is really.

And of course, this being just the start of a whole reborn franchise, fandom has plenty to debate in the meantime: Who is Rey? Who is Snoke? What’s the point of the Republic? And why the hell didn’t Han shoot first?

Looking back, looking forward


The year is well under way now, but it’s still January enough to do the annual taking stock of successes, failures and plans.

Well last year’s plans were:
1. Publish three more books; and
2. Enter the Writers of the Future contest at least once.

Well the failures column is looking good so far anyway. Let’s take a closer look:


The Countless as the Stars e-book went wide, although I haven’t added links here to the many other places it is now available. Bad marketer!

Last year’s secret project, which briefly became Bootlesquith Manor, was finally released as The Ballad of Matthew Smith, the title I wrote it under several NaNos ago.

I had also planned to release Bit#1 of The Ambivalence Chronicles, but Matthew Smith (which exists in the same multiverse but is not – currently – connected to the main story) ended up taking its place and becoming the one out of three that got published. Oh well.

For 2016 I will publish Bit#1, hopefully followed by Bit#2, and at least one other book. The plan is for these all to be rather more polished than Matthew Smith, which was just a bit of a fun side project really.


Last year’s new writing actually turned out to be quite sparse, with most of my limited time spent revising Matthew Smith and the Ambivalence Chronicles.

The Ambivalence Chronicles will be the ongoing project for 2016; I’m also currently doodling away on two or three shorts stories (although most of the ideas seem to end up demanding more words than I have space for) and planning to compile and expand the Re-Dwarf blogs into a sort of theological meander through the Red Dwarf universe.


See above for last year’s editing – quite successful in that it got done.

I still have several NaNoWriMo projects from the last few years lurking on hard drives in NaNo or first draft form, at least once of which will be subject to some proper revision during 2016.

Coming soon…

Next book release will be Bit#1 of The Ambivalence Chronicles – tentatively titled Tyrannosaurus Hex, although I may shorten it. Or not. I don’t know. I will also write more short stories, and send them places – not least Writers of the Future. Watch this space, as they say.
And for now, I should be writing…