Whovember: The Aztecs

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It is my intention, at this early stage in proceedings, to post a review featuring each of the classic Doctors over the course of November as we celebrate 50 years of Police box-based science fiction telly. I have posted reviews of the first and second serials from back in the 60s (which I’m sure you can find by the wonder of tags), and now I’m going to spin forward a few months to story number 6: The Aztecs. This seems an obvious choice on a blog which occasionally covers religious matters as well as science fiction, as religion is very much a theme of this story.

In an opening scene of somewhat dubious taste, Barbara pinches a bracelet from a corpse, and on being caught wearing it by one of the natives is promptly hailed the reincarnation of the ancient high priest Yetaxa. In order to avoid the Doctor and the others getting into all manner of trouble with the locals, she goes along with this; however, instead of staying out of Aztec politics, Barbara attempts to use her power to bring an end to the human sacrifice demanded by their religion.

It could be that the Time Lords – at least at this point in the Doctor’s personal history – did indeed have some sort of Prime Directive, as the Doctor does his best to try and dissuade Barbara from this course of action on the grounds that you shouldn’t mess with people’s religion, and in any case ‘you can’t rewrite history. Not one line!’

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Later though, as Barbara is contemplating the point in time travel if you can’t put right what once went wrong, the Doctor points out that she did in fact make a difference to one individual, helping to change the views of Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, who seemed to be having some doubts about the whole human sacrifice business at the outset of the story.

I made some cocoa and got engaged.

Susan, meanwhile, is sent to Tlotoxl’s School for Wayward Aztecs after refusing to marry the Perfect Victim on the eve of his sacrifice, another little piece of 60s reform thrown into a backwards, alien world to see what happens.

The Doctor, too, has a brief romantic encounter with an Aztec woman named Cameca, which brings out his likeable side, and even makes him smile for reasons other than amusement at his own mischief-making.

Ultimately, however, very little changes. The Perfect Victom sacrifices himself, the reformed Autloc becomes an outcast because of his views, and, presumably, the Conquistadors still see fit to destroy an entire culture because human sacrifice is distasteful even to them.

oneOk, the fight scenes with a science teacher beating a an Aztec warrior who has probably been trained since birth to kill with his bare hands were improbable, cheesy and painfully slow, but there’s still – despite my natural preference for aliens and robots – a good Doctor Who adventure to be had here.

And of course, the subject matter gives rise to plenty of discussion of religion in general terms (“Why are Earth people afraid of the word ‘God’?” Susan asks at one point) as well as the specific rights and wrongs of Aztec culture. It’s worth watching for that, if that’s the sort of thing that interests you – and if not, watch it for the cranky old First Doctor crushing on an Aztec lady.

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This week, I have been mostly…

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Planning.

NaNoWriMo is literally imminent now; I have a basic story in mind, characters ready to dive in at the deep end… but mostly I’ve been busying myself with a crash course in European history (in order to re-write it entirely) and basic temporal mechanics (in order to crash land a time machine).
Actually, now I come to relate that, I seem to have been figuring a lot of stuff out in order to completely destroy it.
 

Not writing.

Obviously, because NaNoWriMo. I have managed to get the day job into some sort of order now though, so we’re all good for November.
 

Website building.

Here, we reached a convenient break in the Re-Dwarf segment at the end of Series 2, so that will be moving over for a few weeks to make time and space to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.
Elsewhere, I volunteered to help set up an online portfolio for my cover artist (who also happens to be Mrs Steve Trower).
 

Editing.

A couple more chapters of Countless as the Stars have had a typo edit recently – still no promises when that ebook will finally arrive though!
 

Coming soon…

NaNoWriMo updates – assuming I manage to pull this thing together the way I hope to; and Whovember. Which hopefully means that some regular blogging will resume shortly…

CSFF Blog Tour – Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer

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Eagle-eyed visitors to the site – ok, any-eyed visitors to the site – will have noticed something of a hiatus in the regular posting schedule that once blighted this blog. And that same mini-hiatus has led to this rather late and even-more-lame-than-usual offering for this months Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. Still, since we’re here now, may as well join in, eh?
This month the tour has been featuring Martyr’s Fire, book three in the Merlin’s Immortals series by Sigmund Brouwer.


So here, in the spirit of not really entering into the spirit of the thing, is what everyone else has done:
Shannon McDermott enjoyed it more than the previous two books in the series.
Nikole Hahn was less enthusiastic about the mid-series sag.
That didn’t bother Jennette Mbewe, who laughs in the face of trilogies and just dived in without even reading the preceding stories.
Speaking of which, Meagan at Blooming with Books is ready with a handy re-cap of the story so far.
And if you want to look beneath the surface, Becky Miller is ready to blow the lid off the truth behind miracles (at least, in the context of Martyr’s Fire).
Oh, and if you missed your usual mid-tour musical interlude, go back and remind yourself of the rock opera version of The Orphan King, book one of the Merlin’s Immortals series, from an earlier blog tour.

The tour isn’t over yet, so to find out more get clicky with the tour links on your right, or visit the author’s website. Or, you know, just go right ahead buy the book from the amazon links above or your local fiction emporium.

Re-Dwarf: Parallel Universe

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With the exception of The End, this is the first episode not to open with a prologue by Holly, instead opening with Cat performing ‘Tongue Tied’ in a dream sequence. This doesn’t really have any bearing on the rest of the episode, except to introduce Cat’s maladjusted attitude to the opposite sex. And maladjusted attitudes to the opposite sex are indeed the subject under discussion tonight.

Holly invents a new drive system – the Holly Hop Drive – which seems to work in a similar handwavey manner to the Infinite Improbability Drive, except Holly flamingoed up and sent them to, would you believe, a parallel universe. What follows is not particularly laugh-out-loud comedy, but an amusing look at gender roles through the characters of Lister and Rimmer – and specifically how their female equivalents might behave.

She’s absolutely repugnant. She doesn’t treat me like I’m a normal human being at all, she seems to regard me as some sort of discardable sex object.

Some of it is a little heavy-handed; Arlene Rimmer especially goes from decidedly awkward small talk to becoming a horny old lech convinced that Arnold’s ‘too tight trousers’ are an obvious sign that he’s begging for it.
We haven’t really seen enough of Rimmer trying to fraternise with the opposite sex to see if he really would behave like a male Arlene under the right circumstances, but whether or not it’s in character it’s an interesting scene to watch.

Deb Lister, on the other hand, is a very believable ladette, getting drunk and discoing the night away with Dave before waking up with him in Arlene’s bunk and slowly coming to the conclusion that, yes, they did indeed commit an act of carnal knowledge. The Rimmers are surprisingly please about this turn of events, for reasons which soon become apparent:

DAVE: How could you do this to me?
DEBBIE: Do what?
DAVE: Fertilise me. Take advantage of me. Knowing that I was drunk and
didn’t have precautions.
DEBBIE: Listen, I assumed you’d taken care of that side of things. It’s
the man’s responsibility. It’s the man who get’s pregnant. It’s the
man who has to suffer the agony of childbirth.
ARNOLD: Agony! This gets better and better!
DEBBIE: Well, what do you want me to do? I’m sorry, okay?
DAVE: Sorry? That’s it? Sorry? Wham, bang, thank you mister?

Kids, if you’re going to have experiment with sex, be safe. Make sure you know the physical laws of the universe first.

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Cat, of course, doesn’t find the right small group of girls, the seven or eight women who are right for him; instead he finds a dog, so plainly his wandering days will continue.

I’m not quite sure what this means, but the only member of the crew who seems to form a sensible and mutually beneficial relationship with his female equivalent is Holly, who manages to both get off with Hilly (whatever that might entail) and fix the Holly Hop Drive to get them all back to their proper dimension.

In the end, of course, it all cycles back to that Stasis Leak, and how much fun it’s going to be finding out how Lister ends up with twins…

Re-mastered

Interestingly, for an episode about with gender roles and sexual ethics, among the most notable changes in the re-mastered version is the removal of the skutters. In the original edit, one of ‘our’ skutters follows the crew to the parallel Red Dwarf, presumably to help fix the Hop Drive, and it pursued by a female skutter. Later they are seen again, leading a small tribe of cute little baby skutters.

Obviously, you can tell the female skutter because she’s pink.

Elsewhere a couple of superfluous lines are cut, like Lister insisting that women get pregnant and a repeat of Holly’s countdown gag; there’s some new music in the disco instead of Tongue Tied remixes; and a bunch of revamped sound and graphics – although I did sort of expect more from the new Hop Drive effects. Perhaps I had temporarily forgotten that the re-mastering was still done on a BBC sitcom budget in 1998.

Anyway, definitely watch this episode for amusing and sometimes disturbing look at the Red Dwarf boys on the pull.

 




Monday Review – Doctor Who: The Daleks

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Of course, everybody knows the Daleks are as integral to Who folklore as the police call box. Everybody knows that the Doctor has come up against them in every one of his regenerations. Everybody knows they have been chasing scared children behind the sofa for almost fifty of your Earth years.

What I didn’t realise before picking up this box set was just how early on the Daleks appeared. No sooner has the mysterious Doctor kidnapped two innocent teachers and taken them to prehistoric Earth for kicks, than they wind up in the middle of a petrified forest on an unknown planet. Presumably due to the Doctor’s relative youth, or perhaps due to his swiss-cheesed memory (which would also explain why there is no mention of Time Lords or Gallifrey in these early stories), he starts out with as little idea of the Daleks’ nature as Ian, Barbara and the casual viewer in 1963.

This original Dalek serial takes up seven episodes; as a result some of the episodes in the middle do seem to drag a little, especially to 21st century viewers, but in retrospect it is worth putting the time in to see where these ubervillains of the Whoniverse originated. Here we learn that the Daleks are the mutated remnants of a long and bloody war, which has left the surface uninhabitable without the use of anti-radiation drugs.

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The nature of the war appears somewhat different to that which we later discover in Genesis of the Daleks; and indeed the mutation is believed to be natural here, rather than forced by Davros. Still, it hardy matters; it’s all just wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey when you get right down to it.

We also, for a brief moment, see that there is indeed something living inside the Dalek shells (although, in later Dalek versions it will be impossible to remove the biological component and climb in to hide from other Daleks). Other aspects of these early Daleks also disappear later, notably the need to draw power from static electricity in the floor panels.

Needless to say, the Daleks were bent on exterminating anything un-Dalek even back in 1963.

The Doctor, like his newly discovered nemesises, is at the beginning of a journey here. He is still, as I have commented before, deeply unpleasant at times in this first generation. Here, for instance, he outright lies, sabotaging the TARDIS in order to get a look at what he assumes to be a long deserted alien city. Clearly that backfired.

Make no attempt to capture them, they are to be exterminated.

Interestingly though, as I get to know One, I think perhaps I can see where Six got some of his brash and egotistical nature, and the mood swings. Perhaps if Six hadn’t looked so much like an explosion in a clown factory or had been given time to settle down with some half-decent stories, he would have turned out to have a likeable side, much as One did.

So, after a slow first serial, Doctor Who suddenly raised the stakes dramatically with the introduction of what would quickly become the iconic baddie of British TV. And with some cracking cliffhangers, this story – and the Daleks – probably set the show on course to become what it is today. I mean, can you imagine Doctor Who without the Daleks?

So, put the retconning down to timey-wimey, top up your popcorn during the slow bits around episode 5, and this is enjoyable as sci-fi TV and as essential Who folklore.

Oh, and don’t forget: the original Dalek voice? It’s Grandpa Pig.

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Linky goodness

An Unearthly Child
The Cave of Skulls

Re-Dwarf: Queeg

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Queeg is the name of Red Dwarf’s backup computer, which comes on line automatically when some mysterious subroutine decides that Holly has endangered the crew through a series of errors which form the opening scenes to this episodes. Queeg’s name is taken from The Caine Mutiny, and Holly paraphrases Mutiny on the Bounty shortly after Queeg’s arrival; mutiny, you will gather, is kind of a theme here, whether that be the initial takeover by Queeg, or the mutiny against him which returns things to normal at the end.

The quality of the jokes in this episode varies, with Rimmer’s missing legs coming across a bit silly, but when his malfunction causes him to mimic the rest of the crew that’s easily forgotten. And I think I’ve just noticed that ‘What is it?’ has become a catchphrase of the Cat; I guess that’s the curiosity thing working then.


the moral of the story is: Appreciate what you’ve got, because basically, I’m fantastic!

Philosophically speaking, there is a brief glance at the idea that artificial intelligences have feelings too, but it only lasts long enough to make a cheap gag about intelligent shoes. But perhaps more importantly, there’s a goodbye scene just before Holly gets erased (oh, spoiler alert by the way!):

I hope you meet those aliens your looking for, who can give you a body, and you become an officer and you get a sex life, and all the other millions of things you feel you need to make you happy.

That’s Holly neatly summing up Rimmer’s rather shallow outlook on life – it seems like he has a pretty good grasp on it for an artifial intelligence with no feelings. I’ve commented before about Holly’s almost divine omnipotence meaning he actually does know what’s best for the crew, and he suggests as much himself here.

But, like intergalactic Israelites lost in the wilderness of space, the tribe of Red Dwarf don’t realise this, and forsake their benevolent protector for whatever alternative comes along. Unfortunately for them, Queeg lacks Holly’s grace (denying Rimmer his unnecessary four hour lie-in) and mercy (rigidly enforcing cleaning duties, despite their effect on Cat’s cuticles).

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As the story plays out, we discover (after an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey) that Queeg was just Holly winding the boys up in order to show them that he’s not computer senile, he’s just a really good bloke.

And I suppose, from our human perspective, it sometimes appears that God has an IQ with a 6 in it (that isn’t 6,000), but maybe, like Holly, He’s just going easy on us at those times.

Most of the time, He just wants to be one of the crew for our journey home – sure, he’s the one ultimately in control, but He’ll allow us our little diversions, our four hour lie-ins and refusal to clean up after ourselves. Like Holly, God likes having us around, despite our flaws – but, like Holly, when we start to take advantage, or He finds our lack of faith disturbing, He’ll break out His hidden Queeg and bring us back into line the hard way.

Re-mastered

The re-mastering here includes a lot of new sound effects, especially in the early scenes as everything starts going wrong, new visuals to accompany Rimmer’s malfunctioning, and a shortening of the chess game montage to keep the pace up at the end.

That’s about it really, apart from the odd decision to change the way Holly is erased towards the end, which sort of ruins the 2001 homage of the original version.

Watch this episode for Chris Barrie’s first real opportunity so show off his vocal talents in the show.

 



Tuesday Tunes: Before and After Science by Brian Eno

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Those who have been paying attention on Tuesdays might have noticed that I’m quite a fan of Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. Well, this is where it all started. Specifically, it started when Mark Radcliffe played Backwater on his Radio One show Out On Blue Six, which was responsible for broadening my music taste considerably back in the early 90s.

Backwater is an unnecessarily jaunty little number in which we accompany Eno and the Porter’s daughters sailing at the edges of time; the combination of bouncy tune, weird lyrics and use of the word ‘sausage’ had me hooked immediately, and I hunted out a cassette (remember those?) of the album as soon as I could.

What I found was very much an album of two halves.
The first three tracks – No-one Receiving, Backwater, and Kurt’s Rejoinder – are similarly upbeat tracks, if not all as jolly as Backwater, with similarly off the wall lyrics. Kurt’s Rejoinder, incidentally, is named for Kurt Schwitters, whose influence led to Eno making the lyrics a secondary feature of the songs, which is probably why they make so little sense outside the context of the music.

There’s a brief respite for Energy Fools the Magician, a spooky instrumental piece which wouldn’t be too out of place on one of Eno’s ambient works, and then the new wave pop stylings of King’s Lead Hat (an anagram of Talking Heads, who could quite easily have made this song their own).

111278-cSide Two kicks of with Here He Comes, a slightly more mellow song with a slight time-travel twang to slow us down ready for the second, arguably better, half of the album.
Julie With… and the closing track, Spider and I, are particularly mellow, with ambiguous lyrics woven into eerily beautiful ambient soundscapes…

And about those lyrics… No-one Receiving sounds almost like sf poetry, and most of the songs make reference to existing outside of time as we know it… There are perhaps too many lyrics on this album for it to be ideal writing music, but at some point I think it might be quite fun to write some (or fewer) stories taking the lead from Eno’s lyrics…

Stand-out tracks: Julie With… is a weirdly haunting mix of strange lyrics and ambient electronica; while at the other end of the spectrum, Backwater will always be a favourite, and a defining moment in my appreciation of music.

Listen along

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Linky goodness

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This week, I have been mostly…

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…dealing with the pesky day job again. But, the approaching NaNoWriMo has prompted some creativity in the odd free moment:
 

World building.

Following on from last week’s post, re-writing the last 2000 years of human history. I managed to get quite a debate going on the NaNo forums – most of which was somewhat constructive – which generated a few additional ideas to follow through in my world-building.
 

Plotting.

Also NaNo-related. Current internal debate: whether to take the story off in a completely supernatural direction, with demons being much more tangible in a world where Christianity never existed. It’s an idea that has some interesting possibilities, but I’m not quite sure it’s the one I’m looking to tell.
On top of that, a couple of short stories presented themselves, The Ambivalence Chronicles announced its ambition to become a sitcom when it grow up, and I had a rather exciting idea for a non-fiction book…
 

Updating the website.

Some tinkering behind the scenes, mostly to make my life easier at this stage. The only noticable change should be the technicolour tag cloud on your left, which looks more like something from a ZX Spectrum game on some days than others. I quite like its random splash of colour – what do you think?
 

Coming soon…

NaNoWriMo, duh! This year, The Nazarene Sect (but you knew that already, right?).

Monday Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish

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This novel is not about Catholicism, the author tells us in his foreword. He wrote the story as an agnostic, with no personal position on the doctrines discussed within.

It is, however, about a Catholic – a Jesuit priest, one of four men on a fact-finding mission to the planet Lithia – and the matter of what he and the Church makes of alien life.

The Lithians are suitably alien; intelligent reptilian creatures, living in what appears to be a sort of Christian Utopia – crime, sin, violence, and countless negative emotions, are all alien concepts to the Lithians. Similarly alien though, are more positive concepts like God, the soul, the afterlife… And so the protagonist, Father Ruiz-Sanchez, arrives at the central question: Can such goodness exist without God?

The Father thinks not, and concludes that the whole society is a sham, some kind of trap set for mankind by the Ultimate Enemy. This, I think, is something of a leap of logic; the alternative, however – that a loving God could create a world and populate it with intelligent beings yet remain at arms length from it – doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Therein, of course, hangs the wotsit.

This is classic science fiction in the stick-to-one-idea-and-don’t-use-thousands-of-pages mould, but still takes in the fall of man/Lithian, Catholic doctrine and heresy, the church’s reaction to alien life, and ultimately asks whether God is necessary for the existence of a pseudo-Christian moral society. And all in 200 pages – an excellent example of tight writing!

As for whether I would consider it a Christian novel, well… as I mentioned, the author admits to having written it from an agnostic viewpoint, so presumably that was not the intent, and it certainly asks more questions that it answers. It is, however, the story of one man’s journey of faith, and although I’m no expert on the doctrinal matters involved, Ruiz-Sanchez’s faith seems genuine, and his inner struggles are handled sympathetically.

All in all, a well-written, interesting take on a Christian response to alien life.


What if….

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For the last couple of years I’ve left my choice of NaNoWriMo project up to the whim of my fellow NaNites, letting them pick something that sounds interesting from my list of works in progress or under consideration.
 
One of those WIPs – and quite a popular one, although not so popular that I’ve written it yet – has been The Nazarene Sect, a sort of timey-wimey story which, in some form, takes in the life of Jesus Christ on earth. Well, I have decided that its time has come, and have recently been playing with some basic plot points and characters so I can hit November running.
 
The big challenge remaining though is world-building. I like world-building. Maybe that’s why I read and write science fiction. Not that I’m creating an alien planet or a far future civilisation here; I’m doing something far more complicated. I’m writing an alternate history.
 
So, the central premise of The Nazarene Sect is, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, very much in the ‘what if?’ area of science fiction. Specifically: what if Jesus didn’t die on the cross?
 
OK, stop shouting ‘Heretic!’ at me and give me a hand – I’ve got 2000 years of history to rewrite and about six weeks to do it in. So, humour me for a moment, and tell me what you think 2013 would be like if Jesus had not gone to the cross, but faded into history as just another 1st Century Rabbi.