Month: September 2010

The Inner Leonard

(oh, drat you, Youtube, what with your fancy-schmancy embedding disabledness. But go and watch the clip on the site anyway. It’s good. I promise)

I love The Big Bang Theory. OK, yes, I love that one too–Fred Hoyle for teh winz, yay!–but generally speaking, it’s all about the TV show. If I find an episode of it on, no matter the hour, channel or number of times I’ve already seen it, I will always watch it. It’s perfection. But someone suggested to me a while back that the reason it sends me off into hysterics is that I sort of lived it.

They may well have a point: I once shared a flat with three computing guys (one of whom was convinced he owned the Matrix–it’s a long story, and I think he had a touch of the Y2Ks. Best not go there) and one physicist. Not only was I the only girl in the apartment, I was the only non-scientist. They were interesting times. But, I hear you ask, was I a Penny?

Uh, no. The general consensus is that I was a Leonard–albeit a much thicker one who to this day can’t grasp how or why a blast furnace works (and, frankly, wonders why anyone cares--don’t we have machines to run all that kind of thing now: ones with groovy names like Skynet and Cylons and HAL and stuff?).

Anyway, there are people out there who haven’t seen this show (unbelievably) and so don’t know quite how wrong they are.

More importantly, this is an explanation–and the closest you’re ever going to get to an apology, by the way–to the friend who was on the receiving end of my “Sarcasm!” sign a while back. Yes, I did that. I’m afraid I can’t help it… it’s my inner Leonard.

I suspect there’s one of the Big Bang Theory boys inside all of us, particularly those of us who lean towards the comics and the gaming and the lolcats and the scifi and the general geekery: I found mine, so who’s yours….?

Darkness Visible

It was, unfortunately, inevitable that my current enjoyment of–or near obsession with–Supernatural (note: only on season 2, pleasedonotspoilerme, I’ve already had quite enough of that already and it’s getting harder to dodge the bullets) would surface here sooner or later.

Initially, I was a little skeptical about it: after all, two pretty boys chasing ghosts? Umm. But, credit to them, after a slightly wobbly start it won me over. Technically, it had me at “Let’s send that son of a bitch screaming back to Hell”. It appeals to the same bit of me that felt the urge to spend hours hunched over demonology texts in the Folklore section of my college library when I was an undergraduate. (Yes, before you ask. I did. A lot of hours. My book request & borrowing record was quite the document by the time I was through.)

Anyway, there I was, having the traditional girly “Which Winchester’s better?” argument online (bonus points to the opponents who said, “Why can’t I have both?” and, “Their dad.” Thinking outside the box: I like it) to which, by the way, the correct answer can only ever be “Dean“.

And it struck me that there’s a very good reason for this–thus far (again, season 2, no spoilers please) he’s the Damaged One. Sam’s all very well, but he’s too floppy-haired and goody-goody at this point to be of any interest whatsoever.

To paraphrase Meredith Grey, it’s all about being dark and twisty.

When it comes to fiction, I like dark & twisty, preferably when they come with paired with “damaged”. I’ve always admired actors who seem to throw themselves into the bad-guy roles, and I’m always a little jealous of someone who has both the talent and the opportunity to lose themselves so completely in a character like that. I’d make clear that in reality, I’ve had more than my share of dark, twisty and damaged, and simply can’t be doing with it–but in those instances of “let’s pretend”, it’s irresistible.

And then, all of a sudden, it occurred to me that it’s not all that different to what writers do–there’s that brilliant quote from Jonathan Nolan about needing a whole load of therapy to get the Joker out of his head. Writers, just like actors, bury themselves under people who can be the opposite of everything they stand for, who do and say things the writer could never stand to, and who–fundamentally–aren’t real. They’re the voices in the head made flesh, and it’s the job of a writer to pull them out of the void and give them shape.

Just for a while, it’s a chance to try out someone else’s thoughts, beliefs… their whole lives–and then, when the time’s right, to step away and return to your own.

And when you get right down to it, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

Dark & twisty all the way.

Chill Pill

I saw Flatliners at an impressionable age, and it left me with a real interest in the idea of “controlled dying”. Not in the, umm, icky way, but in the methods used by surgeons to keep people alive as long as possible–even if it technically means killing them.

So when I saw this article about inducing deep hypothermia in cardiac patients to give surgeons more time to finish complex operations, or in cases where the more traditional heart-lung bypass method is unsuitable, I was pretty riveted. To use a word I already use far too frequently (and which in this instance makes a dreadful pun) it’s cool.

Well, it is.

The technique of extreme cooling is fascinating. It takes the moment of death and smears it out. By putting the whole body in a sort of metabolic slow motion it also slows the process of dying, buying clinicians and patients precious time.

But it is a double-edged sword. Cooling to these extremes is about as likely to kill you as it is to cure you and these hazards need to be negotiated.

The idea that the process of dying can be suspended–stretched and twisted and then through skill and medicotechnological jiggery-pokery, actually¬†reversed

It’s just… well. You know what comes next.

Return to Elsinore

I warned you I’d be back on Hamlet (oh, don’t go there), but it’s worth it: after reading the many-Hamleted post last week, Rhube linked to this fantastic TV show on Youtube.

And, right there, you have the Problem of Hamlet. That you’re not just having to be Hamlet, dealing with the demands of his father’s ghost; you’re having to be Hamlet, dealing with the ghosts of a thousand other Hamlets. It’s like “Fringe” on hardcore drugs.

John Simm must be feeling this at the moment: the first reviews are coming in from the new production in Sheffield, and look positive enough for him. The Observer’s critic likes the emphasis in the Big Soliloquy:

Simm also comes up with some fascinating line readings: when he cries “to die, to sleep”, Simm puts enormous pressure on the last word as if Hamlet, rendered insomniac through grief, yearned more than anything for rest.

While–if I remember rightly, and you’ll have to take my word for it because it’s tucked away behind their snug little paywall–the Sunday Times were particularly interested in the fact the play uses at least partly the Folio version of the text, in which:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

becomes

“… than are dreamt of in our philosophy”

One little letter, one little word: makes a huge difference, doesn’t it?

Shakespeare’s work is notoriously slippery as text: there’s so many versions – Folio, Quarto, Bad Quarto… which one is actually the right one, the most authentic? Or do they all have some degree of validity? The Folio is the “authorised” version published after his death, but does this mean that the author had less involvement in its final form? Tricky. (There’s a very interesting article on The Stage’s website that discusses this very problem).

What it does mean, though, is that every Hamlet has the chance to put his (or her, as there have been several female Hamlets) stamp on the role, not just in their choice of emphasis on the lines, but even in the lines they choose to speak. And while every actor taking on the role might well feel Olivier, Burton and all the others looming over them like Old Hamlet himself, every Hamlet is a new one. All you need now is a dancing Walter.

Oh, wait…

(Now, don’t you go telling me I’m not good to you….)

Compare/Contrast

As is becoming traditional, it’s Friday ergo we have music to set us up for the weekend. Hoo-rah!

And to make up for missing last Friday’s (you got off lightly: I was off with the glamorous folk of Fantasycon), you get not one but two choice items today – which are technically the same song! What witchcraft is this, I hear you cry!

Alright, it’s actually the same song, but the second one’s a cover. And a fine cover it is, too.

Have a fab weekend, and I’ll see you on the other side. And be warned, I’ll have more Hamlet for you. Oh, yes.

Enjoy.

Six Words

To be, or not to be…

The most famous six words in the world? Maybe. Certainly it’s among the most famous in literature.

There’s a great piece with Samuel West on the BBC’s site today about bringing a fresh interpretation to a soliloquy which has been performed so many times and by so many people that it’s almost impossible to imagine a world without it.

Interpretations can differ, he says, depending on how much you think Hamlet is suicidal or philosophical.

There is also a choice between introspection and engagement, he says. When he acted the part for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the stage lights came up, he strode out towards the audience and looked them in the eye.

Hamlet is my favourite play (with Dr Faustus coming a very close second. If only someone put together a Hamlet / Mephistopheles mash-up, I’d probably be in heaven.*). At two-and-a-half, my son can even do the first two lines of the big soliloquy, just because. (Despite my best efforts, I’ve not managed to catch him on tape doing it: he suddenly starts singing the theme to Bob the Builder the second he’s got any kind of audience, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!) He’s not bad at it either–although his Hamlet’s a bit manic for my liking. And short. And prone to tantrums. Although….

Anyway. For your delectation, here’s a selection of Hamlets. Who’s your favourite?

Branagh

Burton

Jacobi

Tennant

Theo

Yep. Mine too.

*There’s an entirely esoteric and not-very-good joke to be made there involving one of the big M’s lines. I’m not going there. Be thankful.

Terry Pratchett & the Sword Made of Stars

The winner of this week’s “Ohmigodthat’sincrediblycool” award is none other than Sir Terry Pratchett–who, on gaining his knighthood, went off and made a sword. Out of stars.

Alright, meteorites. And some other stuff.

But still… Made. A. Sword.

Isn’t it shiny?

The author, 62, who has sold about 65 million copies of his books, which include the Discworld series, said: “Most of my life I’ve been producing stuff which is intangible and so it’s amazing the achievement you feel when you have made something which is really real.”

I think my favourite part of this story is not that he’s thrown a few bits of meteorite in there (although I do love the suggestion he’s got hundreds of them cluttering up the house, rather like we have dust bunnies at Morgan Towers) but that he smelted the ore himself in a lo-fi kiln, the way it would have been done in the days it was believed swords had souls.

I don’t know about all the others, but I’m pretty certain that sword has soul to spare.

Chippewa Lake

I can’t entirely take the credit for this find–well, I can, but it wouldn’t be entirely fair. Not that it usually stops me…..

I’m reading the copy of Best New Horror 21 I picked up at Fantasycon, and I’ve just finished “Out & Back” by Barbara Roden. In her introduction, she mentions the photos of Chippewa Lake Park she’d found online, and it would have been rude not to look, wouldn’t it?

Yes. Yes it would.

Not far from Medina in Ohio, it opened in 1878 and was abandoned a century later. Since then, it has stood derelict with the rides slowly collapsing or being overtaken by forest. In the case of the 1924 Pearce-built wooden rollercoaster, this looks a little weird; almost as though the coaster rails have suddenly woken up again and started to grow leaves.

Deserted amusement parks have always struck me as being slightly spooky places, but one that’s been that way for 30 years and has run to wilderness… that’s a whole new level of creepy.

Sadly, as with all abandoned places, the park has fallen victim to more than the elements: vandalism is rife, and the Grand Ballroom finally gave up the ghost (or however many it had) and burned down in mid-2oo2 in a suspected arson attack.

But it would have taken more than a couple of fires to drive the spooks out of Chippewa: if anything, the buildings ground it. Only if they were gone–the ticket booths, the restaurants and the restrooms–could it start to look really haunted. Not by people or monsters, but by the ghosts of amusement rides long-left and forgotten.

It’s a shame that it never got to be quite that way: earlier this year, the site was cleared for redevelopment. Somehow, it feels like a greater loss than the closure of the original park.

There are more pictures–and a lot more detail–on the Defunct Parks site, where these photos were originally posted. And go read Barbara’s story. It’s creepy as hell.

Fantasycon 2010

Szzgnplsk.

Aaaah snaaggrssts.

You’re going to want the version which assumes I’ve actually slept a bit, aren’t you?

Let’s start again.

Fantasycon is renowned for being one of the most relaxed conventions out there, and is a highlight of the SFF/Horror year in the UK. It’s fun, laid-back and – from next year, will escape the bounds of Nottingham and move to Brighton (have you booked? No? Why the hell not?) The programme isn’t too frantic and has a good mix of authors and guests. Readings, panels (Stephen Jones on how to get published? He’s thanked in virtually every book released by British horror authors – and a hell of a lot of American ones. That’s advice), signings, launches, interviews – and, of course, the British Fantasy Awards. It’s a thing of legend.

And yet with all this stuff going on, it’s still possible to just stop and talk to people – which is always the best part. The experiences I’ve had at WHC (where I turned up knowing absolutely no-one, and had made some extraordinarily good friends by the time I left: people I see and speak to regularly) and at Fantasycon (where I made even more, all of whom are delightful and with whom I hope I’m in contact for a very long time to come) are what conventions should be about.

(more…)

Pack Up Your Troubles

Well, I’m off to the bright lights of Nottingham for a couple of days, for Fantasycon. I’m really looking forward to it, as it’ll be a chance to catch up with lots of people–most of whom I’ve not seen since World Horror in March–and to meet some new ones too.

I promised myself I’d pack light, you know, just fling a few choice things in a bag tomorrow morning… FAIL. I’ve actually spent the last half hour sitting on my case and inching the zips on it together to get it to close. Sitting on it. This for a trip which will inevitably see me wearing jeans & a t-shirt a good 80% of the time, and for which I’ll be away the dizzying total of 2 nights.

Girls, eh?

Try not to break anything while I’m gone…