Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A guide to the Doctors

Just a quickie to note that my brother Michael sent me a useful guide to our latter day saints or, in this case, Doctors.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I have a pretty wide selection of books on my Kindle, some of which are science fiction. There are six of the Ian M Banks Culture novels. I haven't got the latest one - Surface detail - yet but will do when the price comes down a bit (presumably when the paperback is published).

I've got some Stephen King but that's more horror than SF. There's Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman who probably lean more towards the fantasy genre. I've also got some of the classics like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde because they were free and it's nice to have them.

Then I have three books by William Gibson. They are Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History which make up a trilogy although I don't think they have acquired a group name yet. His original cyberpunk books are now grouped as the Sprawl trilogy, and they were followed by his Bridge trilogy. The series that began with Pattern Recognition has been described as post-modern science fiction (whatever that means). They take place in a world that feels just like ours but maybe just a few years in the future. The technology in the books feels like the stuff we use now but just a little better. Characters from the novels recur throughout the series, in particular a media tycoon with the impressive name Hubertus Bigend.

The three novels are fantastic and are favourites of mine. Gibson's cyberpunk ethic seems to have evolved into a more familiar but somehow stranger world where he tells stories about industrial espionage that manage not to feel like spy stories or as science fiction. Although you could classify them in to both genres. I've read them all twice now and highly recommend them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Alternative 3

Doing our homework for the British Invaders podcast sometimes brings up some gems like the Nigel Kneale 1984 I have already blogged about. Another little oddity that we discovered was Alternative 3.

Alternative 3 was a documentary put out by ITV in 1977 and is available dirt cheap on Amazon. You can also find it fairly easily on google video. I had a dim memory of it and in particular of a certain image which impressed me greatly at the time (and scared me quite a bit if I'm completely honest). I was quite delighted to find that it was the show I remembered and was able to recommend it to Brian in Canada and we put it on the schedule for our podcast. We have recently recorded our discussion and it's now out on the feed at British Invaders and on iTunes.

It's a fun show with a slow but steady build towards a couple of big revelations and I honestly can't imagine it cropping up on many other podcasts. However if you do know of anyone else who has discussed it please let me know.

Now a spoiler warning! I'm going to mention how I rediscovered the show and doing so will give it away a bit. If you don't want to be spoiled then go and watch the video before coming back to my last paragraph.

Last year I read an interesting book called Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes by Melissa Katsoulis. It has no obvious science fiction connection, instead it details stuff like fake Shakespeare plays, the Hitler diaries and the poetry of Ern Malley. But it did lead me to a wikipedia article about hoaxes in general and that was where I found a reference to Alternative 3. And of course that gives it away a bit and qualifies Alternative 3 as science fiction and not fact. It was all a hoax and an April Fool's joke, and a pretty good one that fooled lots of people and has inspired quite a conspiracy theory following. It's great fun and only about 50 minutes long. Check it out and let us know what you think at British Invaders.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


In his book Danse Macabre Stephen King turns his critical eye on the horror genre as portrayed in books, on radio and TV, and in Films. He talks a bit about critical theory and describes it as being sometimes like wading waist deep in very murky waters. He justifies his own criticism as being lighter in tone and with less jargon although he can't promise that the waters might not get a bit too deep in places.

I am reminded of this analogy when reading an internet academic journal about comic studies. From their website ImageTexT is a peer-reviewed, open access journal dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of comics and related media. The latest issue focuses on my favourite beardy weirdy comic writer Alan Moore and adaptation in his work, as well as adaptations of his work. 

In some of the papers the critical jargon certainly comes over the tops of my boots and makes progress difficult. However there are a couple of fun articles. Colin Beineke looks at Moore's Swamp Thing as a personification of the Green Man myth. And Jack Teiwes gives us a fun discussion of Moore's various takes on the Man of Steel himself including his famous Superman stories, but also his Miracleman run and the stuff he did with Supreme.

Interesting academic reads but without too much wading through the swamp.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


To hammer home the similarities between Fringe and the X-Files the production team moved to Vancouver for the second season. Much of the X-Files was shot there as well and certain locations crop up in both shows.

About 5 or 6 years ago we took a family holiday to Vancouver and had a good time there. We wanted to do a city tour of some description, possibly something a little different than the standard tour. When we were in Toronto we did the Hippo bus tour which is an amphibious bus ride! So when I read in the Vancouver guide book about a company that offered "X-Tours" of the city I booked us up.

We were promised a limousine ride so were a bit disappointed when a guy turned up at the hotel driving a small family car and told us the limo was being repaired. He then drove us round the city to see all the major sights including Stanley park as well as stopping every now and then to point out an alley way that Mulder and Scully had run down. We saw the famous Ovaltine diner which has now been used in both shows. For some reason he also pointed out where his bank was and the gym he went to. It was a bit weird!

The slightly spooky nature of the tour was confirmed when he took us back to his apartment, the exterior of which was used as Scully's home in the series. Feeling a little bit uncomfortable we were shown in to his lounge where he moved his mother off the sofa so we could sit down and watch DVD clips of his building turning up in the X-Files!

It was entirely innocent and charming in a way, but Susan and Jenny have never quite forgiven me!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fringe benefits

I've being watching the US TV series Fringe (I know, I should be watching British Invaders stuff). It's a pretty good series but it's basically the X-Files.

A special FBI unit referred to as the Fringe division investigate a wide variety of paranormal events. Sounds like the X-Files right? There are stand-alone monster of the week episodes and then there are others which link to a wider conspiracy type invasion plot. Does that sound familiar at all? There are super soldier experiments, shape-shifters, killer mutants and mind control experiments. Did I mention that it's the X-Files?

To be fair the show creators are fairly open about their debt to Mulder and Scully. If you listen to the full length version of the theme tune the recognisable X-Files music can be heard noodling away in the middle eight. There's even one episode where the unit's boss (he happens to be a stern bald guy - who's a bit like another stern, bald guy) has to appear in front of a congressional committee who refer to previous cases with an "X designation". They also share the trope of having the politicians closing down the unit in the last episode of the series only to re-open the files at the start of a new season.

Anyway, it's a fun series. There's a great mad scientist with a dodgy past and a bit of a swiss cheese memory. And like the Lone Gunmen he's an expert in absolutely everything. There's lots of dodgy medicine which is expertly dissected in this blog.

It rates fairly highly on the scoff-o-meter but I like it.

ps. it's the X-Files