Archive for December, 2009
New Year’s Eve
Thursday the 31st of December 2009
I have so much farther to go than I thought. “Your boundaries are your quest.”
(Cairo, G Willow Wilson)
(The quote-within-a-quote is by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi known as Mowlana known as Rumi.)
Today is Daniel’s third birthday (he’ll always have fireworks on his birthday) and the last day of the year. It’s been a big one. We’ve taken him to Daylesford, the snow, Darwin, and so many other places. He’s grown in height (now the average height of a five-year-old) and grown in so many other ways.
I try to live up to him. For instance, every night when I read him bedtime stories, I concentrate on the pronounciation issue I grew up with and speech therapists couldn’t correct in primary school: a defect I once fought foroughly impossible to fix; a fing I’d suffer to my deaf: dreaded “th”. Now I can mostly hear the difference between “f” and “th”, mostly make the right sound amongst other sounds, and know when I don’t get it right. Perhaps by the end of next year I’ll be speaking like a native.
Next year. 2010. The future. I’ve got your rocket packs right here if you want them. The deal is, you get them, you have to give up a few things in exchange. The internet; PCs; the inability to use a slide rule.
Popular culture. Most kinds of tolerance and attempts at equality. Certain kinds of people (you know the ones). Good food! Yes, you can have someone else’s childhood fantasy of the future, in exchange for the one you’re actually living in. I won’t see you there.
2010 is going to be a big year for me. Six months off from work. A new child. Going back to uni to learn to become a book editor. A new Doctor. The tenth birthday of this blog.
That’s something that’s been on my mind. This blog has always been a means to no end, an end in itself, a place to think through writing. It’s never (though I didn’t always realise this) been a stepping stone to anything else, like publication, fame, or money. This public writing has never really been written for anyone else, though in my mind I’ve always had a kind of fictionalised sympathetic audience. But recently it’s started to feel solipsistic yet impersonal. Now perhaps this thought has run its course. I am thinking about new ways of thinking. I’m thinking about giving up this blog. Yes, it is that urge, as old as any blog, to stop blogging. It’s something that I’ve got until July 26 to think about. Ten years would to my blog be—sufficient. Until then there are definitely still posts to be posted on Pah.
Let’s have a happy new year together!
Minority Reading, Second Half
Wednesday the 30th of December 2009
I’m not entirely sure Oscar would have liked this designation. Fukú story. He was a hardcore sci-fi and fantasy man, believed that that was the kind of story we were all living in. He’d ask: What more sci-fi than the Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?
I have read 22 books in the last six months: 12 novels, 3 plays, 3 short story collections, 3 non-fiction, 1 memoir. 27% of these were by people of colour.
- Samuel R Delany (African-American)
- Junot Diaz (Dominican)
- Nam Le (Vietnamese)
- Barack Obama (African-American)
- Vikram Seth (Indian)
I’ve read 11 comics, 6 drawn by people of colour.
- Shari Chankhamma (Thai)
- Georges Jeanty (Hispanic-American)
- Rags Morales (Puerto Rican)
- MK Perker (Turkish)
- Shaun Tan (Chinese-Australian)
- Roberto Weil (Venezualan)
My statistics for reading writing by women are worse, though improved: 23%—and remarkably stable at 21% if I include comics.
- Angela Carter
- Shari Chankhamma
- Kathleen Ann Goonan
- Nicola Griffith
- Gwyneth Jones
- Ursula K Le Guin
- Rutu Modan
Must do better. These people are not a minority.
Saturday the 26th of December 2009
Five years after those films, it’s still possible to reread and think about The Lord of the Rings, as Adam Roberts has done here:
- Book I (on getting lost)
- Book II (on writing in Middle Earth)
- Book III (on what are the real two towers)
- Book IV (on the Nightmare Life-in-Death)
- Book V (oops—confuses necessary risk with suicidal despair)
- Book VI (on appendices)
Especially good is the recognition that Tolkien doesn’t write in a single style; The Lord of the Rings is a collection of written forms.
Friday the 25th of December 2009
Andrew Rilstone has an excellent post on political correctness. GONE MAD.
There is no such thing as political correctness. “Political correctness” is the dog whistle blown by people who like being rude or fear change or whatever. Who are unconscious of their hegemony or pretend to be. Note that in this world there are people who describe themselves as fascists, but no one who describes themselves as being politically correct. Correctness is not a goal in politics.
When someone labels something “political correct”, ask yourself, what are they telling me that I want to hear? When someone says something you want to label “political correct”, ask yourself, what are they telling me that I don’t want to hear? Reason is elsewhere. Think about why there are cards that say “Season’s Greetings” (hint: it isn’t because of political correctness).
Here’s a toast—a Happy Christmas to all of us.
The Shape of this Decade in Music
Thursday the 24th of December 2009
AKA a Best Music Of The Decade post
“I must find the 2000s. I must write how I will remember them. I must say goodbye.”
The Harvard Crimson:
Best Album You Heard Thirty Years Ago: The Strokes, Is This It
Best Album To Name-Drop: Radiohead, Kid A
If someone had forewarned me in 2000 that, ten years on, the inane corporate “punk” of Greenday, massively irritating in 1994, would be one of the decade’s best-selling acts; that U2 and their devil’s progeny Coldplay would still be on magazine covers; that divas unworthy of the term—the tacky Shakira and the increasingly anodyne Beyonce—would annexe the popular consciousness; that The Pixies would be six years into a reunion tour that kick-started an entire Indie Rock Heritage Circuit… well, it’s lucky that no one did serve me notice of these inauspicious cultural signs, or I would have been an even gloomier 19 year old than I already was.
Previously on Pah
I have written about the thinness of albums this decade. The shape of this decade will be remembered in singles. In surveying the decade’s music I found that I had little desire to rip songs from albums I’ve already nominated as great. Somehow in those works the songs work so well together that I am loathe to listen to one without listening to them all. Then again, most of those albums did not have formally released singles, so the weirdness is not mine alone. And perhaps it will be a relief for you to see a list from me without any Mike Patton.
I live in Australia. Our charts take from the rock-oriented US charts and the dance-oriented UK charts and add our own Aussie spin. This means that we have a slightly different perspective than either of our colonial masters. Previously I would have said we take the wheat and leave the chaff, but this decade has been much more about LCD chaff.
This is not an ordered top ten or even a top seventeen (even ignoring the missing album tracks). Though they are the best, and some are better than others, I cannot bring myself to sort them. I leave markers where relevant, but the list appears in chronological order.
Two Song Theory
To me there were two big songs that defined the 90s: Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991) by Nirvana, and Breathe (1996) by Prodigy. These are two awesome songs in their own right, but also leaders and exemplars of movements in that decade.
I’ll give away the “end” here by saying the best song of the 2000s is Hey Ya (2003) by Outkast.
But the other defining song of the decade isn’t so awesome. For a second tent pole, I’d pick Sex on Fire (2008) by Kings of Leon. This is not a great song. I hate this song. But it is unquestionably representative of the retrogressive/nostalgic/reheated quagmire that bands like Outkast couldn’t quite give us enough thrust to escape. You might argue then that I should be picking a Strokes or White Stripes song, but the thing about this movement is that the longer it goes on, the less original it gets, the more it succeeds in its goal. Which is to unhinge the industrial production of pop music from high art so that it can be more perfectly sold in cyclical seasons, like yoyos. The future of music will be an endless recycling of certain pasts that younger people haven’t happened to have heard before and older people will never get tired of. So that it can be used to sell you stuff.
But there is still Hey Ya. The charts haven’t quite gone yet. We’re not all alone with our iPods.
And so, without further ado, the good songs…
Get Ur Freak On (2000) by Missy Elliott
I’ll get off to a lazy start by letting Anwyn handle this one.
It Wasn’t Me (2000) by Shaggy, featuring RikRok
Shaggy writes about the dark heart of RikRok’s sultry R&B voice. This is the theme song of the 2000s. Children overboard, global financial crisis, priestly paedophilia, Copenhagen: it wasn’t me! Its status was confirmed in 2001 when Michael Jackson selected it as a personal favourite at his 30th anniversary celebrations.
Stan (2000) by Eminem
Eminem could have been the artist of the decade, but his rapping slowed, and America chose George W Bush over him. It’s hard to remember how controversial he was in the early 2000s, and how his fights with Moby, Jay Z, and Triumph gave some life to music news. It’s true he was a white boy appropriating black music, and I might not have been as interested if I’d listened to Wu-Tang Clan… but I might never have listened to them if not for him, he did bring Dr Dre and D12 with him, and he did have his own ideas to offer. This is his masterpiece, fast postmodern lyrics telling a story with a gift for detail, juxtaposed with the inspired selection of a sample from Dido’s Thank You, building to one of the most horrific climaxes ever to make it into the charts.
You Can Fall (2000) by Broadcast
This song opens up an alternative history of pop. What if, instead of listening to Bob Dylan in 1964, the Beatles had watched Doctor Who instead? Perhaps we might have had more bands like Broadcast, who sound like their realisation has been provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Harder Better Faster Stronger (2001) by Daft Punk
Daft Punk showed that it was possible to use a vocoder for good, not evil. Here they turn a funky minimalism into accretion and recombination that just makes me want to dance. Kanye West made the second worst sampling faux pas of the decade when he thought he could use this as background (Black Eyed Peas made the worst when they used Miserlou).
I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (2001) by Kylie Minogue
Kylie has always been an actor, submitting herself to songwriters and producers, without the continuity of personality like Madonna. That tendency finds its perfect expression in this song, where she swaps pop vitalism for a flattened affect subsumed by the music. This is Human 2.0, love-as-pathology, the will-to-cyborg. It was a signal that many would follow (e.g. Hung Up by Madonna, Toxic by Britney).
Crazy In Love (2003) by Beyonce, featuring Jay Z
Another key signal for pure pop practitioners: contra Freud, there are two libidos, and one of them is female. Christina Aguilera’s Candyman and Pink’s U + Ur Hand come from here. Yes this is still just a love song and needs validation from Jay Z, but the energy has reached what before might have been deemed an unseemly level, and maybe all that shaking might just be for Beyonce’s own pleasure.
Hey Ya (2003) by Outkast
At the start of this decade, a small child opined to me that hip hop wasn’t music because it didn’t have a melody. This was obviously her parents’ opinion and I hope she’s grown up and out of it by now. This song has such a fantastic beat that even small children are helpless before it. Of course this song can’t be reduced to just its beat, it has such a richness of sound. It’s funny to think that under all those synth splodges and overdubs, an acoustic guitar provides the basic accompaniment to the singing. The effect is one of laidback high energy. Its weakness is its singular nature. Even Outkast don’t sound like this (and I’m thankful that it’s not poisoned by testosterone like the rest of The Love Below). It stands alone, an outlying forerunner of a (still?) possible future.
The Nosebleed Section (2003) by Hilltop Hoods
A lot of its power comes from the sample of Melanie’s 1972 The People in the Front Row (but being a DJ means being a smart curator). The rest comes from its (in more ways than one) Australian accent (this is how it must have felt listening to the Streets in Britain). Afterwards I listened to Australian hip hop on the radio for months. But only this made it to the big time; mainstream radio stuck with Australian Idol and the diminishing returns of past stars.
Dr Who on Holiday (2005) by Dean Gray
Mashups deserve greater recognition. I’ve heard many great mashups this decade and this (an Oz/US collaboration) is the greatest. The Bush/Dalek juxtaposition sends chills down my spine. I particularly like the subtlety of not just mashing together Green Day’s Holiday and the Timelords’ Doctorin’ the TARDIS, but also going back to the latter’s source of Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll part 2. There’s a lot that Green Day and Murray Gold could learn from this song.
The Beekeeper (2005) by Tori Amos
Tori’s uncanny adaptation of Death: The Time of Your Life. Beautiful work by Amos on the Hammond, bass from Evans, Chamberlain on the drums, squelchy guitar bits from Aladdin…
Archangel (2007) by Burial
I heard it on the internet and dismissed it, then encountered it being pumped to the street from an Asian cafe, whereafter it stayed with me, distorted sounds repeating on me. I can’t exactly discern what dubstep is from other electronic microgenres, but “hauntological” is a better label for this.
Heartbroken (2007) by T2, featuring Jodie Aysha
Electronica does itself a disservice with too many microgenres, but somehow I found myself listening to a set of mixtapes featuring bassline, and fell in love with it. Unlike most dance music, I could listen to this stuff all day long. The speed and layering, the distinctive computer-generated bass, the sped-up female vocals. It’s a crime that there’s been no official albums out of this scene, though this awesome single reached #2 in the British charts.
Piece Of Me (2007) by Britney Spears
Here’s the ultimate response to those Kylie and Beyonce signals I mentioned earlier. On the one hand, Britney’s damaged-affect voice is just a building block to be used by the producers. On the other hand, this is a raw assertion of self as subject. She’s her own subject and ours too, it’s all tricky stuff, and handled perfectly here. For this song she is the most rock act of the decade.
Sorry You’re Not A Winner (2007) by Enter Shikari
The only piece of actual rock on this list. Instead of retreating into the past, Enter Shikari follow in the footsteps of nu metal, beefing up the metal-influenced content. I spent the middle years of this decade wishing for something like this outside the local Melbourne scene. And I got this. But only this. (Pink, for instance, put out some good rock too—Sober is particularly good—but she’s working with established forms in a way that doesn’t distinguish her enough from the decade’s regressive background to make it on this list.)
The Way I Are (2007) by Timbaland, featuring Keri Hilson & DOE
I heard this on So You Think You Can Dance, the only television show to really respect music this decade. Using two singers is probably what seals the deal and makes this stand out from similar songs. I love how the two vocals and all the sounds weave in and out of each other.
Umbrella (2007) by Rihanna
No one sings of the pathology of love like Rihanna. It can be a disease or an addiction. Even when, as here, she sings of lyrically straightforward love, she turns it away from notions of naive choice. She has a beautiful voice, but instead of indulging in mellifluous tones or melisma she offers something that’s almost bored or robotic. The key there is almost. She walks that modern line between chance and nihilism. We are compelled but we choose every minute of it. She has a serial killer’s delivery and she’s loved like Dexter. This is the perfect complement to Hey Ya and comes in a (very close) second place for best song of the decade.
Out of 17 songs…
9.5 songs from the United States, 4 from the United Kingdom, 2.5 from Australia, and 1 from France.
9 songs featuring women, 7 featuring people of colour.
4 songs from 2000 and another 2 from 2001… these are songs that I might call “90s music”… but then the 90s start with a lot of “80s rock”, so let’s call it even…
A big spike in 2007 with 6 songs. I feel like the zeitgeist took pity on me and gave me a gift.
So that’s my story. That’s my 2000s. Producers, complexity, postmodernism, strange sounds, flattened affect, energy and the female libido—versus—reformations, revivals, Australian Idol, and MOR. Unfortunately the former, Cnut-like, is a taker of arms against the latter’s sea of troubles. I don’t blame bad taste or failing talent or reduced possibility for the situation. I just think that we are no longer interested in music as an ends, or music as a means to something transcendent. Our focus is elsewhere. Fair enough. It’s a medium that didn’t exist sixty years ago and nothing lasts forever. But I will be sad to see it go.
If it is as I say. Perhaps you think differently. What’s your story?
Wednesday the 23rd of December 2009
Daniel asks a question. Luckily internet comments are there to tell him to shut up!
The Third Age Continues
Wednesday the 23rd of December 2009
The Third Age episodes five and six, the last for this year, are now up. (The Third Age will continue… on January 5th.)
Finally we hear the voice over from the end of episode one in the diegesis. Then footage from episode six turns up in the closing credits of episode five. It’s all connected.
Episode five introduces us to Holly, played by Hallie Cooper-Novack. I think she’s my favourite actor in the series so far, bringing a lot of nuance to her character. I love the way she’s introduced, filming a video (perhaps a web video?) on magic. She’s talking to noone, but imagining she’s talking to someone. This is where the not real becomes real, but it’s not facile. Similarly, you can see that she believes in magic, but she’s not a zealot, she has to work at expressing herself. This is the ironic moment for me, where talk of sigils is a straying from what I believe into questionable territory, yet I find Holly’s message to be absolutely vital, good, and true: reality is a construct, so start doing your part to construct it.
list of Top Ten Top Ten lists
Tuesday the 22nd of December 2009
The list of Top Ten Top Ten lists for this decade that I am ill-equipped to write:
10. The top ten albums of the decade.
9. The top ten television shows of the decade.
8. The top ten comics of the decade.
7. The top ten beers of the decade.
6. The top ten novels of the decade.
5. The top ten movies of the decade.
4. The top ten weblogs of the decade.
3. The list of Top Ten Top Ten lists for this decade that I am ill-equipped to write.
Tuesday the 15th of December 2009
1. Everyone knows that tomatoes are fruit, but Kate Oliver reveals that strawberries, oranges, bananas and plums (and more) are not. Make sure you read her final footnote for even more shocking revelations.
2. The following were all born in 1977 and thus are the same age as me: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Edward Furlong, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Orlando Bloom, Shakira.
3. There was going to be more, but now that is all.
Monday the 14th of December 2009
Somewhere between A Question of Re-entry (1963) and News from the Sun (1981), JG Ballard’s conception of cargo cults changed. In the former he describes one much as Peter Lawrence would in Road Belong Cargo (1964). In the latter he follows Richard Feynman’s Caltech commencement address (1974). This got me to thinking about the topic again. Is Feynman the source of all misinformation?
No. In the last four years, video footage of cargo cults has appeared on YouTube. This footage comes from a 1962 exploitation doco, You Dog of a World! (Italian: Mondo Cane). It’s interesting because this shows cargo cults as Feynman would describe them twelve years later. It’s even more interesting because it’s the only visual evidence I’ve seen for the existence of cargo cults as he described. It shows Papua New Guineans loitering around the airport at Port Moresby, gazing longingly at Australian aeroplanes. Then it shows Papua New Guineans with a wooden recreation of an airport tower beside a beaten dirt runway, waiting for their own aeroplanes. Sensational stuff. But is it real? It seems strange that this kind of activity could be going on in Port Moresby without more evidence being available. It seems even more strange that a scholar like Lawrence could have failed to mention it. Other episodes of the film are faked and it seems this one is too.
An even earlier prototype for Feynman is David Attenborough’s 1960 book, Quest in Paradise. This devotes two chapters to Attenborough’s visit to Papua New Guinea. Attenborough talks to locals, both colonial and native, then goes in search of mythical cult messiah John Frum. The problem here is that all his familiar descriptions come from the mouths of colonial figures: Lutheran and Catholic missionaries, and an Australian land owner, i.e. people who have a vested interest in portraying the indigenes as incapable of work, ownership, and governance, and in need of moral guidance. For his part, Attenborough renders the Papua New Guinean’s English phonetically, and believes the missionaries when they tell him a crucifix erected by the Christian-instructed Papua New Guineans is a cargo cult radio mast. (Richard Dawkin’s perpetuates this racist travelogue in The God Delusion because he’s more eager to show he knows Attenborough than he is to demonstrate actual science. This is crucial because he fails to distinguish between the rise of a new religion and a change in expression of an old understanding of the universe.)
So Feynman is not the first, but neither do Attenborough and the makers of Mondo Cane stumble upon the “cargo cults” in PNG by accident. They have followed stories there, so I can assume that there are yet earlier sources. I continue to ask the questions: Has anyone got any evidence that the cargo cults of popular conception ever existed? Or is the true “cargo cult behaviour” that of Feynman, Dawkins, Doctorow, and many programmers, the ritual invocation of racist colonial myths?
The Waters of Mars
Sunday the 13th of December 2009
[EXECUTIVE SCRIPT SUMMARY]
Planet of the Dead
CAPTAIN ADELAIDE BROOKE
Doctor! Oh! Oh! Oh, I love you! I love you! I - I love you!
The aristocracy survived for a reason.
Watched more Doctor Who
Friday the 11th of December 2009
The last four complete Hartnell stories that I needed to watch:
Next year I will watch the final complete story that I’ve never seen, the Troughton story The Seeds of Death.
And deep down inside I have a hankering to watch (in reconstruction) from Mission to the Unknown through to Destruction of Time—seventeen episodes of ambition or exhaustion?
The Time Meddler
Thursday the 10th of December 2009
The TARDIS, the Doctor assures us at the start, has taken us into the past, but this isn’t your usual historical. Those are filled with Shakespearean dialogue and political intrigue. This is an altogether more quiet story. Little happens, little is said. The key image is Peter Butterworth’s fabulous Monk laughing hysterically at the end of the first episode, with no explanation of him given in the second. Something is happening: pay attention.
Pay attention to the watch. Vicki didn’t drop it. Could the Doctor have dropped it? What is going on here? This isn’t 2009 and the story can’t be watched with our contemporary genre expectations. The 1965 viewer would not have expected:
- an artificially-recreated environment
- a parallel world
- a virtual reality
- a hallucination
Actually, ignore that ellipsis for a second, and go back a point. Ian thought that the TARDIS was an illusion. What would he have thought if his first trip hadn’t been back 102,000 years, but here instead? A watch, a gramophone… This can’t be the past. In story after story the Doctor has assured us that the past can’t be changed.
In fact it has already been changed, twice: the Doctor gives Nero the idea for burning down Rome; the Daleks cause the crew of the Mary Celeste to jump overboard. But these changes have been brief, comedic, and besides, nothing actually changed, did it? History was fulfilled. Now at the climax of Season 2, we are given time to understand.
The cliffhanger to the third episode is not as we try to understand it today. The revelation is not that the Monk is one of the Doctor’s people, with a promise of more backstory to come. The revelation is that the Monk is a time traveller—and is changing history. Interference is no longer impossible, merely proscribed. The incident with Nero doesn’t look as harmless when we hear the Monk has already helped the ancient Britons with an anti-gravity lift. This is why the story itself is so quiet. Imagine the turmoil of the viewer. The thought: until the Monk turned up, there was no Stonehenge. The nature of Doctor Who has changed irrevocably.
(But then the curious end. The Doctor doesn’t stop the Monk. Instead, the locals become suspicious of his plans to light beacon fires. It’s revealed that he is harbouring Vikings. To the monastery! History homes in for the kill.)
(For a fuller review of The Time Meddler, check out Alex Wilcock.)
(I claimed the other day that, after this, Donald Tosh returned us to the “pure historical”—I should have refreshed my memory about what happens in The Myth Makers. That story is a kind of nightmare inversion of The Time Meddler: in place of the Monk freely trying to change history with his technology, the Doctor is forced to change history with his technology. Merely showing up in the past is liable to interfere with it. (I wonder what impression is given with both the Doctor and the Monk being present in the next story as the Daleks try to destroy time?))
Wednesday the 9th of December 2009
Delighted to report the science fiction writers meeting for Strangers in Space was big success. Seems a show that moves through space and time attracts writers through time and space. Samuel Beckett came all the way from Paris if you can believe it. He’s suggested a novel situation for Carol and Maitland. They are discovered ashen and apparently dead, encased in identical grey urns about one yard high, from which only their heads protrude. They have been placed there by the Sensorites, and when action is called for they will cry that they are powerless, then wonder why they couldn’t do what was required.
One of our writers from the 70s (crossing our show’s timeline don’t you know!), called Adams, asked that the hands of the spaceship crew also be made free. There was some debate about how this could be best achieved but no consensus was reached. His plan is to have the Doctor deduce the crew’s period of immobility from their fashion in watches. We’ll say that digital watches fall out of fashion 24 years earlier, that would mean they had been in space for at least 24 years.
Your friend from Shepperton had some rum notions. It was his idea that the Sensorites used a kind of psychic defense against the third crew member, John. He would be opened to a new understanding of time that would turn him from the exploration of space. Barbara and Susan will be inspired by his conceptual breakthrough to have sex with the angle of a cupboard.
This is all good but I felt some resistance from Newman. We’ve all been working very hard and Hartnell’s fatigue in particular is felt by all. I certainly hope we can continue to deliver to a high standard.
Best Regards, David.
The War Machines
Tuesday the 8th of December 2009
Here is a further bulletin on the London emergency. It is announced, a few minutes ago, that the machine which is now being described as the War Machine has successfully been put out of action. The city of London has responded with characteristic calm to the emergency.
Calm is certainly what characterises this story. And coldness. The Doctor dismisses Ben’s concern for Polly, saying “if we worry about one person we shall never solve anything,” to which Ben offers the sarcastic aside “Looks such a kind old bloke too, doesn’t he?” In fact I misheard the latter as “Looks such a cold old bloke too, doesn’t he?” The final cliffhanger works not because, after three episodes of WOTAN’s egoless and methodical plan unfolding, the Doctor strides into confrontation at last, but because he’s standing cool, almost as if observing a bus he isn’t going to catch.
If you think there’s such a thing as a pseudo-historical (and I’m not sure there is) then this is the first pseudo-contemporary, a type which the series has made such good use of up to the present day. Just as Spooner earlier made the past stories very much present, Ian Stuart Black here makes the Earthbound fantastic. The Doctor takes an interest in the modernist Post Office Tower within moments of landing and observes “You know there’s something alien about that tower, I can sense it!” There are no extraterrestrials here (other than the Doctor), no interference in history (other than the Doctor’s). It is our own present strange moment that concerns the story.
We’ve reached a standstill. We cannot develop the Earth any further. Further progress is impossible. That is the conclusion reached by WOTAN.
More than Kit Pedler’s idea of cybernetic intelligence, this is the astonishing core of the story. There is a future, but it does not belong to humanity. Our own instrumental philosophy is the end of us, but it is not the end. The Doctor and WOTAN do a silent dance. The latter wants the former’s brain. The former recognises the latter as deadly. There is no rebuttal from the Doctor “There’s nothing more important than human life. Machines cannot govern man!” There are simply two programs in opposition.
I’ve seen Dodo in The Ark, The Gunfighters and The War Machines—three of her five stories. Where Steven is a kind of copy of Ian, Dodo is a kind of copy of Vicki who’s a kind of copy of Susan. There seems little to distinguish her from the earlier characters or indeed from the background characters of each story.
In Episode 2 of The War Machines, the Doctor sends her off to the country house of a civil servant (who he’s just met and doesn’t like) so that she can recover from WOTAN’s mind control. Obviously unimpressed with this evaluation of her strength, she returns the favour in Episode 4, by sending word via Polly that she’s decided to stay on Earth.
Surely the most ignominious exit ever.
Monday the 7th of December 2009
The received wisdom of fandom, way back when, was that The Gunfighters is shit. This, together with its too late availability on VHS, meant that I didn’t watch it till now. And it was my loss! Far from shit, this story is up there with The Happiness Patrol and Love & Monsters for deceptive whimsicality and misunderstood excellence.
The positioning of the story is curious. After Spooner used the second season to introduce the idea that time could be changed, Tosh and Davis return us to “pure historicals”. I love the idea here that the advanced and alien Doctor decides to submit himself to the barbarism of Doc Holliday’s dentistry, showing that he’s a tourist willing to go the extra mile. He starts off with a passive stance as is required by fixed historical events, but he becomes increasingly active in calling for peace as the story goes on, as if he thought to change history… though history here is a vague concept as the setting is a kind of Western fantasy.
His overt pacifism makes it easy to miss that he keeps real guns with the fanciful cowboy costumes in the TARDIS. The time travellers wave these and other guns around as if they were toys, but the locals always regard the deadly weapons with respect. The story is like these locals, able to shift register effortlessly from the bumbling to the malevolent. The cliffhangers are all solid, but the first is amongst the show’s best, with Steven forced to sing a ballad while Dodo plays piano, as the Clantons wait to shoot the Doctor when he walks through the door… Amongst all the jollity and expected death, we get one of the most felt deaths in Doctor Who, when Charlie the barman is gunned down, then remains macabrely slumped over his bar into the next episode.
Donald Cotton writes some great lines, and we get great performances from John Alderson (Wyatt Earp) and Anthony Jacobs (Doc Holliday), who both might have walked off the set of Deadwood, but the story really belongs to director Rex Tucker.
He’s in love with Barry Newberry’s sets and makes maximum use of their realisation; he takes unusual framings, shooting through parts of the set, and from above. He choreographs his actors around the sets for maximum effect, sometimes composing them in ways that surely inspired later directors like Grimwade or Harper, at other times knowing when only a hand is required. But he always makes sure that the acting itself is all on screen. The action measures up to the best I’ve seen in cinema Westerns because Tucker knows where to stick the actors, where to stick the camera, and when to cut. Then to add extra depth to the proceedings, he’s taken the ballad of the Last Chance Saloon out of the diegetic background, and made it a lyrical commentary on proceedings.
Tucker’s doctored the script
though Cotton’s no goon
but the direction is key
in the Last Chance saloon
It’s unfortunate this is his only story, as Tucker is perhaps the best director that Doctor Who got in its black and white years, and amongst the show’s best ever.
Lemon Wedding Anniversary
Sunday the 6th of December 2009
Actually the fruit and floral wedding anniversary or linen wedding anniversary.
Thursday the 3rd of December 2009—four years later—we drove to Darling Gardens, with Daniel (and bump), and exchanged vows and rings in the same spot, again.
Afterwards we all went out for dinner at the Marquis of Lorne.
Saturday the 5th of December 2009
In 1993, William Gibson predicted the end of the United States within twelve years, while seemingly thinking the Soviet Union would remain. Yet the actual Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, while the US is with us still.
Gibson also predicted the use of a mutant strain of nonpathogenic HIV in reversing the effects of AIDS; and super anti-viral agent called Kil’Z, “capable of nuking HIV’s 1 throught 5, Crimean-Congo, Mokola fever, Tarzana Dengue, and the Kansas City flu”; and a German nanotech ultimate transmission barrier. Yet AIDS is with us still.
Hard science fiction is the science fiction that emphasises scientific detail, yet it is the sub-genre that is most likely to ignore scientific structure. It likes to deal in the tractable, the easy, the already-done. This is how we all like to think of science. It’s like magic, our childhood parents, god.
Despite being sometimes labeled as hard SF, Gibson delves into the soft squishy stuff, if not of science itself, then of human character. He predicts a cure, but also predicts protest, violence, vilification, ignorance, refusal. He acknowledges homophobia. The story of James Delmore Shapely has at its heart the message: open your eyes. Here is Gibson as angry as we’ve ever seen him: “in those days we didn’t really understand the disease’s exact vectors of infection, because, grotesque as it now seems, there had been no real research into the precise modes of transmission…”
And isn’t that still true, both in the specifics of transmission acts, and the more general ways that AIDS moves into families, communities, and countries?
I always forget the exact date of World AIDS Day, but every day we have a world with AIDS.
Friday the 4th of December 2009
Binaries, we are told, are everywhere in nature. Like cheese and chalk, sweet and salt, blonde and brunette, freezing and humid, green and brown, Microsoft and Apple, carbon and silicon, male and female…
Wait, you say, that last one is a genuine binary, XX/XY. I say, No. I say: There is X, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX, XXY, XXYY, XYY, and more. (And of course it’s mostly just mammals that use X and Y chromosomes.) Then you might point to the presence or absence of the SRY gene on the chromosomes, but you’re not in Kansas anymore, where sex can be determined by breasts/no breasts, or, for sure, vagina/penis.
I’ve been wondering about sport, a word which has an interesting double meaning in English. 1. a competitive activity requiring skill and physical prowess. 2. an organism that shows a deviation from the normal type; mutation. It is in sport where we throw away liberte, egalite, amitie in favour of citius, altius, fortius. Where we do not allow illegal drugs, oh no, but we do allow better nutrition, environment, training, legal drugs, equipment, time, etc. Where we do allow physical abnormalities, unless we somehow think that the physical abnormality makes a woman into a man. (Remember, there are only two categories!) Because a man has an unfair advantage over a woman. (No one cares if a man is really a woman because, of course, a woman could never compete with a man!)
Poor Caster Semenya. The International Association of Athletics Federations is questioning her sex, though there has been no complaint from another athlete, and no failure of anti-doping tests. There are rules in sport, don’t you know! (Yes and a transitioned male-to-female transsexual may compete as a woman under the rules, did you know?) The IAAF has completely violated her privacy and their duty of care. All because she ran 1 minute 55.45 seconds in the 800m. (A long way from the 26 year old record of 1:53.28 by Jarmila Kratochvilova, and an even longer way from the men’s record of 1:41.11.) Though we may also note that there is a long history of accusing African-heritage sportswomen of being men.
The results of Semenya’s sex tests have not been released. The Daily Mail is not a reliable source. Having a deep voice and broad shoulders does not make her a man. If it turns out she does not have ovaries and a uterus, this does not make her a man. If she has internal testes, this does not make her a man. If she has both female and male bits, this would not make her a hermaphrodite, a mythical term that we apply to plants and animals that function reproductively as both female and male; it would mean she was intersexed.
She was born a girl, raised as a girl, grew up to be a woman, competed as a woman, looks like a woman in the toilets, identifies as a woman… You’ve got to start to ask yourself what this sex thing is all about. Is there a war on? Why do we let our reproductive system structure our lives? Why do we demand to watch games rigged so that men always win?
Thursday the 3rd of December 2009
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
I’ve heard this phrase on the lips of everyone from Braemar Wilson to fellow bloggers. It gives the name of a literary magazine. The sense imparted by the quote in these contexts is: try, try again. “Fail better” means “fail less” means “succeed that little bit more”.
The quote is from the story Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett. It is soon followed by this:
Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good.
Now in the context of the title, these particular lines, and the rest of the story, the sense of “fail better” I get is “fail more”.
To take the words from Krapp’s Last Tape and reconstruct Beckett’s epiphany as he hinted: “[It’s] clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under [control] is in reality [my most precious ally].” He expands with reference to James Joyce:
I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.
His quest, the human quest as he writes it, is not one of aspiration, but of ever-worsening failure, that can’t go on, yet somehow goes on.
Said nohow on.
a favourite album for every year of this decade
Wednesday the 2nd of December 2009
Continuing a favorite album for every year of my life, here are my picks for this decade:
- 2000: Kid A, Radiohead
- 2001: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, Lovage
- 2002: The Eminem Show
- 2003: Mit Gas, Tomahawk
- 2004: Medulla, Bjork
- 2005: General Patton vs the X-Ecutioners
- 2006: The Eraser, Thom Yorke
- 2007: Six Litanies for Heliogabalus, Moonchild Trio
- 2008: Xaphan, Secret Chiefs 3
- 2009: Abnormally Attracted to Sin, Tori Amos
It seems like a strong list, but…
The repeats start to set in now. Four albums with significant contributions by Mike Patton (adding to the three from prior decades), with another that he guests on (though those two songs are probably the weakest on the album), and another album that I am listening to because its creators have a relationship with him. Two albums by Thom Yorke (and I’m not a Radiohead fan!). Another Tori album to join the one I picked from the 90s.
The selections are not backed up by possibility either. When I look at albums from this decade, I’m only looking at albums I bought, because I bought everything I thought was good enough (and more than a few that weren’t). The pool is small, the competition low. Every year had a clear winner except 2002, in which I had to pick Eminem over () by Sigur Ros.
We have my first black band here, the X-Ecutioners, bought only because of my Patton obsession; and another two women. Cultural diversity is not me.
Yet there is a sign that my musical taste isn’t hopelessly finished, nor the 2000s fully explored. I was only introduced to 2000 album Deltron 3030 a few months ago, in a comparison made by Sean Witzke in his review of Year Zero by NIN. I listened to it and dismissed it. Then it started to haunt me. I accidentally queued up Madness in Media Player at work. Lines wouldn’t leave me. I listened again and again. This is a sci fi rap opera. I have fallen in love. OK, I don’t think it’s better than Kid A for 2000, but that album took time to grow on me too. OK, if I did pick it over Radiohead, I would only improve my artist originality a little, as I already have a Dan the Automater/Kid Koala album in my list, though swapping Mike Patton for Del the Funkee Homosapien would make me look less one-eared.
Given what I’ve picked, what else should I listen to?
(This is not my best of the decade post. That will have to be about individual songs, of which there is a much greater pool to draw on. Expect it when you see it.)