Radio Drama: "Subject 428A" (1964)

Subject 428A"Subject 428A"

Original air date: October 2, 1964, from the series Theatre Five.

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Thoughts Before Listening

I’m thinking this will be about a prisoner or a patient or an experiment or a prisoner patient experiment. Also thinking that it would be really neat if this was about zombie unicorns. It probably isn’t. It might be though.

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Weirdness Rodeo: Harlequin, Netflix and Reboots


Is that your brand extending, or are you just happy to see me?

Harlequin - who have always been one of the more innovative publishers (probably because they have one of the strongest brands) - are extending into... wine. I mean, why not? Even as a stunt, this is good PR.

The publisher is partnering with Vintage Wine Estates to create Vintages by Harlequin, three wines now available for $14.95 a pop on Amazon. There’s a chardonnay (“Substitute for Love”), a cabernet sauvignon (“Pardon My Body”), and red wine blend (“Wild at Heart”). “Harlequin has a deep history of creating experiences for women, and we are thrilled to bring this new opportunity to market,” Harlequin CEO and publisher Craig Swinwood said in a statement. 

Ok, almost definitely a PR stunt. But I like that Harlequin sees their role - as a publisher - as 'creating experiences for women'. That's bold language, and one that opens them up, and credibly, to making more than books.

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Friday Five: 5 Comics About the Magic of Everyday Life

This week's Friday Five features five comics books that talk about magic. And life. And where the two intersect. Or don't.

Wicked + Divine

The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, Image, 2014/15)

This is absolutely a capital-G-Great comic, with stunning art and an exceptional high concept premise: perpetually reincarnated divine avatars, reappearing (briefly and wonderfully) every generation to inspire the mundane. The whole thing, see, is a metaphor for art, y'know - with the gods as creators, living their (literal) fifteen minutes of fame and bringing magic to the masses. And, in WicDiv (as the tumbleyoot say), that's hammered home in pretty much every conceivable way: the gods are artists, and use their holy platform to make everything from dance videos to long-form Medium-esque rants. 

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Stark Reviews: Robin Hood (1973)

Stark says: “Listen Friar, you’re mighty preachy, and you gonna preach your neck right into a hangman’s noose.”

Sounds like a Western, doesn’t it? What if I told you there was also a corrupt Sheriff, a ruthless Land Boss, a shooting contest, a root-tootin’ barn dance, a pair of outlaws and a stagecoach heist? No, it ain’t The Quick and the Dead. It’s Disney’s Robin Hood and for this month’s review I’m going to forgo my usual Good-Bad-and-Ugly rating and bust a gut trying to convince y’all that this film is actually a Western.

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That's One Impressive Pair Of Ironies

Red One

Team One Comic tries its best to be alert to the subtleties of its subject matter as well as trying to bring some political awareness and sensitivity to bear. Issue #1 of Red One from Image Comics offers a challenge or two on this front. If you're being ironic about sexism in a visual medium it's hard to avoid it looking like sexism, and that's assuming it's meant to be ironic in the first place.

Red One herself is a Soviet-era super-agent, so Jared takes the opportunity to have a rummage around among the various Soviet and Russian super characters scattered across the comics landscape for this show's 3&1.

Review Round-up: The Collegium Chronicles and Unfaithful Wives

Two books/series with very little in common. Except, I suppose, I found them both kind of dissatisfying - Mercedes Lackey's Collegium Chronicles and Orrie Hitt's Unfaithful Wives.

RedoubtThe Collegium Chronicles (2008 - 2013) are five of the (counts rapidly) bajillion Valdemar novels by Mercedes Lackey. This particular sequence follows the young Mags as he's rescued from working as a mine slave and makes the startling transition to student at a magical university. His efforts to fit in, make friends, and adapt to his comfy new existence are occasionally interrupted by assassins.

If I sat down at wrote a list of 'stuff that bugged me in fantasy novels', the Collegium Chronicles would tick a dozen different items - from annoying dialects to poverty porn to magical horses to meandering descriptions of meaningless trivia (seriously, one of the books features a page-long list of pie fillings) to frequent, implausible deus ex machina to heavy-handed infodumping. Hell, there's even a shameless Quidditch knockoff.

And, good lord, the Chosen One-ness. Mags is lifted from obscurity because he's born magical and special - if he weren't, his plight (like those of his dozens of peers in the mines) would have gone completely unnoticed. As he grows, we learn that he's amazingly special in so many, many unique ways. Even at a magical university packed with magical snowflakes, he's the snowflakiest of all: the best at everything he does, possessed of a uniquely powerful magical talent, and, of course, descended from a mysterious bloodline. 

And yet...

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The Hunger Games - Greatest Modern Movie Epic?

Lorde - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Catching Fire)

Finally saw Mockingjay, Part 1 last weekend. All three movies seem to be a slightly different style, but they all revolve around a really interesting anti-authoritarian, anti-media theme. What's interesting isn't just how the theme is handled (intelligently and provocatively), but how it has evolved over the three films, without losing the basic action/adventure/coming-of-age premise that makes the whole thing so fun. It is also, in a way that many of its peers is not, strikingly contemporary.

It'll be interesting to see how it dates, but given the world doesn't seem to be de-paranoia-ing, de-militarising or de-media-saturating any time soon, I suspect this might be something made for the long haul.

Anyway, after a day or so of pondering, here's my challenge - is there a better modern movie epic?

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Weirdness Rodeo: Libraries, Twitter & Succeeding on Social

Your occasional and opinion-laden round-up of interesting links, marketing & publishing news, fun stories and, you know, stuff

People are using libraries less/more

Pew Research on how Americans use libraries:

Americans remain steady in their beliefs that libraries are important to their community, their family and themselves. Two-thirds (65%) of all of those 16 and older say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community... [but] traditional activities such as checking out a book or getting help from a librarian are somewhat on the decline.

The number of people borrowing a print book has declined over the past three years, as has 'asking a librarian for help'. But attending a class, program, lecture or meeting has held steady, checking out ebooks has increased (slightly - not as much as print books has decreased) and 'just sit and read, study, or watch/listen to media' has increased.

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How are your books organised? (Part 2)


We've been getting new shelves put in. A very exciting experience, although our friends are extremely tired of the kvetching we've laid down over the past few months. But now the shelves are here, and, as a result, we get to reorganise all the books. I am very, very excited.

Despite all the good advice - and better role models - that you've all provided, in all likelihood the final organisation of our books is going to be total chaos. Although we've tried alphabetising in the past, they all wind up gravitating together in strange, altogether personal, accumulations. Not entirely collections, as much as weak covalent bonds of book association that can only be perceived by Anne and/or me. 

So, why battle it? One thing we've always discussed is getting brass bookplates for shelves, a bit like some older libraries. The labels inside would be paper, so there's no firm commitment to what each said, but it'd be a fun way to decorate our shelves. 

The thing is, we don't want to do anything boring like "Fiction, A-B" or "Cookbooks" or even specific authors. We want to be more oblique. For example:

  • "Tentacular" = Kitschies finalists
  • "Detectives, Gin-Soaked" = Travis McGee mysteries
  • "Local History (Isola)" = Ed McBain's 87th precinct
  • "Rhinoceroses" = Patrick Ness

So, yes. Very oblique. 

So here's the challenge - what would you do? Think about your collections or aggregations of various books. How would you name them that would bring a smile to your face?

Friday Five: 5 Things That Will Change Your Mind About Things You Thought You Knew

A Killing in the SunThis week's guest is Dilman Dila, writer and filmmaker from Uganda. He manages the literary magazine, Lawino, and recently published a collection of speculative stories, A Killing in the Sun. And his films include What Happened in Room 13 (which has attracted over two million views on YouTube) and The Felistas Fable, which was nominated for Best First Feature at Africa Movie Academy Awards (2014), and which won four major awards at the Uganda Film Festival (2014).

His story "How My Father Became a God" was on the Short Story Day Africa longlist and has been collected in the (rather exceptional) Apex Book of World SF 4.

Dilman's taken our Friday Five challenge in a unique way, choosing five different topics - from books to food to monsters - and how they can challenge our assumptions...


1. African Science Fiction and Fantasy

This is a growing genre, riding on a recent wave of specfic from the continent, but that is not to say that it is a recent import into the continent. European conquerors have whitewashed African histories but reading works in the genre - including those that were told orally for centuries before labels were applied to stories - will change your mind about what you think of Africa. For example, the Acholi folktales about Hare using weapons and devices he manufactured to defeat his enemies indicate the Acholi believed, and told stories about, science and invention.

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Not a Hoax! Not a Dream!


This issue, an X-Man dies!

They didn't use that cover line, as they didn't want to give it away, but at the risk of spoiling something thirty five years old, One Comic spends some time with the issue that gave the world the (first) death of Jean Grey: Uncanny X-Men 137. Double-sized and ending a story years in the making, this is one of the most famous Marvel comics of all time. But how does it hold up? And how much difference does the editorially-mandated change to the ending make?

And to round things out, we consider the best and worst of the X-Men retcons - mostly the worst, because they're all pretty bad.

Extended Memory: Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.04.54 PM

Game: Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness (1994)
Developer: Bridgestone Multimedia Group
Original platform: DOS

I grew up in the Catholic Church, which feels exactly as an old religion should – austere, towering, kinda spooky. It’s got incense and chanting and gilded human bones. As a kid, mass was an experience that teetered between abject boredom and divine intimidation. There was nothing fun about it, nor should there have been. This was God’s House, and that meant serious business.

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Review Round-up: Planes, Fruit, Rags and Lions

Four oldish treats from the 1950s and 1960s. I suppose they're all sort of joined up by being "thrillers" in unconventional settings. But that's pretty spurious - they're really joined up by being four books that caught my eye recently; there's not much more pattern than that.

High CitadelHigh Citadel (1965), by Desmond Bagley, is a nice combination of survivalist horror and siege-porn. A small plane carrying a motley group of passengers is hijacked, and makes a crash-landing in the Andes. It turns out one of the passengers is politically important (the ex-President of a mythical South American country) and a group of Communist insurgents are keen to see him disposed of and out of the way.

But the Commies didn't count on American derring-do! The plane's captain, a former POW in Korea, shrugs off his burgeoning alcoholism and assembles the remaining passengers into a rag-tag group of freedom fighters. It is more fun (and less preachy) than it seems, as the team defend their mountain perch with a combination of medieval and jury-rigged weapons. And, in parallel, others try the murderous march over the mountains to get help - but with almost no supplies.

Although it tries, this isn't exactly a soaring novel of human triumph - the characters are mostly one-dimensional and the situation escalates far past the ability to suspend disbelief. But the detail is enjoyable, in a Robinson Crusoe Goes to War kind of way.

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Weirdness Rodeo

Star Wars

Pornokitsch is a producer of cat-related tweets that occasionally reviews

Scott Meslow on how Star Wars is a merchandise franchise that occasionally makes films:

In what might well be the single largest financial blunder in Hollywood history, 20th Century Fox allowed George Lucas to retain all the licensing and merchandising rights to Star Wars in exchange for a $500,000 directorial fee. In 2014, the overall value of the Star Wars franchise was estimated at $37 billion, with Episodes VII, VIII, and IX on the way — along with a slew of spin-offs — it will soon be worth much more. One research firm estimates that sales of Star Wars merchandise could exceed $5 billion in 2016 alone. That's more than the combined global grosses of every single Star Wars movie that has ever hit theaters — including several rounds of re-releases.

I've written about transmedia storytelling in the past - predominantly in regards to the convergence of books and RPGs - but there's something wonderful about the way this forces us to shift our perceptions. We associate particular properties with a particular media channel, but that is very often a complicated blind. To some degree, this happens every time a film is made: as much as readers pretend to have a sort of droit du seigneur, more people see the movie (or TV show) than read the books. There are a few exceptions (I'd love to crunch the numbers for Harry Potter or Tolkien), but not many. (And others, say, James Bond, where the secondary media - film - has unabashedly become the primary media with the passage of time.)

Marvel is a film studio that makes comics. Hell, four million people (including me!) play the Marvel click-farming Avengers Alliance game on Facebook. Maybe Marvel is an app producer that occasionally captures cut scenes as comic books. He-Man, famously, is a toy company that makes cartoons. Batman is a logo that appears on t-shirts, backpacks, wallets, duvets, children's kitsch and... sometimes... a superhero. And, now, Star Wars is a line of merchandise - with high-profile, long form video content marketing. Makes the whole Extended Universe debate a bit moot, doesn't it? Is your lunchbox canon?!

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