Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Gunfight in the Red Eye Saloon now available on Kindle.

Gunfight in the Red Eye Saloon is now available on Kindle.


I started writing this story with the intention of it being my next Black Horse Western, but it ended up being about 10% short of the required length for the series. I put it aside for a while and then came back to try to bulk it out, but I only ended up shortening it some more.

After several more failed attempts I decided to just leave the tale well alone and publish this as a Kindle title. This is the 6th Cassidy Yates's yarn, in which he rubs up against a fellow lawman he doesn't trust. . . .

Sheriff Cassidy Yates reckoned he’d foiled a bank raid in Monotony, but then he discovered that a safe deposit box had been broken into. Nobody knew what had gone missing, but Cassidy suspected that the robbery was connected to the infamous gunfight that had erupted in the Red Eye saloon two years earlier, an incident in which five men died.

Severin Lorde never paid for the crime he committed that day, but in a twist of fate he was appointed as the sheriff of Carmon. Cassidy was determined to prove that Severin had a murderous past, but to bring a fellow lawman to justice he will have to risk not only his life, but his faith in the law he has sworn an oath to uphold.

It's now available from all good amazon stores.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Babylon 5

It was the dawn of the third age of mankind. . . .
 

This week sees the end of Pick TV's rerun of the SF series Babylon 5, this being the show's first airing in the UK since its only appearance around 20 years ago on Channel 4. I watched and enjoyed that original run, but this time round I ended up recording about 80 episodes before I watched the first one as I feared that cold reality would ruin my nostalgic memories.

That trepidation is probably warranted. When first shown B5 was popular, although not massively so leading to it being axed and then resurrected at least once and being seemingly on the verge of cancellation the rest of the time. Then there was the alleged nerd war between B5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 fans, who both claimed that their series had been ripped off by the other. As I liked both series I didn't have much interest in the debate, although I tended to think that any two shows set on a space station were likely to have similarities.

Once the show ended, B5's fortunes plummeted rapidly. A lot of the main cast died, and all way before their time. The spin-off series Crusade was cancelled before it aired, the six movies weren't all that good, and the subsequent attempts to make more spin-offs or reboots failed. All this, along with a mixture of studio apathy and production mistakes such as losing the special effects files, led to B5 quietly disappearing.

Other SF franchises have grown ever larger or at least remained in the public consciousness, but aside from Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory deeming that B5 'fails as drama, science fiction and is hopelessly derivative', its largely been absent from popular culture. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, its reputation amongst devotees remains. Many rate it as the greatest ever SF series, while others view it as a flawed masterpiece that was ahead of its time. My opinion was the other popular view that it was greater than the sum of its parts.

It was that rare thing of being an SF series that actually contained some SF. It avoided the approach most other shows used that as long as it was set in space and had some robots in it, it could be called SF. Instead, it appeared to have been made by people who had read Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and Bester. Even better, it was the first SF show, and arguably the first of any kind of TV series, to do something that is common these days of devoting its whole 5-year run to a single, pre-planned serialized story arc.

Unlike every show that came after it, though, B5 was almost entirely the work of one writer, J. Michael Straczynski, to the extent that aside from Neil Gaiman's episode, JMS wrote every episode from the midpoint of season 2 to the end of season 5. This singular vision enabled an extreme level of foreshadowing, plot development and continuity that made the show deeply involving (and impenetrable if you happened upon it in mid-run). So, for example, it's revealed in the very first episode how a main character will die and it takes the whole 5 year run for the full, tragic context to play out. Heck, you have to wait until season 4 to find out why the narration over the opening title credits mentions the third age of mankind.

 
I guess if the show was being made today the first ten minutes of every episode would be taken up with a 'Previously on. . . .' sequence to help you recall the main plot threads, but B5, aside from a few flashbacks and chunks of exposition, never spoon-fed the viewer. So, with its heady mix of clever storytelling, interweaving plots, complex characters, great twists, memorable incidental music, improbable hairstyles, unexpected deaths and most important, consequences, I ought to have been excited about getting a chance to revisit the show, but I wasn't. That's because of the other stuff, the stuff that got in the way of the greatness.

There's season 1 with the goofy stories in which every week a new alien arrives and for no good reason tries to take over the station armed only with dodgy special effects, but is defeated during a massive punch-up. There's those unconvincing muppet aliens (quite simply the worst idea anyone has ever had). And there's Sinclair. When I first saw B5 I reckoned Sinclair had to be the worst actor ever to appear on screen and his ponderous delivery sapped the life out of every scene he was in, which was a problem as he's the main character.

Even when the alien of the week, the muppets and Sinclair left in season 2 the bad acting continued with guest actors either phoning in their performance or hamming it up like pantomime villains. Even the great Season 3 had Grey 17 is Missing, an episode that was so bad the writer apologized before it was transmitted. Then there's the rushed season 4 with the galactic war that took seventy episodes of rising tension before it finally broke out, only for it to be fought and won between commercial breaks.

And there's season 5 when two popular characters had left and way too much time was devoted to the war of the long-haired, soppy telepaths, which some die-hard fans reckon is so unwatchable they refuse to acknowledge it exists. Even the show's main claim to fame works against it with so many characters making cryptic predictions and having prophetic dreams that by the time you get a resolution, often around four years later, it's hard to remember or care any longer.

With all that in mind I wondered whether to delve back in, but to my relief I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. As it turned out, B5 is a show that was designed for binge watching decades before the term became popular. Having a seer opine that 'to avoid your fate you must save the eye that does not see' works better when you find out in a week what it means rather than having to wait a year.

 


In addition, season 1 wasn't as bad as I remembered. I don't think it was down to now knowing about the personal problems the actor who played Sinclair was having, but this time round I enjoyed his stiff-backed approach. The other acting also wasn't as bad as I feared, with the scenery chewing performances being fun along with seeing actors I hadn't remembered were in it such as Bishop Brennan from Father Ted and Citizen Smith's dad. In fact there was a strange overuse of English actors, who all had that odd English accent that's only ever used on US TV shows. Even the weak stories were watchable as they usually had a decent B-plot, or a memorable scene, or something that advanced the arc story.
 
I'd also forgotten how funny the show is. Amidst all the angst, pain, suffering, self-sacrifice, unrequited love and the epic battle between order and chaos for the control of the universe for all eternity, there were plenty of good jokes. The docking guard stating that nothing ever surprises him any more only for Elvis to walk past, Ivanova somehow keeping a straight face during her boom-shaba-laba dance, the usually verbose G'Kar working on a swearing-in oath for days and coming up with: 'Do you want to be President?' My favourite joke was one that livened up an all-too-familiar scene in which Garibaldi has to get past a guard to break Sheridan out of a cell. Garibaldi tries the novel approach of telling the guard he's been on TV, only to get the deadpan response of: 'I don't watch TV. It's a cultural wasteland filled with inappropriate metaphors and an unrealistic portrayal of life created by the liberal media elite.'

Season 5 was also more entertaining than I'd expected. Although Byron's hair, the singing and the dopey telepaths were far, far worse than I remember. What I did like is that it gave the characters a long goodbye. Most shows cram a resolution to the story along with tearful goodbyes into the final few minutes of the final episode, but B5 devoted several episodes to letting everyone depart in their own good time. The fact that many of the characters' fates were tragic made them all the better.

Just about the only drawback was that the main storyline no longer feels plausible, as it features the follicly-challenged President Clark ascending to power with help from secretive outside forces and then instigating a Make Earth Great Again policy that involves promoting extreme patriotism, starting wars and victimizing alien immigrants. Then he diverts attention away from his fascist agenda by stirring up race hate and social divisions, and sacking anyone who disagrees with him. After which he imposes increasingly dictatorial policies while using state controlled media to support his alternative facts and to dismiss all opposition as fake news. This sort of stuff is just too fanciful and could never actually happen, but then again I suppose it is SF.
 

Anyhow, I'll stop banging on and leave the final word to G'Kar with his closing speech from season 3, another one of those epic moments I'd forgotten about that got the show its reputation as being the best ever SF TV series:

'There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos. . .  and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born. . . in pain.'

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Paperback version of Yates's Dilemma now available



When Wendell Moon hightailed it out of Monotony, he left in his wake a murdered lawman and a mob braying for his blood. Fifteen years later the word is out – Wendell Moon is back! But, for Sheriff Cassidy Yates, Wendell’s unwelcome return rekindles old vendettas and ignites three days of raging gun battles.
Now the sheriff has the impossible duty of keeping the peace, but as if that isn’t enough Wendell also claims he never killed the lawman!
If Cassidy doesn’t unearth the truth quickly, Wendell’s trigger-happy enemies will deliver their own form of gun-toting justice. Real trouble lies ahead!

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Bleached Bones in the Dust now available on Kindle

Bleached Bones in the Dust is now available on Kindle. This was my 20th Black Horse Western.
 
 
The inspiration for this tale came with the title, which sounded like it ought to have a story attached. So I started off and wrote about some old bones being found. Then I just carried on writing until I found out who had died, why he had died, and whether there were any more bones buried out there in the dust. . .
 
For twenty years, bounty hunter Montgomery Grant searched for Lomax Rhinehart, desperate to make him pay for an atrocity he committed during the dying days of the war.
So when Grant’s friend, Wallace Sheckley, told him that he had found Lomax, Grant followed him to Sunrise, but Arnold Hays and his gunslingers were holding the town in the grip of fear. Nobody would help him and worse Wallace had gone missing and Lomax was nowhere to be found.
With Arnold Hays the key to Grant finding out what has happened to both his friend and his enemy, he must turn to his gun to get the answers he needs. . . .
It's now available from all good amazon stores.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Vengeful Deputy

I’m pleased to report that Crowood Press have accepted my western The Vengeful Deputy. It’ll be my 37th Black Horse Western and it should be published later in the year.

Here’s my draft blurb:

The town of Lone Ridge was a lawless hell-hole until the ruthless Nyle King provided order by eliminating all the gunslingers. With Nyle then controlling the town and ensuring that everyone who opposes him ends up dead, U.S. Marshal Caine tasks his deputy Gabriel Flynn with bringing Nyle to justice.

Gabriel goes to Lone Ridge, but only because he's been searching for the outlaw who killed his brother and Nyle may be the key to finding him. As it turns out, Nyle claims that the recent deaths in town aren't his work and that someone is trying to frame him.

With Gabriel no longer knowing who to trust, all he can be sure of is that only hard lead will unmask the guilty and let him finally have his vengeance.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The bad... redux

I guess I should apologize to the makers of Safe House. Last week I droned on about how this was the worst thing I’d seen on TV in 2017. With only 10 days left in the year I doubted it was possible for anything worse to come along. Then along came Bancroft.


With a stellar cast of Sarah Parish, Kenneth Cranham, Art Malik and, er, Ade Edmonson it sounded like a good drama, but it started off badly, went downhill fast and ended in the gutter. Somehow it managed to take all the bad things in Safe House and crank them up a notch.

I poked fun at Safe House for ‘restaging’ a scene from Line of Duty. Bancroft went one better and ‘restaged’ the entire plot from LoD, with cops shooting cops, evidence tampering, cops interrogating cops, secret meetings in a police van etc all happening in exactly the same points in the story. Except LoD had Ted Hastings and his meticulously gathered stack of compelling evidence to destroy the bad guy and Bancroft had Eddie Hitler and his illegally obtained used condom (don't ask) so Bancroft walked away without a stain to her character.

Safe House had a daft solution to the murder mystery, so Bancroft went one better with the killer, who was straight, killing her lesbian lover because the lover had only pretended to love her in revenge for having had an affair with her husband, or something like that.

Safe House failed to have a single scene that made sense because nothing was explained, so Bancroft went one better and had stuff that could never make sense even if everything was explained. At one point the title character fire-bombed the house of the key witness she was supposed to be protecting as part of her cunning plan to discredit another cop, and got away with it, and this didn’t even get in the top 5 implausible things to happen between the commercial breaks.

I’ve always thought there should be more shows where the bad guy is the main character and they get away with it. Then I watched Bancroft. I never want to see another show do that again.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The king is dead. Long live the queen

So it’s goodbye to Peter Capaldi and welcome to Jodie Whitaker. When the news first broke about the identity of the new Doctor I was disappointed. I reckoned Doctor Who needed a shake up and I liked the idea of a change of dynamic with a female Doctor, but I wasn’t sure about the choice.

 

If the new showrunner wanted an actress from Broadchurch, JW wouldn’t have been in my top 3 choices. Phoebe double-barrelled something, the bookies’ favourite, was tall and quirky enough to pull it off, Vicky McClure’s eyebrows are just as watchable as Capaldi’s, and Olivia Colman is great in anything, but having seen Jodie being the Doctor for a few seconds I reckon she’ll work – provided she gets some decent stories.

Seeing PC try his best to spark life into yet another plot-free story just showed that a new take on Doctor Who is long overdue. PC should have been the greatest ever Doctor. Heck, he’s Malcolm Tucker. The guy can do comedy, tragedy, menace and drama, often all at the same time, and yet he just never got the chance to let rip. The ending brought this home to me when his nostalgic look back on his achievements only produced a sick dalek from an episode I’d forgotten about and a couple of dopey assistants looking sad.

I watched David Tennant’s regeneration episode over Xmas and his prolonged death scene is annoying, but I have to admit it was deserved as he did have numerous great call backs to be nostalgic about, but sadly PC just didn’t have any epic moments. He was a brilliant Doctor trapped in a poor run. So as even his closing monologue was pedestrian, I thought I’d recall Malcolm Tucker’s closing monologue (edited for language) from The Thick of It, as curiously it works for the Doctor, too. Now that’s how a character should leave a show with his head held high.

"You know Jackie effing Chan about me. You know eff all about me. I am totally beyond the realms of your effing tousle-haired effing dim-witted compre-effing-hension. I don't just take this effing job home, you know. I take this job home, it effing ties me to the bed, and it effing effs me from arsehole to breakfast. Then it wakes me up in the morning with a cup full of piss slammed in my face, slaps me about the chops to make sure I'm awake enough so it can kick me in the effing bollocks. This job has taken me in every hole in my effing body. "Malcolm!" it's gone, you can't know Malcolm because Malcolm is not here. Malcolm effing left the building effing years ago. This is a effing husk, I am a effing host for this effing job. Do you want this job? Yes? You do effing want this job? Then you're going to have to swallow this whole effing life and let it grow inside you like a parasite, getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it effing eats your insides alive and it stares out of your eyes and tells you what to do. I'm going to leave the stage with my head held effing high. What you're going to see is a master class in effing dignity, son. The audience will be on their feet. "There he goes!" they'll say. No friends - no ‘real’ friends. No children, no glory, no memoirs. Well, eff them."