Monday 31 August 2009

Big Brother: ending with a whimper not a bang

Three months ago I reported on the start of the latest run of the reality tv show Big Brother UK-10. I said I was writing for the benefit of the half-dozen or so people who still cared. With the finale due this week, it appears the main mistake I made was to exaggerate the number of people still watching. The show's been axed due to apathy. Even the announcement of its demise was greeted with apathy.

So where did it all go wrong? How did the most popular reality show in the land come to go out in such a low-key manner? The reasons behind its fall from grace are long and complex, but this year's show has provided a microcosm of the problems, and of the problems of reality tv in general, because this year it has actually been rather good. It deserved to get double the audience it got, and yet nobody could be bothered to watch some of the show's most memorable ever characters:

There were nice guys: Marcus, the nearest the show has come to putting an ordinary bloke into the house for many years: a mid 30s biker-type with long hair and a healthy disdain for everything. There was Freddie, the toff with a mansion and a total lack of self-awareness that meant he really thought he was a great singer, orator and a man who understood others. There was Angel, a walking talking piece of performance art.

There were the ones who were probably nice if they'd lasted: Hira, who provided us with the most cringeworthy moment of the series with her inability to understand a simple task that required her to take two balls out of a bag, made epic in its stupidity as it was shown live and the program was running out of time. There was Tom, a successful businessman who came in, found that the show was full of vain wannabees and promptly left. Did he think he was joining a Mensa meeting? There was Saffia, who came from my home town so she must have been nice but left before I realized she was there.

There were the ones who might have been misunderstood: Cairon, put in to represent the cool teenagers of today and who therefore did what teenagers do and hid in his bed all day. Except in his exit interview he was intelligent and erudite, so perhaps there was more to him, like Kris. He was the worst type of housemate in that he was only interested in getting in the tabloids. So he tried to have a fake romance with the dimmest girl in the house who had the largest balloons strapped to her chest. Again when he came out he was self-deprecating and almost sensible. So who knows if he was contemptible or just plain tedious?

Then there were the ones who were fascinating despite being horrible: Noirin, the ultimate femme fatale, who was adored by more housemates than anyone in BB history. Marcus was devoted, Sree went mad with desire, Siavash dumped his girlfriend for her and Angel self-destructed over her. The rest just admired her from afar, smitten by her blank eyes, gormless touthy expression and scintillating conversation about hair extensions, until they put her fake ex-boyfriend in. Then she ditched everyone, went out to the loudest boos in history, then fake-dumped her fake ex-boyfriend and hurried to the tabloids. I'm sure we all wish her well. Then there was Sree, about whom I dare not say anything in case he reads this article. And there was Kenneth, the world's most successful wheeler-dealer who has negotiated nine figure deals and sat opposite some of the most dangerous men in the world, and yet who was reduced to tears when Bea told him off.

Which brings us on to the gloriously awful Bea, a hippy recruitment consultant who was so principled she couldn't bear to be nasty to anyone, except every single person in the house. A woman who could cry for England, but never got wet. A woman, who could reduce the whole house to total despair with her lectures on why she wasn't being negative. A woman who could go on and on and on for several days complaining about how other people went on and on and on. A woman who could make hard men like Kenneth cry and make wimpy men like Freddie hide under the bedclothes with her lectures on why they were making her really, really upset. A woman who was so self-absorbed she could probably turn the news that a friend was about to die from a hideous terminal disease around to somehow being a tragedy that affected only her. I missed her. She was fun.

And then there were the people who weren't fascinating, but were just plain horrible. But more about them later. First, how come with such a heady mix did these characters not attract more interest?

Commentators have offered a variety of opinions involving changing social factors, fans have offered a non-variety of opinions revolving around production errors, and the producers have offered opinions about the show not being cool any more. Most of this boils down to the simple fact that people got bored with it.

My ten cents' worth on the reason for that boredom comes from the gradual change in the focus of the show. BB is a mixture of two formats: the social experiment and the gameshow. The former element has been much derided, but I believe it is still there alive and kicking and doing everything it has always done. That is because most people misunderstand the social experiment that is being carried out. It is not us, the viewers, being voyeurs and seeing what makes people tick by observing the inane and the just plain freaky. It is us who are being watched. By watching social interaction and making judgement on that interaction we expose our own prejudices. That is still the case.

This year we got to see all the usual messy and complex interactions of humans, and we judged them and so we judged ourselves. We got to see almost the whole house ganging up on Freddie. Everyone viewed the same footage and yet some thought it was bullying and some thought it was his fault for distancing himself with his irritating behaviour. We got to see men reduced to gibbering wrecks because Noirin smiled at them. Some thought she was deliberately leading them on to their destruction; others thought it showed how men are idiots and misread flirting signals. And then there was Marcus and his legendary non-pc rants, including the best moment of the whole show with his attack on pc culture. Some saw what happened to provoke that attack and thought him a racist for being rude to Sree; others just thought Sree was an annoying little twerp. Marcus's address to the nation that everyone has a right to not like people regardless of their colour, class or creed should be printed out and pinned on the walls of Ofcom then quoted back to anyone who writes to them. But not everyone agreed with him. So which is the truth? There is none. It depends on your viewpoint. That was point of BB. It presented situations and let the viewer make up their minds.

With the social experiment still functioning, the failure of the show was therefore down to the demise of the competition element. BB, in common with all reality tv show competitions, is about the triumph of good over evil, of the success of the nice and the talented over the nasty and the talentless. That's what keeps people tuning in to X-factor and the like. It’s the belief that ultimately the most worthy will win through, even if they are ruining cover versions of dull Whitney Houston songs. Even BB has kept to this ideal. It's usually been hard for me to accept this as until last year I've never actually liked the people who win, but I can accept they are worthy of their triumph.

The show started with BB1 in which decent bloke Craig slew the beast that was Nasty Nick, won, then gave all his winnings away to a disabled friend, having told nobody he'd do this. Frankly it was inevitable it'd be downhill from there. 2 saw Brian win on the strength of making people laugh. 3 saw Kate the fun ladette win and 4 gave us Cameron the principled man from Orkney. 5 brought the first sob story with Nadia the transsexual and 6 Anthony the poseur who won because he was too dim to notice that bunny-boiler Craig fancied him. 7 brought us Pete, who most definitely didn’t win because he was a cross-dressing crusty with tourettes. 8 gave us Brian and his dim Essex boy act and 9 gave us Rachel who was so nice she actually had a job.

So every year has been a comfort. The nice have triumphed over the horrid, those who went in for a laugh and have absolutely no interest in a media career (as if!) have won over the blatant attention-seekers, the nice girls have defeated the glamour models. There's something strangely comforting in seeing people who represent everything that is wrong with society being booed (even if they go on to sell their stories) and those with decent values getting cheered (even if you never see them again).

The format works. The good guys get together, they spot the bad guys, they nominate them, the public vote them out until finally the best good guy triumphs. It's fiction masquerading as reality because that is what stories are about: the triumph of the good guys in the face of adversity. Nobody wants to watch a version of The Magnificent Seven in which seven battered heroes get together to take on the bandits. Then they all get shot up after half an hour and the rest of the film is taken up with the bandits chortling over their success. But increasingly that story has become more likely because in reality tv the good guys come over as a bit dull and the bad guys provide the water-cooler moments. So every year the balance between the good and the bad has been shifted more and more towards the bad.

Last year seemed to have gone as far as they could. 2/3rds of the housemates were awful people, but somehow the good banded together and removed Luke and Bex and Dale and Stuart and Kat and all the other people who should never be on our tv screens. This year they went further still and shifted the balance so much that there were only a handful of decent people in the house, people you would actually like to spend time with in the real world. And so this year the inevitable happened. The bandits got their act together and shot up the Magnificent Seven and so we're left with watching the bandits gloat over their control of the house.

In some ways I reckon it's therefore appropriate that in the week in which the show was cancelled, viewers must choose a winner from amongst a group of people who represent all the worst aspects of modern life. We have:

Siavash: Style over substance man: The only one left I can accept winning, but that's only because the others are so awful. He's spent 3 months struggling to complete a sentence. He's devoted all his time to game-playing while saying he hates the competition. He announced last week that he'll give his money to charity if he wins, but nobody believed him. He loves dressing up and looking at himself in mirrors. He loves himself more than the girlfriend he dumped or the woman he failed to woo. Made me smile in week 3 though when he was dressed up in a barrel.

Lisa - Compensation culture woman: She contributes nothing, expects everything. She's always first in line with a hand out to get what she reckons she's due, but always outside at the bus stop whining about other people who do get off their butts when there's something needing done. She's spent three months in the house and most of it has been spent smoking fags, spending all the food budget on fags, not smoking the free fags she was given as she's saving them for when she comes out, and explaining why she doesn’t like to work to earn the money to buy herself more fags. Made me smile last week when dressed up as an alien.

David - Stupid and proud of it man: talks non-stop very loudly but never actually says anything other than a constant stream of 'you know what I mean' clich├ęs. Utterly proud of all his achievements in the house, although it's hard to think of any, and says he will walk out with his head held high for having sat at a bus stop whining with Lisa for 7 weeks. Hates new thoughts and experiences, but makes a virtue of ignorance. Does know where the cameras are though and will repeat anything inane he says three times from various angles in case the cameras missed it. Made me smile last week when dressed up as an alien.

Sophie - Heat magazine girl: anyone looking for evidence of the kind of adults that will be produced after spending their childhood exposed to vacuous celebrity culture need only look at her and her enormous balloons. Claims she can't find the UK on a map and she isn't sure who King Obama is, but she can calculate instantly the money she can make from being photographed at any given celebrity bash. She'll probably win for two big reasons (ooh, er missus): She's ticked all the boxes her press agent told her to fill with her fake breasts, fake hair, fake tan, fake drunk act, frank dumb act, fake romance and fake break-up. And she's very popular with young girls who have got fed up with having Jordan as their role model for everything they don’t want to achieve in life. Made me smile in week 4 when Freddie hit her in the face with a paint bomb and she didn’t notice.

Rodrigo - Self-absorbed man: personification of the cult of me, me, me. Has no interest in anything that goes on outside his own body. Will scream complaints for hours after being asked to be quiet, but has no qualms about screaming at others to do the same. Will have a tantrum about others getting angry. Will deride people for being disrespectful at the top of his voice while trashing the bedroom, throwing water over Charlie and screaming the house down like Violet Elizabeth Bott after too many sugary drinks. Probably thinks irony is like goldy and brassy but made out of iron, and presents conclusive proof that if you're male and pretty you can get away with anything. Rod could never make me smile.

Charlie - I haven't done nothing wrong man: utterly convinced he's a decent bloke, a funny bloke, a popular bloke even though we can see the unattractive sweat of desperation on his brow. He didn’t burn down the school, he was just having a laugh and playing with matches. He didn't mug the granny, he was just holding a broken bottle for a friend and didn’t mean nothing by it. He didn't knife someone, he was just enjoying himself and anyhow the dead man started it. I never done nothing, me... The sad thing is he believes it even as his list of crimes against humanity grows, the most annoying being he has yet to be filmed for more than thirty seconds without sticking his hands down his pants. He's utterly convinced he'll win on account of the fake romance he's had with Rodrigo and his hilarious comedy routines in which he brought in comedy props to entertain the housemates for hours on end. His comedy is so poor it hasn’t been shown on tv yet for fear of giving his young fans nightmares as it involves dressing up as his alter-ego Nana, who looks and acts like Norman Bates' mum. Nana is the most disturbing thing I've ever seen and I watched that live autopsy show. Has yet to make me smile, but I live in hope of some humour when he fails to win and goes out sulking and snarling with his hands down his pants.

So there we have it. Who wins? Who cares? Not me. Big Brother 2001-2009. The contract ends next year so it'll be back for one more year apparently, but somehow I doubt they'll bother. There's nowhere left to go. The inmates won.

Friday 28 August 2009

First Contact? By Hugh Walters

Review #12 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.
With Chris's plucky chums returning alive from Neptune, the failure of the British space program to take a look at Uranus now becomes a major concern. But the tricky problem of what to call the mission has yet to be solved. Luckily, help is at hand when another bout of mysterious radiation arrives mysteriously and attacks earth, and this time it's from Uranus.

With earth yet again paralysed by mysterious alien radiation, an emergency meeting of scientists decide they have to have a close look at Uranus no matter how embarrassing it will be. Someone though has the great idea to entitle the mission First Contact? (pub 1971).

With that major issue resolved, the crew hurries off to the gas giant where they make first contact with the alien race responsible for the bout of mysterious radiation. Nobody worries that they've met umpteen aliens before and this is about the eighth contact, but it turns out that this time the aliens are jolly decent chaps and they don't want to conquer earth. It's all been a bit of a mistake. Despite some gloomy mutterings from the crew, the chummy aliens eventually win everyone over and everybody heads home.

Next week the series bows out when Chris runs out of planets to explore.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Line-up for Express Westerns 2nd Anthology

The legends revealed at Writealot

Ridin' the Culbin Trail

A big thanks to Dave for his item about my blog at Davy Crockett's Almanack

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge #4

The fourth part of the exciting western short story with no name is now available at: Davy Crockett's Almanack

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

In brief, each week a different author is writing 500 words in a western short story. The first author to volunteer to go next gets to write the next section.

Part 5 has yet to be booked.

Monday 24 August 2009

I have a cunning plan

I am the guest blogger on the Avalon Authors blog where I reveal the inspiration behind the characters in my most recent Avalon Western The Treasure of Saint Woody ('I have a cunning plan' is a bit of a clue!).

Saturday 22 August 2009

Railroad to Redemption

I received news today that my 19th BHW Railroad to Redemption will be published in August 2010.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Short story accepted for Where Legends Ride #2

Nik Morton has accepted my short story The Man Who Shot Garfield Delany for Express Westerns' second anthology, to be published later in the year.

Details about the first anthology Where Legends Ride can be found at:

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge #3

The third part of the as yet untitled western short story is now available at: Tokyo West

Part 1
Part 2

In brief, each week a different author is writing 500 words in a western short story. The first author to volunteer to go next gets to write the next section.

Part 4 will appear next week at: Davy Crockett's Almanack

Tuesday 18 August 2009

100 Books you must read... apparently

Joanne Walpole tagged me with this meme concerning what is claimed to be the 100 best books. There's only one that I'd put on my own 100 best books list and they do seem heavily weighted in favour of older worthy British books with a smattering of recent ones to prove the compilers aren't too academic. Apparently the BBC claim that on average readers will have read 6 of these books. As most of them are the kind of books they are fond of adapting into dull and worthy tv series it makes me wonder why they bother.

Anyhow, I've highlighted the 20 I've read and added some comments. I'll tag some people elsewhere.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (outdated - proves they know nothing about Fantasy)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (no way!)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (brave choice for the 6th best work of fiction!)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (dull)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (one of my favourites)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (10 places below Potter!)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (I was 12!)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (thought I should, annoyed I did)
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (Have these people read any sf?)
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (What can I say?)
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (read 42 times)
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (Read as a kid, didn't get it)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Graham (as above)
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma-Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (Why is this in at 33 too?)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (good times)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
(better than 1984)
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (you have got to be kidding!)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving (Not Irving's best by a long way)
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy (school text)
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (dull)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert (now I know they don't like sf. Over-rated.)
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (more thoughtful than 1984)
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (School again)
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (school text. I saw the film instead)
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker (started so I didn't finish)
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce (started but my brain exploded)
76 The Inferno – Dante (had a go, but I preferred Larry Niven's version)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (flaming school text)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks (not as good as his sf)
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Monday 17 August 2009

Nearly Neptune by Hugh Walters

Review #11 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.

For his next adventure, Chris returns to space at which point we encounter the biggest disappointment of the series. After systematically exploring every planet in the solar system, usually with an alliterative title, every schoolboy fan was eagerly awaiting Chris going off to search for Uranus. The hours of fun to be had from just holding a book with Probe to Uranus or Find Uranus on the front cover were immeasurable. Sadly, the British space program decided that sending four blokes and a top-notch gal off on a two-year mission to explore the rings around Uranus might not be a good use of public money. So they decided they should head for Neptune instead in Nearly Neptune (pub 1968).

This was the last of the great Chris Godfrey books, and possibly the best, although as I was on the verge of getting too old to read them any more I didn't like this as much as the Venus tale. The story opens with a great hook of an opening line: 'Chris Godfrey is dead.' A good attention grabber there!

Chris isn’t dead of course, but before we learn the truth, we backtrack a bit. For this mission, cryogenics are required to survive the long journey. The lads, minus the gal as chilly Neptune is no place for a gal (and besides if a telepathic twin went on the mission she'd ruin the story by telling her twin everything... or then again it might just have been that she was a gal), are put into suspended animation and sent off to Neptune. Sadly, when they are halfway there the teapot overheats and a fire breaks out on board. Everyone wakes up coughing and by the time they've opened the windows and let the smoke out, they are in big trouble.

One of the suspended animation booths is ruined, they have little air, little food, little water and they're heading in the wrong direction slowly with no way to turn back until they've gone around Neptune, a journey of a year both ways. With the situation looking dire, Chris volunteers to not go into suspended animation and to die bravely.

Everyone quickly agrees to this plan as by this stage in the series they've had enough of him commanding every flaming mission into space and them being the only astronauts on the planet who are allowed to explore anything. So they quickly go to sleep before he can change his mind.

Chris passes his time before he dies bravely by avoiding switching on the radio. He scoffs up all the food, but by the time the ship arrives at Neptune, he's so weak and cold he can't summon the energy to wake everybody up to have a look at the planet. So he takes some snap-shots and sketches a few drawings of what everything looks like to help the scientists back home do important scientific stuff. Then he keels over from hunger and cold.

Luckily though, he's so cold and weak he falls into natural suspended animation. For a year he travels back to earth frozen like a giant icicle in the ruined ship and he doesn’t wake up until the sun thaws him out, conveniently just as the ship is about to enter earth orbit. Chris's alive, the world cries, and so the adventures can continue.

Next week Chris has another go at finding Uranus.

Friday 14 August 2009

The Gor Saga by John Norman

The Gor Saga was a fantasy series that ran mainly through the 1970s and 80s and which related the adventures of Tarl Cabot.

Tarl was brought up on earth, but one day he found himself transported to the fabulous world of Gor. This planet was located, for no important reason, on the other side of the sun in a position where it was invisible from earth.

Gor was a fantasy world of endless possibilities, filled with kingdoms to be defended, warring factions, dark dungeons, princesses that needed rescuing from towers and mighty dragons. Unfortunately, Cabot had no interest in these wonders as he was more interested in skulking around in his dirty raincoat and flashing passers-by.

Actually that's a bit unfair as when the series started it was one of the best sword and sorcery fantasy series around. In each of the early books Tarl Cabot devoted himself to a round of derring-do. He faced mighty beasts and survived. He challenged champion gladiators and won. He was thrown into bottomless dungeons from which no man has ever escaped, and he escaped.

This was all good stuff. As the books progressed, Cabot became involved with the slave trade. Initially he freed slaves, but later his loyalties changed and he helped traders to defend their cargo against marauders. This culminated in a great moment in book 6 where Tarl became bored with being a hero and decided he could have more fun batting for the other side. He changed his name and sought out new worlds to conquer. He didn't have to look far to discover the kind of fun a big bloke can have in a world filled with slaves, or more particularly slave-girls, or even more particularly very obliging slave-girls...

The big problem came with the 8th book called The Heavy Breather of Gor. In this epic tale Cabot decided to track down the most prized slave-girls in all the land, the fabled Amazon women from somewhere or other with a long name. He tracked them down, rounded them up, and chained them together. Lengthy descriptions followed of how he tied them up and what it felt like to be tied up and humiliated.

Later, the Amazon women escaped and they turned the tables on Cabot. They tied him up then had their revenge by taunting and humiliating him. Again, lots of description of the chaining up process and the humiliation he felt followed. A further plot twist came when he escaped and re-captured the Amazon women and chained them up again and had his revenge by humiliating them.

I kept on reading in the hope that the fantasy tale would get back on track (honest!), but it didn't. The final straw for me came when Cabot realized that he enjoyed being tied up and so he decided to take turns with the Amazon woman in playing being the victim. At this point, a flick through the remainder of the book revealed that the rest of the story was devoted to more chains, humiliation and tying up.

And so a promising fantasy saga had died because having got the books on the bookshelves and built up a fanbase, the author decided to unleash his secret cunning plan on the unsuspecting bookworld. Basically that plan involved getting mucky books published as fantasy to allow devotees of this kind of thing to buy such stories from recognised high street bookstores. If the Gor saga had been marketed as what it actually was, someone would have got uptight about it and the books would have been banned. So it made good marketing sense to get a few genuine fantasy books published and then pretend the rest of the books in the series were fantasy too and hope nobody noticed. And for quite a while nobody did!

After I gave up on them, the books continued to be published for another fifteen or so novels, and I gather they were full of more bondage, chains, whipping, domination and submission etc before someone somewhere must have noticed and very quickly they were driven into oblivion.

If this sounds a bit prudish, perhaps it is, but this series really annoyed me because the first few books were a lot of fun and they hooked in many readers before it all got weird. Some even carried on reading in the increasingly forlorn hope that the sword and sorcery plot would come back. It didn't.

Worse, I've just discovered that the series has recently had something of a rediscovery and the author is writing new books. Be afraid, be very afraid!

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge

Last week I set a short story challenge in which I posted up the first 500 words of a short story. This week Ray from Jack's Open Range has written the second section. Enjoy. Charlie from Tokyo West will write the third part.

Friday 7 August 2009

The Mohole Mystery by Hugh Walters

Review #10 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.
After Chris had explored every planet in the solar system out to Saturn, we got a change of pace in the bizarrely titled The Mohole Mystery (pub 1968). To this day I have no idea what a Mohole is and I resisted the urge to google it as I'm quite happy to stay ignorant.

After travelling a billion miles on his trip to Saturn, for this adventure Chris took the novel route of going five miles in the opposite direction. Apparently, a big hole has been uncovered beneath Dudley, Tony's home, and unless the reason why it's there can be discovered, it’s possible Dudley could fall down it and disappear. It seems this hole was discovered a long time ago and nobody saw this as a problem, but for the want of anything better to do scientists drop Serge Smyslov down the hole to see what happens.

Not surprisingly, Serge goes ouch when he hits the bottom and then is trapped in his Soviet-designed broken mohole exploring capsule. This looks like a job for small astronaut Chris Godfrey. Chris climbs into his British-designed mohole exploring capsule with big cushions on the bottom, drops down the hole and rescues his chum, again. They have a few tricky moments when they get attacked by weird egg creatures that explode into dust if you touch them that live in big holes beneath Dudley, but they still get out.

Next week the series has its biggest disappointment.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge

As a bit of fun to see if we can continue Wild Bunch Wednesday for a while longer, this week I'm setting a short story challenge. Below is the first 500 words of a western story and the challenge is to write the next 500 (or so) words.

This scene came about while I was writing my last western Railroad to Redemption. I wrote it as the prologue using my usual technique of writing bits and pieces that I hoped would make sense later. I had no idea who the man was, why he did what he did, whether he survived, or even if he was of major or minor importance to the story.

When I'd finished the book the answer came that he had nothing to do with the story at all, as none of the characters featured again and nobody else felt an urge to mention him, so I deleted the passage. I did wonder about writing a new story with this opening, but I couldn't think how to move it on, so I offer it here in case anyone has an idea how to continue the story.

The rules are that whoever posts a comment first and offers to continue can carry on the story on their own blog. Please provide links back so that people can follow the whole story, and try to post the continuation next Wednesday using the same rules for whoever wants to pick up the pen for the next week. The story can be continued in any way with new characters, new setting, new time-frame etc. The story is untitled and so is open to whoever wishes to provide one. Anyone can end the story, but if they do so, they must provide a 500 word opening to another story some time.

The words below are an unpolished first draft and I haven't checked out the factual elements, so it's fine for anyone who wants to continue to not be as word-perfect as they would normally be. Anyhow, if nobody wants to accept the challenge, then that's fine!

"Come and see this," Merrill Wyman said. "Some fool is standing on the tracks."

Jerome Meeker stopped shovelling wood to join Merrill in peering over the side of the engine. Impossible as it had sounded, Merrill was right. A man was standing on the tracks, around 300 yards ahead. From such a distance and with the evening light fading fast Jerome couldn't be sure what he was doing but he appeared to be just standing there looking down at the ground.

Jerome dragged on the brake lever, tearing a desperate screech from the wheels. The reek of tortured metal overpowered the engine smell. It was a futile gesture as the train would require a quarter-mile to stop, but at least using the brakes would give the fool more time to move.

"Get off the tracks!" Jerome yelled although it was unlikely the man would be able to hear him while Merrill clanged the bell.

The sound would be loud enough to be heard in Matlock, four miles further on, but this didn't alert the man who remained hunched and staring downwards.

They were now 200 yards away and the man had around twenty seconds in which to move or die. Still he didn't react although the brake shoe was locking the wheels and the bell was tolling its insistent plea.

Now Jerome could see that the man was grey-haired and so stooped with age. There was also something familiar about him... But it was almost too late.

Then he looked up, but the train was only seconds away from hitting him. His gaze alighted on the engine looming over him. If its appearance shocked him, he didn't show it. Instead, he raised his arm and clutched in his outstretched hand was a six-shooter. He fired at the approaching train, his mouth opening wide. Blazing hatred contorted his face as he shouted something that Jerome couldn't hear.

Merrill and Jerome both jerked backwards. Lead cannoned off the engine. A stray bullet tore through the small window and ricocheted around before departing.

Then the gunfire stopped.

Merrill and Jerome looked at each other, sighing as they both wondered if the man had got his wits about him at the last moment and saved himself.

Jerome glanced over the right-hand side then backwards while Merrill took the other side. To his dismay Jerome saw a hunched shape lying beside the tracks. The cowcatcher would have tossed him aside but even so the pained look each man gave the other said they didn't think he could have survived the impact.

The train had now slowed sufficiently for one of them to jump down, yet both men stood frozen in place, reluctant to go back and find out what state the man was in.

"You check on him," Merrill said finally. "I'll see if there's a doctor amongst the passengers who can help him."

"I don't think he'd want that help," Jerome said. "He just let the train hit him."

Merrill provided a sorry shake of the head. "He sure did, but why would a man do that?"

Jerome shrugged. Then, with a heavy heart, he jumped down from the train.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Space War Blues by Richard A. Lupoff

After a massive saga in just getting the book to publication, the long-awaited novel version of Lupoff's Bentfin Boomer short stories came out in the late 1970s to much fanfare. Then it was promptly forgotten about and to my knowledge the book hasn’t been reprinted.

This is sad as it's one of my favourite sf tales since I first came across the best of the original short stories With the Bentfin Boomer Boys on Little Old New Alabama in Harlan Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions anthology. The opening sentence is a classic and instantly grabbed me:

Well he didn't like it the hot dust blowing, crusting and it made him have to blink a lot standing still a gentleman doesn't move under the circs but you can blink yes by the end of the whole thing it's like sleeping too long the dust tears get caked up and make a gritty crusty blob at the corner of your eye where the nictating eyelid would push it clear if you were a frog (too late - you're not).

This is one of the few stories I've ever come across where by the end of the first sentence you know that you will either love the story or you stop reading there and then. Most of the rest of the story was written in this phonetic style. Although the novel-length mock-up has more sections with grammatical writing, but that helps to reduce the intensity and increase the enjoyment.

Usually I'm not a fan of this type of literary indulgence. In science-fiction there have been many attempts to try experimental writing styles. Brian Aldiss's Barefoot in the Head tried to go all James Joyce, but it just gave me a headache. Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker bored me senseless and more recently Iain M. Banks's Feersum Endjinn put me off his books so badly I haven’t read once since.

The problem to my mind is that in these cases the authors put so much effort into creating a clever writing style they didn't have much creative energy left for producing an equally clever story. The result is the reader invests a huge amount of time translating the story only to find out that nothing very interesting is going on anyhow. In the end all the reader is supposed to do is admire the style.

Space Wars Blues is the only novel I've read where this doesn't happen. The writing style is bizarre, but the effort taken to translate the text is worthwhile because there is actually an involving tale going on. And that makes the writing style doubly interesting because ultimately it feels that that was the best way to tell the story.

That's not to say it's a story that'll appeal to everyone as it is a fairly silly space opera romp, but it's fun nonetheless. In Lupoff's vision of the far future, planets have been colonised by old earth countries such as New France, New England and old prejudices have been perpetuated. So the inhabitants of New Alabama declare war on New Haiti. A battle rages between the sophisticated Haitians and the racist Alabamians. The New Haitians seem doomed, but then they hatch a cunning plan. If the Alabamians have returned to the old ways, so can they. So they explore the old religion called voodoo...

Frankly, any story involving space zombies works for me, but add passages like the end of a brutal space fight below, and it becomes a great book that doesn't deserve to be forgotten.

:Gord's lase-axehead comes down on the back armor with a pacifying thukky noise, armor m bone conducted right up Gord's arm to two much-graitifed ears m Gord wrenchesiz l-a free m kicks papadoc's body spinning infinitely away m Gord looks around for new worlds to conquer m comes face to face with another spacerine m:
:he brings an axe around m:
:he brings an axe around m:
:he opens his mouth in a silent shriek m:
:he opens his mouth in a silent shriek m:
:the axe, blooded m starlit, swings gracefully m:
:the axe, blooded m starlit, swings gracefully m:
:smashing, m blood gushing, m a sound:
:smashing, m blood gushing, m a sound:
:a scream too loud too shrill m:
:a scream too loud too shrill m:
: :
: :