Goodbye, Doctor Who…

17 Jul

So, the new Doctor is a woman. Apparently, she’s very good, so it may be that the BBC genuinely chose the person they thought was best, but, given a couple of decades of raising the prospect, it can’t help but wonder if it’s been done to chase headlines or burnish their inclusivity halo (unless it’s just cost-cutting, given the claims they underpay their female stars).

Of course, there have been howls of outrage of the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ sort, so my personal disgust at the decisions may seem like more of the same, but it’s not. (If it helps, as far I’m concerned, it reached the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ point a few seasons back and my views on this decisions are more fundamental. I won’t be watching the new series, but I’ve seen only a few episodes across the last three or four, so it’s hardly a great protest.)

Between the huffing of those who hate change and those crowing about a feminist victory, a couple of key points seem to have been overlooked as the BBC betrays a generation of boys and girls. (My apologies to any regular readers who will have seen all this before.)

Why the boys have been let down should be obvious to anyone who can see past issues of continuity and gender revolution: the Doctor represents a rarity amongst the role-models presented to young boys. He is serious (but not stuffy), clever, asexual and non-violent, yet still exciting and brave, a character that taught boys they didn’t have to grow-up to be a thug, a fool or a sex addict. It’s ironic that, as people supposedly become more accepting and inclusive, that boys should have their horizons circumscribed.

Why the girls have been let down might be less obvious given the cries that this represents a feminist victory. You could call it that, but only if your idea of a victory is a pathetic one built upon a foundation of over fifty years of men playing the part. Given that the BBC stands accused of underpaying its female stars, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t believe a genuinely-female creation can be a success. If they wanted a female equivalent to the Doctor, they could have created a series based on, for example, Romana – no awkward baggage, no irate fans, no depriving boys of a role-model (Sarah Jane proved a success, in this regard – better even than the revived Doctor Who). Even better, create an entirely-new ‘verse without any male-lead hangovers. I’d actually like to see that. But, I don’t hold out much hope of the BBC or anyone else providing it. And, unless the novelty of a female Doctor can be translated into a much-better series, the declining viewing figures may well kill off the series altogether and we won’t have a female Doctor, either.

Are we reading the same thing?

12 Jul

About a year ago, I saw a lot of references to John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run, all extolling just how brilliant it was. Intrigued, I decided to pick up a copy and read it. Boy, was I disappointed.

As I ask above, I had to wonder if we were reading the same thing. The book did open with promise. The description of Rabbit insinuating himself into a children’s game of basketball was a perfect meditation on loss and the disappointment of adulthood for childhood achievers. Had it been a short story, I would have definitely recommended it. (Updike was a short story writer prior to writing the novel.) But, other than two or three brief flashes of something interesting, the rest of the book failed to live up to that promise.

Perhaps the worst thing about it was that the writing was passable. There are novels that are as badly written as they are plotted that are easy to throw aside and there are novels that are badly written, but which contain good ideas – these are the real disappointments as, often, you can’t finish them, but you really wish they’d live up to their potential. Then, there are novels like this where the writing itself is okay, but the story is dire. encouraging you to keep on reading in the hope it will pick up, only it never does.

Updike possessed the technical skills to write a good novel, but this wasn’t it. I really can’t see what other people love about it. I’m not saying they’re wrong – taste is subjective – but whatever it is escapes me. It may be that his other novels would be a better fit for me, but I won’t be trying them – I’ve got far too many books to read as it is, without adding more on a vain off-chance! I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but there’s always a chance it will be to your taste.

Download now!

22 Jun

You can now download issues of Awen and The Supplement (as well as DJ Tyrer’s fiction ebook, Black & Red) for free from this site. New issues will be added regularly. Enjoy!

The Problem with Inclusive Publishers

8 Jun

These days, more and more publishers are touting their inclusive credentials, stressing that they’re open to a diverse set of contributors. The argument is that, in the past, women, non-white and other minority writers didn’t feel welcome. Primarily, this seems to be an American and large press debate – the British small presses have long been welcoming to a diverse cast of authors and poets – but it is certainly the trend of the moment and, in many ways, a welcome one.

Some publishers, such as Black Girl Magic (issues are available on Amazon) do an excellent job, promoting characters that aren’t often seen in the mainstream and welcoming all sorts of writers. But, others, unintentionally, aren’t so welcoming. The main problem is that, naturally, wanting to welcome a diverse set of writers, they enquire rather intrusively into the lives of would-be contributors. Whereas Black Girl Magic, an excellent example of how to be welcoming, makes answering such questions optional, some make it compulsory. Yes, you could lie or put ‘not applicable’, but it does come across a bit strong. Not everyone wants to share personal details (actually, I’ve been more willing to do so with Black Girl Magic because I didn’t feel badgered). Then, there are those that disbar people who aren’t one of the groups they’re promoting from submitting – not only do I find this off-putting when I qualify to submit, but it’s problematic if you don’t neatly fit in a niche (of course, you can query, but that’s a problem if you’re not keen to discuss yourself with strangers).

Then, there are those that require (that’s require, not request) an author photograph. I suppose you could supply a fake or a non-portrait photo, but it’s not welcoming to people who might have an issue with their image being available online. And, of course, there are those publishers, mainly American, that ask for your ‘legal name’. In Britain, there isn’t actually such a thing, although many people doubtless assume there is and banks and such institutions often act as if there is (it’s actually a complicated topic). Of course, it’s a problem if you have a contract to sign (not that they’re usually worth the data saving them to your hard drive), but it does raise problems for people whose identity isn’t clean cut – the sort of people you might wish to include amongst your writers…

The irony is that, while I’ve found the majority of self-proclaimed inclusive publishers have at least one of these issues, many that make no such claims are actually far more welcoming. But, then, I think the vast majority of editors are only interested in high-quality writing and not who wrote it. I just hope that not too many people are being put off submitting their work by either unintentionally unwelcoming inclusive editors or repeated tales of how other editors aren’t so inclusive. Most are. Try them.

Equal Opportunity Madness!

26 May

EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness – A Mythos Anthology by Otter Libris

In the depths of the cosmos there is madness to be found and there are stories to be told…

H.P. Lovecraft first unveiled his dark and twisted vision of human insignificance to a wide audience with the publication of his short stories beginning in the early 1920s. He became a significant influence on horror writers and readers around the world and left a profound imprint on the horror genre itself. But something was missing in his work, things like positive portrayals of people of color and strong women.

Lovecraft is one of those problematic authors who created astounding work, but carried personal attitudes that most modern audiences find repugnant, like racism and anti-Semitism. Whether or not he was also a misogynist is a topic of spirited debate, but there is no question that his work lacks female characters, and when they are present they portrayed as weak or evil.

And then a group of feisty writers and one plucky little independent press, Otter Libris, decided to fill in some of the gaps in the Mythos….

What began as a joking suggestion to write stories that would make Lovecraft roll in his grave grew into the little anthology that could – EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness. Why should straight, white men of Anglo-Saxon descent get to have all the maddening fun?

EOM includes stories from writers in America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Greece, and the protagonists are male and female, straight and not, and come in a wide variety of skin tones. Come enjoy all the madness of the Mythos in a rainbow of colors with EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness from Otter Libris, soon to be available in trade paper edition and your favorite e-book flavor.

Visit our Kickstarter and make sure you’re the first on your street to go mad!

Review of Chasing Cloud

28 Apr

Chasing Cloud is a novel by David M. Smith available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon. Subtitled ‘A Tarxian Novel’, you may imagine it is a fantasy novel, but, while it may well appeal to fans of fictional worlds, it’s actually set in ancient Malta during the Copper Age (although Smith, naturally, has had to be inventive with the minimal evidence available).

Chasing Cloud

The priest Lamaxe finds his life disrupted by the disappearance of his childhood friend, his burgeoning relation ship with a sculptress working on the temple, and a mission to bring back an idol of their goddess to enhance the temple’s standing, requiring him to leave the island. The search for the missing girl, the titular Cloud, and the journey to Sicily to explore a different culture, drawing upon what little is known through archaeology and extrapolating convincingly.

The mystery of Cloud’s disappearance is an effective plot that both provides the skeleton upon which to hang other adventures, such as encounters with pirates, and leads to a showdown of its own, one that will change Lamaxe’s life forever.

Smith has produced a fine novel that will appeal to fans of historical fiction, mysteries and, quite probably, fantasy fans in search of something a bit different, although it is relentlessly mundane in nature. It has an accessible ‘young adult’ feel to it, without compromising on the setting. About the only potential flaws are that it was a little slow to get going, which may put off those readers who have to be constantly stimulated with action, and there is a little sex (neither graphic nor out of place) that prudish readers may be uncomfortable with, as well as references to animal sacrifice that, while not particularly gory, may be off-putting to those who find the thought of any harm coming to animals unpalatable.

Those minor caveats aside, Chasing Cloud is an enjoyable read, unusual and intriguing, that I’d definitely recommend.

Locum Who?

8 Feb

Peter Capaldi is going and it’s time to find a locum to fill the famous Doctor’s shoes…

Along with a black James Bond, a female Doctor Who with a male companion is the most common ‘politically-correct’ change to an established character that crops up. I’ve advocated a black Doctor in the past – not for any reason other than because there have been some excellent black actors who would be perfect for the role. But, a female Doctor wouldn’t sit right with me.

Let’s tackle the male companion first. There’s no reason a male Doctor cannot have a male companion. In the first half of the original series, there usually was a mixture of male and female companions, and often of age. By the end of the original series, there was usually only one companion, who was female and this has been common since the revival. While it originally arose from the idea that a ‘bit of totty’ would attract the dads, I think the reason it was retained was because, especially with the example of the final original-series companion, Ace, a strong female companion made a good counterpoint to the male Doctor. But, there’s no reason why the companion must always be female, young, or in the singular. The companions offer plenty of opportunity to mix things up.

But, the Doctor is a constant.

Of course, we’ve had a female incarnation of the Master (‘Missy’), but that twist worked because the Master has a history of running out of regenerations, stealing bodies and meddling with his biodata. That he would transform into a woman is almost a logical outcome of his adventures in identity. Yes, the Doctor has run through his regenerations quickly and seems to have messed with his biodata, but not to the same extent – and making gender a choice raises all sorts of questions of why he always chose to be male before, but has changed his mind now.

But, more than my feeling that it doesn’t really fit in with the established continuity of the series, is my view that the demand for a female Doctor is horribly sexist. There’s no need for the Doctor as a female role model – if people wanted a female Timelord, why not produce a series featuring Romana? – while the Doctor represents a male character who doesn’t pander to typical male stereotypes. He’s rarely violent, he’s intelligent, academic and quirky, he’s tolerant and kind. In a world where too many male role models are the opposite, he’s a welcome alternative.

Introduce a Romana series, by all means (after all, The Sarah Jane Adventures were excellent), but don’t deprive boys of the wonderful role model who is the Doctor.