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Ghosts Busted?

17 Dec

Having reviewed the first series of Doctor Who to feature a female Doctor, ITV obliged me by showing the female-led remake of Ghostbusters, allowing for comparisons.

Now, the remake wasn’t high on my ‘to watch’ list as the trailers didn’t make it look very good, but the concept of casting female leads wasn’t problematic for me in the way that it was with Doctor Who: The characters were new ones, rather than male characters changed to female, and the characters in the original films didn’t fulfill the same male rolemodel that the Doctor did.

Thus, despite a degree of negativity from the trailers, I sat down to watch the film with interest and a willingness to enjoy it.

And, I did, to an extent. There was definitely a good movie in there, trying to put on  show. The biggest problem it faced was being a reimagining of the franchise, meaning that, inevitably, it is compared to the brilliant original even more than a sequel would be. Had it been a third film in the original continuity or an unconnected film on same theme, unconstrained by comparison, it might have found it easier to achieve success as, inevitably, the comparisons proved negative, undercutting its strengths.

Given that it was promoted as a female-led film and was dogged by disputes as a result, I can’t say that the two main characters, Erin and Abby, were good ones as they struck me more as negative female stereotypes than proper characters for much of the film. On the other hand, Patty and Holtzmann were wonderful characters and were a major reason I enjoyed the film as much as I did. (I suppose there is some truth to claims that Patty is a stereotypical ‘sassy black woman’, but there were more aspects to her than just that stereotype.) Had the other two characters been as good, I may well have been raving about the film, instead of mildly positive.

Not that the male characters were any better. I’m not sure if they were just the result of cheap comedy or bad writing, but they weren’t amusing.

Which brings me onto the writing. The original film was brilliantly written with witty and entertaining characters, whilst the remake was lacking in wit and failed to make most of the characters engaging. Poor writing is the same problem facing the new series of Doctor Who – it’s not that female leading characters are, somehow, innately less good than male ones, nor that women are less skilful at acting than men, but they do seem to be let down in these prestigious roles by their writers.

I don’t know if there is an intersection between making female-led remakes rather than original creations and poor writing ability in creators, or if the writers are too fixated upon diversity at the expense of story, or if the controversies surrounding these remakes draw attention to these flaws, which might be less noted if they had retained male characters. (After all, Doctor Who suffered poor writing during Peter Capaldi’s tenure, but that merely fed into debate about the general quality and direction of the series, while flaws in the recent series feed into discussion about Jodi Whitaker’s role as a female Doctor.)

But, whatever the reasons, it’s a shame that such prestigious roles haven’t attracted the quality writing they deserve. There are lots of great films and TV series with female leads, but it is inevitably these ones, in which women are directly compared with their male predecessors, that produce the most noise about the quality of female acting.

I also wasn’t very impressed with the special effects. (Indeed, it was these that put me off the film when I first saw the trailers.) Obviously, as a special effects heavy film, this is a problem, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined from the trailers and it’s definitely a case of subjective taste and others may like them.

Overall, if you haven’t seen the movie, I think you will enjoy it. Not as much as the original, but it’s still quite good and worth a look. It’s just a shame it didn’t match its potential.

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The Doctor Who… Succeeded? Or, Failed?

16 Dec

Well, we’ve reached the end of Jodie Whitaker’s first season of Doctor Who, albeit with a New Year special to come, but was it any good?

Now, I wasn’t keen on a female Doctor for a couple of reasons, but resolved to keep an open mind. So…?

Well, I’ve no problem with the new companions who are all great characters played by great actors. The only downside is that they have sometimes been let down by substandard scripts (for example, separating them and, thus, denying us their wonderful interaction). So, that’s a positive.

I’ve certainly found no fault with Jodie Whitaker’s enthusiasm and acting ability, but haven’t really been convinced by her as the Doctor, although I think the lacklustre quality of the scripts must shoulder much of the blame – it’s difficult to come across as the Doctor if the script is hampering you – and, the fact that I was convinced by her in the episode It Takes You Away, the only episode that really felt like a Doctor Who episode to me, shows that she could work in the part. I still wish they’d kept the Doctor male for reasons of continuity and as a rolemodel for small boys, but a female Doctor isn’t ruining the show and, if only they would give her the scripts, I think Jodie Whitaker could probably pull the role off.

So, the scripts… They’re the problem. The biggest reason is that too many lack proper stories, as well as the wit, artistry or invention that would allow them to get away with it. And, too often, they fail, as noted, to deliver on the potential of the companions or to portray the Doctor convincingly. Yet, the better ones aren’t too bad and It Takes You Away worked well. Better scripts with stronger stories could have made this a brilliant series that would have allayed doubts about Jodie’s tenure. Instead, a lot of people aren’t keen, and many of them are probably aiming their ire in the wrong direction.

It Takes You Away was, by far, the best episode as it actually felt as if I were watching an actual episode of Doctor Who (I think the last time was Mummy on the Orient Express, which probably sums up all you need to know about my feelings towards the series in recent years). Jodie Whitaker was the Doctor in this episode, there was an actual plot (and a good one at that), it was inventive and it hit all the right notes that define the series.

So, to answer the titular question: It doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t quite succeed, either. Which, in the end, amounts to a great deal of promise that went unfulfilled, save briefly. Still, the New Year special does look as if it could be good and, if only they can find some good scripts, the next series, over a year away, could actually live up to its potential. I hope it does.

Doctor Whittaker Reviewed

13 Oct

So, Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor and I’ve just watched her first episode for the first time. I’ve only seen her in a couple of things (in St. Trinians, where she was good but not Doctor material and Attack the Block, where I found her irritating). But, then, I wasn’t impressed by David Tennant in Harry Potter, but thought he was a good Doctor.

I did think they gave her an excellent (almost-)introductory line upon the discovery he was now a she (“Half an hour ago, I was a white-haired Scotsman”), perhaps intended to remind of us Capaldi’s disappointingly-lacklustre performance – after all, as far as most viewers go, she doesn’t have to compare to the best Doctors of the past, merely the last incumbent.

I won’t fault her on her effort and enthusiasm – my first impression of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor was that she ws really giving a fine performance as a disorientated alien. Unfortunately, for all that, I wasn’t really buying into her as the Doctor. She just didn’t have the gravitas. Though, of course, to be fair, most new Doctors have given a somewhat weak initial performance. (Indeed, Ecclestone took his entire series to get there.) So, first impressions are not necessarily damning.

The real problem, though, is that, despite not thinking a female Doctor (as opposed to a female Time Lord protagonist in her own series) is a good idea, I could buy into a woman in the part, but not her. For example, Catherine Tate’s Donna-Doctor managed to be simultaneously both more Doctorish and more fun than Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, while the character of River Song was also stronger and more Doctor-like. Indeed, I think the female supporting characters in this episode came across as smarter, stronger and more proactive than the Doctor, further diminishing her. To me, Whittaker’s Doctor seems more like a parody than a serious character.

As for the first episode itself, I wasn’t that impressed – the writing was solid but uninspired, rather like the acting of the supporting cast. Workmanlike would be the apt term – it does what it sets out to do, but doesn’t shine. However, if that quality of acting and writing can be married to a better plot, then I can see this being a strong series, better than recent ones.

I’m not giving up on the series, and could see it being a success, but I have yet to be convinced by Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. Perhaps she’ll manage to inhabit the role, perhaps not. Time will tell…

 

When We Return…

27 Jul

Atlantean Publishing is currently on hiatus. The idea is to reduce in the inflow so that it’s possible to reduce the backlog, but a flooded cupboard has somewhat dented that plan, still we hope to get back to you all soon…

The only exception to the hiatus is submissions to the The Supplement – you are welcome to submit articles, reviews and letters of comment.

When we reopen to submissions in September, we are looking for Lunar poetry, Great War poetry and fiction, and Christmas (or otherwise festive) horror stories – with these categories closing at the end of that month. (Please remember to include the theme in the subject-line of your email.)

We will also be reopening to general submissions in September and there are other collections in the pipeline – visit the wiki page for further details.

Remember, we only provide a contributor’s copy, but we are happy to accept reprints.

Call for submissions

24 Apr

Editor Jon Harvey at Spectre Press is looking for submissions for two new anthologies…

The Realm of British Folklore

(Probably, this will not be the final title)

Tree entity

I am looking for stories and poems for a new anthology that involves British Folklore.

The stories may be short or long, even as long as a novelette. The stories or poems can be of horror, humour or psychological. But, I don’t want any twee stories.

I will pay one penny Sterling per word, with a minimum payment of £10 Sterling for poems and very, very short stories. For illustrations, I will pay £30 for ‘header’ illustrations to a story, £100 for full page illustrations and £200 for the cover illustration. All rights are reserved by the author and the artist. If your story, etc. has been published elsewhere, please let me know where and when the work was published.

I would like to have all the material in by Halloween this year as I would like to have enough to keep me busy over Christmas. The anthology, hopefully, will be ready for release by February/March 2019.

Contact me by email (jon.harvey@talktalk.net or spectrepress01@gmail.com) or by post to Jon Harvey, 56 Mickle Hill, Sandhurst, Berkshire, GU47 8QU, UK.

The following is a list of festivals, people and creatures of British folklore that I can think of. There are likely to be numerous others that either I don’t know or have forgotten about:

There are festivals like Beltane (the Gaelic May Day festival), Samhain (the Gaelic celebration of end of the harvest) normally held on the night of the 31st October and there are other festivals held in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, such as Lughnasadh, which is similar to Samhain.

There are folk such as the ‘The Green Man’, ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘Wayland Smith’ and ‘Herne the Hunter’. There’s the ‘Wild Hunt’ or the ‘Eternal Huntsmen’. And don’t forget the ‘Wicker Man’.

As for creatures, there are Dryads, Hamadryads, Nayads (although the latter two are creatures of Greek mythology), Selkies, Faeries, Elves and Pixies.

Fairyland is supposed to be a special place, full of wonders. However, time there runs much slower than time in the real world. One minute in fairyland could mean a decade or so in the real world. If a traveller enters the land of fairies and then come back, centuries may have passed. Once they step back into the real world they will die and their bodies will crumble into dust.

Pixies and faeries have numerous names in various parts off Britain:

The Welsh Tylwyth Teg form the collection of types of pixies: Ellyllon (elves), the Bwbachod (household spirits similar to brownies and hobgoblins), the Coblynau (spirits of the mines), the Gwtagedd Annwn (lake maidens) and the Gwylion (mountain spirits resembling hags)

Cornwall has piskies, pizkie or pigsies and the Knockers (like the Welsh Coblynau, spirits of the mines).

Scotland have the Aos Si which are supposed to inhabit ancient sites.

By the way, I have heard the Coblynau/Knockers myself in the coal mines of South Wales.

The Children of Clark Ashton Smith

(Probably, this will not be the final title)

CAS illo

Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Garden of Adompha” illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is my favourite fantasy author. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing several stories in the vein of CAS’s works. I’m very  interested in publishing an anthology of stories, poems and prose poems in CAS’s vein. Whether the stories are based in Averoigne, Hyperboria, Poseidonis, Zothique or anywhere else, as long as it fits CAS’s mode of storytelling, I’ll be more than interested. If your story, etc. has been published elsewhere, please let me know where and when the work was published.

I will pay one penny Sterling per word, with a minimum payment of £10 Sterling for poems and very, very short stories and prose poems. For illustrations, I will pay £30 for ‘header’ illustrations to a story, £100 for full page illustrations and £200 for the cover illustration. All rights are reserved by the author or artist.

I would like to have all the material in by January 31st, 2019 so I can publish the anthology by June 2019.

Contact me by email (jon.harvey@talktalk.net or spectrepress01@gmail.com) or by post to Jon Harvey, 56 Mickle Hill, Sandhurst, Berkshire, GU47 8QU, UK.

The Best Witch?

20 Apr

We’ve had two series of The Worst Witch from the BBC. When the first episode aired, I wasn’t entirely satisfied but hopeful, and opined it was its target audience whose satisfaction mattered most. Well, they clearly were satisfied, as it returned for a second series and I must admit that it has really grown on me with subsequent episodes, with Mildred transforming into a perfect rendition of the character.

It hasn’t displaced the ITV series in my affections, but as a fan of that series, I find it different but equally good and it was sufficiently distinct that I didn’t spend all my time comparing the two, but became immersed in the unfolding story. Although the main characters from the books and the key elements of the series – Agatha Cackle’s plotting to seize the academy, Rowan-Webb, the arrival of Enid Nightshade, the rivalry between Ethel and Mildred – are all there, the series managed to avoid rehashing the events of the older series, forging its own path (such as with Esme Hallow’s story arc and the events surrounding the Foundation Stone) and avoiding direct comparisons between the two. (Perhaps that was why Miss Hardbroom’s first name changed from Constance to Hecate?)

Once I became used to Bella Ramsay as Mildred Hubble, recognisably-Mildred yet distinct from the portrayal of Georgina Sherrington, there really was nothing about the series to irk me and much (such as the consistently-excellent Ethel Hallow and her sister Esmeralda, and the wonderful Enid*) that impressed me.

(*It’s interesting that Enid, as portrayed in both the ITV and BBC series, is nothing like her appearance in the books by Jill Murphy, yet manages to perfectly catch her character, leading to a stand-out portrayal both times.)

I’m currently working my way through the ITV series, and its Weirdsister and New Worst Witch sequels, but I will be buying the BBC series on DVD to watch again from beginning to end once series two is released. (See here and here for the series on Amazon.co.uk.) The two will sit happily side-by-side on their shelf.

This series will please everyone with an interest in The Worst Witch in any of its previous incarnations and the magical school genre generally, and is a perfect series for children, being good escapist fun for fantasy fans of all ages.

Review of Imaro

22 Nov

This is a review of the 2006 Night Shade Books version of Charles Saunders’ African fantasy novel (which replaces the original Slaves of the Giant-Kings with The Afua to avoid awkward similarities to the Rwandan genocide and loses City of Madness to better fit in to volume two; changes only of academic interest to those of us who never read the original version).

The novel is a stitching-together of short stories to tell the story of the titular hero, Imaro, as he adventures in a land analogous to east Africa.

It begins with Imaro approaching initiation into adulthood and discovering that forces are plotting against him. Events lead him to abandon his tribe and become a wandering adventurer in the mould of Conan, even coming to lead a band of robbers.

Imaro is a book of two halves. The first half, inspired by Massai culture, was quintessentially African, presenting a tale infused with African cultural elements that wouldn’t really work in the classic pseudo-European worlds of most fantasy tales. The second half, with its mounted bandits, was a disappointment in comparison because it could easily have come from almost any fantasy setting. That’s not to say it was badly written – Charles Saunders is a great fantasy author – but it wasn’t distinctly African. (The problem is that it deals with an east coast analogous to the real world’s and, thus, heavily influenced by the Middle East.)

If you enjoy fantasy fiction, there is much to enjoy here. Even if you’re not too interest in stepping away from the usual trends of the genre, Imaro is still good fiction. But, you will be particularly pleased if you’re looking for fiction outside the usual run of fantasy tropes as the first half is a brilliant evocation of an African culture.

Charles Saunders created something great, which deserves to be more widely read. Highly recommended.