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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…

 

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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.

Equal Opportunity Madness is here!

28 Aug

A panel discussion at Balticon 49 in 2015 about ‘problematic things’ in fiction led to this collection, EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness – A Mythos Anthology. As the editors note, and I’ve discussed before, the relationship between authors and their work can be an awkward one for readers and defies pat responses in either extreme. Instead of rejecting Lovecraft’s creations out of hand, a joking suggestion about creating an anthology of stories that would make the ‘old gent’ spin in his grave was taken up and made reality.EOM colour

Now, I must declare an interest in EOM as I contributed the story The Horror of the Atoll, which heads into Cthulhu’s stomping ground of Polynesia and features native Polynesian characters as protagonists.

Other stories go further in offering characters quite unlike those found in Lovecraft’s fiction. The opening story introduces us to an “old, crippled servant and the even older mute priestess” of Bast, for instance, while the penultimate story features a lesbian Rabbi taking on the evil out of Innsmouth with a golem!

I must say that the final, not exactly serious, story, in which Cthulhu awakens on the first day of Chanukah, bored and grumpy, was my favourite. Luckily, he is entertained then bored back to sleep with a dreidel and humanity is saved!

It’s not uncommon to find Cthulhu Mythos tales that feature protagonists unlike those used by Lovecraft (I’ve written a few myself), but this collection strives to provide a real variety.

So, rather than worrying about the old gent’s views on race, you should read this collection and see just how far his collection can be stretched.

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.