This is the blogging equivalent of me standing in the middle of the street dressed as a book and/or holding a big sign with BOOK SALE and an arrow on it.

Anyway, I have some books I no longer have the space for which I’m selling. Some of them are on eBay, some of them will be on eBay in the future when I’m allowed more than ten items on there at a time. Some of you may want to buy some, none, or all of these books (click on the image for a more details view):

If you do, just click on this eBay link to see if they’re up for sale there, and make a bid if they are. If they’re not, just get in touch with me and they can be yours for a very reasonable price. For a fuller list, look below the cut.

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TheWestWingLabour Uncut is always a good place to go to for outlandish claims that bear no relationship to reality, and the opening of this piece is no exception:

Probably the greatest hour in modern television history is the magisterial finale of the second season of The West Wing: Two Cathedrals.

I’m not convinced it’s even the best episode of The West Wing, and the idea of it being the greatest piece of modern television feels somewhat akin to stating that Liz Kendall would be a popular choice for leader amongst Labour party members. I can think of a dozen Breaking Bad or The Wire episodes that are better than Two Cathedrals, and I’m sure people reading this can come up with lists of episodes from other series just as easily.

However, I’m not intending this to be a post about favourite TV episodes. It’s very common to see politicos and aspiring politicos cite The West Wing (and its hipster equivalent, Borgen) as being amongst their favourite TV. It’s an interesting phenomenon, given that it’s rare for people in any other profession to look upon depictions of their jobs in the same way. Indeed, the most common reaction of most people is to point out that dramas tend to hyper-idealise their profession and depict everyone involved as being way more competent than reality. In reality, we see things like the ‘CSI effect‘ where forensic scientists are seen as being able to achieve much more than they can, or that doctors and nurses complain how people see defibrilators as near-magic. Meanwhile, politicos are gazing on an obviously idealised portrayal of themselves and their abilities and are choosing to praise it rather than point out the flaws in it.

I’ve written before about how people – especially those in politics – think that ‘political drama’ and ‘drama about politicians’ are the same thing. It’s a building block in the idea that politics is just about the games white men (and the occasional woman) in suits play, while they walk up and down corridors being very clever at each other. The actual effects of the policies they’re talking about, and especially the people affected by them, rarely feature in them. Politics as depicted by The West Wing is all about the process, making big meaningful speeches (sometimes in Latin) and beating the other team, when the real thing is a lot more complicated than that. The trouble is that we have a generation of young politicos who think that’s all it is about, and it’s having the same effect as if we had a generation of A&E doctors basing their treatment plans on what they’d seen on Casualty.

What makes for good drama – and The West Wing is good drama, even if better has been made since – isn’t the compromises, muddled resolutions, and unclear endings that characterise reality. When there are so many people involved in politics who think that a drama about politics encapsulates all they need to know about it, it’s no wonder that we have such a shallow political culture that sees the main focus of politics as being the men at the top having showy disagreements instead of the effects their arguments have on the people at the bottom. You can keep watching it, but don’t imagine it teaches you anything about actual politics and what’s really important.


chaos walkingIt’s been a while since I’ve found a fictional series that’s grabbed me so well I’ve sped through the entirety of it in a short time, but Chaos Walking reawakened that desire in me. I’ve got that feeling where I want to find everyone I know who’s already read it so I can demand to know why they didn’t urge me to read it earlier, while also thrusting copies of it on everyone who hasn’t. I read each of the three books (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) in a day each over the last week, which is a testament to the strength of both the story and Ness’s writing.

It all starts quite small, in a little place called Prentisstown, which seems to be the last remaining settlement on a world where a war with the natives has led to the deaths of all the women and the infection of the remaining men and animals with Noise, which causes them to psychically broadcast all their thoughts to everyone around them. We see all this through the eyes (and Noise) of Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown, still a month away from officially becoming a man. When his adoptive fathers send him away from there, he discovers that the world has a lot more in it than he was told and as he discovers more of the world, it becomes more and more dangerous as the history he knows isn’t as simple, or as dead, as he thought.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot because these are books that thrive on the power of revelation as Todd (and the reader) gets to see a bigger and bigger picture. The revelations aren’t plot twists, more plot straightenings, unlocking a clearer picture of what went before which then drives forward the next part of the story. These aren’t shocks and sudden twists just to create temporary suspense, but part of the way the story unfolds and reveals itself.

Noise is a great concept, and one that’s woven into the story not just a gimmick on top of it. Ness has clearly thought about what it would mean to live in a world where your thoughts and secrets are potentially on show to everyone, and how there’d be a range of different ways to approach it. That’s especially true in the way someone like Todd (who’s never lived in a world without Noise) differs from his elders, who had it thrust upon them. Like the daemons of His Dark Materials, it makes the reader wonder what their Noise would be like and how we’d react to losing that privacy: do you change yourself to accept it, or try and change society to avoid it?

One question that does occur to me after reading it is wondering whether Patrick Ness had read Raccoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution” before writing it as there’s a definite thematic similarity between the two of them even if the way the story uses those themes is different. A quick Googling suggests Ness hasn’t discussed this in any interview or articles, so I’ll throw it out there for any enterprising writer who does speak to him to ask.

Anyway, I heartily recommend the series, especially worth reading before the inevitable film adaptation messes it all up.

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spectreI’m not at my best this week thanks to a cough/cold combination that’s laying me low, so interesting political thoughts will have to wait for a while. However, I did manage to go and see Spectre the other night and it’s prompted a few thoughts, which I thought I’d share. Spoilers follow, so look away now or don’t click the read more button if you want to avoid them:

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hdmThere was good news from the BBC yesterday with an announcement that they’ve commissioned a TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for BBC One. It’s not the first time it’s been adapted to the screen but the film adaptation spluttered at the box office and never got past adapting (most of) the first book. Indeed, the fact that it missed out the crucial scene at the end of it might be one of the reason the filmed failed, as all the events leading up to it didn’t make sense on their own. The BBC plan to adapt the books as a miniseries will hopefully get around that issue, and also give the story a bit more time to evolve and develop. It was interesting to me that the National Theatre’s stage adaptation of the books managed to do a better job of transitioning between set-pieces than the film managed, making them feel like a coherent story rather than merely a series of events.

Of course, the BBC announcing an adaptation has been commissioned doesn’t mean it’ll be on our screens soon, or if it does make it, that it’ll be on the BBC. The BBC announced they were adapting The Man In The High Castle – five years later, it’s about to be released on Amazon with a completely different team behind it, so nothing is certain until casting happens and the cameras start rolling.

Even with that caveat, the BBC’s production partners for this are very interesting. As well as New Line Cinema (who own the adaptation rights, so may well be just a silent partner in it) the series is being produced by Bad Wolf Productions, a new company founded by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, former executive producers of Doctor Who. The name Bad Wolf coupled with Gardner and Tranter, and no writer being announced in the press release does fill me with hope that they’re trying to get Russell T Davies on board to do it.

For me, RTD would be the perfect choice to adapt the books as he comes from the same mindset as Philip Pullman – an atheist who’s interested in religion, and how it affects people and their decisions. I wrote about this a while ago, looking at how questions of what faith and religion mean to people are a common theme in Davies’s work and it’s this perspective of his that makes me really want to see him writing the script for an adaptation of His Dark Materials. His perspective isn’t to mock someone for believing in something but to see what effects that belief has on a person, but also what effects it would have on the world if that belief turned out to be real. That’s at the heart of His Dark Materials, and Davies is the sort of writer who understands how to bring those themes into drama without them overwhelming the story.

The other talent he has is for creating worlds in the mind of the viewer. A lot of the important organisations that fill Pullman’s worlds are only seen for a glance, or through the lens of Lyra or Will overhearing someone talking about them. There’s a minimum of exposition, but a huge amount of subtle detail slipped in as things go on. This is something Davies did brilliantly during his time on Doctor Who, making references to the War or the Medusa Cascade and the Nightmare Child, but letting the audience fill in the details. His version of the Time War as something vast and essentially unknowable in detail is the sort of approach that could bring the world of the Authority and the Magisterium to life.

Of course, I may just be adding two and two together to make fifteen but I can’t help thinking that Davies would be such a good scriptwriter for this project that I’ll be disappointed if someone else gets the job.


p11650192_p_v8_aaI’ve long been a sucker for historical what-ifs and tales of alternate worlds where history went differently, so I was very happy to discover Parallels on Netflix the other day (other ways of watching it may be available). It’s billed as a film, but is clearly a TV pilot still looking for a home, both for the fact it’s packed full of exposition and little conclusion and is also clearly two separate episodes bolted together. Turning unaired pilots into movies is nothing new, of course – they’ve made great schedule-filler for many channels over the years – but the actual status of Parallels seems a bit more ambiguous than other failed pilots as hope of it becoming a series (on Netflix or elsewhere) appears not to be completely dashed.

That makes it hard to decide how to review it: as a one-off, or on its potential to become a series. As a one-off, it’s interesting but frustrating as it’s an idea with a lot of imagination but nothing much gets resolved and it ends with you left with a lot of questions about what happens next. As a potential series, those questions are setting up a lot of future plots, but there’s not been much in the way of building up interesting characters you want to spend time with as they search for those answers. (Potential spoilers follow)

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(I’d stopped doing these, but then this dropped down through the space-time continuum and I felt NWTW deserved resurrection to share it with you…)

Film Review: Nighthawk (no stars)

Big-screen remakes of old TV series are not uncommon, but there’s a good chance that Zack Snyder’s new film Nighhawk may just have killed them off for good, hopefully along with his career. A terrible script that’s poorly directed is one thing, but I’ve never seen one so horribly misjudged in tone, casting and everything else as this. To some, what follows may count as spoilers, but I choose to call them protectors instead, because hopefully they’ll protect you from any desire you may have to go and see this film.

It begins looking just like a horrendously-miscast version of the TV series it’s based on. It’s World War Two, somewhere in France, and café owner Rene Artois (Channing Tatum) is secretly an agent of the Resistance, working to help fugitive British airmen escape the Nazis. At the same time, he’s trying to avoid his wife (Lea Seydoux in a bad wig) and keep up his affairs with two waitresses (Kelly Brook and Keeley Hawes, neither of whom seem sure about whether they’re meant to be doing French accents). All this is happening under the noses of two inept German officers (Ray Winstone and Alexander Armstrong) and all seems set for an inept farce, especially when SS officer Herr Flick (Adam Sandler) arrives on the scene.

At this point, everything goes so bad you begin to wonder if someone has filled the cinema with hallucinogenic gas. A cackling Herr Flick guns down a field of Resistance women and the priceless painting they are carrying (incredulously referred to throughout the film as The Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies) is soaked in their blood and things begin going to hell. Literally. Suddenly, Edith’s singing is not just bad, but has the ability to warp holes in reality, and all involved – the cafe staff, the surviving resistance, the Nazis, even an undercover British agent with an inexplicable speech impediment (Paul Bettany) – find themselves on the same side as demons swarm over the French countryside (which looks oddly Californian most of the time) and Great Old Ones prepare to rise from the inky depths.

Several insanities, rendered limbs and buckets of blood later, we reviewers had managed to get ourselves out of the cinema and wondered just what had gone so wrong with our world. At what point does everything – even ‘Allo! ‘Allo! – have to have a a grim and dark retelling in the hands of ‘Visionary Directors’? What is gained by watching Winstone slur his way through a tongue twister about how the drug in the mug and the candle with the handle on the gateau from the chateau are needed to prevent Great Cthulhu from devouring Paris?

I tell you, if Jason Statham’s Fairly Secret Army is as bad as this, I might stop going to the cinema altogether.

(thanks to Jennie Rigg for some of the inspiration for this)