Books

Alien: The Cold Forge

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

Given that the Alien franchise is arguably one of the most renowned and beloved in cinema history, it comes as something as a surprise to learn there have only ever been nine tie-in novels, outside of the official movie adaptations and one anthology collection of short stories. The Cold Forge, now the tenth Alien tie-in novel, proves if anything how much of a goldmine publishers have previously missed in telling stories within the universe Ridley Scott created. Alex White’s story would make a damn fine movie in itself.

Taking a cue from the previous, successful trilogy of novels over the last few years including Out of the Shadows & River of PainThe Cold Forge manages to cultivate its own corner of Alien’s dark, corporate, late-capitalist future by creating a uniquely Alien set-up: a research and development facility in deep space, in orbit of a burning star, with a collection of characters all with unique personalities, distinguishing traits, and several with plot-specific secrets.

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Comics

The Prisoner #1 – ‘The Uncertainty Machine’

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

Half a century on, The Prisoner remains a truly landmark piece of television. Much like Twin Peaks some quarter of a century later, Patrick McGoohan & George Markstein’s series adds definition to the era it was made while remaining defiantly *in*definable. A 16-part series for British TV channel ITV, The Prisoner ostensibly concerned an intelligence agent—known only as Number Six—who, after quitting for undisclosed reasons, finds himself captive in The Village – a strange, quaint British seaside town filled with nebulous intelligence operatives looking for why he left the service. This, however, is just the base layer.

The Prisoner was much like a set of Russian dolls in terms of narrative and comprehension – every answer just seemed to lead to another question. It remains one of the most fascinatingly bizarre TV shows ever made, on British TV or anywhere else, steadfast in its refusal to provide conventional narrative storytelling; indeed the more its star McGoohan took control of the reins, the stranger the concept became.

McGoohan edged it away from being a quirky spy thriller (and possibly sequel to his earlier hit series Danger Man) and further into an allegorical, surrealist farce designed to commentate on the evolving idea of big government and deep surveillance on society. By the end of its final episode, ‘Fall Out’, his message was clear. *Everything* is the Village.

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Books, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – ‘The Beginning / Forgotten Light’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

These stories take place, in part, 200,000 years ago.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Strange New Worlds, non-canonical anthology books which were released amidst Star Trek novels over roughly a ten year period, is how they could explore all kinds of territory the TV shows or movies would never have gotten near – perhaps even to a greater degree than the tie-in novels, which always usually had to revolve around characters we know from the screen. The Beginning and Forgotten Light are two such key examples.

Now I’ve decided to talk about these short stories together because both of them, unusually, cover the exact same topic, just in different ways and contexts: the creation of the Borg. If ever a race in Star Trek were likely to have an origin story, it would be the terrifying cybernetic beings first encountered by the USS Enterprise-D in The Next Generation’s second season episode Q-Who?; a collective of telepathically linked drones who travelled the galaxy in cubes assimilating every species they come into contact with, believing they were technologically superior and that knowledge of all cultures inside their collective would allow them to reach perfection. A fascinating alien creation, the Borg cast arguably the biggest shadow over Star Trek in the 90’s as the Klingons or Vulcans did in the 1960’s.

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Movie Reviews - 2018

Funny Cow (2018)

Funny Cow isn’t really about comedy. Laughter is the prism through which this bleak fable spins a tale of escape and identity. To make the story of the titular, unnamed ‘Funny Cow’, about the rise of a comedy superstar would be to miss the point. Adrian Shergold’s movie is a strangely oblique, fourth wall breaking self-biography, dominated by the immense talent of Maxine Peake.

I won’t be the first person to say this, but I would go on record to suggest Peake might well be the finest British actress of her generation working today. It is rare to find an actress with the kind of extraordinary range she employs as Funny Cow, an incredibly scattershot and difficult to pin down role as written by Tony Pitts (who also plays her vile, abusive husband Bob). By turns, Peake has to be downtrodden, attractive, quirky, demure, flirtatious and more than a little mentally scarred by decades of abuse, and she manages it with aplomb. Shergold understands the picture lives and dies on the actress in every frame, who holds the central role, and you genuinely cannot imagine anyone embodying Funny Cow as well as Peake. She is magnetic, as she almost always is.

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Books, Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘First Frontier’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 64 million years ago.

Sometimes you just click with a novel and sometimes, as in the case of First Frontier, you just don’t. For an indefinable reason, Diane Carey’s novel co-written with scientist Dr. James Kirkland was easily my most arduous reading experience of the Star Trek tie-in universe yet. This could well be a level of personal preference and, as always with my pieces on Cultural Conversation, I’ll be looking conceptually at First Frontier and what it does as a novel. I would, however, be lying if I said it was an enjoyable read.

First Frontier is an interesting tie-in novel, the seventy-fifth in the line of The Original Series books, for several reasons. For a start, there is the inclusion of Kirkland in the writing process. Carey is someone who will be well known to many who read Star Trek tie-in fiction, given how she was one of the most prolific novelists in the franchise, particularly throughout the 1990’s. Kirkland, however, is a scientist first and writer second, at least in terms of fiction, and came to co-write First Frontier, as a self-confessed major Star Trek fan since the 1960’s, after Carey read an article in Discover magazine about Kirkland’s discovery of the ‘Utahraptor’, one of the biggest dinosaurs ever found.

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Comics, The X-Files

The X-Files: Case Files #1 – ‘Florida Man pt 1’

For 25 years, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been shining their flashlights into the shadows, searching for the truth. To celebrate this anniversary, IDW Publishing is launching a new series of The X-Files: Case Files!

Under this banner, faithful fans will see the release of numerous micro-series, featuring stories that explore X-Files of the past and present by top talent from comics and prose!

In “Florida Man…” Scully and Mulder are sent to a small Florida town to investigate a rash of bizarre crimes only to find themselves in the clutches of an alligator-worshipping cult…

The recent history of The X-Files in comic form has been an interesting one, informed in many respects by the revival of the show on FOX over the last three years. The first part of ‘Florida Man’ begins a new phase for IDW’s license of Chris Carter’s series called Case Files – an anthological approach to the adventures of Agents Mulder & Scully investigating the paranormal across America.

Joe Harris until last year had been carrying the torch for The X-Files under IDW, firstly with his originally-canonical ‘Seasons 10 and 11’, which picked up roughly from where second movie I Want to Believe left off, and later his own tie-in ongoing issue set within the continuity of the revival. His approach to The X-Files was frequently arcane, mythic and certainly in the ongoing issues set roughly during Season 10, highly political – indeed this caused his run on the series to draw criticism in certain quarters given how unashamedly anti-President Trump and the alt-right he was in his writing. While politics and The X-Files have always been key bedfellows, many wanted more of a streamlined take on Carter’s show. Case Files may well end up being what they wished for.

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Alias

Alias – ‘Recruited’

Though written after Alias aired, ABC launched a 12-book series of tie-in novels set before the pilot episode, ‘Truth Be Told’, which explore Sydney Bristow’s life before the series. I’ll be looking at them one by one as we move through exploring the series itself…

There are several reasons why developing a tie-in book series for Alias aimed at the young adult market makes a lot of sense. For a start, with Sydney Bristow, you have a defined heroine for, specifically, a female market who will find the struggles of a nineteen year old girl on the one hand being a dork around boys, and on the other obsessing whether she is capable enough to become a CIA super-spy, fairly relatable – which is precisely what author Lynn Mason puts her through in Recruited. Secondly, there is a very clear narrative black spot in the Alias backstory open for further exploration.

When we first meet Syd, in the Alias pilot episode ‘Truth Be Told’, she is a fully-fledged super-spy. She is still young, around her early-mid twenties, but we get the impression of a woman who has been working for SD-6 for quite some time. She’s travelled the world, fought bad guys. She has friends, a fiancee and is thinking of marriage. She has grown into a persona where she can become someone else at the drop of a hat. We will see the origin story of that on screen with the Rachel Gibson character in Season 5 much much later on, but Alias’ tale begins with Syd already there. The conflict that drives her in the series, which the pilot establishes, is in learning SD-6 is, in reality, a sinister crime syndicate pretending to *be* the CIA. The show, therefore, skips Syd’s origin story.

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