Saturday, 28 June 2014

Farscape is Better Than New Who by Thaddeus White

My guest blogger for today is writer, Thaddeus White. I absolutely adore Farscape, and Thad does too.


This blog contains minor spoilers about Farscape and major spoilers about past episodes of Doctor Who.

Pick's a freeview channel (11) in the UK which has shown quite a lot of good sci-fi, and I've been catching up with Farscape (7pm, weekdays).

I did watch it when it initially came out, but missed the start, so I saw that for the first time on Pick. Memories can easily be rose-tinted, but I was pleasantly surprised to find Farscape was even better than I remembered.

The tension between the disjointed crew works well, the monster of the week and longer plot arcs are very well-balanced, and the storylines are coherent and actually make sense.

I was watching one of the first few episodes, and was actually surprised when the plot was coherent. No inexplicable rescue from danger, no technobabble poorly trying to hide a plot hole, just good quality writing and a storyline that holds together.

But why the surprise? Partly because one of my overriding memories of Farscape was how crazy it could be, but also, I think, because much of the most recent sci-fi I'd seen had been new episodes of Doctor Who (New Who).

Doctor Who started in 1963, and had a prolonged interval between the end of the original run (with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor) and the start of New Who (with Christopher Eccleston). Resurrecting the series had certain challenges, but also lots of advantages (a ready made viewership ready to get drunk on nostalgia and a huge body of lore being the most obvious).

Certain episodes (Blink, the two-parter introducing the Silence) have been excellent, but some have been bloody awful (typically, season finales). On the whole, I think Farscape's the better. And not by a small margin.

Consider the best parts of New Who. The Weeping Angels and the Silence are new creatures, unburdened by past lore or what the writers (themselves fans of Old Who) feel could be an 'interesting' interpretation of something old.

But when the episodes do focus on old favourites (particularly the Master and Davros), the inexplicable lack of understanding from the writing team has led to characters that share a name and little else with their Old Who counterparts. The Master was a violent, brilliant, self-confident chap, the Doctor's equal in cunning. And how does he 'get revenge' on the Doctor after he thwarted the Master's plan in New Who? He refused to regenerate, thereby (apparently) killing himself and making the Doctor cry. Fearsome.

pic by Simon Howden
After Davros was introduced in Genesis of the Daleks (which remains the best Doctor Who story and which I highly recommend) he was the focus of just about every dalek-related story afterwards. The running theme was his effort to gain control over his creations, and their desire to either kill or capture him, to use for their own ends. This wasn't a one or two adventure thing, it lasted almost two decades. Yet when Davros was (for the only time so far) brought back in New Who he had 'reached an arrangement' with a Supreme Dalek, which left him stuck in a vault as a prisoner doing the daleks' bidding. As well as being rubbish in itself (why not just have Davros in charge?), it was also diametrically opposed to everything Davros had done before.

Another problem with New Who is the sonic screwdriver, (the handheld plot resolution device). It opens doors, it fixes machinery, it assembles cabinets (allegedly, we haven't actually seen it do that, I think). It was used now and then in Old Who, but has become really overused with the new series.

Farscape doesn't have 30 years of history to draw on: and that's a bloody good thing. Yes, there are no inside jokes about reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, but there's also no hero-worship of the protagonist. And because there are no 'old favourites' there's no danger of them being screwed up. Like the Weeping Angels and the Silence, the Peacekeepers, Scarrens and Nebari are all new, giving the writers no baggage to try and handle, and freedom to do whatever they like.

Then there are the plot arcs and monster of the week issues. A monster of the week approach means each episode is self-contained with a storyline that is entirely begun and resolved in that singular episode. Having that approach makes it easier for new viewers to get into a series, but longer plot arcs enable a deeper world, better characterisation and are more rewarding for longer term viewers.

Farscape handles this extremely well. The Look At The Princess three-parter was a great example. Scorpius, the main antagonist for much of the show, makes an appearance but it's very much as as a secondary character for those three episodes. Instead, the focus is on the political intrigue of an independent third party which is being courted by the rival Peacekeeper and Scarran empires, and is undergoing a tussle over the succession. Any newcomer to the series would entirely understand the three-parter, and a longer term viewer would appreciate the greater depth revealed about Scorpius and the Scarrans.

Contrast that to the plot arcs in New Who. The Bad Wolf was deus ex TARDIS (akin to finding a magic Reset button in the TARDIS), and the three-parter with the Master made no bloody sense (and the antagonist's character was completely contrary to what had gone before). I did enjoy the daleks versus cybermen, however.

I hope New Who can improve. A bit less ADHD and screwdriver-waving and a bit more coherence would go a long way. The best episodes show that it can be done, so perhaps a shift away from old favourites would help enhance their impact when they do appear, and avoid hero-worship and strangely detrimental nostalgia.

Incidentally, there is to be a new Farscape film. There are rumours, if it's well-received, a new series could kick off. Hopefully it won't fall into the nostalgia trap of New Who.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Sex on Wings by Jo Zebedee

Today I'm being joined by Jo Zebedee author of the soon-to-be-released Abendau trilogy (which I've had the pleasure of reading - they're brilliant so keep an eye out for them!)

Sex on Wings

I've always had a soft spot for a nice, sexy space pilot. I blame Han Solo for it, mostly, but Barbarella - all thigh-high boots, wide-eyed and shocked by the evil Dr Durand-Durand - has something to answer for, too.

pic by Victor Habbick from Free Digital Photos
It's not just the sexy ones; I even like the Buck Rogers of this world, and the never-seen outside of the pages of a book, Ellie Quinns. For me, frankly, no space opera is complete without a space pilot, blaster hip-holstered, dashing, irreverent, and unpredictable. (There might be predictable ones out there; they're not real space pilots. Ever. No matter how low their intimate voice is, or how their eyes flash, they don't know their landing bay from their orbital habitat.)

So, why do space pilots equal sci-fi to me?

Firstly, full disclosure. I say science and I say fiction and they're not equal. For me it's three quarters fiction and one quarter science, half of which is dodgy. I used to be embarrassed about that. What sort of sci-fi writer couldn't give a stuff that faster-than-light travel isn't possible, or that you can't hear sounds in a vacuum? Surely these things matter? And they do, to an extent - mainly to ensure I'm not laughed at too badly. But, frankly, being constrained by little details like the speed of light doesn't get you to the end of the Kessel Run in a half-decent time, and I always fancied a run at that.

So, when I say sexy pilot, I mean space opera in all its gloriously colourful, cheesy, shoot-from-the-hip best. Because space opera brings something to the genre that it needs: escapism. Not grim stories about surviving the colonisation of a hostile world wearing an oxygen tank and a baggy space suit, equipped only with a magnetic tool-kit. My one attempt at such a story was terrible. Only the sex scenes were interesting and, frankly, by then I needed something to excite me. Which isn't to say all such stories are awful, but that a space-opera-bunny shouldn't be forced to obey the laws of physics.

It makes me wonder if sci-fi doesn't shoot itself in the foot a little. The genre remains niche compared to its elf-clad brother, fantasy. Escapism, surely, is part of the reason we read fiction. For realism, I could turn to misery-memoirs (but won't.)

I'm a die-hard sci-fi reader, with a library behind me including Clarke and Heinlein, Bradbury and Herbert. I adore Paul Atreides as the Fremen do, but I still feel (or felt, I'm in recovery) the need to hide what I love of the genre, for fear of being seen as low-brow, light-weight even. When popular writers like Bujold get criticised for winning the Hugo and Nebula by factions of the community, it drives the belief that such writing - the kind I love and the kind I write - isn't worthy of the serious genre of science fiction. If that's the case, how we attract new readers seeking escapism? For me, it's about widening the genre and accepting that some readers like to escape into new worlds, with characters beyond those who are Earth-bound.

For that reason, I say bring me your space pilots who don't know what gravity does. Hand me your mavericks who don't care about a critter-ridden planet with no air. Give me a quirked smile, a raised eyebrow, and a thigh-high boot and I'm yours for every page-turning moment. Because, for me, that's what sci-fi's about.

Jo Zebedee is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency. Her first novel is due for release in Autumn from Tickety Boo Press.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The People in my Life

I'm very lucky. I seem to attract all sorts of interesting people. Mediums, magicians, musicians, poets, photographers, crafters, film makers, writers, artists and martial artists. Over the coming months, I'm going to invite some of them to do guest posts for me right here. Keep your eyes peeled!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


I'm quite late at discovering this, I know, but Pinterest is a pretty good site for writers. I've used it (after the novels were finished!) to pin pictures from my stories.

This one is from The Beautiful Man (which is currently out on submission).TBM