Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Games Review: Batman: Arkham City

Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum was one of those games that had a lot to prove and more than managed it. Superhero games generally, and certainly Batman games (Telltales' Lego Batman aside) have a deservedly poor reputation, and a game that not only managed to simply good, but also capture the world and feel of being the Caped Crusader in a focused, kinetic and downright fun game. 

So the inevitable sequel arrives, promising more. More villains, more story, more locations. Holy Feature Creep, Batman! Sequels generally go in one of two directions - make the same game again (hello Uncharted 3!) or make large-scale changes and risk breaking a successful formula. Arkham City attempts to split the difference, bring some  pretty big changes on the one hand, and staying true to a successful formula on the other.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo

One of the big surprises for me when we went to see Tintin was the trailer for Hugo. Surprise mainly for one simple fact - Martin Scorsese made a kids movie?? in 3-D??? WHAT? I love Scorsese, as a working director today only Steven Spielberg comes close in my estimation for the breadth of talent on display, and since Gangs of New York he's felt liberated from the need to make an Oscar-winning magnum opus (and then he won an Oscar anyway!) and made some quite diverse and interesting movies because, I get the impression, thats what he wants to do. And from the trailer I got the impression of a real kids film - a train crashing though a station, a kid hanging off a clock, Sacha Baron Cohen playing the villain. I just had to see it.

And really, it's not like that at all. It's something far more magical.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Box Set Blues: Treme, Season 1

I was having a conversation in the car a couple of weeks ago about some of the TV we've been watching at home, and my wife pointed out that "not every show can be The Wire, you know." It's a dig not just at myself, but also at the constant harking back to David Simon sprawling Baltimore-set series as the pinnacle of modern television against which any other show that aspires to greatness must be judged. In fact in some quarters the reputation of the The Wire is so great I expect anyone who watches based on this reputation is bound to be disappointed that it doesn't reach out of the television and physically reroute their brains' sense of taste forever.

So when David Simon makes another TV series set as a portrait of a city, this time post-Katrina New Orleans, with an eclectic, talented cast and a mission to explore as broad a tapestry as possible, comparisons are inevitable. But Treme isn't The Wire. Nor should it be.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book Review: Snuff

Among the many, many, sobering reminders that I am getting "old" is the release of a new Discworld Novel. I read my first Discworld book - Mort, as it happens - whilst studying for my GCSEs, which was over half a lifetime ago. Which is a long time, when you look at it like that.

Perhaps I shouldn't look at it like that.

Anyway, Terry Pratchett is still turning them out, and I'm still buying them; the new one, Snuff, is apparently the 39th. And the sad truth of Pratchetts' Alzheimers means that we may not get very many more, which is a shame on any number of levels, but for now, lets just have a look at this one.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Post Thoughtbubble Comics Haul!

So, last weekend was the Leeds Thoughtbubble Festival, and as with the previous couple of years I headed out and spent too much money on comics and tat. Actually I was little restrained this year, compared to previous years, but still didn't do too badly!


So, how do they all read?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Defending Dungeons!

Right, made it out the other side of that Exam.

One of my big tension relievers recently has been playing Dungeon Defenders with friends. Like many of my games purchases this year it's an "indie" title, although has been a big success on iOS and Android before reaching the PC. It's a little like Sanctum, in so much as the basic concept is to "play" inside a Tower Defense game, building and upgrading towers in a build phase, and then running around in a combat phase fighting in support of them. But that's about where the similarity ends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gaming Review: Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception

There is a thing that many people do, called "displacement activity". This is where you are worried about something, so you keep yourself busy doing something else, even when perhaps you should be applying yourself to the thing that is making you worried. I have an exam in about a week, the first exam I've done for a couple of years. By a complete and amazing co-incidence, I finished Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception last night.

This is not a metaphor for my exams. I hope. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thinking: Non-Essential Seasons of Essential Shows

When I was writing up my love for Fringe's third season, it struck me that there are whole seasons of “essential” shows that you can probably safely skip, and I've been pondering on it ever since. I've settled on five examples, and so here they are:

Fringe, Season 1
This is the example that set me off. At the start, Fringe is hardly a bad show, but it’s not a great one, and the first season is a far cry from the mad science, parallel worlds lunacy that the show grew up into. It does establish the characters and broad setting, and I guess a more mundane start grounds the show a little as it starts to spin off into ever more complex areas, but the joy of Fringe is that it is, by mid-second season, so wholly just itself, its first season just feels too normal.

What you’d miss: “There’s More Than One of Everything”, the series finale that really kicks off Fringe becoming Fringe.

Take That, Fun! 
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6
Buffy Summers dies at the end of Season 5, killing a god and accepting her destiny as the Slayer. It’s a great ending to a great series, and the series always seemed to struggle with continuing beyond that. There is something brave in Season Six’s desire to “go dark”, with Buffy struggling with her resurrection and the some heavy metaphorical stuff dealing with bad relationships, drugs and other real world stuff. The problem is that Buffy always did its best work by sliding around the tonal scale with a certain abandon – flashes of darkness and real pain and flashes of levity and hope  - and this season overloads itself in angst and suffering and manages to be both depressing to watch, and in places just plain dull.

What you’d miss: the cast having fun playing against type in “Tabula Rasa” and the marvellously self-indulgent “Once More With Feeling”.

Doctor Who, Seasons 22 & 23
Yes, this is the whole of the Sixth Doctors tenure. It’s a fashionable choice to knock Colin Baker but it’s apparent he’s a victim of the confusion and BBC internal politics that took hold in Who’s production at that time, and an already difficult sell – a dangerous and instable incarnation of the Time Lord – is crippled by poor scripts, budget cuts and general behind the scenes chaos. Many of these problems (and Bonnie Langford) are carried forward into early Seventh Doctor stories, but Classic Who’s last hurrah shows marked improvement over its run, so you’d be better off watching that.

What you’d miss: “Trial of a Time Lord” – an ambitious season long story that completely falls flat; also fans of very stupid looking coats should probably watch.

Babylon 5: Season 5
J. Michael Straczynski always said he had a five-year plan for Babylon 5, and always struggled to get renewed season to season, leaving fans with the constant fear they would never see a conclusion. But they did – at the end of Season 4, hurried along after he was told he may not get the fifth. But he did, and it’s a bit of an orphan child to the rest of the series. Most notably, the big arcs were B5’s strong point, and with those mostly gone the season felt like filler – especially a heavy-handed and clunky Psykers plotline that dominates the early running. A bit like Fringe’s first season, it’s not terrible by any stretch, but it displays very little of what made B5 worth watching in the first place.

What you’d miss: “Sleeping in Light”, the Series proper finale.

Lost, Season 2
As you may have noticed, I loved me some Lost.  It’s first season is fantastic – structurally innovative, slick, directed storytelling that meshes great character work with a building early mythology, but 3 or 4 episodes into season two I just stopped watching it. So did a lot of people, apparently. A few years later I picked up the show from the Season 3 and tore into it like I’d never been away; picking up the few new characters with little difficulty and never feeling the loss of 20-odd episodes I've never seen.

What you'd miss: I don’t know. I never watched it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Herge's Tintin series is one of the staples of my youth, but one I've been happy to leave in the hazy recesses of my memory, and felt little need to revisit. I'm not sure why, either, I read them ferociously, even badgering my parents on a couple of occasions to head out to libraries further afield to see if there were books there that weren't in my local branch, but they've left me with a wellspring of affection for them but little compulsion to go back and own or even re-read them. So in some ways the fact that they've made a movie from them didn't fill me with excitement, just a vague interest more due to the talent involved in the adaptation than the fact of an adaptation itself. But this weekend I took our eldest to go see it as a reward for an excellent school report, without much in the way of strong opinion on what I was expecting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Box Set Blues: Fringe, Series 3

The history of geek TV is often marked with the shows that fell to an early grave due to weak opening series or episodes that showed potential they never got to fulfill. There is even a marked number of successful, popular shows that have whole season or more before they establish what they want to be and become the shows they are remembered as - so many, in fact, that I'm tempted to try and compile a list of seasons you can flat out ignore from otherwise classic television. It often leaves a void - we know how good, say Babylon 5 became, but will never know what the rapidly improving Space: Above and Beyond could have turned out like if it had managed to endure.

The reason I'm thinking about this sort of thing is because have just completed a fairly intense run-through of the third season of Fringe, I'm amazed at how far it has come from it's beginnings. Fringe has never been a poor show, but in it's first season in particular it never quite seemed to gel. It was easy to view it as a clear descendant of The X-Files, substituting weird science for aliens, a fun, engaging sci-fi procedural show without any great pretensions to be much more. It's hard to imagine, from that start, another show that has evolved so fast into something so purely "itself" in such a short period of time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

TV Review: The Fades

I nearly missed this. I suspect a lot of people did. Late on a Wednesday night, BBC3, I never saw much publicity for it, and if it wasn't for some strong support from Twitter people I would never have seen this show. I've tried to push people I know, people with similar tastes to me to watch it, and most of them had never heard of it either. And that's a damn shame, because The Fades is one of the best shows I've seen this year.

I guess at first glance it doesn't look like much - a little bit of Skins, a little bit of a supernaturally themed Misfits, the first episode is light on the horror, and up on the quips, and awkward teenage angst, and the usual sort of "discovering secret powers as an analogy for growing up" thing that Young Adult fiction is so full of. But this isn't Young Adult fiction, and this isn't light on horror, and the youth of it's main characters is misleading - this is already grown up, proper, dark, horrific stuff.

At it's heart is Paul (Iain De Caestecker), 17 years old, dorky, who discovers he's an "angelic" - a human with magical powers - and is dragged into a growing war between Angelics and the eponymous "Fades", increasingly angry ghosts who have been unable to "ascend" and are stuck wandering the earth. Stealing pretty much every scene he's in is Paul's best friend Mac (Daniel Kaluuya), and we also get his perpetually angry sister her best friend (and later Paul's girlfriend) to round out the young cast. The whole cast is excellent - really, really, excellent for some of them, notably Mac, who I've mentioned, but head Fade John and dead-in-episode-one-but-still-hanging-around Angelic Sarah.

As the series goes on, and gets less "darkly funny" and more just straight "dark". I certainly didn't laugh once in the finale, although some parts were less horrifically bleak than others. Notable the moment - which you'll know if you've seen it - that had me half off the sofa in shock. Even it's ending is true to that trajectory. Its ballsy television, well executed and with some new and fresh things in the mix. I'd have to be mad to say to it's not without the odd niggle, but in so many places its really investing in trying something different its churlish to mention it.

And really I can't believe they didn't push this more. I can't believe more people haven't seen it. I can't believe they haven't commissioned a second series already. Because it deserves to be watched. If you've not seen it - find it. Watch it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bastion: Arthouse Gaming Joy

Seems like most of my gaming time this year has been on the indie scene, at least if you ignore that whole "World of Warcraft addiction" thing I had going on. It's not to say that there haven't been great mainstream, big budget titles around, just that I've found myself more enticed by the choppier waters of small development teams for most of the year, largely due to the siren lure of regular Steam sales. "Indie" is a big category, and somewhat hard to define, including breakout one-man hits like Minecraft, to games produced by fairly large teams aiming at the cheaper end of the market. All that really seems to link them together is the broad cost of the game, a digital distribution model, and a pleasingly common desire to take a bit more of a risk than the typical "man shoots gun at aliens" blockbuster games seem to want to.

Sometimes the risk is just to make something with a smaller sales base - open world building games like Minecraft and Terraria are never going to be selling out at Tescos, for instance - others are genre-mashups like Sanctum and the just-released Dungeon Defenders, and some are just flat out arthouse games.

Like Bastion.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: Cloud Atlas

I've recently finished the last book of my "Dystopias and Disasters" reading list for this year with The Road, and for the first time in a while I've felt to read a book on a whim rather than because it was the next one on the list or out of the sort of mild obsession that made me read all of A Song of Ice and Fire earlier this year. The book that fulfilled that whim was David Mitchell's highly regarded Cloud Atlas - a book I know little about other than that it had a cool title and a good reputation amongst people with similar tastes to me.

So, with a quick click of a button, it was downloaded to my Kindle - and I'll start with a slightly off-topic observation about the reading experience. Mostly I've been very happy with my Kindle; it's a good size, great screen, broadly speaking a pleasure to read on. But with Cloud Atlas - for reasons that will become obvious - for the first time I missed the tactile nature of a "real" book, and the ability to easily flick backwards to earlier chapters to refresh myself of characters or events. The search function isn't really the same...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Behold! A Perfectly Ordinary Comics Review!

I think it's fair to say I've always been a comics fan, but there have been a couple of long hiatuses in my buying/owning/collecting of them. The first was between quitting getting 2000AD at about 14 or 15, and getting to University in the early 90s to get introducted into the big DC/Vertigo wave of writers who are all grown up and properly famous now. The second roughly co-incided with the birth of our eldest child, a move to a leafy suburb and being a long distance from my neighbourly comic shop, which meant I increasingly missed out on new titles and the ones I was following gradually ebbed away - a break that ended a couple of years ago and now I'm frantically trying to catch up on that lost time with the help of recommendations and graphic novel reprints.

I may be late to a lot of these parties, but at least I'm here. And of all the stuff I've read in the last couple of years, for me, the standout is Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thinking: Value for your Entertainment Money?

Reading around the internet, and it's never-ending hive of social media, a lot of my Friends seem to be on real budget kicks this year for a wide variety of reasons and I guess I'm no exception. My big problem is that I can be quite a heavy consumer of media; books, films, games, for many of the same reasons I feel a bit skint - I have two kids and spend a fair amount of time stuck in the house. So whats a geek to do?

Now the obvious answer, that I see a depressingly large amount, is just pirate stuff. Its free! Yarrrr!. Well, no, actually. The thing is that for all the railing against Big Media you read about, and the shoddy practice and stupid legislative witch-hunts, these products are produced by creative people and they deserve paying for that. I want to pay them for that. I want a world where people can make a living writing, or drawing or acting, more so if they're creating something off the mainstream which is often where my tastes lie. So, no Piracy.

My solution to choosing what I get may seem a little wierd, but for me at least it works. It's "Pounds per Hour".

Bear with me.

See, if I buy a book I'm not so much buying a bunch of paper and card but a number of hours entertainment whilst I'm reading it. Most books I read once and leave on a shelf; and eventually donate to charity, so really their value is those hours of entertainment. So I spend 7 quid on a paperback and read it in 3 or 4 hours and that entertainment value is £2/hr.

I just finished Deux Ex: Human Revolution and that took me (according to Steam Stats) 28.5 hours. And cost me £30. So close to £1/hr. I paid the same for Borderlands, and thanks to co-oping goodness have played it a staggering 61 hours! Right at the top has to come my old World of Warcraft Subs at £8/month, which I was typically playing 9 hours a week (so something like 40 hours a month), so thats £0.20/hour. At that rate why did I quit again?

That last point of course is a key one - the value of those hours as entertainment isn't the same, and I'm not suggesting that it should be. But people often look at say, buying a computer game for £30 and wince, but for the return you get on it - assuming you play the damn thing - it's excellent value. Especially when you consider that a movie ticket for a two hour film will cost you £7 these days and a decent meal out will run you £15 for an hour in a restarant and both of these we mostly see as fair value. And settling a limit on how much you'd pay for something you want is clearly daft, if you can afford it and it will bring you pleasure.

(Also for the straight £/hr metric the best book I ever read was the cheap but very very long copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged I read a couple of years back. It was not the best book I ever read. Although Rand may have approved of the budgetary sentiment.)

But I think it's a good guide for how well you're spending your budget. I use lovefilm.com a lot to catch up with films and TV shows, and generally get through 7 or 8 discs a month, usually 4 films and 3 discs of telly. Thats easily down below £1/hr mark, and feels good value for money. I've started gravitating towards indie games on the PC as I tend to run out of game before attention span and definately get my monies worth over the latest full-price shooter. I make sure I finish books I start, unless they actively start causing me brain aches. Like every budgetary technique it's not really there to mould your behaviour to it, just to act as a check that you're all under control.

Thats the plan, anyway...wonder how well it will survive ThoughtBubble this year?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TV Review: Doctor Who; Series 6

Doctor Who seems to have been a staple of my "must watch" mental TV listing since it's 2005 return to the nations' Saturday nights. Its one of the few shows we sit down to watch as a family and it's great to see it having a grip on the kids as much as the adults. And now the sixth post-relaunch series has ended, possibly the most plot-dense of them all so far, amongst the usual media hubbub about it being "too dark", "too complicated" and so on. So here is my thoughts.

Monday, October 3, 2011

September DVD Round-Up!

We don't seem to have got through as many films this month as usual, which I think is mostly due to the large amount of TV shows (both rented and timeshifted) we've been catching up on. Anyhow, this months selection were:

R.E.D. As a film that, when it dropped through the letterbox, I thought 'I don't remember adding that to our list', I guess my expectations weren't that high. Yes, from the comic by Warren Ellis, and a great looking cast, but it sort of passed me by at the cinema and I went into it pretty cold. And y'know? its pretty damn good. Visually it wears it's comic book roots on it's sleeve, with some great direction, and the performances from the leads are pretty much what you'd expect as a group of retired, highly-trained killers pulled out of retirement by some old conspiracy returning to haunt them. A bit like the previous months The Losers, it's a fairly lightweight, over-the-top actioner held up by being dead in key with what it is.

Rango. I always suspect that drugs are involved in the creative process and Rango would be right up there as case for the prosecution. A Johnny Depp voiced chameleon ends up stranded in the desert saving a border town of miscellaneous animals from a pretty routine western plot, with an odd, dream-logic structure, and the occasional moment of surreal genius, most notably a rattlesnake with a tail made of six-shooter cylinders or gophers riding bats armed with gatling guns. Unfortunately it seems to fall between wanting to be a kids film and wanting to be clever and knowing; the great problem of almost any animated fare that isn't made by Pixar, it seems. I enjoyed it in places, sure, but can't shake the feeling that something is missing.

The Incredible Hulk. So, the second attempt to make a movie from the Hulk and I'm now starting to think that true success will ever elude Hollywood. Overall a less brave, and therefore more successful attempt than Ang Lee's attempt it plays more conventionally and does some nice work, especially in the opening, Latin American section and it's culminating chase/fight sequence. The problem, as ever, is that when Hulk steps out of the shadows theres not a lot too him; "Hulk Smash" and all that and it's all a bit loud and stupid, with all earlier subtlety lost. Again, fun, but slightly lacking.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Box Set Blues: Mad Men, Series 1

Mad Men has become a bit of a phenomenon in quality TV circles since it's launch four years ago. It's won "Outstanding Drama Series" at the Emmys every year its been on, which makes you wonder why any other shows bother putting themselves forward. Its become a darling of the critics, and a breakout show for it's network, AMC, allowing it to position itself as a competitor for "quality" television viewers against HBO and Showtime in the US. Thats a lot for one show. And until this month I'd never got around to watching it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thinking: A More Co-operative Future?

I've been playing by myself (quiet at the back there!) a bit more recently since winding down by World of Warcraft time, specifially playing a lot of Deux Ex: Human Revolution,  and I've noticed a marked change in my gaming habits of old. I've lots of fond memories of playing games for hours at a time, lost in some virtual world, but these days after about an hour or so i'm losing my focus. Strangely, with all the co-op gaming i've also been doing - Terraria, Borderlands, Section 8, Sanctum, etc, I've not found that to be the case. Its not a reflection on the game, as DX:HR is fantastic, but I do I really need people to keep me interested. And more the point, isn't that the way it should be?

LFG Hengsha Docks, Needs Hacking, Elbow Swords

Monday, September 19, 2011

TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day

I think it's fair to say that that the overall reception for Torchwood: Miracle Day has been mixed. From watching varied strands of social media over the last 10 weeks I've seen a lot of criticism, a bit of vitriol, and some defense, but on the whole it's received a much colder response than Children of Earth, only some of which is down to the increased expectation from it's "big move" to the US. I am mindful of one comment I read though, which wisely pointed out that watching a show just to "hate on it" is pretty dumb, so bearing in mind that I watched the whole thing, and am hopefully not "pretty dumb", it can't have been a total dead loss.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thinking: Head vs Heart

I intend to write up a fuller piece on the current series of Doctor Who once it's all over but its safe to say that "The Girl Who Waited" will be one of the stand out episodes of the season for me. And that got me thinking as to why. Because in many ways it's a pretty slight episode - the premise is basic, the plot perfunctory and there is a lot of timey-wimey hand waving to get it all to work. On the other hand, it's all focused on this huge emotional punch that for me, at least, really delivers. At the same time however, after recording the latest Dissecting Worlds on sunday night, I was reminded that many of the shows and books I look back on from my 20s and earlier don't really connect emotionally in quite the same way. Is that me? Or the genre?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Box Set Blues: Justified, Season 1

Justified opens with our hero, US Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens, gunning down a man across a table he has a shared history with, a man who saved his life, but is now on the wrong side of the law from, after pretty much talking him into drawing first to give him a "justified" shoot. The same episode ends with Raylan gunning down another man across a table, a man he has a shared history with, a man who saved his life but is now on the wrong side of the law from. Justified, like many of its characters, has a laid back, easy-going charm that hides a slick brain underneath.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

State of the Blog: September 2011

Well the autumn is here, the schools are back and the rain is hammering on the window, so I guess I should post up a general update of stuff I've been doing.

August saw us start the new series of Dissecting Worlds in which we cover Leaders and Leadership as our main there, starting with King Arthur. We're recording episode 2, on Star Fleet Captains (the oldest argument on the internet, so that should be fun!) over the weekend, and the sort of subject I've been unconciously researching since I was about 8 years old!

Review-wise I've managed to keep contributing over that main Geek Syndicate Site, who continue to be highly tolerant of my waffle. The Dark Futures series takes up a lot of both my reading time and reviewing time, and I've managed to squeeze out reviews of The Handmaids Tale, Children of the Dust and The Postman, and am currently half-way through The Children of Men. The big moral of all of these is that a) the future could be really grim unless you're a furry mutant hippy, and b) the Kindle is an awesome piece of kit.

Also on the review front I covered Falling Skies - still not entirely sure what I make of the series as a whole, so may have to post something up trying to pull my disperate brain-threads together. I'm increasingly feeling the urge to have a rant about Torchwood, but I'll at least let the series run itself to the end first!

And thats about it for now, I think.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thinking: What is it you don't 'get', George?

One the stories the seems to be all over the Internet this week is more "tweaks" to the Star Wars Saga once it hits Blu-Ray later this year. Amongst the many things that don't need to be messed with, we are getting a new Yoda for The Phantom Menace, blinking Ewok eyes and most bizzarely of all, new audio for Obi-Wan Kenobi driving off sandpeople and extra "dialogue" for Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. As you might expect the internet is mostly up in arms about more tinkering to the trilogy but I can't really get angry anymore, just increasingly sad.

New Dialogue: "You know Father, I've always felt you're not expresive enough. The odd outburst at key moments will make you more relatable"

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Top 5 RPG characters

My Dissecting Worlds co-conspirator posted up a blog about his favorite Role-Playing Characters recently, and appealed for others to do the same. Table-Top RPGs aren't the geek "thing" they were when I was at university, but its the sort of thing a lot more people have tried than ever seem to be prepared to admit it in polite company. But we're all freinds here, right? So I'm happy to share...

This may turn out to be my geekiest post yet. Which is saying something, really.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August DVD Round Up!

One of the side-effects of parenthood is that we get out a lot less to the cinema than we used to, resulting in being behind with the latest releases by several months. The advantage to this is of course that we get to avoid some of the worst clankers just by paying attention to what our freinds think, but you do sometimes miss out on the "buzz" of opening weekends and a spoiler-free life. 

We did however join "Lovefilm" as a way of catching up, and due to it's "random selection from a list" we get to catch up on film that I suspect we'd never pickup from the shelf of a bricks'n'mortar rental place, just as we'd gravitate towards a safer option. This means that we periodically just stick on a list everything that we half-way fancy and watch whatever drops through the post that week, curled up on the sofa with a bottle of wine. So, Augusts movies were: 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Joys of Shows You Can Watch With Your Kids

Doctor Who is back on saturday! Hooray! For me this is a good thing as I enjoy the show in it's own right, but also because it's one of the few shows on TV at the moment that we sit down as a family and make time to watch. We watch a lot of "grown up" telly but it tends to be when the kids are safely asleep, and with our eldest being 9 theres a little bit of a grey area between what is appropriate for him to watch, and what he finds satisfying to watch. The best stuff for this is that comparatively rare breed of show that manages a very broad range, and largely appeals to kids and their parents, and boy do I value them. So here is my Top 5 family shows currently in production, in no particular order.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why I Quit World of Warcraft and Other Stories

I have a lot of very geeky hobbies and passtimes, which I'm pretty free with talking about, for some reason I've always been a little shy about my long-term prescence in Blizzard's behemothic MMORPG World of Warcraft. It's an odd thing to be embarrased about, really (compared to say, collecting Lego or painting tiny plastic soldiers) but there you are. So yes, I play World of Warcraft. Or rather, I did.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty

One of the nicest things about doing the podcast and getting back into a lot of old geeky habits that I'd sort of got out of, and one of those was 2000ad. Its changed a lot over the years, and there are a lot of characters seeming long put out to pasture, and I've yet to stump up for a subscription (the shame!) but I have picked up the odd current trade, largely based on recommendation. When we covered Judge Dredd on Dissecting Worlds, we used the Origins arc as a jumping on point, and what I was pretty consistantly told was the best thing to follow it up with was Tour of Duty, now collected over two volumes. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Review: Surface Detail

I first came across the Culture shortly after comming to university, when I bought a copy of Consider Phlebas largely on the basis of the really lovely cover art featuring a shiny and not-too-plot-relevant spaceship. Despite reading a lot of SF through my teens, Iain Banks totally blew me away at the time, and for a long while I owned pretty much everything he wrote ever since with varying degrees of fanaticism. Banks took a long break from the Culture after 2000's Look to Windward, and I confess to finding his books after that - both The Algebraist and his non-SF novels - steadily less and less compelling. I had high hopes for Matter, his return to The Culture but really wasn't as grabbed by it as perhaps I wanted to be.  That said, it was far from a bad book, so of course I picked up the new Culture novel Surface Detail.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thinking: This is why we don't deserve anything nice.

Sometimes I think the internet is one of the greatest inventions since the Printing Press. Sometimes I think I could spent the rest of my life swimming in the digital depths and never run out of things to read, or see, such is the breadth of material available. Sometimes I think its capacity for free conversation, the equality of access for differing viewpoints, and the opportunity for people of similar interests to find common cause has the potential to reshape how human society itself functions. 

Sometimes however it makes me want to unplug the internet in despair.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

A couple of weeks ago I had a minor rant about the over-reliance on Origin Stories in superhero movies, especially this summer. Thankfully, I also commented that this doesn't precude any of these films being good, just makes them moderately unoriginal in concept. There is a craft in doing something familar well, in making the un-original seem fresh, and I can think of no better example than Captain America: The First Avenger.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: A Dance With Dragons

So, it actually came out. After 5 years after the previous instalment, and after various drama on the internet, rampant speculation from all sides, and for a lot of fans, simply a damn long wait, A Dance with Dragons is upon us. Having basically ignored the very existence of the series for years, I finally succumbed to A Game of Thrones last year, and then reading the rest nearly back-to-back ever since, I didn’t really suffer from all of that, and was able to roll straight from A Feast for Crows into this one. Which as we will see, is probably a good thing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Box Set Blues: The Wire, Series 4

Anyone who listens to Dissecting Worlds will know that talking about The Wire has become a bit of a running gag for us, and anyone who reads a certain class of Broadsheet newspaper will probably be likewise aware that the show has been the "go to guy" when any pundit wants to annoint a Greatest TV Show Ever Made. In fact The Wire now comes with so many plaudits heaped around it that I can almost imagine it putting people off watching it, or at least watching the first couple of episodes and wondering what the hell the fuss was about. But our watch-through has just finished the fourth season, and whilst it's not the best series of the show, it's possibly the most typical.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thinking: Bored of Origin Stories?

I've not seen a superhero movie this summer. How is that even possible? I mean, there is so many of them, it must be some sort of compulsary act to keep my “geek license” in good order. But I haven’t, and more strangely, I don’t really want to. In fact, when I last got the opportunity to go to the movies I went to see Bridesmaids over Green Lantern or X-men: First Class. It’s been something I've not been too sure how to process, but here goes anyway….
Bitten by a Radioactive Glowfly
So, I've watched the trailers, eaten up the pre-release titbits from Comic-Con panels, internet “leaks” and widely distributed interviews across all sorts of media. I've seen re-tweeted hints, grainy set photos, read casting debates, costuming changes, the whole works. And at the heart of it, I think what gets me down is that it’s all the same. It’s the origin story; the franchise launch. After all these years we’re still making bloody Superman. What’s worse is that many of the sequels are still Superman II

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thinking: I Love 'A Song of Ice and Fire' But It's All That is Wrong with Fantasy..

So, what is probably the biggest event in the Fantasy Calendar happens this week, when the latest book in the George R R Martins’ epic A Song of Ice and Fire, A Dance with Dragons, is unleashed into the world. After being promised it within a year of the publication of A Feast for Crows, and that being five years ago, anticipation is high, coupled with the success of HBOs adaption of A Game of Thrones, so clearly it’s a good time to be a fan of the series.  In fact, with the general cultural impact of Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings and a host of other pop-culture friendly fantasy flying around, it’s a good time to be a Fantasy Fan, right? Well, certainly better than being a fan of spaceships, at least. 

But if you mean it’s a good time in the sense of being able to show a little “fantasy pride” without people looking at you like you’re a real weirdo, then yes, it’s a great time to be a Fantasy Fan. Because lots of people are dabbling in the shallow end of the genre these days; the booming Young Adult market is full of fantasy-tinged works I think there is a general awareness of the genre that there hasn’t been since the great “Fantasy Boom” of the 1980s. On the other hand, anyone stepping out of that shallow end is likely to be pulled away the current and drowned. And A Song of Ice and Fire is as big a culprit for that as any. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Tyranny of Knowing (and not Knowing) the Numbers

One of my other hobbies, when I'm not podcasting, reviewing, writing or painting tiny plastic figures, is being neurotic and insecure. As many of the above involve putting my thoughts out onto the internet in one form or another, this can be best described as an "interesting" combination.

Now on sunday we are recording the "Conclusions" episode of Dissecting Worlds Series 4, which will be our 29th podcast, which is all kinds of cool. Like the rest it will go out into the world, get syndicated, copied, stuck on itunes, and generally passed around the internet, and like all the rest we'll have very little firm idea of how many people listen to it. Sure, we get some very welcome feedback, it's not that much. I've worked my time in Customer Support roles and I know the deep truth that no-one rings you or emails you to tell you you're doing a good job, so a lack of being called a proper idiot is as good a compliment as you can get in these circumstances, but at times you just want to know people are out there.

The complete opposite is true of this blog - and indeed the reviews I've done over at Geek Syndicate. I can see in wonderful, granular detail how many hits an article gets, and where it is referred from, and so on, which leads to complusive stat checking to see how many people are reading whatever whitterings it have put out at which particular time.

Now the wierd thing is, from talking to fellow podcasters and bloggers, is that I'm not alone. We're all - well certainly a lot of us - like this, driven by an urge to put out our opinions to the world and then caught between fear of being told we are doing it wrong, or just plain ignored and not sure which would be worse. It could drive you mad, but I'm not sure doing this sort of thing is a mark of sanity to start with.

The answer of course is simple, and the single best piece of advice I was given when we started out, and probably the only piece of advice I would pass on. Do it because it is fun to do, in of itself. Do it because you enjoy the process of recording, or writing. Do it for your own pleasure, with your voice, and that will come through in what you do. 

Let the numbers look after themselves. Anything else is a bonus.

Right, just got to go check how many hits this has got...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

State of the Blog: July 2011

Well, I've had this blog for just over a fortnight and managed to post several times, which is an improvement over what I expected. I should shut it down now and call that a win! So I thought I'd do a quick update on what is going on with me when I'm not writing short essays on whatever crossed my mind on the commute to work. 

Well, over on the Geek Syndicate site I'm steadily working my way through a year-long reading list of Dystopias and Apocalypses called Dark Futures. GS have been very tolerant of letting me spout off about books over the last couple of years, and they are also letting me cover the new TV show Falling Skies for them. I've also volounteered to help out with their upcomming (and pretty exciting looking) Summer of Indie which starts next week.

All of which is eating a little into my free time, including, ironically, the time to do research and reading and gaming in order to have anything to write about in the first place.

So what am I working on at the moment? Well I was struck the other week, when one of our rare-because-we-have-kids opportunities to go to the cinema came along, how little enthusiasm I could muster to go and see any of the stream of Superhero movies that are about this summer, and let the wife drag me to see Bridesmaids instead. I'm not quite sure why, but I'm trying to put it into words. I'm also planning on joining the rest of the internet in writing about A Dance with Dragons when I get my hands on it next week.

All of which is more than enough to be getting on with.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thinking: Goodbye, Space Opera?

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”
-          Lord Darlington (“Lady Windermere’s Fan”, by Oscar Wilde)

One of the great things about this time of year for any fan of lazing on the sofa and watching the telly is the great swathe of gossip, fear, triumph and disappointment that comes with the US TV networks deciding which shows to cancel, renew and launch. Sure, many fall mid-season, but most victims linger into the spring and the slow death of being shunted about the schedules until the last of the audience give up writing petitions and let them die. Others hang over the edge a bit before bounding free into renewal, and the internet swarms with pictures and sneak reviews of commissioned pilots on which viewers can hang their hopes of a new show with which to go through the whole cycle again next year. 

And this year we have the usual bunch of Lost-alikes, a bit of modern (and not so modern) fantasy, Steven Spielberg’s return to using Dinosaurs, and a couple more attempts to repeat the success of Heroes series one with-out the nasty aftertaste of the rest of its run. But what’s missing in all this geeky programming is anything “out in space”. And I think that’s a curious omission, so I did a bit of research – well, spent half-an-hour on Wikipedia – and confirmed my suspicion that this is the first time in over twenty years you can’t get a “Space Ships in Space” fix on the telly. Here’s a picture to prove it: 

Space Opera TV Shows in Production by Original Broadcast Year (click for bigness)

Now, even discounting the hugely dominant Star Trek franchise, that’s a lot of shows with a lot of overlap. There was a lot of people spending a lot of money to make people look like they’re flying around in space and tell stories about it and suddenly there isn’t anymore. There wasn’t even a non-picked-up pilot that I’m aware of. So where did they go, and why? 

The first answer that comes to mind is simply that no-one watches them. And I think that there may be some truth to that; Battlestar Galactica always struggled with ratings but survived at least in part to being very highly reviewed and lending prestige to a network desperately lacking it. In fact very few of these shows where ever considered “safe”, as far back as Babylon 5 – but that was 20 years ago (god I feel old) so if Space Opera has always been a little niche it never stopped people trying to make it before. Sure, Star Trek: The Next Generation was pretty big but none of the rest were what you’d call televisual juggernauts, but they clearly did well enough to keep on the screen (mostly) for a decent run and many cancelled shows even got spins off and movies for the faithful. 

So the next answer is sort of related – money. It is cheaper, says the common wisdom, to make five editions of Jersey Shore or a new series of The X Factor, which get more viewers, which mean more advertising revenue and therefore the networks make more money off the show. Which is also true, but this argument applies to all genre shows and is, I think, a reason that they are receding off mainstream networks in the US generally, or become more based in “this world” but HBO hasn’t been shy in creating “other worlds” the last few years not just in the obvious (Game of Thrones) but in its strand of historical dramas (The Pacific, Boardwalk Empire) as well. And the other premium cable networks are keen to emulate that model with shows like Camelot and Spartacus and the Torchwood buy-out which may not be as high-class but still have the costs associated with imaging these worlds. 

I think the point with both the above examples is that whilst they are both factors in Space Opera vanishing from the screens I think that as factors go they’ve been ever present, and something that the genre has always struggled with. They kill shows for sure, but I’m not sure they stop people trying to make them in the first place. But I think more fundamentally, it has just finally gone out of fashion. This is different from ratings, by the way, I think there is almost certainly still an audience, but I think that creatively, from writers and commissioners and network executives, there is a sense that the possibilities of flying around in space have been played out over the last twenty or so years it is time to move on. 

I blame Star Trek, of course. 

By which I mean that Trek has been such a dominant force in creating the model of a Space Opera show that the whole genre has struggled to be free of it. It certainly didn’t create TV space opera but it sure as hell shaped it, and The Next Generation’s launch is the show that brings it back to the screen after the post-Star Wars boom shows limped off in the early 80s. For a while it seemed to define the whole genre – shows like Babylon 5, Farscape and Firefly were at pains to be not-Trek, whilst each lifting aspects from it, and even the Trek franchise itself struggled with its own legacy, both successfully in later Deep Space Nine and much less so with the sad and confused Enterprise

It’s also interesting that after the death of Enterprise there are no new shows put out there, Stargate: Universe being a noble-if-doomed attempt to take the venerable Stargate franchise in a new, credibly dark’n’murky direction. It makes me wonder if Trek, the clear market leader in terms of consciousness (if not quality) is somehow dictating the rhythms of the whole genre, and having it on the screens makes it easier to move other projects forward. I suspect so. 

So what next for Space-Ships on your telly? Well not included on the list, and buried on the kids channels of your TV remote is Star Wars: Clone Wars, which is all CG animated and pretty much as space opera-ey as it gets, not to mention featuring better plots and acting than much of the Star Wars prequels. So I guess you can get your fix of hot starship-on-starship action from there, but apart from that I suspect it will be a while before someone dips a toe back in the waters.

And that’s a shame, frankly, because I like Space Opera as a literary genre, and I think TV is a great medium for it’s mix of adventure, accessibility and story-telling freedom. And for now, as it’s flown off into the sunset, I shall miss it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Podcasting Update

Things have been pretty busy on the podcast front in the last couple of weeks. Firstly we have the Dissecting Worlds: Drugs Special with our guest David Wynne from Particle Fiction.

Away from DW I also got to guest on the lastest on Scrolls Book Group: Jennifer Government which was blast, and notable as its the first podcast I've done without my DW co-host, so that was a bit wierd for me. But had a good time, and we found out this morning that Max Barry, the author of Jennifer Goverment, has actually listened to it! Which is kinda terrifying...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thinking: Gaming Narratives and Narrative Gaming.

Over at the Dissecting Worlds Two Towers we are engaged in sporadic discussion over the contents of our next batch of episodes, which in part consists of mutual wish-lists of stuff we want to cover, alongside a desire to keep it varied and interesting to listen to. In nearly thirty episodes (gosh!) I think we’ve managed to cover a wide range of bases, but it all that time, we’ve only covered one Gaming universe. And given how big the gaming industry is these days, that feels a little odd. 

Now obviously there is a lot of factors at work here – Gaming is a hobby still in its awkward adolescence and maybe doesn’t have the long history that comics or TV or movies have. My partner in crime, the Witch-King of Angmar to my Saruman of Many Colours, isn’t much of a gamer, and I had to pretty much force him play Mass Effect for the podcast we did on it. But I am a gamer, one who probably spends more free time a week gaming than watching telly or reading books, and I can’t think of many that I’d like to cover, largely because so few have enough narrative depth to get any mileage out of. 

So why is that? Well some of it is the nature of the beast – a lot of games have next to no narrative at all outside of “get gun, shoot baddie, smash crate” or “kill pigs for exp, level up”, or even “jump on platforms to collect mushrooms that help you rescue the princess.” and don’t need to. That’s not what they are about. A lot of games are set in the real world, or approximations thereof. A lot of games are so abstract expecting any sort of fiction around them is silly. But more than a few games but a huge amount of effort into their surrounding fiction and make a big song and dance about it, with wildly varying levels of success. 

Anyone who’s played any Role-Playing Games out of Japan will be well aware of the labyrinthine plots and worlds that these games bring with them, padding out already long games with hours and hours of elaborate cut-scenes and exposition, so much so that they can be like watching a very long movie in which you need to do the action sequences yourself. Western RPGs tend to live in variations of the Western Fantasy tradition – very recognisable to anyone who ever play Dungeons and Dragons – and led by Bioware as far back as the Baldurs Gate series seem more interested in personal “choice” in how you move through the world. For me, the former has stagnated over recent years whilst the latter has become more and more interesting, but ultimately what has made is so isn’t the worlds themselves but the increasingly complex way with which you can interact with them. 

Almost the polar opposite is the First Person Shooter, a genre that feels like it hasn’t overly evolved, gameplay wise, in about 10 years, bar the odd innovation like recharging health or sticking, Velcro-like, to cover. What it has done however, is tried to compensate for that by varying the scenery you wobble around in shooting people quite a lot. Besides the seemingly endless parade of World-War 2 and modern-day shooters, we’ve also seen a large number of surprisingly complex backdrops, that are really tangential to the business at hand. Halo sets great store by its (quite generic actually) Space Opera background to the point of tie-in books and extra merchandise, but there really isn’t much mileage in it compared to any of the backgrounds that it is riffing off. More successfully, Bioshock’s Objectivist Paradise of Rapture, along with its clever meta-narrative and striking visuals makes it the sort of game I would love to cover, alongside places like Half-Life 2’s City 17. 

This isn’t meant to sound dismissive of any of these games. After all, they’re games – the best background and plot in the world isn’t going to keep my playing if the actual gameplay is dull or clunky or broken. Starcraft II was hugely successful and great fun to play but its story is un-engaging and it’s universe derivative. The Darkness had great atmosphere and story but iffy controls and level design. I know which one I preferred, as a gamer, to be playing. But if I had to chose one to talk about, I’d pick The Darkness

But The Darkness is based on a comic. The Dawn of War series is based on a wargame. Knights of the Old Republic is set in the Star Wars universe. LA Noire and Red Dead Redemption are both stylised period pieces where you can point directly to the source material and talk about that instead. The Witcher is an adaptation of a novel series. Most MMORPGs are based on established properties and I’m not mean enough to pass on my World of Warcraft addictions to anyone. All of these have big, immersive universes or strong narratives (or both) but talking about them is largely redundant because I feel we should be talking about the direct source material, and what has built that. 

And I think that’s the frustration when it comes right down to it. Games can clearly put you in fictional universes in a way that no other medium can, and can tell great stories in the process. Many do, but as yet there are very few that are wholly of the medium, not imported from outside and adapted. I think it’s changing – I think there is a breed of developer out there that strives for it to change, to make universes and tell stories organically in the way that only that immersive experience can – but I don’t think it’s quite there yet. 

So I guess there is nothing else for it. I need to buy the Witch-King a copy of Bioshock...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

So I Guess Introductions Are In Order

Um. Hello.

I'm Matt, and I'm a Geek. (Hello, Matt). Actually I've been one for a while, and even kept a blog for a few years, but it's mostly personal, freinds locked and full of dull things like photos of the kids and what I did last weekend and so on. But it's a little unfocused, and so I've set up a new home as a space to let me post longer rambles about wider geeky issues that interest me. And it seems prudent - and polite - to explain a little.

For the last 18 months I've been the co-host of the Dissecting Worlds podcast, whose main focus is to take a sideways look at various Geek Fiction, from any genre and any source, and fit into the real world a little bit. We look at inspirations, real-world equivalents, and try and fill the gaps around the material where we find them. I'm very proud of it, not only because it is fun to record in itself, but because its put me in touch with a lot of new and interesting people in the Geek Community.

It's also shifted my perceptions a little bit; I find it hard to watch something now without analysing it, peering into the cracks a little bit, and that needs an outlet other then boring the wife and kids with it, which is were this blog comes in. There's already a handful of posts I've moved over from my old blog and hopefully more will come when the need to write long-winded commentaries overwhelms me, as well as any reviews and other comments I feel compelled to write up.

But thats all for now, back to tinkering with the design tools. 

Thinking: What's the Point of Critics?

I have come to the slightly sobering conclusion that in the great ecology of the internet opinion I’m more of a critic than a creator. I mean sure, Dissecting Worlds is original content but its whole premise is analysis and discussion of existing material, without which we wouldn’t exist. But I’m not sure I’d want to describe myself as a “critic”, for reasons at first I found hard to express, but, thanks to the wonder of the movies, I think I have the answer.

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
-          Anton Ego, “Ratatouille”

First off I think of all the film studios in the world, Pixar is the one with least to fear from critics, and the one with the most spotless record I can think of, so making a film which has, as its centrepiece, a battle between art and criticism is a little pre-emptively defensive. But its valid conflict, and one that is close to the heart of anyone who sticks anything out there for the public to review. I've been through phases where I have been productive enough write material for submission to various publications, and what you crave is constructive and honest feedback, and critics, in their traditional role as arbiters of taste and quality are the big beasts of the feedback world.

The problem with traditional critics, and where I think my distaste for the label comes from, is that their roles is increasingly irrelevant in some ways, and as vital as ever in others, and what they do, and what I think they should be for, seem to be drifting apart. Let’s use the movies as an example, but it applies to most areas of culture, both “high” and “low”. Back in the seventies, films opened small and ran for long periods, and critical to success was syndicated reviews. Critics like the legendary Pauline Kael could “make” or “break” films with bad reviews, and critics feature largely in any history of film especially the “New Hollywood” of 70s. But all this changed with the rise of the Blockbuster, and patterns of how films were released changed, with wider and wider openings, and often shorter and shorter release windows.

And now we live in a world where often the opening weekend is seen as “all”, especially over the long summer months. Films can open one weekend, run for a fortnight, and then vanish again, and still rake in hundreds of millions of dollars (or not, depending on the film). Critical opinion is secondary to massive advertising budgets and pre-sold franchises, internet-fuelled word-of-mouth and often-questionable reviewing in media outlets owned by the same companies that made and distributed the film in the first place. Now I’m not dumb enough to believe that there was once a golden age of enlightened taste and debate, but the point I’m trying to make is that our consuming habits have changed hugely, and it’s left the traditional critic with a much smaller voice.

Of course this is, in many ways a good thing. Critics like Kael could anoint films as somehow more artistically legitimate than others, when in reality it’s often a matter of opinion, not objective fact, or worse, about personalities and networking, or intent over content, just being downright snobby against anything that is populist. The modern age, especially the internet, bring a democratic freshness that gives my voice the same weight as The Guardian’s film critic, which is the same voice as whoever watches all those Twilight movies, and the same voice as anyone else with a web browser and an opinion. Obviously all of the above gets hugely different viewers, but the growth of the importance of sites like metacritic means that you can get a decent assessment of the mass of opinion, very quickly. Sure it tends to be a bit safe and a bit middle of the road, but its a good indication of crowd-pleasers and a good health warning for when Superhero Action Movie IV turns out to be a bit pants.

But I do worry we are losing something as well. A lot of traditional critics are just that – traditional, and with the best will in the world I’m not going to find out if Green Lantern is any good from a bloke who is into his foreign-language art-house flicks, any more than I can get an opinion on the new Iron Maiden album off my Dad. The narrow release windows mean we lose perspective as fans, it’s easy to excited about seeing the X-Men on screen, and caught up in that hype but it’s only once you’ve walked away for a day or so that either hidden depths, or hidden shallows reveal themselves. And in the internet age of the “now”, a review for a film that came out two weeks ago is already far too late; the next big thing is here.

So what role for criticism in this new age?  Is it destined to be relegated to just a slightly-better-informed voice amongst the cacophony?  I’m not so sure. Metacritic may be a great “one stop shop” aggregator but is the tip of a more interesting iceberg; the host of community sites, big and small, do the same job, not only covering the stuff that everyone has heard of, but allowing people to see things they may well not have. The internet increasingly supports small media outlets, downloads, streaming services, indie gaming, a vast and diverse comic scene and the like that you’ll never find without help and just as critics of the past have had a key role in bringing new talent forward then that need remains today.  

There’s another role too, as analyst and preserver of our heritage. When you rush forward, it is important to take what is valuable with you, and now Geek Culture seems bigger than ever, as film and TV strip-mine it for pre-built franchise opportunity, it feels important to take that sudden recognition that say, Fantasy or SF TV shows can be intelligent and complex, or Superhero movies can be Dark and Challenging, and be clear that has always been so, that the source material has been there along, and that there is more of it and it is worthwhile having, in its original form as much as its new one.

It’s not enough, I feel, to simply say something is good or bad, or worthy or unworthy. It’s not the decision of the critic to appoint one thing as art and another as trash. The internet puts all that information at your fingertips, lets you find a dozen opinions in as many minutes, and whilst writing 500 words and a star rating is an integral part of informing your community, I don’t think it’s enough. Hell, I do it, and I don’t think its enough! The real job, to me, the job that is hard to do, is provide context and legacy. Sure it can be pretentious, and wordy but look at the multiplexes this summer, look at the onslaught of geek culture mined out for blockbusters and toys and fast-food tie ins. It looks like victory and acceptance but it’s also disposable and hollow in the face of the next craze and key to is moving past the sheer joy of seeing it up there and giving it meaning and weight.

And that’s a critics job.

I’ll give the final word to the film that got me onto this line of thought, as Ratatouille’s newly converted villain answers his own question.

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends.
-          Anton Ego, “Ratatouille”