Linkblogging For 29/05/11 (warning, contains rant including very offensive swear word)

Firstly, and most importantly… to those of you who wonder why I have such an active hatred for organisations like Racist UKIP, this is why. The Home Office is planning to deport a quadriplegic, partially-sighted five-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, heart problems and epilepsy to Algeria – where she will die – rather than letting her stay with the uncle and aunt who want to adopt her and who are the only family she’s ever known.

This is happening because organisations like Racist UKIP have so poisoned debate in this country that it’s become commonly accepted that we ‘need to get tough on immigration’ and ‘we have no control over our borders’. Well, congratulations. Because of you, a scared little girl is going to be bundled onto a plane on her own, and sent to live with strangers for a very short time before she dies. I hope you’re proud of yourselves, you unutterably evil cunts. Still, I suppose you don’t mind – she does have brown skin, after all.

(I don’t normally use language like that, but in this case it’s deserved and more so.)

There *is* a debate to be had on immigration, but it should start from the idea that people should be allowed free movement, and should be centred on helping immigrants integrate and helping communities cope with the changes that result, not on keeping people out of a country whose people aren’t even reproducing at replacement rate and which *needs* immigrants to avoid a total demographic collapse. We should be spending money on ESOL lessons and community-building projects, not on deporting five-year-olds.

If you’re as sickened by this as I am, please, please sign the petition. It’ll have very little effect, I’m sure, but there’s little else that can be done, and if nothing else it will show that you aren’t giving your consent for this kind of sickening behaviour.

Anyway, onto much less angering/upsetting topics:

I agree entirely with Jennie’s assessment of last night’s utter travesty of a ‘Doctor Who’ episode. I’ll try not to ‘spoil’ it, insofar as something so wretched *can* be ‘spoiled’, but the Doctor’s behaviour at the climax was utterly, abhorrently, *EVIL* and totally unjustifiable given the rest of the episode. I’ve said before that while Moffat is great at plot and OK at dialogue, his major failing as a writer is his utter amorality. This proved it (and it was a ‘story arc’ plot point, so Moffat rather than Graham is to blame).

Debi reviews an exhibition about the world’s largest dinosaurs. There’s also a guest post on this at SV-POW.

Measure of Doubt on Bayes’ theorem and ‘thinking in grayscale‘.

How to make money in microseconds

I knew going to work was bad for you…

Computer scientists build cellular automaton supercollider

Alex Wilcock on The Avengers – Game

The Aporetic on the alleged efficiencies of the private sector

And the Torygraph, of all papers, say Chris Huhne has achieved more in a year than most top politicians achieve in a lifetime.

6: Klarion

This essay appears in a revised form in my book An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers. Paperback, Hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), other ebook formats

Subtitle of Klarion issue 1: From This World To That Which Is To Come

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide the gate, and broad the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.
Because strait the gate, and narrow the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Matthew 7:13 – 7:14 (King James version)

Note – the paragraphs of this essay before the first illustration contain discussions of stories which deal with abortion, in a quite unpleasant way. If you have strong feelings on this subject or are otherwise likely to be ‘triggered’ by this, please skip to the illustration. You should be able to pick up from there.

In 1975, Harlan Ellison wrote a short story called Croatoan. It came shortly after the Roe v Wade court decision which legalised abortion in the USA, and was part of a minor wave of anti-abortion Science Fiction that came out around that time – for years I confused it with Philip K Dick’s much better-written (and less nasty, though more misogynist) The Pre-Persons from 1974. Ellison, with his customary intellectual cowardice, said his story was neither pro- nor anti-abortion (possibly because of Dick’s experience, when he received a ton of hate mail, most notably from the feminist academic and SF writer Joanna Russ) but, well…

The plot of the story is that our narrator’s girlfriend has had an abortion. And the narrator flushes the aborted foetus down the toilet (apparently in Ellison’s world, it is common practice for people to be given the foetus after an abortion). His girlfriend, being a hysterical emotional woman, not a manly man like Harlan Ellison, starts screaming at him to go down into the sewer and get the foetus, so the narrator agrees.

He travels into the sewers of New York, where he finds ‘Croatoan’ written on the wall, a la the Roanoke colony. He also finds that the urban legend about crocodiles (which have been flushed down the toilet once they became bigger than babies) living in the sewers is true – but they’re pets. They’re being ridden by the aborted foetuses that get flushed down the toilet. It ends:

“I am the one they have been looking for all along…They call me father.”

Ellison claimed this was about ‘parental responsibility’, and to be fair it does seem to be about the search for a father-figure, especially in the flashbacks, but it’s really just a nasty little piece of grand guignol, albeit an effective one.

Missing or dead fathers appear all over Seven Soldiers, of course – Zatanna’s father, Klarion’s father, Larry Marcus, but also the missing or absent Gods that appear throughout the text. And one of the great works of English literature is about the search for God-the-father, even as it’s about a father who abandons his own child.

"Thus, with my blood, do I spell out the commands of Croatoan, the witch-god. And the god says close the wicket-gate! The people must hide." Panel from Klarion #1

The man therefore read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, Whither must I fly? Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder wicket-gate? The man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining light? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto: so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.

The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come, John Bunyan

Like most of the symbolism in Seven Soldiers, the ‘wicket gate’ here has at least two meanings – one that will be noticed by ‘geeks’ of the type who read superhero comics, and one that will be noticed by others. I’ll talk about the first one first.

In the book Life, the Universe, and Everything, by Douglas Adams (part of the famous Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series), the English game of cricket turns out to be a folk-memory of an evil, genocidal race who come from the planet Krikkit. In order to prevent the Krikkitmen from escaping, they are locked away from the rest of the universe, unable to see the stars in the sky, in a bubble of slow time. While time passes by for the rest of the universe, they are stuck in the past, and unable to know about the rest of the universe, unless they can open the Wikkit Gate and escape.

Like most of Adams’ jokes, this works on a couple of levels. Most obviously, it’s a reference to the game of cricket, and the wickets that are used in that game. But it’s also a nodding acknowledgement to one of Adams’ influences.

Adams was, before becoming the writer of the Doctor Who serials The Pirate Planet, City Of Death and Shada (as well as some other, more minor, works), a student of English Literature at Cambridge, and his work often features obscure literary references. In particular, the main character of the Hitch-Hiker’s series is named after a 17th century writer of Puritan tracts.

Arthur Dent was the author of The Plain Man’s Pathway To Heaven, Wherein Every Man May Clearly See Whether He Shall Be Saved Or Damned, Set Forth Dialogue-Wise, For The Better Understanding Of The Simple, a catchily-titled Puritan tract. A cheery work, it has chapters such as “On Man’s Corruption And Misery”, “On Regeneration”, “On Contempt Of The Gospel” and “On Whoredom And Adultery” (the latter subdivided into “whoredom and the dangers thereof”, “excuses of whoredom”, “the fearful effects of whoredom”, “the punishment of whoredom”, “the causes of whoredom” and “remedies against whoredom”).

Written as a conversation between two rather earnest Calvinists (who are later joined by an atheist and someone who is ignorant of religion) the book sets out the basic theology of the puritans:

Phil. What reason is there that we should be thus punished for another man’s offence?

Theol. Because we were then all in him, and are now all of him: That is we are so descended out of his loins that of him we have not only received our natural and corrupt bodies, but also by propagation have inherited his foul corruptions, as it were by hereditary right.

Phil. But forasmuch as some have dreamed that Adam by his fall hurt himself only, and not his posterity, and that we have his corruption derived into us by imitation, and not by propagation; therefore I pray you shew this more plainly.

Theol. Even as great personages, by committing treason, do not only hurt themselves, but also stain their blood, and disgrace their posterity, for the children of such nobles are disinherited, whose blood is attainted, til they be restored again by act of parliament; even so, our blood being attainted by Adam’s transgression, we can inherit nothing of right, til we be restored by Christ.

(I find that this stuff becomes more readable if you substitute the names Vladimir and Estragon for Phil. and Theol.)

At the time, Dent’s book was a massive success, selling in excess of a hundred thousand copies – which in the largely illiterate society of the early Stuart monarchs was a huge number (and indeed would be a spectacular result for any book in the largely-illiterate society of the late Windsor monarchs). But these days it’s best known for its effect on one reader. Along with one other book, it made up the dowry of John Bunyan’s first wife (whose name history does not record) and became one of the principal influences of a book that influenced both Adams and, more to the point of this essay, Grant Morrison.

The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come by John Bunyan is one of the great works of English literature. Bunyan was a Baptist, one of the many religious sects which tend to be lumped in under the name of ‘Puritanism’ (along with the Quakers, the Presbyterians, the Arian revivalists, the various Calvinist groups and others). These groups were actually more different than they were similar, but all were strongly opposed both to Catholicism and to what they saw as elements of ‘Popery’ within the established Church. Most also valued the conscience of the individual over any authority – at least as long as they were not the ones in authority.

Klarion and Ebeneezer ride a giant alligator through the sewers of New York, in Klarion #2

For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the just as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
The way of the wicked as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.

Proverbs 4:17 – 4:19 (King James version)

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan tries to set out his view of how to get to Heaven, which is represented in his allegory as a Celestial City.The story tells of a man called Christian, who leaves his wife and children to travel to the Celestial City and get eternal life, but who is beset by such characters as Mr Worldly Wiseman, Adam The First, Giant Despair and Ignorance. To get to the Celestial City one has to travel through the Slough Of Despond, Vanity Fair and the Valley Of The Shadow Of Death.

After various travels through elements representing aspects of the Old Testament and Jewish Law, Christian finally reaches the Wicket Gate (a type of small gate set into a wall), through which one has to pass in order to get on the Straight And Narrow Path that takes one to the Celestial City. This Wicket Gate is opened by Goodwill, a fairly obvious representation of Jesus.

Having to stay on a straight and narrow path is, of course, one of the morals one picks up from fairy tales. As Chesterton points out in The Ethics Of Elfland (an essay everyone should read, in which he manages somehow to juggle Forteanism, anti-science Romanticism, literary criticism, arguments for Liberalism and democracy, and Catholic apologism), “In fairyland there had been a real law; a law that could be broken, for the definition of a law is something that can be broken.”, contrasting it to what he considers the false laws of science:

The man of science says, “Cut the stalk, and the apple will fall”; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the other. The witch in the fairy tale says, “Blow the horn, and the ogre’s castle will fall”; but she does not say it as if it were something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause.

We may come back to this fairy-tale lack of cause and effect, and arbitrary punishment, later. The point is that in Bunyan, like in Little Red Riding Hood, straying off the path leads to certain doom.

“Guide us along the Straight Way. The way of those whom You have bestowed Your Grace. Not of those who earn Your anger, nor of those who go astray.” (Qur’an, 1:5-7)

While it’s obviously inspired by other works of Christian art (notably the Lyke Wake Dirge), most of Pilgrim’s Progress’ influence has been on purely secular works – notably in Slaughterhouse Five or The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy or Gulliver’s Travels (and is it just me or is it striking that *such* a Christian book would be so influential on books with such a nihilistic worldview as those three?), but also on many fairy-tales and superhero comics.

Grant Morrison has referenced Pilgrim’s Progress many times, of course – it’s a constant theme throughout Seven Soldiers, but it’s also an obvious inspiration for the Limbo scenes in Animal Man. He’s also described Seaguy (possibly his most interesting recent work other than Seven Soldiers, and certainly his most personal), with its conflicts with ‘the Anti-Dad’ and chess games with Death, as “a sci-fi Pilgrim’s Progress”.

But I don’t think it’s just Morrison. The whole ethos and aesthetic of superhero comics fits perfectly with Bunyan. We have worlds with strictly demarcated good and evil, with a central character who goes through immense struggles, sometimes loses his (and it almost always is a he) way, and eventually overcomes it all with the help of his allies. So far so Joseph Campbell.

But the need to pitch the storytelling at small children in the early years of the genre has meant that all the characters in comics could come out of Bunyan virtually unchanged. One can easily imagine Christian having to deal with The Joker or The Riddler or Two-Face or Doctor Psycho or Mister Mind, and just as easily imagine him being aided by Captain Marvel or Superman.

Of course the king of this kind of naming, as of so much else, was Jack Kirby, the creator of Klarion (and the Guardian and Mister Miracle). His Fourth World stories, in which the good gods of New Genesis like Lightray and Highfather battle the evil gods of Apokolips like Darkseid and Desaad, are the ultimate in bludgeoning obviousness – but manage to go so far in that direction that they get immense power by that very obviousness.

Character names in superhero comics, for the most part, are simple labels – characters in superhero universes operate by a principle of nominative determinacy, so if you’re born Edward Nigma you’re going to end up having a supervillain career based on riddles and there’s nothing you can really do about it. The names of characters in superhero comics function as little more than labels saying ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’.

"It's only a train boy, and I'm only Badde, at your service. Ebeneezer Badde". Panel from Klarion #2

Almost five thousand years ago, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these as these two honest persons are; and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions seeing that the path of the pilgrims lay through this town of Vanity, set up a fair; a fair where they would see all sorts of vanity, and it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such things sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come
, John Bunyan

You may here be reminded of Sir Justyn being followed by the Monster Guilt in Shining Knight. Morrison has spun a much, much denser referential-symbolic web here than even the most dilligent of annotators have realised, and just because Klarion (with its references to the wicket gate, trip to Vanity Fair, and subtitle for issue one) is the only miniseries within Seven Soldiers to have direct references to Pilgrim’s Progress, doesn’t mean its influence doesn’t permeate everything.

I have argued before (in my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! ) that Morrison is a modernist at heart, and while I hadn’t realised the connection until relatively recently [FOOTNOTE I am here indebted to Space, Time And The Pilgrimage In Modern Literature by K.M. Scheel, a PhD dissertation which can be found at, which should be read by anyone who finds this and the next few essays interesting.], one of the distinctions between Modernism and the more conventional narratives that preceded it (and still dominate comics and the cinema) is that Modernism moved away from quest narratives (the type of narrative that tends to follow the Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell) and toward pilgrimage narratives.

To quote Scheel:

A pilgrimage is substantially different from a quest, offering a radically altered worldview…As mentioned earlier, pilgrimages are undertaken as a form of penance, as a devotion, to give thanks, to appeal for healing, or to re-enact a religious event. Where the hero of a quest is traditionally a warrior aristocrat who displays excellence in fulfilment of some idealized behaviour, pilgrims may be foolish, confused and uncertain of their identity…Further, while the quest is well characterized as a masculine enterprise, pilgrims are neither necessarily male, nor heroic. While knights traveled in a hierarchical organization, no class was excluded from the pilgrimage… the pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales include among their professions, a knight, religious men and women, tradesmen, a doctor, the Wife of Bath, and a cook, to name a few. The quest is an individualistic enterprise – only one man can be the hero – but pilgrims often traveled together for protection, and, as we see in The Canterbury Tales, for the joy of companionship on what could be a long and tedious journey.

Modernism sees a turn away from quest narratives and toward a parody of the form – Ulysses recasts Odysseus as an advertising salesman from Dublin, The Waste Land has been described as ‘a Grail narrative with no Grail’, and as Eliot realised, Grail narratives with no Grail or hero come very close to pilgrimage narratives. Which is why The Waste Land starts:

April is the cruelest month,
breeding Lilacs out of the dead land,
mixing Memory and desire,
stirring Dull roots with spring rain.

in clear homage to the start of the Canterbury Tales:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

In many ways Seven Soldiers is to superhero comics as The Waste Land is to epic poetry – the same dense levels of reference, the same multiple viewpoints – and while its stories might present themselves in the quest narrative format, reading them one can clearly see that rather than questing for an external goal, almost every character is either trying to change something about themselves (especially obvious in Seven Soldiers #0, where all the characters get themselves killed for no better reason than that they’re bored with the lives they’re leading) or has no goal at all. They journey for the sake of the journey, or because it’s their job, not because they are in search of a goal.

Partly this is astute commercial sense on Morrison’s part. The idea was to reinvent these characters and allow them to become serialised comics, and having the characters have a clear objective means that objective can be fulfilled – *must* be fulfilled for a satisfactory heroic quest narrative – and so having the goal of defeating the Sheeda being essentially incidental to the characters’ lives is a way of keeping each character’s story open.

But there’s also an aesthetic reason. The quest narrative is essentially linear – time based – this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens, and then the goodies win. The pilgrimage, on the other hand, is a space-based form – it’s about the places visited. The goal, such as it is, is merely to exist in one place at at least one moment in time. Given the way Morrison plays with time and space, taking perspectives outside time, implying an essentially cyclical time (the Sheeda feeding on the past from the future, the many falls of Camelot) and showing the same events happening over and again – and given that Seven Soldiers is so rooted in place, in a New York that both is and isn’t our New York (the “Cinderella city”), the pilgrimage narrative – and the choice of Pilgrim’s Progress as a source of inspiration – is far more appropriate than it may at first appear.

The Pilgrim’s Progress itself, of course, is in some ways closer to the Hero’s Journey than to the pilgrimage narratives, at least in its first part. But where a Hero’s Journey story would end with the hero having reached his destination, there is a whole second book of Pilgrim’s Progress in which Christian’s wife, Christiana, her neighbour, Mercy, Christian and Christiana’s four sons, and the four wives they pick up along the way all also decide to go to the Celestial City too. Bunyan wrote this second part – which unfortunately is not as well-known as the first part – in order to show that women could be pilgrims just as much as men could.

And this – carrying on after what would normally be the ‘end’, having multiple equally important characters of multiple genders – is a characteristic of both Modernism and the Pilgrimage narrative, but emphatically not of the Quest form. The Lord Of The Rings doesn’t suddenly switch half-way through to being about Mrs Baggins and the four little(r) Baggins going to Mordor because Frodo accidentally left a second ring at home. The quest narrative is about how the world is fundamentally right except for one thing that needs fixing, with one man who can fix it. For all its literal-mindedness, Bunyan’s work doesn’t make that obvious a mistake. Neither does Morrison.

Bunyan’s work was a fundamentally revolutionary one – as Bernard Shaw pointed out, all his representations of sin were in the form of the rich, while his good characters were uniformly poor, and Puritanism was bound up tightly with the revolutionary politics of the time. This is something William Blake responded to, more than a century later, when he provided his famous illustrations to Pilgrim’s Progress.

Blake is often talked about as a Romantic, but really he’s a man of the seventeenth century, born a century too late. His reaction against science is not, as that of for example Keats (one of the greatest cretins in English literature), born out of a desire to return to a simpler Golden Age, but out of a religious radicalism that is of a piece with Bunyan and Milton.

Which is why it’s a shame he was so blinkered when it came to Newton.

But we’ll come to that when I write on Frankenstein.

O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi’ thorns and briers?
That is the Path of Righteousness,
Though after it but few inquires.
And see ye not yon braid, braid road,
That lies across the lily leven?
That is the Path of Wickedness,
Though some call it the Road to Heaven.

Comic issues Klarion #1-4
Artist Frazer Irving
Other credits Pat Brosseau (letters), Harvey Richards (asst editor), Peter Tomasi (editor)
Connected Morrison works Marvel Boy has some of Klarion’s flavour, while he returns to big-hatted stern-looking Puritans drawn by Frazer Irving in Return Of Bruce Wayne.
Look Out For Missing fathers, parasitism on the work of previous generations, missing gods.
Still to come in Seven Soldiers More stuff inspired by 17th century religious literature!

Linkblogging For 25/05/11

First, I want to apologise for being more or less offline for the best part of a month now. I’ve got a massive project at work which has eaten up a *lot* of my time. I’ve got 3000 words of the next 7S post done, and just need to flesh that out, but I’m not going to guarantee when it’ll be. I’m also going to update the Monkees post with the images that were sent me, and review the Van Dyke Parks and Blake Jones gigs I’ve attended, but again am unsure of exactly when. Apologies to everyone to whom I owe emails.

Secondly, if you read this in the next three hours and live in Manchester, get to the Tiger Lounge, where you will see the gig of the year from Blake Jones and the Trike Shop. Trust me on this.

And now, links:

The Hugo Voter Packet is out. This is a set of DRM-free ebooks of everything up for an award in this year’s Hugo’s – novels, short story collections, magazines, non-fiction works and graphic novels. You get it free, but you have to be a registered voter for the Hugo awards, which costs a minimum of $50 US. The novels alone would cost $46 though, bought as ebooks, and that would be with DRM.

Big Finish are having a series of five one-day sales, during each of which they will drop the prices of ten of their first fifty main range Doctor Who stories to £5 for a double CD. Of the ones they’re offering, I’d particularly recommend The Holy Terror, Jubilee, Doctor Who And The Pirates, The Marian Conspiracy, Spare Parts, Davros and Omega.

A letter from Ken Kesey about criticisms of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’s accuracy

Millennium Dome reviews Saturday’s Doctor Who

The lineup for this year’s Fantastic Films Weekend is up. It looks relatively more cerebral than the last couple of years – but that ‘relatively’ is doing a lot of work for a festival that starts with Bloodbath At The House Of Death and ends with Re-Animator.

A free textbook on statistics from a Bayesian perspective.

Toby Hadoke on the BAFTAs not commemorating Nicholas Courtney

Leonard Sussking and Raphael Busso argue that certain formulations of a cosmological multiverse (a Tegmark level 2 multiverse) are equivalent to certain formulations of the quantum ‘many worlds’ interpretation (the Tegmark level 3 multiverse).

Lawrence Burton shares a rather lovely 1980 interview with Clifford Simak

Cancer medication *appears* to slightly shorten lifespan compared to not getting treated

Jennie on the constitutional position of judges in the UK

And Solution-Focused Politics suggests that the Lib Dems should reach out to the Co-Operative Party
(who have been described, fairly accurately, as having Lib Dem policies in their manifesto but voting for Labour policies in Parliament).

Linkblogging For 19/05/11 and progress report

I’m *still* working on my Klarion piece, which I started writing a couple of days ago. It’s 3/4 done, but it’s required a great deal of quote-hunting that I haven’t needed to do for some of the earlier pieces – I know the outline of my arguments, and the links between subjects, but I’m cross-referencing bits between half a dozen texts (among others early 17th century books of Christian apologetics, essays by G K Chesterton, the King James version of the Bible and Life, The Universe And Everything by Douglas Adams), and it takes time to find precisely the right bits. This essay will look sloppier than some of the others, but it’s setting up a lot of stuff for (especially) the Frankenstein piece.

Those of you who care will be glad to know that once the 7S stuff is finished I’ll be working on getting PEP! 3 completed. I now have enough material to get it done – from Debi Linton, Adam Prosser, Gavin Robinson, David Allison, Gavin Burrows, Richard Flowers and Bill Ritchie, with a piece promised by my wife Holly. (I’m sure I’ve missed someone there. Forgive me. I’m very tired).There’s a mix of articles, short fiction and comics, with topics ranging from paleontology to David Bowie via the future of the Lib Dems. The editing process will take a month or so, but I thought people (especially those contributors who got their material to me six months ago) would want to know the material’s all in. It’s going to be a good ‘un.

And in a third piece of news, a commenter has sent me a lot of photos of the Monkees from the gig I was at. I shall be adding these to the review soon.

And finally, before we get to the links, a public service announcement. Blake Jones and the Trike Shop are doing a mini-tour of the UK, starting Sunday. Having seen them twice last time they were over, I can say that they’re one of the best live bands in the world today, and their audience is criminally low. If you like great pop in the tradition of Nilsson,McCartney and Wilson, or spot-on Frank Zappa tributes, or performances of Harlem Nocturne on the theremin, or just fantastic songwriting, then you owe it to yourself to go to one of the following gigs:
Cavern (Liverpool) Sunday the 22nd at 2:30 in the afternoon
Cavern Pub (Liverpool) Monday the 23rd at 6:30pm
Tiger Lounge (Manchester) Wed. the 25th
London at the Bull and Gate (389 Kentish Town Road) 4:15 in the afternoon on Saturday, May 28th.

(I’ll be going to the Cavern and Tiger Lounge shows).

And now, links.

Andrew Rilstone talks about folk music and nationalism.

Jennie Rigg on different types of rape (warning, triggering for some). Read the comments, too.

Jon Blum on Saturday’s Doctor Who

The programme for the Bradford Fantastic Film Weekend is up.

Roz Kaveney has written a poem that is definitely not about feminist debates about trans people

A rather nice interview by a parent of her child with autism. Rather criminally, this is one of thirty posts in a series called ‘voices of autism’ of which *TWENTY EIGHT POSTS* were by and about the parents of autistic children, rather than the actual voices of actual autistic people. And that’s their idea of ‘autism awareness’. Sickening. But unsurprising given that the first post in the series features the logo of the ‘charity’ Autism Speaks, which thinks the world would be better if I’d never been born and wants to rid the world of people like me. That post itself is lovely, though.

Great interview with Van Dyke Parks
, I’ll be posting my review of his Monday gig soon.

Run GNU/Linux inside your browser (if you’re running an up-to-date version of Chrome or Firefox)

Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Free Software

Dorian at postmodernbarney looks at Saturday’s Doctor Who.

Millennium looks at Saturday’s Doctor Who

Rich Daley on fascism, immigration and the English language

And a post on Liberal England – Towards A Liberal Democrat Ideology

Toy Story The Doctor’s Wife

I’ve often half-seriously wondered if Steven Moffat has just decided to make this entire series of Doctor Who as an elaborate means of winding Lawrence Miles up. The riffs on Alien Bodies in the opening two-parter were blatant enough, but this might as well have been labeled as an adaptation of Miles’ short story Toy Story. Except of course it’s written by Miles’ least-favourite writer in the world, Neil Gaiman.

Truth be told, I doubt Gaiman’s read Miles’ story, but both have such similar ideas as their basis (the TARDIS takes on the form of a human woman, and amongst other things reveals that she had as much choice in who her pilot was as he had in his ship, and it’s also made clear that the interior of the TARDIS is more software than hardware) that Moffat at least must have noticed. People on the Faction Paradox forums have been pointing out other, more tenuous, similarities too, but I suspect these are more down to Gaiman and Miles having common influences than anything else. (I strongly suspect one of the reasons Miles loathes Gaiman so much is that he sees him as a warped mirror reflection of himself).

The result is easily the best Doctor Who TV story since Dalek, and feels more like Doctor Who than anything on TV since the McCoy era, but is a strange collision of at least four separate styles.

First, we have the standard Gaimanisms – the TARDIS is written as, to all intents and purposes, Delirium of the Endless. Auntie and Uncle could easily have stepped out of Neverwhere. And the whole cosmic junkyard thing felt very, very Gaiman. Even the production design felt this way – it looked all steampunk-goth – though the whole series since Moffat took over has had that feel.

On top of that, we had the Big Idea stuff – the stuff that felt like Miles, the living planet that eats TARDIS energy and creates puppet people to play with out of the parts of dead Time Lords, the possessed woman with the mind of a TARDIS, the space-time twisting inside the TARDIS itself, and so on. This is a side of Gaiman we don’t often see, but which seems to owe a lot to Alan Moore in horror mode.

Then we have a few bits which seem to be Gaiman deliberately trying to write like Russel Davies – the tearful goodbye to the embodiment of the TARDIS felt exactly like the kind of tearful goodbye-forever speech Davies wrote about four times a series (usually before bringing the same character back two episodes later).

And there are a few bits which seem to be either Moffat’s direct input or Gaiman trying to sound like Moffat (the “be afraid of me, I killed *all* the Time Lords” bit seemed very like Moffat’s usual macho action-hero posturing). I suspect the Ood was also just dumped in in order to have a visible ‘monster’, as it had little part to play in the proceedings.

But all this hangs together, thanks to Gaiman being a good enough writer to make it work. He even manages to take a joke about running down corridors (and having the corridors looking all the same to save on expense) and turn it into something quite scary and effective. Though it would have been more scary had they not killed Rory and brought him back to life AGAIN – the South Park jokes are getting more appropriate all the time.

I have serious problems with the episode – mostly that the TARDIS in human form is just Gaiman-mad-woman-by-numbers rather than the truly strange and awesome (in the literal sense of the word) character she should be. People have been comparing this to things like Edge Of Destruction, and the comparison really does it no favours – in Edge Of Destruction, it’s all about the characters, whereas here there really *were* no characters – a majority of the characters are really just puppets played with by an omnipotent disembodied entity.

But this had a plot that made sense, a few good lines, a couple of scary bits, and the Doctor didn’t commit any genocides (though he did cause the death of at least two intelligent entities, one accidentally and the other in self-defence). By the low standards of 21st-century Doctor Who, that’s as good as it gets.

The Monkees, Manchester Apollo May 14 2011

Monkees in the Monkeemobile

The Monkees (and my elbow)

That’s a photo of me and the Monkees. Sort of. At least I *think* that the little triangle on the left hand side, parallel with Peter’s head, is my elbow. I turned up a couple of hours early hoping to sit outside and listen to the soundcheck (this didn’t work as it was raining, and so I spent most of the pre-gig time in the pub) but did catch an impromptu photo-call when the owner of a company called ‘character cars’ brought along a Monkeemobile and the three Monkees posed for photos in it (and did a few autographs, photos with fans and so on).

I bought tickets to this show a couple of months back, knowing I’d either want to celebrate winning the AV referendum, or need cheering up after losing the AV referendum. As turns out, it’s done a good enough job of cheering me up I think I’m ready to get back to blogging.

I was sat in Row E, which I didn’t realise until I got in was actually the second row, next to possibly the most enthusiastic people in the world – two women in their twenties who spent the pre-show talking to each other about which of the two reunion albums – Pool It! or Justus – was better, and who squealed every time Peter Tork did anything, and their enthusiasm was catching. (When they saw where they were sitting, one of them said “YES! We’re going to get extreme Tork!”)

For those of you wanting to listen along at home, by the way, I’ve created a playlist of all the songs they played.

The show was a strange mix of two completely different styles. On the one hand, the setlist itself was of a type familiar to me from shows by Brian Wilson, Arthur Lee and so on – you do twenty or so obscure album tracks to please the die-hard fans, then you have an interval, after which you perform your most famous ‘classic album’ in full, and then finish with a ton of hits. This is usually the kind of thing that is done by Serious Musos and involves much stroking of beards and furrowing of brows at the Importance of the Serious Artist on stage.

But everything else about the show was showbiz razzle-dazzle, of a kind I very rarely go and see but can certainly appreciate – costume changes, physical comedy, giant video screens, dance routines – the sort of attention to putting on a show and actually entertaining the audience who’ve paid fifty quid to see you that very, very few people bother with. The end result was something that came out equal parts The Goodies and Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tours, and will I think have pleased both the MOJO-reading crowd and the grannies wanting to relive their teenage crushes.

They also seemed to be desperate to prove themselves as multi-instrumentalists – possibly still hurt by the jibes at them for not playing on their first two albums (a criticism that can be raised for *every* American band of the 60s to a greater or lesser extent, from the Byrds to the Mothers Of Invention). Micky spent pretty much every song where he wasn’t the lead singer behind one of the two drum kits (one with the Monkees logo, the other with ‘DRUM’ written on it a la Head) and strummed an acoustic guitar on a few other songs, Davy played acoustic on a few songs, and Peter played keyboard, guitar, banjo and French horn.

In fact Peter Tork was the revelation of the show. He was a little rusty still on some of his instrumental parts (some slightly stiff banjo picking on What Am I Doing Hanging Round and a single very slightly flatted note on his French horn solo on Shades Of Gray), which can presumably be explained by the fact that he’s spent ten years ostentatiously *NOT* being a Monkee, and the band apparently only had three days’ rehearsal before the tour started – I’m sure those problems will be completely ironed out by the middle of next week – but his dancing and over-emoting facial expressions reminded me of nothing so much as Harpo Marx ( I know of no higher praise). And the absence of Mike Nesmith meant that Tork got to sing Nesmith’s lead vocals, meaning he had a decent share of the spotlight (Tork rarely sang leads on the records).

Davy was about as you’d expect – the showbiz song and dance man with a joke for every occasion, an all-round entertainer of a type they don’t really make any more. You could easily imagine Davy in another life as Ernie Wise or someone (again a compliment). As I get older I have more and more time for this kind of old-school entertainer, as I have less time for ‘authentic’ rock posing, though Davy’s still never going to be my favourite Monkee (a view shared by the women next to me, who before the show were discussing the dilemmas faced when you come to songs like Star Collector – “but it’s great… but it’s Davy! But it’s great… but it’s Davy!”)

And Micky is one of the great rock vocalists of all time – seriously. The only performer I’ve seen live who was as strong a singer was Arthur Lee, who is of course sadly no longer with us. I’ve seen some extraordinarily good singers in my time (Jeff Buckley, Al Green, Robert Plant) but Micky is at least the equal of all of those, as well as being a great performer. To an extent he was saving his voice for his lead parts – on songs where he wasn’t singing lead, his parts were doubled (and sometimes covered) by a keyboard player who sounded scarily like him – but when he did sing lead (on sixteen songs, so we’re not talking about him being lazy) he was astounding.

Before the show, the PA played cover versions of Monkees songs, ranging from the obvious (the Association doing Come On In, Nilsson’s Daddy’s Song) to the obscure (what sounded like a Japanese indie band) to the plain odd (a slow string arrangement of Your Auntie Grizelda which I can only presume was incidental music for the Monkees TV show or something) – along with, for some reason, Davy Jones’ cover version of McCartney’s Man We Was Lonely.

Then the backing band came on, and over a five minute montage of clips from the band’s career, played a medley of bits from maybe a dozen songs, before Davy, Micky and Peter came on. The backing band (guitar, bass, drums, two keyboardists (one of whom doubled on sax and flute) and three horn players (one of whom doubled on percussion)) were all extremely good, and thankfully mostly free of the 80s slickness audible in some of the recordings of earlier reunion tours.

I’ll reproduce the setlist below, along with relevant comments:
I’m A Believer Micky ended this with “thank you Liverpool!” – I’m still not sure if this was a joke or not.
Mary Mary introduced as ‘a Mike Nesmith tune’, the only time Nesmith got mentioned during the show
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
She Hangs Out
Randy Scouse Git/Alternate Title
Micky’s scat singing here was great, sounding like Louis Jordan.
Your Auntie Grizelda the girls next to me screamed at this. I never in my life thought I’d hear two women in their twenties screaming because a nearly-70-year-old man who looks like Catweazle was doing a silly dance and singing a comedy song, but I’m very glad I did. Peter stuck in the line from Head “I’d like a glass of cold gravy with a hair in it” into the scat section.
It’s Nice To Be With You Sung in front of a backdrop of Davy from the 60s. Davy – “I used to be a heartthrob, now I’m a coronary”.
I Don’t Think You Know Me Sung by Peter, whose facial expressions on this were priceless.
Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow At the end, where Davy says “Mary, I love you, Sandra, I love you too”, instead he said “Mary, I love you, Sandra, you love Mary… it’s a new world”
Cuddly Toy
Papa Gene’s Blues
Sung by Peter.
Listen To The Band Sung by all three in unison, all strumming acoustic guitars, with an extended instrumental break to introduce the backing band members. Davy had to keep looking at his fingers.
That Was Then, This Is Now Performed with photos of the band as children projected behind them. Micky and Davy were joking to each other about these off-mic, and Davy said something that made Micky laugh so much he was still laughing half-way through the next song.
All Of Your Toys
Hard To Believe
What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round
Peter sang and played banjo
Sometime In The Morning
– this was *much* better live than on the record.
No Time – all three took a verse each on this.
We’ll Be Back In A Minute – the music that they used to end the first half of each TV episode led into the interval, during which we saw various 60s vintage commercials by the band, for Kellogg’s cereals, Yardley aftershave and Kool-Aid.

The second half started with the full, long trailer for Head, including the full Ditty Diego War Chant (which I was *very* surprised they kept in) before the band came out and played every song on the Head album while the relevant sections of the film played behind them.

Circle Sky Sung by all three in unison. This was the only song whose video footage was edited, to cut out the shots of Nesmith singing lead.
Can You Dig It When it was announced before the start of the tour that Davy Jones’ wife (who’s a dancer half his age) would be taking part in the show, a massive uproar rose up on the various Monkees fan fora, saying that she’d wreck it. This turns out to have been pure Yoko Ono Syndrome (the unfounded belief among fans of a male musician that that musician’s wife must in all cases be evil and talentless. QV Linda McCartney, Gail Zappa, Melinda Wilson, Courtney Love). In this case she performed a belly-dance to match the ones being projected behind the band from the film, and in so far as I’m any judge, she did so perfectly well. She certainly added to, rather than detracted from, the show.
As We Go Along
Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?
Peter sang lead.
Porpoise Song The long version with the extended outro. Micky sang Davy’s part as well as his own, as Davy was offstage getting changed.
Daddy’s Song Davy and his wife, in black and white outfits, recreated the dance routine from the film. Davy looked *absolutely exhausted* at the end of this, and out of breath, but managed to keep a smile on.
For Pete’s Sake Sung by Peter rather than Micky.
When Love Comes Knocking At Your Door
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
Shades of Gray
Peter played the French horn. He also ruffled Davy’s hair on the last ‘only shades of gray’.
Last Train To Clarksville
Goin’ Down
Micky made this *slightly* easier on himself by changing some of the phrasing to allow more room to breathe, but it’s still an astonishingly difficult song to sing and he pulled it off tremendously. This was the song everyone talked about as they were leaving.
I Wanna Be Free Davy missed the first line of this.
Saturday’s Child
Someday Man
Wonderful to hear these two.
I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone
Daydream Believer
Peter told the security guards off for not singing along with the rest of us, after which one of them did some half-hearted arm-waving.

Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky – Peter had to shut Micky up so he could do this.
Pleasant Valley Sunday Micky sounded *astonishing* on this.
I’m A Believer a shortened version with no second verse.

Given the band’s fractious history – roughly speaking they have a reunion tour once every decade, at the start of which they’re best friends, but by the end they hate each other’s guts and won’t speak to each other for ten years – and their age (they’re all in their mid-late 60s now) this is almost certainly the last chance you’ll get to see them live, and you should take it. For all the jokes about ‘the prefab four’ and so on, they are simultaneously the last of the old-style variety performers *and* a band with a catalogue of great songs any three other bands would kill for.

For those of you who can view Flash, here’s two Youtube videos of last night’s show:

I’m off tomorrow to see Van Dyke Parks in London, which will be equally great but in a very different way. I’ll post a review of that on my return, and then get back to my much-postponed Seven Soldiers posts, now I’m physically and mentally well enough to handle them. Thanks for your patience.

Linkblogging For 10/05/11

I was hoping to get back to proper blogging today, but after three hours’ writing have only produced 400 words. I’m still burned out by the election, but will finish the Seven Soldiers stuff, as well as doing a “What next for the Lib Dems?” post, as soon as possible. I’ve NOT left the 7S stuff, but my mental and physical health have required me not to push myself too much this week (I am going to the doctor tomorrow with something which I am constantly flipping between thinking is hypochondria and being certain is early-onset arthritis, and I’m still fragile from the election).

Hazel at FreakyTrigger thinks it will be a tragedy if Waterstones has to close down
. I agree. The ebook ‘revolution’, which has the potential to be hugely empowering both to authors and to readers, looks scarily like it’s going to lead us all into a world where a very small number of corporations have a monopoly on the dissemination of information.

Millennium says Lib Dems must earn back the trust of students
and reviews Saturday’s Doctor Who.

Mike Taylor also reviews the same episode

(My own review of Saturday’s NuWho – there was nothing egregiously bad about it apart from the sexism and the bad CPR and the continuity errors (of the scene-to-scene continuity rather than “but that’s not what it said in episode three of the Krotons!”). I’ve forgotten it already, though).

Leonard Pierce brings us Post-Structuralist Foto Funnies!

Alex Wilcock talks about The Hand Of Fear, which was re-shown on TV this week

Shtetl-Optimised critiques a New Yorker piece on quantum computer scientist David Deutsch

The Aporetic looks at Eagleflags

Jennie is thinking about options for Lib Dem policy on employment rights. I like her line of thinking *a lot*.

The Mindless Ones on Grant Morrison’s Joker
and an old Batman annual

And both Lady Mark and Lord Bonkers (or at least his Lordship’s representative Jonathan Calder) have some extremely good points about the mistakes the Lib Dems have been making and what we can do about them.