Great News, Kids!

Well, sort of…
I am probably now a full-time freelance writer. I gave in my notice a week or so ago, and while work haven’t yet accepted it (they’re still trying to persuade me to stay on in a reduced role) I think they will, soon.
However, the reason for this is not that I’ve got any new opportunities; it’s rather that I’ve become too ill from stress to work. I really had no other option.
Now, thanks to a friend I’ve been picking up pieces of… ghostwriting work is probably the best way to understand it, which will cover a great deal of my lost income, but it will still mean a drop in income, and of course freelance work is by its very nature precarious, so I am looking for more ways to make money from my writing.
One thing this will mean is that this blog will now have at least something on every day. Most of those posts will be Patreon-backed. Patreons, PLEASE make sure you have set a monthly cap on your donations. I cannot stress this enough. Many people have signed up to give me a dollar or so a post, and can afford that at the three-or-four-post-a-month rate I’ve been able to keep to recently. Paying ten times that much might come as a nasty surprise. I’ll do several more reminders about this over the next month…
So while my Patreon currently says I get $60 per post or so, that will actually be much lower as we hit people’s monthly limits…

I’m not in any immediate financial danger — I have a few thousand in savings — and I’m *hoping* to be able to replace my lost income in short order. So this is NOT a begging post. I am better off financially than many of my readers, so will not be asking for money. However, some of you will *want* to help in my new career, so, things you can do to help.
1) Back me on Patreon, or forward the link to other people who might. I’ll be doing a lot more Patreon-exclusive things soon, too.
2) Buy my self-published books in paper, as ebooks from Amazon, or as other ebooks
3) Buy books I wrote or am in from Obverse. Head of State, The Black Archive: The Mind Robber, Tales of the Great Detectives, A Target For Tommy. Not all of these will bring me royalties directly (some are charity things, or things I got a flat fee for), but if they sell well then I’m more likely to get more commissions.
4) I will, when I finish the latest Beach Boys book, be Kickstarting a second edition of my Monkees book. You could back that.
5) If you have any contacts in publishing who you think might be interested in my work, let them and me know.
6) Link to this site and let other people know about my posts.

I’m also thinking of taking commissions — £50 for a thousand words on a subject of your choosing.

But NONE of this is obligatory, and I’m not asking anyone to do them. Just letting people know what I’m doing.

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Hugo Blogging: “Best” Novelette

So before the political singularity happened, I was slowly reviewing this year’s Hugo nominations. For those who weren’t following my blog then and don’t know, this year, like last year, a group of fascists (and no, I’m not going to use euphemisms like “conservatives” and “traditionalists” — these are neither traditionalist nor conservative, but white supremacist fascists) calling themselves the Rabid Puppies decided to swamp the nomination process for the Hugo Awards, until last year (and hopefully again soon, once the rules have changed) the most prestigious award in science fiction.

The awards voting deadline is at the end of the month, and so I’m hoping to get reviews of all the fiction, at least, up here before that, along with my rankings. My rule is that I’m going to rank everything honestly, and then place No Award above the highest-ranking fascist pick, on the grounds that nothing on their list is on the ballot legitimately. (I’ve posted more about my thinking on this here).

So, from “best” to worst, here’s my ranking of the novelettes.

At the top will be No Award. The one non-fascist-nominated story simply isn’t very good, so everything goes below this.

Folding Beijing
by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu, is actually very good — the only one of these stories I can say that about. It’s genuinely well-written (as one would expect from works written or translated by Liu), has a strong central idea, and manages to use SF to comment on economics and politics without losing the central character.
The story was nominated by the fascists, so I can’t in all conscience put it above No Award, but I won’t be at all unhappy if it manages to win anyway.

Obits by Stephen King is a perfectly decent little story, as one would expect from King. It’s an effective-enough little thing about someone who discovers that if he writes obituaries for people, they actually die.
But the description of the workplace culture in a new media startup reads completely wrong to me, the first-person narrator is a decade younger than me but still thinks that “a young Joan Baez” would be a comprehensible cultural reference to other people his age, and the whole thing reads like what it is — a man in his sixties trying to write about a culture he doesn’t quite understand.
Also the story involves the death of an incredibly-thinly-disguised Phil Spector, and wishing real people, even repulsive ones, dead strikes me as unpleasant.
King obviously isn’t a fascist, and is usually a pretty decent writer, but this story would never have made the ballot without fascist support, so this goes below No Award.
Also, for those who’ve not read it yet, this comes with a trigger warning for rape and childhood sexual abuse.

And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead by Brooke Bollander is the only non-fascist nomination here. Unfortunately, it’s very much of the same aesthetic as the stuff the fascists like (and was on the Sad Puppy list, the list put together by fascists who try to pretend they aren’t fascists, but that list made no material difference this year).

A typical example of the kind of writing in the story:

“He was trying to crack it, you fucks. The fuck is wrong with you? He was coming out, he was going to try again, it was just a fucking hiccup! Jesus fuck, do you think you’re going to get your cunting kid back now?” Her throat hurts from screaming. Blood from her nose is backing up into her sinuses, half-choking her. She doesn’t care. “I’ll kill you, I’ll fucking kill all of you. You’re fucking dead, do you hear me? Let me go, let me fucking go — ”
“We hired you and your partner to finish job. Nothing was ever said about quitting,” the man says. His voice is heavily accented, breath reeking of onions and vodka. “If pretty boy couldn’t bring what we need out, pretty boy is useless, like tits on bull or useless cyborg bitch. His consciousness can stay inside box and rot for all I care. But! — ” he pokes Rhye in the forehead with one of his blunt fingers — ”I think you care. I think you care very much, yes? Yesyes?”
“I’m going to kill you, you fuck.” She says it slowly, pronouncing every word with deathly clarity. “I’m going to shove my gun up your ass and blow a hole so fucking wide a whale’s prick wouldn’t fill the gap.”

The whole thing’s like that.

What Price Humanity by David VanDyke is published by the ringleader of the Nazis, and follows the same themes as every other tedious pile of crap his company publishes. Refighting Vietnam but this time the “good guys” win? Check. Transhumanism is bad and wrong? Check. Angsty pseudo-moralising that boils down to “it’s OK to do evil if you’re the good guys”? Check.
Ditchwater-dull prose, an unoriginal story with a “twist” that you can see coming a couple of sentences in… this is simply not even a basically competent piece of work.

Flashpoint: Titan by Cheah Kai Wai is almost literally unreadable. It’s people expositing at each other in “as you know, your father the king” style, interspersed with space-weapons porn.
It’s all like this:

The Chinese continued to turn. Their hulls were long and vulnerable, but still too far away for Takao to target accurately. When the guard ships stopped turning, they fired their railguns. Projectiles sped towards Takao at twenty klicks per second relative to her velocity. They were guided shells, firing rockets to take them on an intercept course with Takao.
“It’s harassing fire,” Nakamura said. “They want us to expend delta-vee to dodge them, maybe even force us out of the Saturnian system. At this range, those have got to be flechette shells.”
“Very good. Nakamura, Sato, Tanaka, Subaru: develop a vector that will take us towards Chongqing and minimize acceleration and delta-vee expenditure. Priority is to set up a laser solution at standoff range. What flechettes we can’t dodge, we trash.”

I am told that not all “military SF” is like this, but every example the subgenre’s proponents push seems to be. This is also published by the ringleader of the Nazis (in the same volume as the VanDyke story), so would earn a downvote even were the writing actually competent.

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Linkblogging For 26/07/16

I am hoping that I will be able to keep up a daily blog posting schedule from now on (so Patreons PLEASE make sure you’ve got a cap on your maximum amounts — I’ll be reminding you a few times over the next month or so, because I don’t want anyone to be accidentally paying me more than they can afford). Of course, even though I can write a lot more now than I used to, some days will still be linkblogs. This is one of those days.

I don’t *think* I’ve linked this before — a large collection of public domain (in the US) SF stories, in PDF format.

A regularly updated list of the 100 oldest living rock stars (includes a handful of pre-rock people still hanging on, too…)

Nick Barlow is more positive about MoreUnited than I am. I actually agree with a lot of what he says too, though.

An examination of the endemic, systemic, racism in SF publishing. Yet the Puppyfascists think that the 2% of stories by black authors, when they get awards, do so because of “affirmative action”, unlike the 98%…

Jennie reviews the two big blockbusters at the moment

An Amnesty petition to stop the current human rights abuses in Turkey

A bibliography of science fiction pornography novels of the 60s and 70s

A long article from 2004 about the mysterious death of a Sherlock Holmes expert

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The Beach Boys on CD: Brian Wilson Live at the Roxy

While Imagination was not especially successful, either commercially or critically, it did mark a new point in Brian Wilson’s solo career. Before 1998, Wilson had always relied on the Beach Boys to be his live “messengers” (as Dennis Wilson had famously put it) – even his first solo album had been promoted by Wilson doing odd guest spots at Beach Boys shows. Now, however, with the Beach Boys basically split, Wilson had to work on a proper solo career, and that meant live performances.

While Wilson had, of course, toured with the Beach Boys on occasion, and had even performed consistently with them from 1976 through to the early 1980s, he hadn’t toured regularly since the death of his brother Dennis, and had only performed a handful of solo shows, so a band had to be formed for the Imagination tour. As the core of the band, four members of the Los Angeles-based powerpop band Wondermints were chosen – keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, percussionist Mike d’Amico, guitarist Nick “Nicky Wonder” Walusko, and multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory. To them were added several Chicago-based musicians who had worked with Joe Thomas – keyboard player Scott Bennett, vocalist Taylor Mills, Styx drummer Todd Sucherman (replaced after the initial tour by Jim Hines, who plays on this album), bass player Bob Lizik, saxophone and woodwind player Paul von Mertens – along with Thomas himself on keyboards and Steve Dahl miming theremin while Gregory played. Jeffrey Foskett, who had played with the Beach Boys throughout the 1980s, also joined the band, playing guitar but also covering the falsetto vocals.

Tensions within this early line-up surfaced even before the first tour, though, as Sahanaja and Thomas clashed over the arrangements. According to Sahanaja, Thomas wanted to create new arrangements of the classic Beach Boys songs to make them more AOR – Sahanaja described Thomas’ arrangement of “Caroline, No” as a “sexy, Sade kind of thing” – and Sahanaja eventually put his foot down and insisted that the arrangements stick close to Wilson’s arrangements. Sahanaja became the musical director [FOOTNOTE von Mertens later took over this role.], Thomas left the tour after the first leg (as did Dahl and Sucherman, although Sucherman would play with Wilson on occasion again), and the band settled into what would be to the latter decades of Wilson’s career as the Beach Boys and Wrecking Crew had been for the early ones.

While the band has seen occasional line-up changes, and band members sitting out occasional tours due to other commitments, it has remained remarkably stable, and Sahanaja, Walusko, Gregory, d’Amico, von Mertens, and Lizik remain members of the band [FOOTNOTE Sahanaja is not on Wilson’s current (Summer 2016) tour, but my understanding is that he will return in future.], while Foskett only left in 2014 and Bennett in 2016.

And this band, along with the other musicians who occasionally substituted for or augmented them, became quite possibly the best live band in the world. Their attention to detail combined with their multi-instrumental and singing abilities meant that for the first time songs like “Let’s Go Away For A While” or “Til I Die” could be performed live, in arrangements that were identical to the recordings. Sahanaja, and later von Mertens, ensured that the instrumental performances matched those in the studio, while Foskett performed a vital function in the early shows, as onstage MC and also as a vocal safety net, doubling Wilson while he was still unsure about carrying a whole show by himself, and covering if he forgot a lyric.

The combination was extraordinary, and the band managed to provide enough support for Wilson that even though he suffered (and sometimes still suffers) not only from stagefright but from his well-documented mental problems, he was still able not only to perform, but to perform well. And Live at the Roxy, recorded over two nights in April 2000, shows that.

While there has been a certain amount of in-studio fixing up (some of Wilson’s vocals sound a little too sweet, perhaps), there has been much less than one might imagine from listening to it. While the performances sound too good to be live, my own experiences of seeing this band (starting less than two years after these recordings, when they first toured the UK) say that yes, this is what they sound like. And the result is a nearly impeccable live recording.

There are faults, of course – latter-day Wilson, even at his best as he is here, is still an acquired taste vocally, and while the harmonies are superb they’re a little top-heavy compared with the Beach Boys originals (the parts that Mike Love sang are often absent or very low in the mix). But as a live record of the artier side of Brian Wilson, focussing especially on the 1965-66 period of his songwriting, it couldn’t be bettered.

The album was released in 2000 through the Internet only, on Wilson’s own BriMel label, with subsequent reissues with bonus tracks, and is currently out of print. The tracklisting of the UK version (the most comprehensive of the releases) is:

Disc one

Little Girl Intro (the introduction to the show – an audio recording of Wilson directing the musicians in the studio session for “The Little Girl I Once Knew”, which would go into the band playing the song live)
The Little Girl I Once Knew
This Whole World
Don’t Worry Baby
Kiss Me Baby
Do It Again
California Girls
I Get Around
Back Home
In My Room
Surfer Girl
The First Time
This Isn’t Love
Add Some Music To Your Day
Please Let Me Wonder

Disc two
Band Intros
Brian Wilson
Til I Die
Let’s Go Away For Awhile
Pet Sounds
God Only Knows
Lay Down Burden
Be My Baby
Good Vibrations
Caroline, No
All Summer Long
Love And Mercy
Sloop John B (bonus track, only on some versions)
Barbara Ann (bonus track, only on some versions)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice (bonus track, only on some versions)
Help Me, Rhonda (bonus track, only on some versions)
Interview With Brian (bonus track, only on some versions)

I won’t, in this piece, look at each song individually – too often I’d have nothing to say about it other than “it’s like the record, but with an older Brian singing”, but will instead focus on the few new or otherwise interesting tracks.

The First Time
Songwriter: Brian Wilson

This song dates back to 1983, when it was demoed as “In The Night Time”. While a couple of words have been changed in the lyrics for this version, the lyrics are still utter gibberish – little more than mouth noises to give the melody some shape (examples “House of the rising sun/enough love for everyone/happy just to be”, “I’ve heard your voice so sweet/Strangers until we meet/Til the dark side of the moon”). The arrangement is also perfunctory – for the most part just piano chords, drums, and “ooh” backing vocals, along with a sax solo from von Mertens that just restates the melody.

Despite all this, it still works surprisingly well, mostly because the melody itself is exquisite, especially the last section, when it climbs in a way that only Wilson’s melodies do – seeming to strain for something outside experience.

It’s not a great song – truth be told it’s not even a very good song – but it’s one that is nonetheless always a pleasure to hear.

This Isn’t Love
Songwriters: Brian Wilson and Tony Asher

In the mid 90s, Wilson briefly teamed up again with Tony Asher, with whom he had written most of Pet Sounds. This track was one of the two songs to result (the other, “Everything I Need”, appeared in two versions – on The Wilsons, featuring Brian, Carnie, and Wendy Wilson, and on Jeffrey Foskett’s Twelve and Twelve album, featuring Foskett, Darian Sahanaja, and Brian Wilson). It was originally released on a various artists compilation of piano instrumentals, Songs Without Words, before being featured in a vocal version in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, sung by Alan Cumming. On this live version, Wilson talks excitedly about how “it’s gonna be in a movie!”, which is possibly the most excited anyone has ever been about that film.

The song itself is fairly decent, with Asher reprising his trick from “God Only Knows” of starting the song with a surprising negative that he turns to a positive, in this case “this isn’t love, this is destiny”. It does, however, show signs of having lyrics applied to a pre-existing melody, as the syllabics don’t really work. Pretty, but insubstantial.

Brian Wilson
Songwriter: Stephen Page

A single verse and chorus of the then-recent hit by the Barenaked Ladies, about “lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did”, which remained a regular self-deprecating joke in Wilson’s set for another couple of years.

Lay Down Burden
Songwriters: Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas

The one song from Imagination that remained in Wilson’s live set as of 2000, this is also one of the very small number of songs that he performed in a radically different arrangement. Here the song is stripped down to just piano and vocals for almost the entire song (along with some unobtrusive percussion, and a guitar part so low in the mix towards the end that I couldn’t swear it’s there at all), and it manages to improve the song ten thousandfold. It’s still not great, but it shows the solid song that’s there in a way the Imagination version doesn’t.

Be My Baby
Songwriters: Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector

A surprisingly accurate rendition of Wilson’s favourite ever record – the band showing they could do the wall of sound live just as well as they could do Wilson’s more delicate arrangements.

Love and Mercy
Songwriter: Brian Wilson †

Another stripped-down version, again just piano and vocals, this removes the a capella section from the original and recasts it as a gentle, intimate, plea. This version has remained the regular closing song in Wilson’s live set to this day.

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So after a lot of talking about “progressive alliances”, we see at least what Paddy Ashdown’s idea of one is, and… it’s pretty dispiriting.

Now, before I get into what I dislike, I want to stress that I am a strong advocate of the idea of some form of anti-Tory, pro-EU, pro-electoral-reform alliance. Not an electoral pact or, God forbid, a merger, but just an agreement not to step too heavily on each other’s toes when campaigning, and to concentrate on the real enemy.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems did extremely well by working together in 1997 and, to a lesser extent, 2001 — still campaigning against each other in seats where the Tories weren’t in contention, but making sure that both concentrated their efforts in different seats, using FPTP to their mutual advantage. There was also a certain amount of convergence on policy priorities — at least until Blair dumped the agreed package of constitutional reforms (Blair betraying people? I’m shocked! Shocked!). Incidentally, if he’d followed through with those reforms, none of the current political mess would be happening. Oh well…

And in theory, something like this More United campaign could be an efficient way of doing the same thing — providing funding, publicity, and most of all signalling for voters, letting them know who is on whose side. The problem is… well, the whole thing’s a problem.

The people involved include some with fairly objectionable opinions, and some of them people who have actively harassed friends of mine. So I think some of them, at least, are very far from being any kind of “progressive” I would recognise as such.
And there’s another problem here. Look at that list of people. This is meant to be a “grassroots” organisation for “ordinary voters”. Yet just look at them. Professional bloggers, Lords, media historians, “social tech entrepreneurs”. People who have their own columns in the Guardian.
These aren’t ordinary voters. They’re people who have never even *met* an ordinary voter, except the one behind the counter serving them their overpriced lattes.
More to the point, with a couple of small exceptions they’re not people who have any experience of actual activism, whether the protest-march sort or the door-knocking sort. They’re the kind of people who think being a campaigner means writing an op-ed for the New Statesman. I’m frankly shocked not to see Will Straw and Ryan Coetzee on their About page (and I’d bet that at least one of them gets a job with these people inside six months).
Just looking at that list of people involved, you can guess without looking any further that this is a group of “moderate progressives” for whom the word “moderate” is more important than “progressive”. They’re the people who’ve been in power for the last twenty years, who support Blair/Cameron/Clegg/Milliband-style “centrism”.
They’re not the people you need leading a progressive movement. What’s needed are people with experience of ground-level politics — councillors, the kind of activists who have day jobs that aren’t with think tanks, and people who have ever worked in fields that aren’t called something like “social tech”.
These people being the figureheads of a movement says that movement is one that exists to keep power as firmly as possible in Islington dinner parties.

Then there’s the “united” rhetoric and Union Flag logo, which seem designed to exclude the SNP, Scottish Greens, and Plaid from the supposed progressive alliance. Without them, right now, an anti-Tory alliance can’t work. Certainly, the SNP *need* to be involved in any attempts to build a “progressive” future.

Then there’s their example policies. Most are the kind of vague platitudes most of us could agree with. But then there’s the massive red flag of online voting. Suggesting online voting is the single most obvious indicator of clueless idiots who haven’t thought for even five minutes about the problems they’re trying to solve, but who are certain their first thoughts must be right because they’re important people. Anyone suggesting it is instantly saying “my opinions are worthless, pay me no further heed”.

There’s also the question of how it works in seats where multiple parties have candidates that would support their principles. I could easily see, for example, a Tory/Lib Dem marginal where the local Labour candidate signed up, and local Labour entryists ensured that funding went to the Labour candidate, leading to a Tory win. If you think that wouldn’t happen, you’ve had no experience of dealing with ground-level left-wing activists — as of course these people haven’t.

And finally there’s the rhetoric around “fighting extremism”, which seems to be “you’re all as bad as each other” nonsense. Currently the most extreme voices on the left with any kind of support are people like Corbyn, who whatever his faults is a democrat, fairly socially liberal, and with economic views that were firmly within the mainstream of British opinion within my own lifetime. The extreme voices on the right at the moment with a similar profile are people like Britain First. There’s no equivalence there. Arguing against “the extremes on both left and right”, no matter how moderate one side and how extreme the other, always, always privileges the more extreme side’s viewpoint.
If one side says “kill every child under the age of three” and the other side says “give everyone a chocolate bar”, the appropriate response isn’t to say “now you’re both being ridiculous! Killing children is wrong, and chocolate is bad for your health. Let’s compromise, and have *no* chocolate, and only kill children under the age of two. That will make *everyone* happy!”
Extremism, itself, isn’t a vice — that’s one of the few things on which I agree with Barry Goldwater. We don’t actually live in the world posited by Aristotle, in which virtue is finding the precise balance between two vices. Arguing that “both sides are as bad as each other” is a very good way to reinforce the anti-politics, anti-possibility-of-rational-solutions, burn-everything-down populist narrative that’s taking hold throughout the Western world at the moment.

Let’s just hope that when this is the inevitable embarrassing failure it already clearly will be, that it doesn’t sour people on the idea of cooperation between parties. Because that is something we *do* need…

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I know, in Internet time a review of a film that came out at the beginning of last week might as well be talking about the Epic of Gilgamesh as far as timeliness goes, but I was unwell last week and am less unwell this week, so you get the review now…

Unlike most men of my approximate age and interests, I have no great love for 80s American SFF cinema. While I have a certain amount of affection for the original Ghostbusters, it’s on the level of “would willingly watch it on a long plane journey if I was too tired to concentrate on anything more stimulating” rather than “one of the great masterpieces of cinema”, which seems to be the rating given to it by most men in their late thirties. For me, the most accurate description of it would be that it’s definitely in my top five Dan Aykroyd films (along with The Blues Brothers, The Beach Boys: It’s OK, Trading Places, and either Ghostbusters 2 or Spies Like Us). I thought it was a moderately entertaining comedy film, with a few moments that were cringeworthily sexist, and with Reaganite politics I didn’t particularly like.

So unlike the legions of howling manboys who were determined that any reboot must hew exactly to their memories of the original, and certainly mustn’t feature anyone who possesses ovaries or breasts, I thought that the idea of a reboot with women in the principal roles was a pretty good one. And indeed, it is a pretty good film — good enough that I’ve watched it twice in the cinema (though mostly because I’ve been at that precise level of illness which means you need something not too intellectually stimulating to entertain you).

It does, however, have a *major* problem to which too few people are calling attention, in the character of Patty. The character of Patty is very much a stereotyped “sassy black woman”, although she does also have specialist knowledge that the other characters don’t. She’s certainly a step forward from the complete non-characterisation of Winston in the 1980s films, but frankly she seemed half way to being Mammy from the Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Although I *also* wondered while watching it if someone who was more familiar with black US culture, AAVE, and so on, would have the same reaction I did. Where does representation stop and stereotyping start, and is it *possible* to represent minority cultures that are treated by the majority culture as contemptible, without reinforcing that contempt?

Being a white English man, whose knowledge of black American culture is almost exclusively filtered through the media (I do visit the US semi-regularly, but always small-town Minnesota, an area so white I feel quite uncomfortable there), I’m not at all sure about my ability to criticise that kind of thing sensibly. I simply do not know what is a harmful stereotype, what is a realistic portrayal of a cultural norm in black communities, and what is somewhere in between. This piece, though, by a black American woman, suggests that my instinct about the character is largely accurate.

I suspect the real problem here, though, is that the film has such a small number of actual speaking parts, and there are no black characters of any note *other* than Patty. Replacing Charles Dance’s university administrator with a black academic, or having the mayor’s PA be black, might have taken some of the problems away. As it is, the only PoC with any lines at all in the film, other than Patty, are an almost-silent Homeland Security agent, a police officer who gets two lines, the person who delivers the Ghostbusters’ takeaways, and Ernie Hudson in a cameo role as Patty’s uncle. (I checked this on the second viewing). This leaves the stereotyped character as the only one in the film who isn’t white.

This is, of course, a fairly major problem with the film, but from my own privileged position as a white male, it didn’t spoil my own enjoyment of it too much — that may differ for other viewers.
But apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you like the play?

I actually thought that, as a film, it was much better than the original. Surprisingly, even though it casts actors who are best known as comedians in the lead roles, it’s far less of a comedy than the original film. Which is not to say it’s not funny — there are some genuinely great one-liners, and a lot of moments that made me laugh — but it’s more of a light adventure film with occasional funny moments than a comedy film that happens to have a fantasy plot.

More than anything, it reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy — except that where the main characters in that film were psychopathic, to the extent that I found it genuinely distressing that the film clearly expected us to side with them, the four main characters in Ghostbusters are all genuinely decent people. They all reminded me very much of the people I like most in my own social circle, in fact — intelligent, kind, thoughtful, honest, funny people driven by intellectual curiosity but not letting that get in the way of basic human decency. It felt very much like spending a couple of hours in the company of friends.

This is, of course, a major departure from the first film, and one of the few criticisms I could make about the major characters is that the lack of a Venkman-equivalent arsehole character did mean that the characters played by Kirsten Wiig and Melissa McCarthy seemed slightly redundant — both were essentially playing the Dan Aykroyd role. But that’s a ridiculously minor complaint when placed against the fact that this is the first big-budget blockbuster film I’ve seen in years where the protagonists are actually decent people, rather than horrible people who we’re meant to sympathise with solely because they’re the viewpoint character.

(Arguable exceptions — The Martian, whose protagonist is an example of geek triumphalism, but not portrayed as doing anything horrible, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is so unconnected from reality that asking what kind of people its principal characters are is to totally miss the point of the exercise).

Plot-wise, the broad strokes of the film are largely the same as the original — parapsychologists in New York lose their academic jobs because they’re considered to be lowering the tone of their institutions, and become ghost hunters, at the same time as a major increase in ghosts appearing in the city. They come into conflict with the city government, but triumph when they save the city from a possible apocalypse. Within that framework, though, all the details — including the nature of the threat that is causing the increase in spectral activity — are different enough that it’s not just a beat-for-beat remake of the original, but a very fresh take on the idea.

One thing it does share with the original, though, is that it’s a film that’s clearly in love with New York as a city. This is particularly noticeable in the climactic sequence, which takes place in a sort of ghost of New York past, where adverts for Beyond The Fringe nestle up to posters for Taxi Driver (and this is one reason why I don’t think the Patty character is *wholly* a bad thing — she, of all of the characters, is the one that shares this knowledge of and love of the city).

There are a lot of references to the original film, both in the cameos for the original stars (and one largeish part for one of them) and in other knowing nods, but it’s ultimately a film that stands on its own very successfully. If you like bright, fun, funny, action films like the first few Marvel Cinematic Universe films (before they became too weighted down with their own continuity), and if you can get over the fairly major flaw that is Patty, you’ll enjoy this one a lot.

One piece of advice, though — watch it in 2D. I’ve seen it in both 2D and 3D versions, and the effects were noticeably shoddier in 3D (and in particular the decision to have some ghost effects extend slightly past the frame boundary in the 3D version just draws attention to the frame and makes immersion more difficult).

I’m glad to hear that they’re planning more films — I hope that they tone down the stereotypical aspects of Patty and bring in some more characters of colour. If they do, the next film could be genuinely great, rather than, as this one was, pretty good but flawed.

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#harkive 2016 liveblog

As they have done previous years, the harkive project are collecting information about how people listen to music over the course of the day, so like *I* have done previous years, I’m going to liveblog the music I’m listening to today. Today I’m off work ill, and it’s *extremely* hot. I’ll be updating every hour or so

7:30 Woke up, checked email, made a start on some writing I need to get done. While doing this, I put on an MP3 compilation, Lux & Ivy’s Favourites, a mixture of R&B, rockabilly, garage rock, and novelty songs. Typical tracks on the compilation include El Monkey by Saxie Russel, Intoxica by the Revels, and Firewater by the Premiers. That compilation still playing at 08:53 when I first posted this.

9:50 The compilation ended, and I’m about to shower and go to the doctor, so no more music just now.

10:59 Music in the waiting room for the GP was “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now” by Starship. Since getting back home about ten minutes ago, I’ve been listening to Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful, again as MP3s.

11:43 After the Lovin’ Spoonful album, the MP3 software automatically moved on to a Count Basie album, then crashed after two tracks. I just restarted it, and am now listening to Fishes and Fine Yellow Sand by Waterson: Carthy

12:43 My wife’s gone out, so as she won’t be annoyed by my choice of music for a while, I put on an audience recording of the Beach Boys’ 2012 reunion tour (the Santa Barbara Bowl show, May 28 2012).

14:48 Beach Boys show still playing (it was a long show) but I stop it half-way through California Girls to go to the shop.

15:50 Back from the shop. Generic modern pop music that I don’t know what it is played while I was there, and now going to watch a few episodes of Yes Minister, so the only music I’ll hear for the next while will be the theme to that.

20:41 After watching several episodes of Yes Minister and having a nap, I put on Good Times!, the Monkees album that came out two months ago.

21:30 After the Monkees finished, Candypants’ self-titled album.

22:30 Candypants took an hour, as I took a break to walk the dog halfway through song seven. After Candypants finished, I put on Panorama City by Double Nought Spy Car and Stew — an album of improvised rock songs.

23:21 I put on William Grant Still’s Symphony #1, the Afro-American Symphony

23:48 And for the final music of the night, Ives’ second symphony.

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