William Shaw on The Rings of Akhaten, the surprising similarities between Neil Cross & Chris Chibnall, and more (Part Two)

will shaw doctor who rings akhaten black archive 42 neil cross farren blackburn chris chibnall jenna coleman leaf matt smith merry

Probably my favourite thing about Chibnall’s Doctor Who [is] that we seem to be moving away from the rigid atheism of a lot of the show’s history. I think some of it is a continuation of trends from the Moffat era. Davies was at times very influenced by New Atheism, and there’s a real softening of that through Moffat and then Chibnall. The Thirteenth Doctor has clearly learned the lessons the Eleventh Doctor doesn’t quite get in The Rings of Akhaten; that religion is more complicated than just this evil parasite that poisons society. I feel very lucky to be releasing the book now, because there’s a really interesting conversation developing about these topics.

Some more thoughtful comments from William Shaw today! Unsurprisingly, they’re still largely about Doctor Who, but we move a little further afield from The Rings of Akhaten today – take a look at Will’s thoughts on Series 12 and its depiction of faith, a ‘what if?’ scenario where Neil Cross took over from Steven Moffat instead of Chris Chibnall, and more.

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William Shaw on Doctor Who, his new book about The Rings of Akhaten, and more (Part One)

will shaw doctor who rings akhaten black archive 42 neil cross farren blackburn chris chibnall jenna coleman leaf matt smith

I think The Rings of Akhaten is one of the boldest, most ambitious, and most radical episodes in all of Doctor Who. It’s a heartfelt story, lushly realised and beautifully performed. It’s a vital early step in the journey of Clara Oswald, the best companion (and arguably the best Doctor) the show has ever had. It’s an early commentary on the show’s fiftieth anniversary. And, as I talk about in the book, it’s a fascinating engagement with contemporary politics. I basically think it’s a critique of New Atheism (cf Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc) and its relationship to Doctor Who, but in doing that it necessarily touches on the legacy of colonialism, and Clara and Merry’s relationship in the story is an interesting way into some topics from feminist theory. Like Clara’s leaf, it looks simple, but it contains multitudes.

I spoke to William Shaw about his new book, the latest in the Black Archive series by Obverse Books, and the definitive account of The Rings of Akhaten. It’s a stellar book, full of all sorts of interesting things about New Atheism, feminism, orientalism, and Doctor Who – and Will had even more interesting things to say about them in the first instalment of our two part interview. So many interesting things! It’s a marvel he’s not run out yet.

Check back in a few days for Part Two, which covers Will’s thoughts on classic Doctor Who, ideas of faith in the Chibnall era, and how Neil Cross compares to Chibnall as a writing. (I told you – no end to the number of interesting things Will has to say about Doctor Who and associated.)

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James Dashner on his new novel The Fever Code, the challenges of writing prequels and the rise of dystopian fiction

james dashner maze runner fever code ya gladers interview me too jay asher

I think a lot of it has to do with how connected people are these days on social media. I don’t know, I feel like younger people are much more aware of all the problems in the world outside of their own spheres than they were when I was a kid. Dystopian novels take a lot of current themes and a lot of current tragedies and geopolitical disasters, and kinda turn it into story form by projecting it into the future and giving you a chance to talk about it.

I think they identify with our own world sinking into complete despair; you know we see it in the news all the time, and this takes it to the next level. I think kids enjoy losing themselves in these potential futures where they could maybe save humanity from all the bad things going on.

My recent interview with James Dashner, writer of the Maze Runner series.

Sometime after this interview, James Dashner was dropped by both his publisher and his long-time agent because of harassment and abuse claims. Had I known about it before the interview took place, I would have, I suppose, made some attempt to raise the issue during our conversation. Or refused to do the interview in the first place, I’m not wholly sure.

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Why Naomi Alderman’s The Power should be adapted for television

the power naomi alderman television adaptation tv show book the handmaid's tale

The book gestures at a much larger world than the one it’s able to depict between its pages; it’s an expansive, globe-trotting tale that occurs across the course of a decade. Much as American Gods built upon the work of Neil Gaiman and pushed it in new directions, you can see a similar potential in Alderman’s novel. There’s the ability to pick up on the different possibilities that weren’t, for whatever reason, explored in The Power – one idea that jumped out at me repeatedly was what would happen to trans people in this world, and it’s something that a television version of the story could do well to explore.

The Power is probably the best book I’ve read all year, and I’d love to see a television adaptation. (Thankfully, there is an adaptation in the works, albeit still at a very early stage.)

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Patrick Ness on his new book Release, the future of his Doctor Who spinoff Class, and more

patrick ness class release books doctor who interview class season 2 big finish the rest of us just live here

I hope that Class takes their concerns seriously – not overly seriously, but seriously. I hope it shows them as human beings, as more than one-dimensional human beings – they fight, they squabble, they love and they care and they’re brave and they’re frightened. The same kind of complexity that we always see in adults in drama – and again, that’s something I always wanted to see as a teenager, I felt like I was only seeing one kind of teen on screen.

Class is a real effort to make them fully rounded, and full of contradictions, and making their own choices – driving the action, they make the choices, it’s not a show about a bunch of young people sitting around watching adults make all the choices. They’re the ones that drive the plot forward, and it matters because they’re doing it. So, hopefully, it’s that – it’s paying a teenager the compliment of saying you’re a fully rounded human being.

So, here it is – my Patrick Ness interview! I’m extremely pleased with this piece – felt like the appropriate way to round off my experience with Class. It is, to the best of my knowledge, still the most detailed interview Patrick Ness has given about Class. This took place before the American broadcast, so it’s a little scant on details about his departure, and the cancellation of the show; someday, I’d love to chat to him about it again.

(Of course, on the above, there’s been some rumblings lately that Big Finish might be bringing Class back to our screens. Or, ears, rather. If they do, I’m going to have to pursue some interviews, because I do still rather like the fact that I’m the definitive Class interviewer, and I’d like to maintain that title…)

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American Gods: Here are the differences between the TV show and Neil Gaiman’s book

american gods neil gaiman book bryan fuller michael green jesse alexander adaptation differences

Bryan Fuller’s lavish adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantastic book, American Gods, has just landed. And, as expected, it’s absolutely fantastic. The show has quickly become a critical darling, and audiences are loving it.

As with every novel adaptation, though, a question arises: Just how accurate is it? From Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings, and Percy Jackson to the Game of Thrones, every large-scale fantasy adaptation has to take some liberties with its source material.

Is this adaptation going to leave fans frothing with rage or praying at the show’s altar?

I’d not yet watched the show when I wrote this – it was mainly done from stuff that Fuller and Green and Gaiman had spoken about in interviews and publicity stuff.

Since writing this, I have watched the show, and it was one of my favourites of 2017. I never did write about it, though, mainly because… I guess I felt like the show was so good, anything I wrote about it wouldn’t quite serve it properly, if that makes sense? In any case, though, I was really disappointed when Fuller and Green left the project – while I’m hopeful for Jesse Alexander’s version, I’m not expecting much. I figure I’ll probably rewatch and write about the first season in preparation for its return, whenever that may be.

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Why Patrick Ness is perfect for Class

patrick ness class release books doctor who interview class season 2 big finish the rest of us just live here

It started around two years or so ago, with a refusal: Patrick Ness was asked to write an episode of Doctor Who, but declined, on the basis that he was writing a lot for other people, and wanted to devote more time to his own projects. Fair enough, as I’m sure all would agree. Not long after, though, the BBC re-approached Ness with a new pitch: they were planning a school-based spinoff of Doctor Who, and wanted to know if he’d be interested in running it. The answer, as you can imagine, was a resounding yes.

Which is, in fact, rather fantastic, because Patrick Ness is the perfect candidate for this series. He’s got a long and established history of writing for YA properties, and can be considered one of the foremost authors within the genre – his Chaos Walking trilogy is quite highly regarded, as is his novel A Monster Calls, a movie adaptation of which, starring Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones, will be released later this year. However, it’s one of his more recent novels that makes it really clear how apt a choice Ness was to spearhead this spinoff, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Class shared more than a few similarities with said book…

I’m indulging in a little bit of clickbait with this one, admittedly – you can’t see which book it is unless you click the link! Still, though, I imagine it’d be easy enough to guess for anyone who’s reasonably familiar with Ness’ works.

(With a degree of hindsight, having now seen Class, I think it could have done with being a little bit more like The Rest of Us Just Live Here, and actually maybe a bit more like Release as well.)

(Oh, that undoes my clickbait. Whoops.)

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Book Review: The Impossible Has Happened – The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek

star trek gene roddenberry biography the impossible has happened here review lance parkin

This is the adventure of the United Space Ship Enterprise. Assigned a five year galaxy patrol, the bold crew of the giant starship explores the excitement of strange new worlds, uncharted civilizations, and exotic people. These are its voyages and its adventures.

We’re fast approaching the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, as September 8th 2016 will mark a half-century since the first broadcast of The Man Trap, the premier of TOS. As such, people have been looking back to the beginning, each in their own different ways; we had the recent Star Trek Beyond, which aimed to act as a 50th Anniversary Special, as well as a recent series of celebratory convention panels. I’ve got a few plans in place myself, actually, to try and celebrate the full 50 years of Star Trek as best I can, but more on that next week.

Also in time for the 50th anniversary, we’ve got Lance Parkin’s new biography of Gene Roddenberry. Parkin was someone I was aware of because of his long history of writing excellent Doctor Who novels; I’m quite fond of his book The Eyeless, but I think his most acclaimed is probably Cold Fusion or Father Time. Outside of that, he’s also written lots of different nonfiction guidebooks and studies of popular fiction, but most pertinently he’s completed an autobiography of Alan Moore. I confess I’ve never read that one, but it was quite well reviewed. So, then, a few things had coalesced – my pre-existing respect for Parkin’s work, the Star Trek 50th, and a growing interest to learn more about the start of the show. It made a lot of sense, then, to buy this book – and thus, I did.

It’s billed as a biography of Roddenberry, and while it is undoubtedly that, it’s worth keeping in mind the subtitle: “The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek. Parkin is approaching Roddenberry’s life through the lens of the final frontier – and I’d argue rightly so, to be honest, because the insight we gain into the relationship between the Great Bird and his greatest creation is both informative and insightful. Equally, however, if you’re looking to learn a lot about Roddenberry’s time as a commercial pilot or a beat cop, this is perhaps not the book to consult; while these aspects of his life are covered, they’re not really done so with the same amount of detail as that of his later life.

The one aspect of Roddenberry’s pre-Star Trek life examined in most detail is his prior television career, specifically his work on the show The Lieutenant, and the manner in which it informed that which became his lasting legacy. I have to commend Parkin on this, actually; The Lieutenant was something I was only ever really vaguely aware of, and I would have put its Star Trek connections as little more than a share creator and a few overlapping cast members (Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nicholls, etc.) However, it soon becomes clear that The Lieutenant’s position in Trek history has perhaps been understated, with Parkin using it as a springboard to discuss Trek’s reputation for social justice and diversity, as well as the oft-quoted story of Roddenberry having to fight tooth and nail to present and preserve his vision in the face of the restrictive conservatism “the networks”. As with many things, it becomes clear that the truth is far more nuanced, but also far more interesting, than the legend.

A picture is painted of a man who was in some ways ahead of his time, yet in others quite painfully of them; it’s clear that what we refer to as “Gene Roddenberry’s vision” may perhaps more accurately be described as “the Star Trek vision”, encompassing all the many individuals who contributed to the sense of idealism and inclusivity we all love so much today. Indeed, Parkin makes much of the contribution of early fans, particularly young and female fans; in some ways, actually, it’s a really nice way of looking at things, because we end up building an image of a man who learned just as much if not more from Star Trek’s fan, and from it, as we did from him.

Ultimately, this book is essential for any Star Trek fan. It’s able to present a very coherent and informative description of Roddenberry’s career, taking both its ups and downs and always remaining fair and even handed; at the same time, it’s compulsively readable throughout, with a host of engaging anecdotes, behind the scenes stories, and detailed analysis of what it might all mean. (Parkin, for example, has some particularly insightful commentary as to the nature of the feud between Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy.) The book acts as something of a historiography for Star Trek, with a clear view of the contributions not just of Roddenberry, but also of individuals such as Gene Coon, DC Fontana, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, and so on and so forth. While Roddenberry is far from lambasted, this isn’t a hagiography either; it’s perhaps one the most balanced accounts of Roddenberry’s life I’ve ever come across.

And as we embark on the next stage of our ongoing mission, I think that’s the right direction to boldly go.


Star Trek: The Original Series reviews

Star Trek: Discovery reviews

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100 Books in a Year: Paper Towns

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#11 – Paper Towns – John Green – 4/5

I am quite fond of John Green’s books; this is the third one I’ve read, but before this, I’d read The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. (In fact, I wrote a little bit out The Fault in Our Stars here, if you’re interested.)

And, you know, because of this, I thought I had the basic formula to a John Green book down, and pretty much all figured out. (Spoilers from hereon out, by the way.) I was, essentially, expecting the missing character, Margo, to be dead; given that John Green has a cancer death book and a road accident death book, it seemed to me that this was going to be his suicide death book. I mean, I know I’m oversimplifying with that, but still. That’s definitely something you’re lead to believe over the course of the novel, that’s true, but of course, in the end, Margo is alive.

Paper Towns is something of a discussion on the manic pixie dream girl trope; though it’s never invoked by name, it’s something that’s on the forefront of the main characters thoughts throughout the latter half of the book. It’s something they do explicitly condemn, in the end, which I thought was nice – you can’t just romanticise people and your relationship with someone, there needs to be something much more real there. It’s a good message, particularly for the general target audience of these books.

And, you know, as with all of the John Green novels, it’s a lot of fun to read, and very easy to get through. They’re all eminently readable, and generally just pretty good books all round.

Books Read: 11
Days since start: 99
Days until finish: 265
Currently reading: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

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100 Books in a Year: Postcards from an American God on the Edge of Mars

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#8 – American Gods – Neil Gaiman – 5/5

This was the book where I really started to understand the acclaim that Neil Gaiman gets. Obviously, he’s an author who was on my radar; he’s written one brilliant Doctor Who episode, and one reasonable one, and I quite enjoyed Stardust (but I preferred the movie, admittedly), however I’d never quite seen where the bulk of his reputation came from.

And now I do. I totally get it – Neil Gaiman is a fantastic author. American Gods is a very well written book; it’s got a whole host of interesting and compelling characters, and it’s written in such a way that we really get to take the time to get to know the different characters. I’d almost describe it as a meandering style, actually; it’s a fairly slowly paced book, but it uses that pace remarkably well.

I mean, it’s one of those books that’s difficult to talk about in short form; I sort of want to just bullet point stand out moments, but that would very quickly turn into a transcript of the book itself. (Even more so considering I was reading an expanded tenth anniversary edition!) Certainly, something that stood out to me was the twist ending, which I shan’t ruin, but I think it can be considered amongst the more effective twists of this nature, ever. (Yes, it’s hyperbole, but making exaggerated statements is part of the fun of running a blog. Plus, it really is that good.)

#9 – The Martian – Andy Weir – 5/5

Next up was Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I was drawn to because the film looked good, but I never got around to seeing it. Since finishing the book, though, I found out that Andy Weir writes Doctor Who fanfiction, and also wrote rather wonderful short story called The Egg, which you’ll probably have read before, even if you don’t recognise the title. So, you know, definitely an author I’m likely to be interested in.

The Martian has a really excellent, distinct voice to it; large swaths of the book are in a first person perspective, written as log entries by Mark Watney, the astronaut stuck on Mars. Andy Weir infused the character with a certain sarcastic, irreverent wit, which makes the book really enjoyable to read. Often there’s a lot of technical jargon – which I respect a lot, because it draws a veneer of realism over the plot, and really adds to the tone of the novel, but it’d be a lot less interesting if it wasn’t being relayed by such a well drawn protagonist. So, that’s handled very well, in essence.

It’s actually quite tense in places, which is accentuated by the switches between Mark Watney’s log entries, and the third person descriptions of events on Earth with NASA trying to save him. Ultimately, though, what I was most fond of was the closing paragraph, which put forward a really hopeful view of humanity. It felt fitting, and I liked it a lot. (Matt Damon narrates it over the trailer for the movie, as it happens.)

 #10 – Postcards from the Edge – Carrie Fisher – 4/5

I found out recently that Carrie Fisher had OD’d on cocaine while they were filming the Hoth scenes for The Empire Strikes Back. Then I found out she wrote a semi autobiographical book about her experiences, called Postcards from the Edge. So I figured I’d give it a read. (They also made a film of the book starring Meryl Streep, but that’s not exactly pertinent to the matter at hand.)

I’m glad I read this book in the end. It’s very good, and it’s also very honest; there’s a clear sense that Carrie Fisher isn’t holding anything back here, not at all. Throughout the book, there’s a series of different perspectives and stylistic presentations – it’s divided into four sections, and each one is different from the last. It’s all very cleverly done, and you come away from it with a much greater understanding of addiction and recovery (or, at least, of how that process went for Carrie Fisher.)

Certainly, I’d recommend it – it’s a cleverly presented, well-told story, that has some genuinely impactful themes and ideas within it.

Books Read: 10
Days since start: 98
Days until finish: 266
Currently reading: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

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