tealin: (Default)
Things I ought to do today:
  • Sketch hippies at Strawberry Fair
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Practise quick location sketching

What I am about to do:
  • Hang out in a cafe reading Going Postal
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Someone on Tumblr asked me if I'd listened to the recent radio dramatisation of Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. I have – the first episode at least – and if you wish to do so you'd better hurry up because it expires tomorrow evening (UK time): Episode 1 / Episode 2

Le Guin's own story is intriguing, what little I know if it, and the trails for the drama sounded interesting; the promotional image was of two people manhauling across a frozen waste, so with that and it being a drama on Radio 4 I was as a moth to the flame.

I think I might have tried reading A Wizard of Earthsea (which has also had a BBC dramatisation) when I was a teenager – I definitely remember trying a few highly recommended fantasy novels at one time and not being able to get into any of them. The memory which stands out most was dropping out after five pages of Dragonriders of Pern when the internal screaming got louder than the words. It's your world's analogue to a year, just call it a year! Why are you capitalising so many random nouns? Most fantasy to me felt like drowning in worldbuilding, a lot to keep track of with nothing to hold onto, no emotional life ring or a foothold on something I knew.

I'm more than twice the age now, have done a lot of reading in the meantime, and have made an effort to try to understand and appreciate the unfamiliar and initially distasteful, so I thought I'd give it another try. Unfortunately the old familiar drowning feeling came right back. I tried to soldier through, appreciating the production and ideas at least, and I think I got all the way to the end, but couldn't make myself go for Episode 2. I'm really sorry.

Of course I had to keep picking at it; I had to figure out why this turned me off so much when it ostensibly has a lot in common with other things I like. An idea I had in college came back to me, that speculative fiction really ought not to be divided into Sci-Fi and Fantasy (the boundary between which is famously subjective) but rather Fantasy With One Foot In Reality (Bipedal Fantasy, for short) and Wholecloth Fantasy, which is an entirely distinct universe with at most a passing nod at our own. Whether it's set in a quasi-medieval Arcadia or a hyperfuturistic space station, a story tends to be either tethered to our own reality or completely free-floating.

All the fantasy I like is Bipedal:
Watership Down is a book about another society, with its own rules, mythology, and vocabulary, but it happens to be made up of ordinary rabbits in ordinary Hampshire (which, admittedly, is a fantasy world to a five-year-old in San Diego) and the familiar pokes through often enough it never feels very foreign.
Redwall is set in another world, but with familiar furniture – it could be the same world as Wind in the Willows, Beatrix Potter, or Disney's Robin Hood – and in the early books at least it is not magical.
Harry Potter is magical, but has one foot planted in our everyday reality; most of the books start at the Dursleys', and Harry comes to the magical world with a relatable Muggle frame of reference. We only start losing the lifeline to our reality when the wizarding world has become a second home, and even that alternate reality plays off what we find ordinary.
The Dark Is Rising is very similar, and while its magical world is less of a riff on the nonmagical one, it keeps one foot in each world much more consistently than Harry Potter does.
Discworld is set in another world, and is magical, but it is plainly our world reflected in a funhouse mirror. Its thematic and satirical aspects are the foot it has in reality, and the characters it uses to illustrate its high-concept side are fully relatable human beings (for a given value of human).
Ray Bradbury's writing also uses its satirical side to ground us in a familiar reality, often the quintessential 1950s suburban ideal or stereotypical mid-century image of The Future.
Fatherland, being Alternate History, depends upon on our knowledge of WWII, but being twenty years down another leg of the Trousers of Time, maintains a certain distance. The power of its ending comes in part from its swinging back around to connect with our reality.

The Left Hand of Darkness' idea of gender-shifting humanoids is fascinating and opens all sort of narrative and philosophic opportunities, but I felt like I got more juice out of the Dwarf Feminism subplot in Discworld, and especially Monstrous Regiment's illustration of 'People are people' – the characters in Left Hand of Darkness seemed to spend more time explaining the implications of gender fluidity and how their society and relationships were structured around it than they did being people. Wouldn't it have been more effective to make us know and love the characters and then find out their species' quirk?

It's personal taste, of course. I know there are lots of people who are over the moon about Le Guin and her ilk, and I can see why if I step far enough back from myself. I wish I had that capacity for falling headlong into Wholecloth Fantasy, but my imagination is, as Professor Trelawney would say, 'hopelessly mundane.' I don't wish to tell them they're wrong, only explain where I'm coming from in a way that makes some systemic sense. Does it?
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I logged onto my email this afternoon to find my inbox full of sadfaces. That is how I found out about the death of Terry Pratchett.

There probably isn't one single other author who made me as much who I am today as Sir Terry. I was introduced to his books at the end of high school, and they became my How To Be A Human manual. The summer I was drawing Goblet of Fire pictures I was starting Interesting Times* and Small Gods**, and when Pottery Art really took off I was polishing off the last of my unread Discworlds, just in time to catch The Truth as it was published. I remember the feeling upon finishing it, that there was now nothing new to discover about Ankh-Morpork, and how oddly desolate that made me feel ... well, here were all are now, together.
*Not, I discovered, the best book to start with, but it got me hooked nevertheless.
**I frequently recommend this as a starter, but there was something special about reading it for the first time at the height of a blazing summer in a desert theocracy.


Oddly, though, I found that in the face of all the sadness in my inbox, I wasn't particularly distraught, and sent what were probably alarmingly sanguine replies to my corespondents. They all knew what a huge part he'd played in my life, and most of them had been introduced to him through my work as The Pratchett Pusher. But my last few years hanging out with dead guys has given me a certain perspective ...

It is, of course, a pity that he of all people was struck by a degenerative brain disease relatively early in life. For that matter it is a pity that he didn't live to 120 with all his faculties intact, but that's hardly something we can all expect. What we can all expect is that someday, sooner or later, we will die; when that day comes, we will be very lucky if we can look back as he could on a life so well lived. He was incredibly prolific, hugely popular and successful in his lifetime, maintained creative control and the highest standards of storytelling, touched millions of people, administered new ideas and old ideas with a spoonful of sugar, and used his powers for good. He saw the foibles of mankind starkly and still managed to be a humanist; Neil Gaiman talked about his anger but what impressed me most was his hope (that greatest of all treasures). It's just possible that by releasing his imagination into the world, a small percentage of people will be changed by and live up to that hope, and pass it on, incrementally bettering the human condition. It's hard to imagine a more gratifying legacy than that.

We've had seven years to prepare for this day. He had seven years to prepare for it, too, and didn't waste a single one of them, adding advocacy to his writing regimen and no doubt putting his affairs well in order. That's a mercy, too; imagine if he'd had a heart attack in 2007 instead of an Alzheimer's diagnosis. And in the end he got to go at home, with family, and his cat, having seen a positively glorious first weekend of spring, rather than clinically in a foreign land as he was planning to do.

We have lost a bright light, it's true. The world is a poorer place than it was a week ago. But it's an infinitely richer place than it was thirty years ago, thanks to him, and I'm more grateful for those thirty years than sad at the light burning out. The light it cast will continue reflecting and refracting down the years, after all, down the long corridor of infinitely reflected mirrors, possibly even growing in intensity and reach. Maybe now we'll finally get to call his books 'literature' and take them as seriously as they deserve ... as long as we don't forget to enjoy them, too.

WHAT IS THAT SENSE INSIDE YOUR HEAD OF WISTFUL REGRET THAT THINGS ARE THE WAY THEY APPARENTLY ARE?

"Sadness, master. I think. Now – "

I AM SADNESS.


tealin: (4addict)
Oh boy, you guys, you'd better have a lot of busy work to do because I have a bumper basket of radio fun for you!

First, because it is slightly out of date and expiring soon but still worth listening, is Radio 4's Brand* new live orchestral dramatisation of A Christmas Carol! The Hale Centre Theatre's original production of the story was a big part of my childhood Christmases and some of the narration is more Christmas scripture to me than the words of Luke, so it was nice to hear it again, and with such a lush musical setting. It's as relevant now as it was in 1843, so listen with a modern perspective and marvel ...
*get it, because it's the work of Neil Brand, ahaha

Next is the much anticipated dramatisation of Good Omens, a fittingly apocalyptic tale for Christmastime, or the new year as the case may be. Inevitably there are things I'd have done differently, but in contrast to most of the other radio Pratchetts, there were no moments of 'ARGH you have completely missed the point of this character/moment/scenario!' so well done, Dirk Maggs et al.

Speaking of Radio Pratchetts, Small Gods is rerunning on R4x. It does have moments of argh, despite Mr Brooks' excellent adaptation, though thankfully none on the part of Mr Prekopp's pitch-perfect Brutha or Mr Jennings' chillingly faithful Vorbis.

It's Prekoppalooza on Radio 4 Extra as they're also rerunning the phenomenal Radio Gormenghast, or as they call it, A History of Titus Groan, in which he plays Steerpike, who could not be less like Brutha. The production design of the TV adaptation is imprinted on my brain and the radio adaptation is much better written and directed, so it's a very rich experience for me – your mileage may vary but I heartily recommend a listen anyway; it is objectively one of the best radio dramas I've heard and they don't rerun it nearly often enough.

And then of course there's CABIN PRESSURE!!

If you are a stranger to it and have been wondering what all the fuss has been about recently, R4x is rerunning it from the top just for you. You can listen to Abu Dhabi to start, and the rest of Series 1 will be turning up weekly, so you can give it a try risk-free for 30 days. I really can't say enough wonderful things about this show, though goodness knows I've given it the old college try this past month or so.

If you do know what the fuss is about and have somehow missed the finale, or want to listen again but lost the link and the ability to Google, or are just easily suggestible, here are Zurich Part 1 and Part 2. If you are one of the above people who have not heard the show yet I do not recommend listening to the finale before you've finished the rest of the shows because it's very much a progression sort of thing.

And if you're in the mood for something more serious, or are fed up with the pitch of reporting on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, today's Any Questions has some really excellent discussion both of Muslims in Europe and freedom of expression.
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Mort on Radio 4 Extra

I'm not the biggest fan of the radio Pratchett adaptations – I've blathered about this in the past and will refrain from doing so now – but thanks to so many things I've heard in the meantime, this one is especially hard to get into. MORT! Starring Inspector Xavier March, 'Atch' Atkinson, and every secondary baddie from Bleak Expectations. It's just surreal.

Speaking of Atch, I don't even really imagine him sounding like Carl Prekopp anymore, thanks to indoctrination into 'gruff, monosyllabic' 'canon' Atch and distance from the radio play ... and Carl Prekopp, I don't know if he actually was much younger when they recorded this or if they just sped his voice up a little, but wow does he sound young.

What did I say about blathering?

Anyway, episode one is only valid till Wednesday, and the others drop off sequentially after that, so get on it if you feel like listening ...
tealin: (4addict)
Ohhhhh it's a good week to be a radio! (or a browser-based radio proxy...)

It's Cabin Pressure: St Petersburg! Which in my opinion is one of the best episodes of any comedy ever. The really exciting thing about it is that The Writer keeps a blog, and posted a 'behind the scenes' of each episode when they initially aired, where he shows his working. And what working! It makes me like the show even more to know that something of such outstanding quality was the result of a lot of thinking and hard work, rather than the effortless divine revelation it feels like. St Petersburg's entry is here; needless to say it is chock-full of spoilers so please listen to the episode first.

Incidentally John Finnemore (aforementioned writer) did an excellent bit on The Now Show about the Eurozone crisis – it's probably the best explanation of it I've heard yet (and definitely the funniest) though I recommend not listening to it too immediately after Cabin Pressure because if you see Arthur doing it, it would be too distracting. Funny, but distracting. It takes some concentrating but is definitely worth it.

They're rerunning Night Watch, which aside from some disappointing sound design is quite good, and features Carl Prekopp reprising his role as Bewildered Young Pratchett Male (in this case Young Sam).

The Infinite Monkey Cage is back, this time talking about the oceans rather than belittling Mark Gatiss and Ray Bradbury. Good sciencey fun times!

If you're still in the mood for science and comedy with occasional glimpses of Robin Ince, All of the Planet's Wonders is back! Really it's Josie Long's show which is perfectly fine by me; her casual delivery and uninhibited enthusiasm are just great. Also, I dearly want her to do a voice in something animated. But that's tangential.

And finally Front Row features an interview with Sam Mendes about the VERY EXCITING Shakespeare miniseries coming up; unfortunately airing dates are not mentioned, but what they do discuss puts my high hopes on a much more solid foundation. Now it just needs actually to air ... do it, England ...
tealin: (4addict)
I frequently find myself trying to describe the charms of Radio 4 to the poor deprived masses of NPR listeners, and one of the things I frequently land on as an example is this: Radio 4 is the only radio station that has a sitcom ... SET IN HELL.

If you are one of the people I have pitched it to, well, now's your chance to hear what I was talking about:

OLD HARRY'S GAME: SERIES 1

BBC7 (or 'Radio 4 Extra' as the hepcats down at BBCHQ are calling it these days) is rerunning it from Episode 1 – I don't know if they're planning to run through all six existing series but I hope it's a ramp-up to Series 7 starting on 4. New episodes air Fridays at 11pm BST/3pm PDT.

Aside from all its brilliance, this show has forever spoiled The Screwtape Letters for me – I was familiar with it well before reading the book and my greatest impression remains the disappointment that it was not Old Harry's Game. They do much the same thing, especially starting with Series 2 when the motive to the plot is that Hell is overcrowding so Satan has to try to convince (or trick) Humanity to be more virtuous, but Mr Hamilton does it with so much more humour and entertainment value and so much less bludgeoning about the head with a moral plank.

Incidentally, the voice of Satan (Andy Hamilton) is who I would cast as the Great God Om in Small Gods, and Thomas (Jimmy Mulville) is who I hear in my head when I read Moist. It may be best not to think this while listening to the show, though.
tealin: (lilac)
I know at least one of you was hoping to hear the radio play of Night Watch [again], so here's your chance!

Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, Part 1


This part works till Friday; subsequent episodes should appear in the tray beneath the main feature.

If you know the book, you know it's good – if you don't, the radio play does a remarkably good job of summing it up, and giving it a listen will clue you in to the sudden profligation of lilac icons on LJ towards the end of May. I'm not nuts about the sound design and some of the acting, but it's a very complicated book to cut down to five episodes. It's admirable how clear they've made it and how much they managed to retain, which is really more important when you get right down to it.
tealin: (lilac)
We interrupt our non-stop in-your-face high-octane Action Polar Marathon to bring you a delightful new thingy in the world of Discworld fandom:

GLOM OF NIT!

Written and drawn by LJ's very own Raisegrate, it's a web comic about various goings-on at the Post Office counter. There are only three comics so far, but they've all been good, and what's more, there are plans. Yes, plans!
tealin: (catharsis)
It's been a long time since I drew any Discworld stuff. I decided to pick up The Truth because it's Hogswatchy, without being Hogfather,* and I miss snow.

I got about two pages in before the drawing bug bit.


William hears a sound! What could it be? Certainly not a great big heavy PRINTING PRESS going all wrong on an icy patch!

Sixteen Dwarfs )

*I like Hogfather just fine, I'm just not in the mood.
tealin: (nerd)
I have maintained Chocolat as my personal (if partial) Going Postal soundtrack for some time now, mostly due to this track being so totally Moist:

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I was just cleaning out the shelves in my room and discovered a random piece of paper. Surprise Dibbler! Onna bun!



I'm not sure when I drew it but I suspect 2008 ... I know I had been influenced by something but I forget what, now. Maybe I scanned it once and this is a repost, or maybe it's new, but I thought I should throw it out there anyway before it gets sent back to the Sketchbook Dimension.
tealin: (lilac)
Bet you thought you'd never see Discworld drawings from me again! (I admit, I thought it...)



A Couple Night Watch Doodles )

In completely unrelated news, I also wen to RenFaire! Wooo!
tealin: (4addict)
I've always felt the Johnny Maxwell trilogy was some of the more unfairly overlooked material in Sir Pratchett's oeuvre ... They're definitely intended for a younger audience, but not as self-consciously as the Tiffany books – instead of feeling obviously written for children, they're books that just happen to be accessible to children, and feel almost like the sort of books a young person might write if they were a really really good storyteller with a surprisingly mature perspective on the world. And they have a lot to say, without being obnoxious about it. A tricky game to play, all around, and well done.

They've read an abridged version of Johnny and the Dead on Big Toe Books this week – the link will take you to Monday's episode (which expires next Monday, of course) and there are links to subsequent episodes below it. The Johnny bit starts a little over halfway through, each day. It's got some unfortunate but not egregious kiddie music attached to it, and a recap after part 1 in case you got distracted by your macaroni art and missed something, but the integrity of the story manages to survive that.

The abridgment is admirably faithful; while losing the references to 'Thriller' and nearly all of Solomon Einstein, it preserves the bits about the importance of community history, respect for and awareness of the past, and brings a sort of – I dunno, peace? – to the concept of death and the dead. It's the sort of thing that would make ignorant entertainment industry executives go 'Ooh, I dunno, that's awfully dark, isn't it?' because it mentions the fact that people don't live forever, but the way in which it does so makes the idea of not living forever less frightening and horrible than it had been before. The dead aren't scary, they're just us. Johnny can see and talk to them but in his calm acceptance of this (as opposed to the expected terror) we see them that way too, in marked contrast to the more traditional 'talk to the dead' stories like The Sixth Sense. Mr Pratchett plays with ideas about an afterlife, or at least a posthumous existence of some sort, in a way that ... well, it's not exactly jolly, but it has a certain lightness that almost lends a degree of comfort, and which subverts ghostly phenomena into something humourous which would, in any other context, be fodder for horror films.

And of course the Blackbury Pals get me every time.
tealin: (nerd)
When one is in the middle of reading Night Watch, some images are more unexpected than others.

BBC News: Day in Pictures - find image number two.
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I usually try to keep posts to one or two topics, but I'm afraid I come with a basket of loose ends today ...

First:

A couple months ago a kind lady asked me to do an HP/Dr Horrible crossover for the annual FictionAlley April Fools ... thing ... Well, it was impossible to resist. Luckily I managed to squeeze this out just before work exploded. Dunno if it ever ended up on the site, but it's here now!

How to Train Your Dragon
    I was going to wait until the pain wore off before I wrote a review, but time is running out so I'm going to go with my first reaction, because in retrospect it might be the best thing I can say about the film. How to Train Your Dragon )
    Anyway, excellent film; has a few flaws but enough of the important stuff worked so well that I don't really care what they are even when they're staring me in the face. And, most importantly of all (personally), this coming so soon after Kung Fu Panda makes me ever so slightly less cynical about Dreamworks having the rights to The Bromeliad. I feel the need to push it because it is a crime it's been making less money than Monsters vs Aliens, which leads money people once again to the horrifying conclusion that American audiences (which are the only ones that matter – I wish I were joking) don't want good films. For the sake of quality entertainment, give them your dollars!

Everyone Loves GROCERIES!
    A new grocery store moved in a few blocks away which has a dark secret: it's owned by Tesco. Adventures in Cans and an Illustrative Clip. )
I, for one, welcome our new grocery overlords.

Revelations on Fanart
    Having picked up a bit of freelance in the vein of what I used to do for a living, I was brought face to face with a fact I'd never consciously articulated before. Secrets of the Universe )

Pluggity Plug Plug
    I was pointed to the band mentioned a few posts ago on the latest installment of Lovelace & Babbage vs The Organist, the latest series in a truly fantastic webcomic written and drawn by a friend of mine who spends most of her time animating CG creatures in live action films. Lovelace & Babbage started awesome and has continued to get better and better; just when I thought it was as awesome as it could be she posts Part 4, which introduces a floppy-haired bespectacled showboat of a villain and had me floating on waves of glee for the rest of the day. Curse that day job, this is far more beneficial to the human race.
tealin: (4addict)
Dear Marcus Brigstocke, production staff of I've Never Seen Star Wars, and anyone else who may want to evangelize the good news of Discworld to the infidel:

Don't start them on Colour of Magic.

Listening to Ardal O'Hanlon berate it for being disjointed (which it is), lacking cohesion as a world (which it does) and not really all that funny (which it isn't) and tarring the rest of the series with the same brush, while lauding books that have a good strong story, compelling characters, and which just happen to be funny (which is a pretty bang-on description of most of the latter 2/3 of the series) was downright painful. If you read a good one and don't like it, fine, but don't read the weakest and first book in a very long series and assume they're all like that.

Yeesh.

In other news, I've been trying to read Small Gods again, over meals and while waiting for meetings to start, etc. When I'm drawing stuff from books it's always fun to imagine that someday I'll actually get to use it for an animated movie, though the chances of that ever happening are microscopically slim. Small Gods, on the other hand, will never get made. Not on this continent, anyway. Not for a thousand years. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but if a huge block of people boycotted a company for extending health care coverage to same-sex partners, imagine what they'd do if blatant blasphemy was spoon-fed to their children in animated form. In that tiny pocket universe where it does get made, and I get to direct it, no grand soliloquy on how this book was perhaps inordinately responsible for saving my own faith would prevent the scenario from going something like this:

CHRISTIAN RIGHT: How dare you insult the power and love and wisdom of the Almighty God!
ME: Um, it's not the god of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac, it's a fictional god in a fictional world, and he's a tortoise.
C.R.: Yes but it's implied.
ME: Oh, well, that's quite a lot of figurative thinking from people who practically define themselves by taking things literally.

And then I would never work again, either because I'd be considered too much of a PR liability or because the mob with pitchforks and torches would have cut off my hands. Or head. And set everything on fire.
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I.

Here it is, the explosive cliffhanger of Teenage Comic: Episode 1 ... A Tale of Two Mice )

II.

Radio 4, I love you forever and ever. The most recent episode of Heresy (premise: smart people being funny, funny people being smart, or both) says everything I ever wanted to say about Prize-Winning Literature and more, AND throws in props for Pratchett. So much love. So much. How does it stand being so awesome?

In further Pratchett news, who wants to move to Wincanton (twinned with Ankh-Morpork)? Welcome to Treacle Mine Road.

And the world of post-modern art is hilariously skewered in Arturart! (that one's for you, Tony)
tealin: (stress)
YES OH YES:
The Hollywood Reporter announces that this year’s adapted screenplay writer Simon Beaufoy, winner for Slumdog Millionaire, has joined DreamWorks to fashion the script for the long in development Truckers. Although the Reporter states that nothing is known about the story line, those following the Studio’s progress must assume that this is indeed the first in Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad Trilogy, which DreamWorks optioned some years ago. Beaufoy’s assignment to the film suggests that he has the British slant necessary to adapt Pratchett’s work to the screen. DreamWorks are certainly looking for a new franchise: the author has sold over 30 million books and, if successful, Truckers could well be followed by the other titles in the trilogy, Diggers and Wings.

via Animated News

Please please please please please please please don't make it standard Dreamworks fare ... pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease. Keep your grubby cheapening hands off it, Mr Katzenberg! Back! BACK I say!

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