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Friday, April 05, 2019

Comic Cuts - 5 April 2019

The week began with the frustrating non-appearance of my piece on Harry Bensley, perpetrator of the Iron Mask 'Walking Round the World' hoax, which was due to be broadcast on The One Show on Monday but which was then dropped. I must confess that having the arch hoaxer celebrated on April Fool's Day was more than I could have hoped for... but it was not to be. I have no idea why it was dropped, but it was almost certainly something as simple as another spot overrunning – not too difficult when your guests for the evening include Paddy McGuinness and Gyles Brandreth.

McGuinness was on to promote a new BBC quiz show called Catchpoint, which involves coloured balls being dumped onto contestants from above. They have to catch the right coloured ball. Is it any wonder that McGuinness was able to squeeze out any number of innuendos. At one point he stopped to tell the studio audience "Stop sniggering. You're not at school!" Meanwhile, some of Gyles Brandreth's jumpers are being exhibited at the V&A.

And for this Harry Bensley was bumped. I'll let you all know when he's due again. Hopefully soon, as I wasn't paid to do any of the filming or for supplying the images and clippings. I thought I'd make a bit of money back from a bump in sales of the book, which is languishing at number 1,683,890 in Amazon's bestsellers ranking. That's way below the first volume of Forgotten Authors, which is at 737,638 and sold just two copies last month. The fourth volume is two million places below that!

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the work I've been doing writing company profiles. I have a couple of week's worth of work left, after which I have some work to do on a book, but that should take only a few days. By the end of the month I'm going to be unemployed again.

The devil finds work for idle hands and, oddly enough, I've been working on Satan Ltd., the third of a quartet of reissues of old Gwyn Evans novels that I'm planning to publish under the Bear Alley imprint. This, I suspect, will not be a money-spinner, but it's a project close to my heart and while I can do it in my spare time while I'm earning money... well, that's the time to do it.

So I now have the text of the first two books done, the first book laid out and the second waiting in the wings while I work on the text for the third book. I've scanned the whole book and converted the scans into a text file using OCR and I'm now going through it, weeding out the inevitable errors that sneak into an OCR text.

Although doing it this way is a far quicker than retyping the whole book, it still takes time: 300 scans at high resolution, converting those into a format so that the images can be "read" and turned into text... I was working solidly all Saturday and something as simple as holding a book flat on a scanner 300 times can lead to a repetitive strain injury – in this case a nasty crick in the neck – that lasts for a couple of days.

And I've had an hour's less sleep, although, bizarrely, the clocks going forward has done me a favour. I had been waking up ridiculously early, any time between four and five. Well, now that's between five and six and I get up at six anyway. Thanks BST! Now, if only we could stick with it. A permanent move to British Summer Time would save a lot of hassle every year and everyone feeling jet-lagged for a couple of days.

Nightflyers began as a 23,000-word novella by George R. R. Martin (1980), was expanded by 7,000 words by Martin for a 1981 anthology collection, and subsequently filmed as the 1987 movie starring Catherine Mary Stewart and Michael Praed. Martin was co-credited with the screenplay for the latter but it was actually written by the film's producer Robert Jaffe who used the original version, inventing his own names for secondary characters who had been named by Martin in the 1981 expansion.

Now we have the 2018 SyFy TV serial version. For anyone who hasn't seen it but is planning to, look away now.

I'm not the biggest fan of the crossover sci-fi/horror genre that is essentially a haunted house yarn. Ridley Scott's Alien nailed it and everything after that has paled in comparison. There was a spate of films in the late 1990s that relied on cross-dimensional horrors on a spaceship: Event Horizon (1997) and Supernova (2000) were glossier versions of the Nightflyers movie, and films like Alien Cargo (1999) had equally familiar plots about bringing something on board that begins killing everybody that has been used most recently in Life (2017).

I didn't think much of Event Horizon when I saw it at the cinema, but at least it was over and done with after 90 minutes. The new Nightflyers TV series stretches out its movie-length premise to ten episodes. The show leaves no cliche unturned. The spaceship Nightflyer is sent off to contact an alien space craft, a mission headed by Karl D'Branin, who has brought a telepath (Thale) on board along with his doctor, Agatha Matheson, who happens to be Karl's ex.

And so the cliches begin: Karl has abandoned his wife following the death of his daughter, who he keeps seeing wandering the corridors of the Nightflyer; the glowering Thale has, of course, caused the death of people with friends on board, who fear and despise him; the Captain refuses to interact physically with the crew, instead only appearing as a hologram; the woman who plugs into the ship in order to pilot it is taken over by the ship; a HAL-like glowing eye signals bad activity within the shipboard computer; a probe brings back some biological substance which begins to grow; a pregnant woman gives birth to something not human; and there's even a scientist driven mad who turns into an axe-wielding maniac. Oh, and space cannibals.

Its all the scripts for the above mentioned films cut into strips and glued back together again in random order, like a William Burroughs cut-up experiment. Some of the individual elements were quite effective – the death of Tessia the bee lady's baby and her subsequent death – and some of it was just plain daft – she and her baby have to die to give motivation to the her boyfriend's descent into madness, which involves eating honey in a creepy way and doing a bad Jack Nicholson/Jack Torrance impersonation.

Too many times the crew suffer some trauma, only to forget/ignore it in the next scene where they're required for something else. Even the axe-man is invited back to work.

The show was cancelled at the end of the first season and I can't say that I'm surprised. Jump scares are part of the language of horror on the screen, but viewers need to give a damn about the characters if you want to bring some genuine horror to your haunted spaceship. There's nothing new here.

To end, we'll have a few more covers on the theme of time...

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