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Review: Doom Coalition 3

doom3

Absent Friends: The TARDIS is (once again) drawn off course by an unknown force, landing in a quiet English village. The Doctor and Liv’s only lead is the nuisance calls the locals have been getting on their new mobile phones: creepily good impersonations of dead relatives. But every line of investigation turns up… nothing.

Meanwhile, finding herself only a few decades away from home, Helen goes behind the Doctor’s back to see her family again – and learns some harsh lessons about time travel.

I adore this story. The idea of the Doctor investigating lead after lead only to find mundanities is ingenious, Helen’s subplot is handled superbly (and ultimately gut-wrenching) and the final twist, when it comes, is lovely.

The highlight of the story is Liv’s final conversation with her father. I was doing laundry when I listened to it. It was a strange experience.

The Eighth Piece: Intrigued by the device at the centre of the time distortion in Absent Friends, the Doctor sets out to uncover its secrets. It’s a small piece of a greater whole and so he, Liv and Helen travel to three different periods of European history. Each of them is dogged by a malevolent Clockmaker, a madman, and a very irregular nun.

River’s back, she’s one step ahead of the Doctor, and she’s wearing a wimple. And unfortunately, I’m less and less in love with how Big Finish are handling the character. I’d probably have enjoyed the portrayal were it not for The Husbands of River Song. As it is she comes across kind of shallow. But then again, she’s not the star of this story – I should give their Diary of River Song a listen before passing full judgement!

That aside, The Eighth Piece was a really enjoyable story. The different time periods lend it an epic feel and it’s a nice twist to have the Doctor and friends bound by linear time while other characters bounce in and out of the story around them. Really good fun.

The Doomsday Chronometer: Following on where The Eighth Piece left off, the Doctor struggles to survive and solve the mystery of the titular clock while River and Helen go on a time-hopping adventure to find the missing piece… because the Doctor wants them to put it together, right?

Aptly, given the subject matter, the pieces fall into place. The title of the series is explained, the Doctor meets river (though not technically face to face), the chronometer is completed and in a heartbreaking final twist the identity the identity of the third figure pursuing the clock is revealed.

It’s a little hard to judge this one on its own because it and The Eighth Piece really are a single story. But the pace and the stakes picked up and I had a great time listening to it – and it has one hell of a final cliffhanger.

The Crucible of Souls: In the Clocksmith’s TARDIS the Doctor and ‘Sister Cantica’ head for the mysterious Crucible of Souls, only to make a terrifying discovery: all of future history beyond a certain point has ceased to exist.

Meanwhile, Liv and Helen are in the TARDIS with a man they believe to be a newly regenerated Doctor… actually the Nine, a younger Eleven, with a disturbing agenda of his own…

The Nine passes himself off as the Doctor while the Doctor pretend to be the Clocksmith and the real Clocksmith waits at the Crucible of Souls and River is still dressed as a nun… round and round they go and where they stop I’m not telling.

If there’s one thing Doom Coalition does well it’s straight action, and The Crucible of Souls does not let up from start to finish. It’s all go and by the time I got to the breathless conclusion I was not ready for it to end.

Verdict: Doom Coalition isn’t the best thing Big Finish has produced, and it doesn’t match up to the epic, twisty series that was Dark Eyes, but so far it’s been consistently solid, consistently fun action-adventure Doctor Who. And for me it just keeps getting better!

That said, the highlight of volume three is absolutely Absent Friends, the slow, contemplative character piece of the bunch. Which I think goes to show the issue with this boxset format – it doesn’t really allow for standalones and doesn’t allow for nearly as much characterisation.

I’m three volumes deep now and as much as I like Helen I haven’t to to know her the way I got to know, say, Lucie Miller or Charley Pollard or even Molly of Dark Eyes. It’s especially difficult here because vocally, Helen and Liv aren’t that different from each other and neither of them is as fleshed out as I’d like, so I confess, I occasionally lost track of who was speaking!

This isn’t solely a problem with Big Finish – there’s been this shift in recent years away from ‘conventional’ television programmes towards what I’d seen described as ‘long form cinema’ and Big Finish is reflecting that. Unfortunately, I don’t think it entirely works for Doctor Who and I really hope that they go back to making ‘regular’ Eighth Doctor Adventures… but they’ve already announced two more boxsets, so I guess not.

I’m also less and less enamoured with their characterisation of River Song. I adore River and I’ve always felt she had the potential to be a far more interesting character. The Husbands of River Song really brought out that potential and I’m disappointed that Big Finish has done so little to develop her.

But then again, I don’t know when this was written in relation to The Husbands of River Song so maybe I’m being too harsh. One of these days I’ll listen to her solo series and see what I think!

Anyway, those tangents aside, I really enjoyed Doom Coalition 3 and I’m super pumped for volume four (waiting for me in my library!) so they’re doing something very right.

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Shoreline of Infinity 8

Shoreline-Issue-8-Cover-2500hFunny how quickly a quarter comes around! This new edition of Shoreline of Infinity doesn’t have any of my fiction in it so, tragically, it isn’t as good as issue seven.

The highlights, for me, were The Pink Life(La Vie En Rose) by Nathan Susnik, a vision of a future where the privileged live subsumed in apps and social media. That’s a premise that would usually make me balk, but it’s handled beautifully, the focus kept on the detachment from human suffering rather than on the technology itself.

The Black Tide by Laura Duerr is, I’d say, more of a fantasy story than a sci-fi, but I’m not complaining. It’s a chillingly simple premise: the titular black tide grants immortality, or instant death, and a group of college students grapple with the hypnotic choice. A really tense and unnerving read.

Arthur Kovic’s Days of Change by Michael Teasdale is a surreal and unclassifiable piece that’s next to impossible to summarise without spoiling the final twist… so I won’t. Needless to say, it had me hooked from start to finish.

I also really enjoyed Ruth EJ Booth’s Noise and Sparks column this week, in which she talks about feeling like she couldn’t be a writer till she was an old lady. It’s not a sensation I’ve technically experienced, but still, somehow, very relatable.

Plus there’s the usual selection of poetry and reviews, including my review of The List by Patricia Forde. You can buy it in ebook or print format at the above link. Happy reading!

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My Week In Writing (16/4/17)

20170415_151222My novel’s now sitting at 111,200 words exactly, which is an attractive looking number. Slower progress than I would have liked this week as well – hopefully can play catch up next week.

I’m also four chapters into editing Summer, adding a new plot thread, and just started a part that requires some fairly extensive re-writes. Oops.

I went to Event Horizon, where I heard some Scottish hip-hop and some very strange and intriguing sci-fi poetry. Unfortunately, had to leave early because I had a job interview the next day – I had two this week, which meant I also had to miss my book group and my writing group. Ah, well.

But, I did finish the book group book, Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh, which so far I’m finding helpful. I’d recommend it.

And I went for a very fancy afternoon tea at the Scottish Portrait Gallery (courtesy of my mum – got a voucher for my birthday!).

Currently reading: The Snake Wand by Mavis Gulliver

Currently watching: Voltron: Legendary Defender

 

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Books To Read – April 2017

20170411_2231311 – 4: The Circle Opens quartet by Tamora Pierce. I’ve actually read the first two (Magic Steps and Street Magic) already, but I’d like to re-read them before reading the second two. They were actually my first Tamora Pierce novels if I recall correctly – I read them before the Circle of Magic, the series they’re a prequel too, which in hindsight was a misake.

5: Thirteen Steps by J. Jefferson Farjeon. Impulse purchase in a charity bookshop, because I liked the cover and I’ve kind of been craving some vintage murder mystery lately. Hopefully I’ll still be up for it by the time I get around to reading this!

6: The Snake Wand by Mavis Gulliver. The third volume in the fantasy trilogy I’m reading at the moment. On a break from it just now, but I’ll be reading it next.

7: After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry. Another charity shop impulse purchase, this one just had such an intriguing blurb, I couldn’t resist!

8: Slade House by David Mitchell. I’ve only read two David Mitchell novels (Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks) but I already consider myself a fan. Picked this up with an Amazon voucher I got at Christmas, and I’m planning to read it after The Snake Wand.

9: A Song of Stone by Iain Banks. A charity shop impulse purchase, and I’ll be honest, I bought this mostly because I really dig the vintage Iain Banks cover art.

10: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin. Also bought with my Amazon voucher. I’m on a mission to read more Ursula Le Guin sci-fi.

10: Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay. A birthday gift, from my mum. There was a theme! (See below).

11: The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden. I’m very excited about this one! I’ve read it before, many times, but this is a new edition, part of a children’s classics range with a foreword by Jacqueline Wilson. I’ve felt for years that The Doll’s House was severely underrated so I’m really pleased to see it getting some appreciation.

12: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. A further birthday gift, from my sister. I don’t know much about it, but it’s certainly very pretty.

13: Darling by Jackie Kay. The other half of my mum’s birthday present.

14: Bed by David Whitehouse. Has a very interesting cover, an intriguing premise, and by total coincidence, it’s signed – and made out to me! Had a good laugh when I got it home from the charity shop and saw that.

15: Popshot Magazine: The Future IssuePopshot Magazine: The Future Issue. Squeezed in at the bottom – the newest issue of one of my favourite literary magazines. I submitted to this one. They didn’t want my story. Still wanted the magazine.

So, that’s my reading for the next, hmm, two months, at least. I’ll be back with more pictures of books once I’ve read these ones!

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Long time no blag

Almost three years, in fact! I’ve got a job, a Meetup.com account and a slow cooker now, so I guess I’m officially a grown up. Here’s what I’ve been doing since 2014:

I finished my masters! Mystifyingly, I am now a Master of Science… in creative writing. The University of Edinburgh is strange, and I have now been bopped twice with their space-hat. My final project was a novella retelling the myth of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Here’s a taste:

Phaedra speaks to the slaves, and learns that:

  1. Hippolytus used to be such a nice boy, he really did.
  2. Hippolytus is a lazy good for nothing who should clean his own weapons and tidy up his own messes.
  3. Hippolytus has a secret lover he meets in the woods, a peasant girl.
  4. No, she is a princess from Corinth; they exchange letters by carrier hawk.
  5. Hippolytus is a faggot.
  6. Hippolytus is impotent.
  7. Hippolytus scorns Aphrodite.
  8. The only people who can speak sense to Hippolytus are his father and one slave, a Thracian called Xanthias who he trusts.
  9. Xanthias worries about Hippolytus.
  10. Hippolytus’s mother was definitely an Amazon.
  11. Hippolytus’s mother was definitely not an Amazon.
  12. Hippolytus likes to purify himself in a certain stream out in the woods every day.
  13. Since Phaedra has been in the palace he has purified himself twice a day.
  14. Hippolytus hates Phaedra.

This last Phaedra knows to be true, for he makes no effort to hide it.

I finished Summer, and sent it out to test-readers – got a (mostly) positive response. I’m currently working on a final draft, and I have an account on Agent Hunter so hopefully I can start querying some time in 2017.

And because I don’t know when to quit, I started two more. I wrote Ash, a YA fantasy novel about lesbian witches, last November for NaNoWriMo, and finished it in January. And I’ve been working on Settlement 359, my first sci-fi novel, piecemeal for a little over a year now, and I’m now writing the last act. More on that to come! Here’s a taste of that:

You had to pick ‘em up by the back legs. If you picked a lizard up by its tail it’d pop right off in your hand, still wriggling, and it was gross, and she’d found out the hard way. She cinched her hand right around its legs, loosened the snare, and hefted it off the ground before it could wiggle free.

The lizard twisted in her grip. It looked at her with all four beady eyes. “Don’t look at me like that,” said Cobey. “I don’t want to do it.” It blinked, both its little faces looking so sad that she whipped the lid off the basket and dropped it in real quick. Slammed it back on.

Two big fat lizards and one root-rat. She was feeling pretty pleased with herself as she trekked back to Settlement 359.

I published my first short story, Wings, in Freak Circus last November – and I sold a story, 3.8 Missions to Shoreline of Infinity for the princely sum of £50. It’s in the March 2017 edition, available in print, pdf and epub format. It’s a good magazine, with reviews and features and even a regularly section on sci-fi poetry. It’s got a real community feel to it, and I thoroughly recommend it – and not just cause they published me! (More on this, too!)

I was also shortlisted for the Bumblebee Flash Fiction Award with my story The Pit – I didn’t win anything, sadly, but still exciting.

I’m working as a book reviewer, also for Shoreline of Infinity. My first review was in issue 7, and right now I’m reviewing The List by Patricia Forde. I’m also reading the Kalevala and a whole stack of YA fantasy novels – it’s research, I swear.

And I got back into Doctor Who in a big way, specifically Patrick Troughton and that whole b&w vibe. I’ve been listening to a lot of Big Finish audios, so expect to hear more about that.

I won’t talk about my job, but suffice to say I work in an office and I do a lot (I mean a lot) of proof reading. I’m jobhunting at the moment, hoping to find something in publishing. I’ve interviewed at a few publishing houses, but so far no joy.

So that’s been me, 2014-2017. Not terribly eventful, but pretty okay, and staying hopeful for the future.

 

 

 

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Theatre Review: West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells

West Side Story is one of my favourite musicals – and one of my favourite films – so being able to see a professional stage performance for the first time was very exciting for me. Joey McKneely’s production is exactly what I wanted: in all respects a solid and skilful rendition.

Which does mean that this post is in danger of becoming less review and more gushing, but I’ll do my best. The cast is excellent. I remember flicking through the program before the show and noticing how perfect every cast member looked in their photos. I was also very taken with the set; it’s a combination of metal girders and balconies that is beautifully evocative of the play’s setting – thought looking back on it the vertical spaces were a little underused.

West Side Story has an amazing score – but strangely and sadly there are points in the Saddler’s Wells production where the choreography doesn’t quite live up to the music. This despite the fact that the show uses Jerome Robbins’ original choreography. Saddler’s Wells has a very large stage and in this instance it has an unfortunate tendency to dwarf the actors, even in songs that are supposed to feel big.

That said, when the dance numbers are good, they are very good; the Dance at the Gym sequence is perfectly realised, with some beautifully smooth transitions that put the blur and fade effects used in the film to shame.

To go back to griping, I did also find that the show fell apart slightly in the second act. I may have got that feeling partly because I’m used to the cinematic version of the act two – which moved around a lot of songs and generally streamlined things – but nonetheless I found it confused, particularly ‘Somewhere’, here played as a surreal ballet-esque fantasy sequence.

It’s a pity, because act one was so strong. If act two had been as good I probably would have really loved this show; as it is I shall have to settle for just loving it.

West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Reaper Review

Some shows gain a lot from their venues. Reaper Review is performed in the bowels of Edinburgh, practically underground. The play’s setting is the underworld. It’s very appropriate and quite atmospheric.

A Grim Reaper’s innocent mistake has had catastrophic consequences – and so a demon has been summoned from head office to carry out a performance review. It’s a neat concept for a play, one that allows for unfolding drama as more and more details of the case are revealed to the audience, but also for a minimum of settings and characters – and for easy exposition.

Visually Reaper Review is simple, but striking. The web of documents and photos that makes up the backdrop is a compelling image. Little details like the manager’s rope tie and the click of the demon’s ‘hooves’ go a long way to create a sense of the underworld setting.

The comedy is strong – it certainly kept the audience laughing – though it does feel slightly like an elongated comedy sketch. Both dialogue and acting are, unfortunately, a little rough around the edges at times. It’s a play that could use some smoothing out.

Reaper Review seems throughout to be very secure in its own wittiness. It delights in dropping in details of afterlife bureaucracy – ‘third-level death engineer’ – all of which is well thought-out and entertaining, but not the most original. ‘The afterlife is a bureaucracy’ crops up on ‘Strange Horizons’ list of all-too-common SF tropes.

Wrinkles aside, Reaper Review is an enjoyable and skilfully executed bit of theatre, with some memorable characters and some good comedy – and quite different from most Fringe shows. Good fun.

 Reaper Review is a Never Heard of It production on at 1:45 every day until Sunday 25th at The Cowgatehead, as part of the PBH Free Fringe.

 

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