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Review: The Good Place

311711-1I took philosophy for a year at university.

I’d really enjoyed studying it in school – so much so that my original plan was to do a joint honours in classics and philosophy. But sadly the University of Edinburgh doesn’t offer that particular combo.

Anyhow, second semester I had to buy a big, big textbook of articles about moral philosophy. I came to hate it with a passion. In retrospect? I think the turning point may have been the lecture spent discussing the trolley problem.

So there’s a runaway trolley – a trolley is like a tram but no-one really calls them trolleys anymore which makes the whole thing surreal and confusing – there’s a runaway trolley and there’s five people tied to the line, but if you pull a lever you can shift the trolley onto a different track, which only has one person on it. Do you pull the lever?

What if you’re the driver and not a bystander? How about if the five people are on the line as a result of their own incompetence but the one person was an innocent victim? What if instead you’re on a bridge and there’s a really fat guy on the bridge with you and you can stop the trolley by pushing him off? But what if the big fat guy was the real villain all along?

I came to hate studying moral philosophy – and I love The Good Place.

Eleanor Shellstrop has just died in a freak accident (involving shopping trolleys, ironically). She wakes up in the Good Place, the afterlife for good and virtuous people. But there’s been a mistake. Eleanor Shellstrop, full-time misanthrope and fake medicine saleswoman, has been mixed up with Eleanor Shellstrop, human rights lawyer and and lifelong humanitarian.

If anyone finds out Eleanor is not Eleanor, she’ll be sent straight to the Bad Place. So she turns to Chidi Anagonye, a deceased moral philosophy professor, and presents him with a desperate (and ethically fascinating) challenge: teach her how to be a good person.

The Good Place is funny, charming, clever, and deeply philosophical even as it mocks every classical philosopher to hell and back (ha). Chidi’s lessons cover the trolley problem in season 2 and let me tell you, as a former philosophy student, it was cathartic viewing to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, though. As much as The Good Place pokes fun at moral philosophers (everyone hates moral philosophers, after all), it does so with understanding and respect. Studying from books doesn’t make Eleanor a better person, but it certainly helps.

The grab bag of ethical ideas she arrives at over the course of the show will be familiar to anyone who’s studied moral philosophy. The fact is, there isn’t and won’t ever be a single, all-encompassing theory of ethics. But thinking through theoretical debates will deepen your understanding of yourself and the space you occupy in the world.

Much as I might hate to admit it, I learned from studying the trolley problem. And I learned from watchin NBC’s The Good Place.

If you’re interested in moral philosophy, give The Good Place a watch. If you’re not interested in moral philosophy, watch it anyway. It’s very funny and it has some killer plot twists.

I leave you with this article from Slate which says what I’ve been trying to say in this post but more intelligently, and my all-time favourite ethical thought experiment: Hitler’s Waller.

 

 

 

 

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My Week In Writing (04/02/18)

Dscn0652It’s a month into 2018, and what have I accomplished? If I’m going to be brutally honest very little. Oh well.

I did not have the best week at work, for reasons I can’t go into partly because of privacy and all that and partly because all of them are actively distasteful in some way. However, I will say that a thing happened this week that prompted a ten year department veteran to say that they’d never seen anything like it before. So, that was quite something!

I went to the Edinburgh Literary Salon, where as always I met some interesting people and acquired a new Facebook friend. I also registered my interest with Super Power Agency, which seems like a really great project.

In other work-related news, this week I finished my second proofreading course. My final assignment was graded ‘good’ (previously two were merely ‘acceptable’) and I got a certificate.

The Green and the Gathering Tide is unfortunately sitting at only 192.k (a measly advance on last week’s total) as I’ve been busy. However I did start a new arc which I’ve been very excited about. It’s an action heavy arc (previous arc was a slow-paced character piece) so should be a nice change of pace.

I started a new short story, tentatively titled The Lightning Pit, which is for an ongoing collection of tie-in stories for my as-yet untitled trilogy. It’s a bit of a departure from previous stories – the other ones have all directly tied into the plot and characters of the main trilogy, but this one is set in ancient Rome and is an exploration of the world and concepts.

I’m still reading Alias Grace which I’m finding slow going. It did however, in a roundabout way, inspire The Lightning Pit so I’m getting something out of it.

I also finally finished Planet of the Rani which I found ultimately unsatisfying – I was gearing up for a reveal that I thought was a dead cert, but it never came. Genuinely surprised and disappointed to be wrong. Otherwise it was some fairly run of the mill Big Finish. Up next: Shield of the Jotunn.

And I watched the season two finale of The Good Place, which was… not quite what I expected. I all honesty I fully expected it to be the series finale, given the way season two went, but I’m pleasantly surprised that the series is continuing (hopefully). I’m reserving judgement on the new arc they’re setting up for now.

Next week, I’m planning to go to two open mics and hoping to have a better and less weird working week. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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Review: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

DIRK-GENTLY-FinalI don’t know how to begin explaining Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Is it an adapation of the Douglas Adams book series? Not really – if anything it’s an adaptation of the title. Is it a science fiction series? Officially. What’s it about? The inter-connectedness of all things, I suppose.

Let’s get this out of the way: I really love this show. Season two just came to UK (and international) Netflix, so the whole series is now available and it really is a delight from start to finish – watch this clip if you don’t believe me.

The first season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency follows Todd Brotzman, a hotel bellboy who stumbles upon the scene of the gruesome murder of local billionaire Patrick Spring. Shortly thereafter, he’s sought out by Dirk Gently, a self proclaimed holistic detective who was hired to solve Patrick Spring’s murder – before it happened.

 

Meanwhile, Bartine ‘Bart’ Curlish, a self-proclaimed holistic assassin, has a new mission: to kill Dirk Gently.

Season one of Dirk Gently is one of the most perfect eight hours of television I’ve ever seen. Nothing is wasted, every plot thread connects back; it’s a puzzle, and once you get to the end it’s obvious there was only ever one solution, and that solution is, of course, time travel.

The final twist is likewise inevitable, and it is gutwrenching. The bar was set very high.

Did the second season live up to the promise of the first? Well, sort of. The show’s creator said the season two would make season one look like ‘an ordinary detective show’ and he really wasn’t kidding.

dirkgentlycancelledSeason two opens in the magical land of Wendimoor. Wendimoor is threatened by a great and terrible evil, and their only hope of salvation lies in the ancient prophecy: ‘find Dirk Gently’.

Back on earth, Dirk, freshly sprung from the clutches of the CIA, finds himself in the rural town of Bergsberg with a simple but cryptic mission: ‘find the boy’.

I had a great time watching season two. Wendimoor is beautifully realised and the central character arcs – Dirk, Todd, Amanda and Farah – are satisfying. Plus new characters Sherlock Hobbes and Tina Tevetino are a delight.

But it does have to be said, where the first season will keep you guessing till the end, the season season does get a touch predictable. Though perhaps that was intentional – the Wendimoor arc is an epic fantasty story, and the epic fantasy genre has conventions and rules. Regardless, the central twist of the season was obvious far too early for my taste.

Plus with so many characters and plot threads carried forward from season one, it was always going to be hard for a second season to juggle them all. A few key characters fall by the wayside and some new characters never get the development they deserve.

Those quibbles aside, it was, for me, more enjoyable than the first season – the brighter aesthetic really did it for me. I was in love from the first scene. And after all, the bar was set very high. It would be hard to repeat the sheer wow factor of the first season and I didn’t really expect it to.

Dirk Gently is my newest favourite TV show. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s one of the most creative shows I’ve seen in a while. In short, it’s some really good television, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

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Doctor Who: 12 Stories for 12 Doctors (part 1)

In case you couldn’t tell from my semi-regular ramblings about obsure audio plays, I’m something of a Doctor Who nerd. I’ve seen every episode (even the ones missing from the archives – I watched fan-made reconstructions and liked them), listened to many, many hours of Big Finish audios, read a whole stack of books, and even delved into the comics, on occasion. My biggest ambition right now is to one day write an official Doctor Who story.

In short, I love Doctor Who. So, without further ado, over the next three weeks I’m going to share with you my top 12 Who stories – one for each Doctor!

Time_meddler_uk_dvd1. The Time Meddler (William Hartnell, 1965)

The final story of the second season, and, in my opinion, Doctor Who’s most underrated game-changer. During the Hartnell era, the show alternated between sci-fi and historical stories, and The Time Meddler is initially played as a historical: the Doctor and his companions land in 1066, on the eve of the Norman Conquests. But all is not as it seems. A mysterious monk has moved into the previously deserted local monastery – and he has technology from the future!

In retrospect this’ll sound like a common or garden Doctor Who story, but this was the first time the show really blended sci-fi and history like this, introducing what would become one of its genre mainstays.

And that’s not all. Episode two has what is, in my opinion, one of the most game-changing cliffhangers in Who history, when Vicki and Steven discover the secret behind the Monk’s time travel…

Plus, it’s just an all-round fun story, with a delightful villain, new companion Steven Taylor, and William Hartnell at his funniest. Thoroughly recommended.

(Runners up: The Aztecs, The Tenth Planet)

51kU8Y-t1CL._SY300_2. The War Games (Patrick Troughton, 1969)

Patrick Troughton’s final story, and probably the single biggest gamechanger in the show’s history. It’s so well-known in the fandom, I’m not going to avoid spoilers: in The War Games, the words ‘Time Lord’ are uttered for the first time. The Time Lords themselves appear for the first time in episode 10, and boy do they make a memorable entrance.

And yes, episode 10 – The War Games has a run time of over four hours. The Time Lords don’t show up for three and a half. What happens in the first nine episodes? Well, the Doctor and companions Jamie and Zoe land in the middle of the First World War, arrested, and tried as spies and deserters. The commanding officer is secretly an alien, who hypnotises his human underlings into pronouncing them guilty! Zoe and Jamie are sent to different prisons – and the Doctor is sent for execution!

The Doctor is saved from his execution – by (watch closely) soldiers in US Civil war era uniforms. Then Jamie meets his cellmate – an 18th century Redcoat. And then things get weird.

The War Games has been accused of padding, and to be honest, it’s true. It probably ought to have been a six-parter. But it’s ten straight episodes of Patrick Troughton – I’m not about to complain!

(Runners up: The Mind Robber, Power of the Daleks)

Dvd-spearheadSE3. Spearhead from Space (Jon Pertwee, 1970)

I’m not going to lie, Jon Pertwee is far from my favourite Doctor. It wasn’t hard to pick a favourite of his stories – in his whole 5-year run there’s only a handful I wholeheartedly like. Fortunately those I like, I really like.

Spearhead from Space was Jon Pertwee’s first story, Doctor Who’s first story in colour, and an all-round radical departure from what had come before. Due to budgetary constraints, it was decided to ground the Doctor on earth for a while, so he begins this story newly regenerated and sent into exile by the Time Lords.

For the next couple of seasons, there’s no time travel, no new planets, very little of the TARDIS – just the Doctor dealing with alien menaces, practically in the viewers’ back garden. This earth seasons, for all they can be a bit samey, have a reputation for being especially scary.

Spearhead from Space is a prime example. It introduced the Autons, who, frankly, have never been as scary since, deep, deep in the uncanny valley. Compared to the rest of the Pertwee era, it’s a snip at 4 episodes (a little under two hours) and perfectly-paced. I really can’t recommend this one enough.

(Runners up: The Time Warrior, The Monster of Peladon)

Warriors_gate_us_dvd4. Warrior’s Gate (Tom Baker, 1981)

One of Tom Baker’s last stories, and highly underrated, in my opinion. Actually, I think his whole last season is underrated, but Warrior’s Gate is undoubtedly the highlight.

The final story for companions Romana and K9, Warrior’s Gate is in some respects the true end of the Tom Baker era – his remaining two stories have a downright funereal tone and devote a lot of time to introducing new companions for incoming Doctor Peter Davison.

What’s it about? Good question. Trying to escape from the E-Space, the pocket dimension where they’ve become trapped, the Doctor and his companions land in a mysterious white void. Also in the void is a human slaving vessel, also trapped… and a castle. The castle is some kind of interdimensional gateway and by stepping through a mirror within, you can travel into the past. Maybe.

The humans are carrying a cargo of alien Tharils, whose psychic abilities power human time machines. The Tharils built the castle and used to enslave humans, until they were overthrown themselves. They’ve somehow predicted this whole thing and are quietly manipulating events to their advantage. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the white void is shrinking…

Warrio’s Gate is seriously weird and seriously creepy. Some sequences are dripping with symbolism. Others are cryptic ethical commentaries. Even the Doctor doesn’t seem to fully understand what’s going on. The human characters certainly don’t understand what’s going on. I’ve watched it several times and I still don’t get it. But I love it to bits.

(Runners up: Genesis of the Daleks, The Robots of Death).

So, that’s my first four picks. Next week: Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester Mccoy and Paul McGann.

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My Week In Writing (21/05/17)

20170521_175211Well, first of all the big news: I resigned from my job this week. I’m still hoping to find an entry level position in publishing, but I can’t stomach staying in my current job any longer. Four more weeks and I’m out. Hopefully moving to some kind of temp job. I’m trying not to think about it too much, when I’m not actively job hunting – this level of uncertainty is a terrible thing!

That out of the way: I started reading Summer and marking it up for a final round of edits. So far I’ve found two glaring flaws I’d previously missed, one of which I’m pretty sure has been there since draft one. I have no idea how I missed it for so long! I’m on chapter three, and stalling to do some minor re-structuring.

Settlement 359 has passed 140k and despite my best efforts, I’ve started a part eight, titled Freefall. Things kept getting worse and worse for my protagonist, so I rolled with it and now she’s struggling to recover from mental time travel-enduced amnesia. However, I’m pretty sure part eight will be the last one… I’ve been saying this for a while.

I’ve started work on an entry for Big Finish’s annual short story contest. Torn between two ideas, not sure which is best, and as I don’t have to have a completed story to enter and I can submit more than one, I might as well try and do both.

Speaking of Big Finish, this week I listened to a William Hartnell era Lost Story called The Dark Planet, which was both a fairly typical sixties Doctor Who story, exceptionally dark, more or less impossible to do on film now let along fifty years ago. I’m not surprised it didn’t get made. It’s fascinating listening, though.

This week’s Doctor Who, Extremis, was absolutely phenomenal. Beautifully executed mindscrew and absolutely terrifying – my only concern is how they’re going to top it with the (by the looks of it, more conventional) follow up!

I started reading Darling by Jackie Kay, which is slow going because you can’t just rush through a poetry collection, you have to pause and contemplate, y’know?

Next week, I’m planning to listen to some monthly range Big Finish stories with the Fifth Doctor (my fav!) and start reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, the last of my birthday books. Otherwise, I’m job hunting relentlessly.

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My Week In Writing (7/5/17)

20170430_205810To be quite honest, I’ve had a hellishly busy week – two job interviews + a meeting to discuss volunteering + an anthology deadline. And then next week, I have two more job interviews! And after that I’m going to Berlin. So, that’s going to be a fun ride.

Settlement 359 is now sitting just shy of 132k and I really hope it’s coming up on the climax, though as I’m still not 100% sure what said climax is I really don’t know. But I am coming up on a scene I flashed forward to earlier in the novel, which is always exciting.

Summer is coming along nicely as well. I made a proper list of all the edits I still need to make and I’m working on 1-2 a night. I’m optimistically aiming to get this draft done in a month or so.

I submitted my story for The Temporal Logbook II. I’m not 100% satisfied with the finished product – I only managed to find one person to read it at such short notice and he found it confusing, which is a difficult criticism to take on board because it was supposed to be confusing. Just, in a good way. I hope.

I started re-reading The Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce. I got through Magic Steps and Street Magic, the two I read when I was a kid, and now I’m moving into new territory with Cold Fire. Once I’m done with all four, I’ll finally be done with all my Christmas books (hurray!)… and I’ll be able to move onto the books I got for my birthday. Starting with Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay.

I didn’t listen to as much audio stuff as usual, because I only worked a couple of days this week, but I did start listening to the third season of Jago & Litefoot, which in a delightful twist also features Tom Baker-era companion Leela. I’m about halfway through now and it’s probably my favourite season so far.

And I listened to The Children of Seth, part of their Lost Stories range. It’s by Christopher Bailey, who wrote some of my favourite Doctor Who serials (Kinda and Snakedance) and like his other stories, it’s dizzyingly confusing. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not.

Next week I’m hoping to finish The Circle Opens and listen to The Masters of Luxor, another lost story, this time from the William Hartnell era. And I’m going to Berlin, to see some museums and (I hope) eat some cake.

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My Week In Writing (30/4/17)

20170430_185710

The view from my window

April’s almost over – insert obligatory ‘can’t qite believe we’re four months into 2017 already!’ here.

Settlement 359 is now sitting at around 125k and rising and has somehow managed to grow another character, the delightfully named Georgiana Polymer Grace. Over a couple of days I went from ‘what are my characters going to do once they’ve broken into this base’ to ‘how would a pair of sixteen year olds blend in, can I justify a party of schoolchildren’ to ‘this party of schoolchildren is absolutely essential to my protagonists arc’. So that’s always a fun process to go through.

I have this very strong feeling that Georgiana Polymer is going to play some kind of role in the sequel. So far, I have no idea what the sequel will be about, but I know Settlement 359 isn’t a standalone, and I know I have characters I want to do more with (for example: Grover G, Lulu the kidnapped preacher’s daughter, the Ship Thinker). I’m equal parts excited to see where this goes and utterly terrified at the prospect of having to come up with 1-2 more books worth of plot…

I finished marking up Summer, so now I’m scrolling through the comments picking one a day to try and fix. Which is a slightly confusing way to edit, and I’ll probably have to spend a couple of weeks going over it chapter by chapter again pretty soon.

I’m also planning on moving around some of the chapter breaks, which means some moderate restructuring. I just plain don’t have the energy for that right now.

I started my Temporal Logbook submission, working-titled ‘The Tower’, which is now sitting at 7500-ish words. Which is to say, almost over the upper word limit, and maybe three quarters done. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that editing it will be manageable-ish. Hoping to have it written by the end of the long weekend, at the very latest.

I went to the Literary Salon at the Wash Bar, where I heard a talk about libraries and realised (to my shame) that I don’t actually have a library card. So, I should probably do something about that – just a matter of deciding which library I want to register with, I guess.

This week I finished reading Popshot: The Future Issue and reviewed it on Goodreads. I also read Slade House by David Mitchell and The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (both short, both gripping). Got some notes for reviews but they’re both pretty heavy. Next week I’m switching to something lighter – I’m going to re-read The Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce.

I listened to the second two stories in Big Finish’s Raine Creevey trilogy: Animal, which was very 1989 Doctor Who so thumbs up there, and Earth Aid which is basically Doctor Who does Star Trek, with Ace Mcshane as Captain Kirk. Overall, I really strong trilogy of stories (even if none of them were outstandingly good) and Raine’s a fantastic companion. However, lots of questions left unanswered, and Big Finish’s continuity being as confusing as it is, I honestly don’t know if they get picked up in another story or not.

I also listened to season two of Jago & Litefoot, one of Big Finish’s many (MANY) Doctor Who spin offs. This one’s about George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, a pair of very popular supporting characters from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a very popular Tom Baker story.

I have… complicated feelings about Jago & Litefoot. The show itself is great fun and both lead characters are a delight, but it belongs to this genre of light-hearted Victoriana that always makes me vaguely uncomfortable (I don’t like the Victorians – I’m writing a novel set in a Victoria fantasy world because I hate them). But that’s probably something I should save for a full review!

I’m still enjoying the new season of Doctor Who. Bill’s great, Peter Capaldi is on point as always, and so far we’re three for three on really good stories (and these last two had only minimal Matt Lucas!).

Next week, I’m planning to go to Inky Fingers, and (hopefully) workshopping a very strange sci-fi story with my writing group. I also have two job interviews, though, so I might be too busy for either.

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