The Weird Worlds Of H.P. Lovecraft

975707My knowledge of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, until very recently, was minimal. I knew of his work, mainly from the board games we play that are loosely based upon them – Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror; these games are wonderful and horrific and often just plain weird.

I also knew of the Cthulu Mythos, the Great Old Ones and the dreaded Necronomicon through countless references in a million and one horror, sci-fi and mystery books, films and video games. Lovecraft’s works are sewn into the very linings of so many great genre works.

But until last week I had never read a word written by the man who had influenced some of my favourite authors, directors and even musicians. I’d never read a single thing written by Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

I’ve fixed that. I bought a mammoth Collected Works and started at the beginning. I’ve read of Herbert West and his terrible experiments, of Randolph Carter and his doomed colleague and of the poor, unnamed, unnamable Outsider. I’m quickly making my way through a thousand pages of otherworldly horrors by one of the most incredible authors I’ve ever read. Yes, there are serious issues with racism in his works – a product of the time he was writing. Yes, a couple of his stories have a phoned-in feel. But I suppose that’s what you get from a pulp horror writer, who struggled to make a living during the 1920s and 30s.

If you’ve never read anything by Lovecraft I would urge you to fix this now. His heavily-descriptive, often bizarre stories of unknowable terrors in an unforgiving world, of madness and murders and monsters, are wonderful. I’m sure I’ll be reviewing some of his stories in the weeks to come because, like nothing else has for a while, he has inspired me to write fiction again. I’ve rarely written horror but now it’s all I want to write. So, yeah. H.P. Lovecraft. Give his stuff a go…

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Ian and Barry, Together*, Live!

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Well, we’re very excited indeed. We’ve just booked tickets to see Ian Boldsworth and Barry Dodds (of Parapod fame) do stand-up together* at Nottingham Comedy Festival in November. It’s a three-hour drive or £150 on the train, so it’s an adventure, but it’s worth the trouble since the likelihood of these two sharing a bill again is pretty slim. If Ian had his way he wouldn’t be on this one, but he agreed to it when he was half asleep and now he’s contractually obliged to appear.

So my wife and I are going to make a road trip of it! We’re going to pack my phone with episodes of The Parapod and throw a bag of snacks on the back seat, head up there to arrive a couple of hours before the show and hopefully meet up with some fellow fans for a drink. We’re not even thinking of the three-hour drive home again at the moment.

So, yes… we are buzzing with excitement. It’s going to be so much fun. We can’t wait!

*They’ll be performing separate sets, not appearing on-stage together…

Doctor Who?

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The dust has just about settled around the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor and I think I’ve just about worked out what I think of the casting, the reaction to the casting and my reaction to that reaction to the casting. I won’t keep you long and I’ll try not to preach. Here’s it is, as I see it.

Most of those complaining about the casting of a woman as the Doctor aren’t – I think, I hope – being outright sexist. Many are claiming that, since the Doctor is a historically male character, changing gender now seems a bit much. Unfortunately for those people, usually classic series fans over the age of 40, the show isn’t made by them, or even for them. The showrunners have, in recent years, made crystal clear that Time Lords have no fixed gender, across regenerations. We’ve seen and heard of many Gallifreyans who were once one thing, then another. As far back as The Doctor’s Wife (series 6), the seed has been sown that there is no reason at all, in the universe of ‘Doctor Who’, that our hero should remain a male after regeneration. That he has done so far says less about the genetic regulations of Gallifreyans and more about the successive restricted thinking of otherwise wildly imaginative production teams. That our hero – who has had the ability to change every single thing about himself – has remained male for 2000 years is a signifier of the times. Time’s Change.

Since my wife and I are both huge ‘Doctor Who’ fans, our son will grow up with the show. When he’s old enough to (hopefully) enjoy the show for himself, he won’t know anything different: The Doctor is able to regenerate into anyone, black or white, young or old, man or woman. He’ll grow up not caring whether the Doctor is a he or she, just that the Doctor is someone amazing, a role model. It won’t even cross the minds of kids my son’s age that it’s unusual for the Doctor to be played by a woman. For the most part, I think, it doesn’t cross the minds of kids now. It appears that the only ones with any real issue with the casting choice for 13 are (for the most part) adult males. Surely these men know enough about TV to understand that, just because the Doctor is now female, the last 54 years of ‘Doctor Who’ is still available (again, for the most part. I’m not getting into missing episodes).

Peter Davison, the fifth Doctor (a man), has said today that turning the Doctor into a woman means that “little boys have lost a role model”, as though women cannot be role models to little boys! It’s an unforgivable notion, in my opinion, and one that needs to be challenged publicly. Luckily, Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor (a man), has been nothing but supportive of Jodie’s casting and there are plenty of people giving Peter’s opinion the bashing it deserves.

It’s heartening that the future of ‘Doctor Who’ is now so open to exciting change. Whereas before our lists of potential Doctors were 100% male, now the door is open for literally anyone at all to be cast in the role, as long as they can be trusted with the part. By all accounts, Jodie Whittaker blew new showrunner Chris Chibnall away with her interpretation of the Doctor in her audition. I cannot wait to see what she’s got for us! Jodie is a wonderful actor and a name I would never have even thought of as a potential Doctor, mainly due to the perceived constraint that the Doctor can only be male.

When I told a friend that I was very happy indeed with the casting, he said to me “You’ve changed your tune! You always said it would be a risky idea!” and he’s absolutely correct. I do think it’s a risk. But not because of some hangup about the Doctor being absolutely a male. My concern was the reaction such an announcement would get from the (shall we say) less progressive members of fandom and the downright disgusting (and predictable) tabloid coverage. I have been vindicated on both counts. I’m ashamed of some people I share this fandom with. I’ve never heard more thinly-veiled misogyny coming from some people out there. If I hear another lecture about how the genetic makeup of a Time Lord is incompatible with gender variation, or whatever, I will punch someone. My reply will always be the same: IT. ISN’T. REAL! It is a television show. And the makers of this show have dictated, with precedent, that this is all fine.

As for the papers, already we’ve had “Doctor Who Naked! Pictures Inside!” and “Where oh where have all the male TV heroes gone?” I have no time for either. The bottom line is, whether you like it or not – whether you think a 2000-year-old time travelling alien who can change appearance completely and zips around the universe past, present and future having adventures changing gender is “totally unrealistic” – Jodie Whittaker IS the Thirteenth Doctor and that’s that. Suck it up. She’s going to be amazing.

And before she is, there’s Christmas to enjoy! The first and last Doctors, side by side. What’s that?! The first Doctor is played by someone else entirely?! It’s an outrage, said nobody ever. Still think the backlash to thirteen is about realism? Nah, nor me.