If you’ve been looking at this blog lately and thinking that it seems like a bit of a ghost town, there is a reason. I’ve recently moved to a different hosting service, where I can do different things with the webpage. That blog still has the URL this one did by the end – andrewknighton.com – and still runs on WordPress, but being a bit of a tech dunce I didn’t realise that wouldn’t necessarily pull over all the subscribers this blog had. So, if you like what I write here, then please hop on over to andrewknighton.com and subscribe to the same old insightful content, soon to have lovely new design.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I’ve noticed a trend recently for fantasy stories that explore just how awful war can be. From the gruelling swamp warfare of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Guns of the Dawn, to the monstrous horrors and civilian casualties of Attack on Titan, to the acts of brutality, cowardice and deception in Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes, fantasy creators are exploring the dark side of war.
It’s quite a contrast with traditional fantasy, in which there are clear good and evil sides, causes worth fighting and dying for, and warriors mostly experience courage, heroism and camaraderie. Tolkien’s war for Middle Earth this is not.
Like literary and historical fiction before it, fantasy fiction seems to have become more willing, even eager, to explore the dark side of warfare. It’s a trend I find pleasing, as I think it makes for more interesting stories and more realistic characters. But I wonder if it will last, or whether we’ll see a backlash and a return to the dominance of old-fashioned tales of war as a righteous endeavour.
I suppose only time will tell.
A runaway train hurtling toward the imperial palace. Dirk Dynamo and Timothy Blaze-Simms have to run the gauntlet of automated foot soldiers of a madman bent on vengeance. This pulp-fiction style steampunk was another finalist in 2014’s Story Quest competition. SY
Dirk Dynamo braced himself as the train roared towards him out of the darkness, the cacophony of its wheels and the harsh light from its lamps filling the tunnel. The air was thick with coal smoke and the smell of deep earth. He was tense, coiled, ready for action.
“What a splendid sound!” Timothy Blaze-Simms shouted to be heard.
“Get ready.” Dirk’s hand dropped instinctively to his belt. The reassuring cold steel of the Gravemaker was secure in its holster beneath his fur coat. Down here he was sweating like a Prussian in the sunshine, but he’d be glad of the warmth when they got back up into the Moscow…
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At last, the holidays are here. I’m taking two weeks off from writing and blogging to rest my brain. There may be occasional posts here if inspiration strikes, but other than that I’ll be back in January. Have a great couple of weeks, whatever and however you’re celebrating. And from me, merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Tags: Agents of SHIELD, books, children's books, comics, favourite things, films, gaming, Guy Gavriel Kay, In Your Eyes, Joss Whedon, Marvel, music, reading, The Wicked + The Divine
I’m really bad at keeping on top of modern culture. There’s just so much of it, and so much stuff around the corner behind us that I want to peak back at. That’s no bad thing, just a reflection of how much awesomeness there is out there. But it means that as I think back on what I’ve really enjoyed this year, not all of it’s actually from this year. Still, here are the new(ish) things that really rocked my brain in 2014:
I’ve done more reading recently, as my befuddled brain has emerged from the fog of the last few years. And from that enshrouding miasma appeared a thing of spell-binding beauty – Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic. I cannot recommend this pair of books enough – Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors are breathtaking in their majesty, their immediacy and their beauty. They’re big, slow, weighty reads, but well worth the heavy lifting. Many thanks to Glenatron and Everwalker for pointing me towards Kay, and to Sheila for the present.
This was the year Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie returned to their old stomping ground of pop culture as magic, launching The Wicked + The Divine. It’s a beautiful looking and cleverly written comic that explores what it is to be an artist, a fan and a believer. There are clever layouts, smart references, intriguing characters and a fascinating plot. The only thing currently matching it is Chew, with its crazy world building, madcap plotting and offbeat characters. These two together show that comics can be fun, wild, entertaining and carry a serious emotional message all at the same time. They also show that the medium doesn’t have to get all dark to get beyond superheroes.
Speaking of superheroes, did Marvel bring their A game this year or what? Agents of SHIELD turned from a limping pet only fanboys would love into a TV show that is dark, twisty and full of character. Tying its fate to Captain America: The Winter Soldier crippled it for most of its first season, but then created a moment of spectacular cross-platform awesomeness. The film and TV show spiralled around each other in ways that let them entertain as stand-alone viewing but break new ground as a cultural project. It helped that the Winter Soldier was a good film in its own right.
As if that weren’t enough, Marvel also brought out the biggest, funnest thing I watched in the cinema this year – Guardians of the Galaxy. A bunch of bickering misfits, forced to work together to save themselves and the universe? A talking raccoon and his walking tree buddy? A dance-off against a villain? Hell yes, I’m in for that. It wasn’t a smart film, or a ground-breaking one, but man was it ever entertaining.
But my favourite new film this year didn’t get a cinematic release, and that’s part of why I loved it. Joss Whedon, mastermind behind Marvel’s Avengers movies, took time out from his regularly scheduled blockbusters to help create In Your Eyes, a beautiful and unusual film about love and an inexplicable magical connection. It also took a bold approach to distribution that, for me, points towards the future I want to see. Just when we thought Whedon couldn’t get any more awesome, he upped his game again.
Aside from that, I’ve been making much more use of YouTube, and particularly recommend the PBS Idea Channel. Every week they come out with a slice of smart commentary, combing intellectual insight with popular culture. So cool.
Here’s where we leave science fiction and fantasy behind. I listen to some sf+f podcasts, and a bit of geeky music, but my favourites this year have been other things.
The Revolutions Podcast is an entertaining and extremely well presented show covering some of the most fascinating slices of history – political revolutions. So far it’s covered the English Civil War and the American War of Independence. Now it’s onto the French Revolution. Mike Duncan previously created the excellent History of Rome podcast, but this is even better. If you like history at all, check it out.
Musically, my favourite discoveries this year haven’t been new to this year, but they’ve been new to me. A friend pointed me toward the Wanton Bishops, a spectacular blues rock outfit from Lebanon. For pure grinding energy, they’re hard to beat.
Then there’s Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. I like to hear clever rapping and pop musicians getting away from tired themes of romance and and self-aggrandisement. Macklemore absolutely hits the spot, backed by Ryan Lewis’s catchy and diverse beats, from pro-equality anthem Same Love to the ridiculously exuberant Lets Dance to recycled shopping tribute Thrift Shop. Even when they’re crafting whole songs about Cadillacs, basketball or trainers, their sheer passion keeps me wanting more.
But my heart really lies with folk rock, and for that I recommend checking out The Patient Wild. Theirs are beautifully crafted storytelling songs, the sort of thing I can’t get enough of. And a member of the band reads this blog, so everybody wave to Glenatron – hi dude!
As Laura will testify, I’m pretty much obsessed with the card game Smash Up, in which you combine genre favourite factions to battle it out for domination. Whether I’m leading robot ninjas against time travelling pirates, or dipping into madness with the Cthulhu expansion, I would happily play this all day every day. It’s a lot of fun.
I also enjoyed the story/game combo of Device 6, which showed just what great things we can do with storytelling in the age of phone apps. Looking back, it feels like a test piece for greater things to come, but it’s a fascinating and atmospheric test piece.
And now I’m addicted to Minecraft. I’ll probably blog about this another day, but it’s kind of like having a giant Lego set on my Kindle, except a Lego set where zombies try to kill me. I don’t know why I didn’t play it years ago, but I’m glad I didn’t given how much time it’s sucking away.
Tiger stripe espresso beans. Manchester’s beautiful new central library. Costa Coffee’s caramel crunch cake. This year has been full of great stuff. Here’s hoping for more.
And so, in a variation on yesterday’s question, what have been your cultural highlights this year, big or small? Please share some recommendations in the comments, give me cool things to check out next year.
Tags: fantasy, film, Knights of Badassdom, live roleplay, LRP
Sometimes a film comes along that, whatever its merits, so perfectly captures something about your own life that you love it. Maybe it portrays your job, or your family, or that awkward relationship you were in when you were young. I just found one of those films.
Knights of Badassdom is a comedy/horror/action/fantasy film about a group of live roleplay (LRP) gamers whose imaginary fantasy world gets invaded by a real and terrifying monster (if you aren’t familiar with LRP, there’s a good explanation here). As someone who’s spent years dressing up and running around hitting people with fake swords, and a Peter Dinklage fan, I was bound to watch this sooner or later. Unsurprisingly, I loved it.
Lets be clear – this is a film about geeks that laughs at the geeks. But that’s in the nature of comedy films – the characters are going to spend a lot of time looking foolish. What won me over, and convinced me that the film’s heart was in the right place, was the portrayal of LRP. The game we’re shown has the exact combination of naffness and awesomeness that has been the heart of most of my LRP experiences, and is why I love the hobby. There are cool costumes, but there are also t-shirts under armour, missing props, and coke cans weighing down the corners of the magical map. There are heroic speeches, and others that fall flat. There’s action and drama interspersed with pratting around. The conversations see in-game dialogue interspersed with out of character jokes. People’s real lives and their game lives intersect in messy ways. There’s even a jokey in-game name for the car park, in the same way that many people I know refer to a particular supermarket near a LRP site as Asgard.
I should be clear – not all LRP is like this. Go to a Profound Decisions event and you’ll see something far classier than in Knights of Badassdom. But that doesn’t detract from the joy I’ve taken over the years in those slightly naff games, where the out of character jokes were as integral to the fun as my sense of immersion in an imaginary world.
And the characters – they aren’t a perfect cross section of LRPers by any means, but they are a familiar bunch. There’s the guy who’s just there to hang out with his mates, and who’s really more interested in music and his love life than the game. There’s his buddy who spends the whole time high, drugs fuelling his intense and somewhat insane roleplay. There’s the one who’s more interested in the rules and experience points than acting out a role. The event runner who can see amazing and varied worlds in a bunch of nondescript clearings, and whose enthusiasm drags his friends along for the ride. The character who’s all about the fighting. The actor who’s there to play a role. Even the intolerant outsiders who mock the LRPers while indulging in their own obsessive and equally silly hobby.
If I have a problem with the film, it’s that women are under-represented in the speaking roles. But while the gender balance in the hobby is getting a lot better, there are still games where the cliché holds, with a bunch of blokes and very few women. And the film-makers balanced this up at least a little with the extras. On wider issues of representation, the presence of a dwarf, a character in a wheelchair and a couple experimenting with polyamory, all without comment or judgement from the other characters or the film’s plot, struck me as relatively enlightened by Hollywood standards, and representative of the accepting environment that LRP fosters.
I have no idea how LRPers in general have reacted to this film, whether it’s with excitement at being represented or horror at the way we’re represented. But for me, it was almost perfect. Even the slight naffness of the final act’s villain and conclusion, though not part of the LRP, felt fitting for a film set within the hobby. It would be hard to better capture what this hobby has always felt like to me, why I love it, and why for many years I felt embarrassed about it. Because LRP, like this film, is often a bit naff but almost always a lot of fun, and far better if you don’t take it seriously. Kind of like life, I guess.