28 April, 2007

Losing my Religion

That's me in the corner

That's me in the spotlight, I'm
Losing my religion

My name is Paul and I'm a former science fiction fan. It's been four years since my last science fiction convention.

I'm not a science fiction fan. I don't do science fiction fandom.

That's a rather contrary statement for someone who has run the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club for more years than I care to think about. How can I possibly not consider myself a fan, not think of myself as involved in fandom...?

I helped to start Doctor Who fandom in this country, back in the 1980s. I created a fanzine, built up a healthy readership and then passed it on to a fledgling fan club to develop even further. Then a few years later they handed it back and I ran with it.

In those few years at the tail end of the 1980s while the fanzine was out of my hands, I took the opportunity to broaden my horizons beyond the safe, comfortable confines of Doctor Who and sampled what the community had to offer.

I went along to my first science fiction convention, in Auckland at Easter 1989. I found myself in the company of like-minded individuals. I made new friends. I met a published science fiction author for the first time. I had a flirtation with a girl. I drank a lot at the bar. I danced the night away. I went to all-night room parties and slept in a hotel corridor.

What lingers strongest in my memory of that weird and wonderful weekend at Abby's Hotel half my lifetime ago is the long bus ride home afterwards. I was so exhausted, exhilarated, and despondent that I actually wept. After so long growing up feeling as if I was on the outside of everything I finally found somewhere that I felt like I truly belonged. Coming away from that convention was like coming down off an enormous high, and I couldn't wait to get my next fix.

Science fiction fandom was intoxicating. I sought it out, I had to have more. I joined a science fiction club and went to every one of its regular monthly meetings. I went to every convention I could, anywhere in the country, and took every opportunity I could to get involved.

By the following year's Easter convention I was editing the convention booklet, performing in the opening ceremony, and dating one of the convention organisers. (We ended up getting married and I think the science fiction fans at our wedding outnumbered the other guests.)

I attended more conventions than I can count. I volunteered to be on panels, gave talks, organised quizzes, ran auctions. Call it a drug, call it a religion. For me, science fiction fandom was all of that and more.

Perhaps I did too much, too soon, too often. Maybe I burned out. Seven years after getting involved I was on the retreat, finding myself starting to avoid fans and fandom. I didn't feel like I belonged any longer. My marriage crumbled and slowly dissolved. My ex-wife stayed in science fiction fandom; I didn't.

Science fiction fandom is full of good, decent, well-meaning people, but I moved on, no longer felt any connection to them. Many perhaps inevitably paired up, got married, had children. They started taking those children to conventions, dressing them in science fiction costumes, parading them around as the next generation of fandom.

I went to a funeral of a fan and the science fiction fans were all dressed in Star Trek uniforms. Not just Star Trek costumes but the formal dress uniforms that the crew of the Enterprise would wear at such a sombre occasion. They sang Amazing Grace - because that's what was played at Spock's funeral. If you're a science fiction fan, that might make perfect sense. For me it was a wake-up call that I no longer belonged.

For several years after that 'wake-up call', I kept going to the Auckland science fiction conventions. The last time was in 2003. I found myself in the company of people I used to hang out with, used to count as my friends. It felt like a school reunion in that it was socially awkward and felt like dredging up the ghosts of the past.

I felt compelled to be there because I'd agreed to give a couple of presentations. I prepared material and waited to run these, only to find out afterwards that they'd been cancelled, shunted off the schedule to make way for something else. No one bothered to tell me. I felt disconnected and unwelcome. I resolved then and there that it would be my last science fiction convention. I wouldn't be back.

Every year since, in the months leading up to the annual science fiction convention, various people ask if I will be going this year. Every year I search my soul and see if I still feel the same way as I did in 2003. One year I happened to be visiting Rotorua the same weekend that the convention took place there. I considered going simply because it was close by. But even with the convenience of close proximity I still didn't feel the spark of enthusiasm, couldn't bring myself to take that step.

This year's convention takes place in Wellington five weeks from now. But I don't think I'll be there. I just don't do science fiction fandom any more.

Oh no, I've said too much
I haven't said enough

24 April, 2007

Doctor Who 303: Gridlock

Gridlock owed something to The Happiness Patrol with its absurdly exaggerated satire of modern day culture, and populated by characters rather irrationally accepting their downtrodden lot in life. I didn’t like David Tennant’s overacting when doing ‘angry’, and the completely unsubtle ‘say no to drugs’ message. The Star Wars-influenced CGI was however impressive and I liked Ardal O’Hanlon's loveable rogue Brannigan. I was thrilled at the two ‘gifts’ for classic series fans - namely the entirely accurate descriptions of Gallifrey and of course the Macra! These were both presented so as avoid confusing newer viewers (something that the JNT era often got wrong back in the day). There's an almost tear-jerking moment when the sunlight streams down on the motorway, and then the Doctor's final confession to Martha really gave things an added emotional kick - not unlike the end of The End of the World.

15 April, 2007

Doctor Who 302: The Shakespeare Code

The Shakespeare Code does for its eponymous famous writer what The Unquiet Dead did for Charles Dickens. The episode seems to be a rather blatant attempt to woo Harry Potter fans – including name-checking JK herself! The scientific rationalization for the witches and the black magic worked rather well, and I was delighted to see Enlightenment's Eternals included in the back-story. I was also impressed at just how literate the script was, including many Shakespeare references that will have sailed over the heads of some of the episode's viewers. Dean Lennox Kelly delivers a great performance as a young Shakespeare, but did the witches have to be so clich├ęd? The Globe theatre and its surrounds were astonishingly good and really made this episode. I'm impressed too that Doctor Who can still do quieter, dialogue-heavy stories like this in amongst all the loud action-filled episodes. Simply delightful.

12 April, 2007

TSV 45 - the Key to Time issue

TSV 45

TSV 45 (September 1995) has recently been added to the online archive. This issue was the last of 1995, so an entire year's worth of issues have been digitally republished in just four months. Which doesn't seem right somehow given how long it took to assemble these issues the first time around - and this particular issue had challenges all of its own.

As I noted in my blog entry about the making of TSV 44, I had arranged with the local video distributors to get review copies of the videos. As a result, the lead focus of each issue would now be a major review of each of the new video titles. The six Key to Time stories were all released individually over three months in mid-1995, so I hit on the idea of doing an issue themed around Season 16, with a major review of each of the stories. I contacted a number of reliable TSV regular contributors and signed them up to each write one of the reviews. Some of these articles turned up promptly, others took a worryingly long time after the deadline to arrive. The problem with this was that unlike most TSV pieces which, if they arrived late, could simply be included in the following issue, the six reviews needed to be collected in this one themed issue. Nick Withers came to my rescue, stepping in to write a review of The Power of Kroll at very short notice. I don't recall now if that was down to a reviewer failing to deliver or simply that I was unable to sign anyone up to tackle this most unloved of the Season 16 stories.

Alistair Hughes designed a brilliant Key to Time front cover as an interlocking jigsaw. The individual jigsaw elements were also used to illustrate each of the six reviews, and other rather wonderful Key to Time themed artwork was provided by Peter Adamson, Paul Potiki and Chris Girdler among others.

Peter Adamson and Andrew Cook contributed a neat Fourth Doctor, Romana and K9 comic strip story, Sums Over Histories that although featuring the Season 17 line-up was still a reasonably close connection to the issue's theme.

For a bit of diversity, I also had an article by Kate Orman about the writing of Set Piece. The article's title, But the Details Aren't Important, apparently comes from Chris Girdler's review of the novel in TSV 43. Kate's article is essential reading for anyone interested in her New Adventures novels, and I love such background pieces. It's a shame that Kate didn't contribute any further articles to TSV after this one, but she simply lacked the time to do so, given that each of her novels seemed to overlap the next with alarming frequency. Such is the price of success!

Meanwhile, things started to get a bit messy for the club in the latter half of 1995. The so-called 'Management Team' set up to run the club earlier in the year was already becoming a bit unstuck. Bill Geradts, who had been running the Auckland Chapter video days and monthly meetings disliked the Team's intervention and decided that he'd had enough of running events for the club. Bill went off in his own direction, setting up what would become his hugely successful Armageddon pulp culture expos.

Things were also rather turbulent for me personally at this time. I was working part-time as an after-school tutor to high school students, which left me with most of my days free to run the club and edit TSV. As ideal as that might sound I was, as you might imagine, rather strapped for cash and at one point had to take a temporary loan from the club just to get my car repaired. My life and bank balance took a considerable turn for the better when in September 1995 I gained a full-time job working at the main branch of Whitcoulls in Queen Street. This new job - combined with my tutition work which I was still committed to until the end of the school year - meant that both my days and evenings were booked up. I desperately needed help to get the incomplete TSV 45 finished. A weekend working bee was convened at Nicholas Withers' place, working in the same church hall that we would later use for the TV Movie and Tom Baker events.

At this point I should explain that up until this issue, each page of TSV had been pasted up from columns of typed, or latterly computer-printed text. I had an Amiga computer, a rudimentary word processor (Word Perfect) and an elderly dot matrix printer which produced a fairly legible font. Aligning, cutting and pasting columns of text on to A4-sized pages was messy and time-consuming. A couple of readers volunteered to come along to help out with the layout, but frequent mistakes were made with the paste-up meaning that some pages had to be redone from scratch. Tensions rose, arguments broke out among the helpers and for a time it looked as if the issue would never be finished.

Thankfully Nick came to the rescue, taking me aside and basically saying, "look, there's another way of doing TSV that will take a fraction of the time and effort and the end result will look much better." Nick selected some of the items for this issue - including the six story reviews and the Kate Orman article - and recreated them on his PC in Microsoft Publisher (a rather nifty desktop publishing application), and printed them out on his inkjet printer. I was enormously impressed with the results. Nick and I resolved then and there that from the following issue we would give TSV a complete make-over and do all of the layout using Publisher.

If you have a printed copy of TSV 45 and TSV 46, compare the two and I'm certain you'll be able to see the jump in quality.

Next up, 1996; the year everything changed...

Meanwile, read TSV 45 here.

Fellow TSV 45 bloggers:
Alden Bates
Jamas Enright

05 April, 2007

Doctor Who 301: Smith and Jones

Smith and Jones is a non-stop incident-packed opening episode, and by far the best opening episode of ‘New Doctor Who’ yet. Freema Agyeman is simply wonderful, delivering a perfectly pitched performance. When the Doctor mentions Rose, my reaction was "Rose who?" I’m pleased to see David Tennant playing the Doctor more restrained and much less hyperactive than we’ve seen previously. The shoe sequence was thankfully his one moment of over-the-top acting in the whole episode. The Judoon have a very credible motivation; it’s great to see aliens that are not 'evil' and bent on destruction or invasion. I’d like to see them return. It would have been interesting if the sonic screwdriver had stayed destroyed, at least for a few episodes. My favourite moments were the Doctor popping back into Martha's time line, and mouthing the "bigger on the inside" line as Martha views the inside of the TARDIS. I can't wait to see more!