Travesty! When you lose control and you got no soul, it’s travesty!

brigThe following contains spoilers for the “Death in Heaven” Doctor Who episode, and before anyone says anything, YES I KNOW IT’S NOT REAL.

But.

Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was a childhood hero. His character, intended as a one-off in Troughton’s days, had already been popular enough to be dusted off for a second Troughton outing, and then came back again to provide the sole continuity between Troughton and Pertwee Who. Nicholas Courtney played him as courteous, friendly, intelligent, brave, honest, a very good soldier, and fundamentally decent. In fact, as TV father figures go, he was more accessible than the Doctor, being strictly human and of our time. I think part of his popularity was that, like Sarah Jane Smith, you always got the impression that the character was an extension of an equally likeable-in-real-life actor, and like Sarah Jane Smith, I was actually sorry to hear the actor in question had died.

Giving the Brig a daughter to take his place in latterday NuWho was a clever stroke, and Jemma Redgrave convincingly plays the part of a woman who might actually have been brought up by that particular man. She filled a Brigadier-shaped hole in the series.

And that is why it is so unconscionable that they turned him into a cyberman.

A BLOODY CYBERMAN!

And not even handled with any kind of sensitivity, or a way that respects me as a viewer who has tuned in for entertainment, expecting my intelligence to be engaged with and by the plot. It wasn’t “Ooh, this will be a good plot twist”, it was “Wevs, let’s throw in the kitchen sink and make the fans gasp, ‘cos that’s what they do.”

When Jean-Luc Picard was turned into a Borg – back in the days when such procedures weren’t as easily reversible as changing your socks – fandom was riveted to see what would happen next. If there had been a Troughton/Pertwee/Baker era plotline where the Brig met a similar fate, I’m sure it would have had the same effect.

But, this? A 30-second knock-off to justify an utterly disposable line earlier in the episode? If there wasn’t a dry eye in the house it was only because they were tears of rage.

Until yesterday my lasting memory of the Brigadier was of him in a green pullover, lips curled wryly, moustache bristling, probably a pair of binos round his neck, hands on his hips, barking orders like “chap with wings, five rounds rapid”. He was the immovable object that any alien invasion had to get through; and we, the viewers, knew the aliens never would in a million years.

Now, my lasting memory will be of him as a soulless cyborg, a fate that is like re-animating Nelson and conscripting him into the French navy.

How dare they do that to my hero? How dare they?

Future shock

The global superpower of His Majesty’s Starship was Indian. Most of the future-based scenes from Time’s Chariot were set in an international community in Antarctica, with an international cast, and the hero lived in South Africa. The (very few) Earth-based scenes from Phoenicia’s Worlds took place out at sea or in Kenya/Tanzania. When I have characters that a contemporary audience – you lot – would think of as white(ish) and western, it’s generally because they’re the descendants of the same but no longer living on Earth. I will admit it makes it easier for me as a white guy to write that way, but I also have to find a credible way of getting my future heroes into the story at all.

Because, for a very long time now, I simply haven’t believed that the West as we know it has a future. And here’s a piece that nicely articulates why not: How to Shrink the Economy without Crashing It: A Ten-Point Plan.

It’s not about the actual decline of the West, just a thought experiment as to what needs to happen for our species to survive at anything like its current level of affluence and comfort. And as the author frankly admits, it ain’t gonna happen, because is there a single politician or other power figure that you can imagine actually backing something like this?

… at least, not here in the affluent West with our current system. Other countries may pick it up, gradually, and I can well believe this is what planet Earth could eventually end up with. It’ll be more by accident than by design, but it could happen.

But only after the west has gone the way of Ancient Rome. Sorry to depress you.

Cons and pros and cons

Last Saturday saw me at Andromeda One, an inaugural one-day convention held in that there Brum and named for the legendary bookshop of that self-same metropolis (whose equally legendary proprietor was present).

And a very good con it was, too. It was held in the Custard Factory, a former … well, custard factory, now converted to a complex full of arty craft stuff and healthy wholefood restaurants venues. Also some very interesting sculptures, which in a Pertwee-era Dr Who would have come alive.

Green Man

Green Man

Impressively for a small-scale do, which had only been planned since May, they managed parallel streams with enough topics of interest to make me think seriously about which one I should be in. In the end – I only had time for four items, plus lunch, before needing to be back home in the evening – I stayed in the main venue, a slightly claustrophobic theatre of a hundred seats or so, for discussion on genre crossover, prediction in sf (or not, and should it, and why or why not?), what exactly is that urban fantasy’n’stuff, and an enjoyable interview with Paul Cornell. All good, writerly subjects, you will note. Elsewhere there were workshops on editing, self-publishing … in fact, if memory serves, even more writerly stuff. It was a very writerly con, which may be one reason I enjoyed it so much.

A dragon and, um, Aslan?

A dragon and, um, Aslan?

I can well see this becoming a regional fixture, like Bristolcon a few hours to the south, and I wish it all the best.

I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting with Worldcon, still fresh in my mind.

For sheer glitz, of course, Worldcon wins hands down. Time was that Worldcon was once literally the WORLDcon. It was and still is the home of the Hugos, which are voted on by that year’s Worldcon membership, and so have their cachet because they were once therefore voted on by the world’s fans, so the winner in each category probably was the best in that category in the world. That reputation still counts for something, even if the total votership is now not only a fraction of the world’s fans but a fraction of the world’s con-going fans.

Ribbons!

Ribbons!

I won’t deny that having a Program Participant ribbon on my Worldcon badge put an extra swagger into my step – yeah, bitches, I’m participating! And I have access to the Green Room! (I had a single cup of tea there …) But you can come away with the feeling that the whole paraphernalia of badges, ribbons etc is – or has become – almost as important to some people as the actual content of the con. The joy of something like Andromeda One is that no one gives a toss about the add-ons. The point of being there is being there and having fun and talking about science fiction. The bigger a con gets, of course, the more professional-like it has to become; for what I paid in San Antonio I should damn well expect a professionally designed and printed name badge rather than a clear plastic holder and a blank card to write my own name on. At Andromeda One, I would expect nothing more, preferring that the pretty minimal entry fee went into the con itself – as of course it did (and at least they provided a pen!).

I was surprised when I came back and started reading reports to find criticism of Worldcon for being predominantly white, wealthy (apparently flying in the face of fandom demographics?) and misogynistic. I get the feeling this is more criticism than usual, but I’ve generally kept my head down for these things, and I haven’t been to a Worldcon since 2009, so I’m probably behind.

For the first of those two points, I can only say that yes, I’m white, and while I’m not wealthy I am able to put enough by that I can enjoy this kind of thing in a style becoming to it without incurring debt or a guilty conscience.

But, I gather that for all the recent advances in gender parity of panels etc, there were appalling scenes of white guys on panels simply talking over or even shouting down women on panels, which should never happen. For that, the moderators must be held responsible. At present the only moderator training is a page of notes on how to be a moderator – maybe something more hands-on should be arranged in future? Possibly involving cattle prods and Blofeldesque seats that feed directly into piranha pools for offenders. At Andromeda One, I suspect that any similar scenes would have resulted in the panel, if not the audience, rising to their feet and bodily ejecting the perpetrator into the central pool outside the venue. Why not the same at Worldcon? What has happened to make people just sit there and take it when the primary objective ought to be enjoying themselves at a science fiction con, not taking crap?

I’m pleased to say I saw nothing like that on any Worldcon event I attended. The only all-male panel I saw was the one I was on, the Iain M. Banks memorial. But I was meant to have been Pat Cadigan, and I have seen moderator Vince Doherty in a kilt, so maybe that counts.

I have no answers to this – it’s currently baffling, and being tackled by, people far more knowledgeable than me.

But, yeah, Andromeda One. Look out for Andromeda Two and sign up.