2018 Writing Round-Up

Blog posts, journalism, etc. I published in 2018:

STRANGE HORIZONS:
Strange Horizons’ 2018 in Review (review)
ERIN GROANS: A GORMENVAST REVIEW OF EVERY ADAPTATION OF MERVYN PEAKE’S TITUS BOOKS (review)
Gormenghast Read-Along Review: Titus Groan
Gormenghast Read-Along Review: The Boy in Darkness and Gormenghast
Gormenghast Read-Along Review: Titus Alone and Aftermath
The Worst Witch (2017 tv series) (review)
Bone Swans, by C.S.E. Cooney (review)
Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter (review)
Paddington 2 (review)
Nirvana in Fire / Lángyá Bǎng (review)

Here I am on “Engage”, CBS’s official Star Trek podcast, hosted by Jordan Hoffman, for an episode about my Strange Horizons essay “Kirk Drift”.

VECTOR:
SFF Board Games of 2017 (review)
Living on Borrowed Time (see below)

THE LANCET PSYCHIATRY:
“Just Typical”: on the Victorian origins of personality typology.
Power Failure: on diagnoses, agency, and the limits of ‘patient centred’ care in capitalist medical practice.

ACADEMIC:
Bring Back the Mice“: on the disastrous “Woman in White” musical
Living on Borrowed Time: on time travel and economics in Diana Wynne Jones’ Tale of Time City, in Vector
“From ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to ‘Live Long and Prosper’: Engaging with Post-War American Jewish Identity via Star Trek: the Original Series”, a chapter in Set Phasers to Teach!: Star Trek in Research and Teaching
“The Charming Home”: a section of my thesis/some writing on the history of British domestic magic
‘Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla’, by Felix Barker (review)

CONFERENCE PAPERS:
“The Future, Wouldn’t That Be Nice?”, on post-scarcity economies in SF popular television (Wording SF, Graz, Austria)
“IV, IV$, V”, on economics and empire in Eurogames (Wording SF, Graz, Austria)
“Treading Other Boards: Performing SF in the Modern Eurogame” (2019: A Stage Odyssey – A Symposium on Science Fiction Theatre & Performance, Toronto, Canada)

– DICKENS:
David Copperfield, 1913 Silent Film (review)
David Copperfield, 1966 BBC series with Ian McKellen (review)
Canterbury: architecture and David Copperfield plot locations
“David Copperfield” Material in the BFI Archive
Dickens for Children

EROTICA:

1. Blood in the Rain IV includes my short story “Lawful Evil”, a gay Victorian vampire comedy set in the Inns of Court.

2. No Holds Bard, a queer Shakespeare anthology I have a story in:

“Couched in a Curious Bed”: Having lost his youngest son, a shaken but still-living York is determined to bring the War of the Roses to a swift end – preferably one that will benefit his family. The Lancastrian queen and heir are dead, and, medieval diplomacy being what it is, the best hope for peace lies in a highly unexpected royal marriage.

You can purchase this book here.

2. I have a story in the erotica anthology Owning It. “Rereading”: Avery is about to leave for uni, and her step-father’s paralegal Sheba thinks they should actually talk about their long-running sexual tension before she does. Contains a nasty, loaded argument about Gaudy Night and realisations about one’s sexuality by way of a very butch haircut and very femme nails.

You can purchase this book here.

3. The erotica anthology Corrupted includes my story “Solo Exhibition”, in which cookbook writer Usha plays Scheherazade for her foreign rights agent (and definitely not boyfriend) Jory. You can buy it at Amazon and various other outlets.

I wrote a 15k fic as well.

***

I have at four erotica fiction sales and three or four academic publications pending, but they’re not out yet so I can’t direct you to them.

I still have two big things I can’t discuss, but I’m finally able to talk about my upcoming book on Dickens, Doctor Who and “Unquiet Dead”, from the Black Archive. It’s out in 2020. I am pleased to have the gig.

Strange Horizons’ 2018 in Review

Here’s my contribution:

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This has been a cool year in genre for me personally, as I got my first SF non-fiction book contract (on the complex exchanges between the Dickens canon and Doctor Who as national epics and, more specifically, the episode “Unquiet Dead”, from the Black Archive) and wrote my first SF radio play at Auntie’s pleasure, which I can’t say more about yet, but which is being recorded in something like February.

I also published academic work on English domestic magical traditions, on Star Trek and Jewish Studies, and on Diana Wynne Jones. And some historical fiction where Richard not-yet-III and Henry VI get married. Also some vampire porn, and some other stuff.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I saw another great Beowulf at the Edinburgh Fringe, this time from Take Thou That. There was also a fun, very new-to-me wuxia production of Wu Song—The Tiger Warrior, presented by Taiwanese company Hsing Legend Theatre. Board game designers Red Raven produced their Amber Mines expansion for Near and Far, and new quests for partner-game Above and Below. I really like this company for both their well-crafted games and their thoughtful customer service. Everdell, Root and Scythe’s new campaign mode, The Rise of Fenris, were also new this year and enjoyable. Worst Witch, Paddington 2 and Ronja the Robber’s Daughter were thoroughly pleasing, as was Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse. I finally read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken and the first Moomin books, which were great to get around to.

Academically, though I found both tough going I really profited from Aisling Byrne’s Otherworlds, which is new, and Geraldine Heng’s Empire of Magic, which is a little older. And, as regular SH readers may know, this was the year I at last read that Gormenghast stuff, watched every adaptation thereof, and indelibly seared a text I both love and hate into my brain. I don’t know if I recommend it, but that definitely happened to me.

Read everyone’s thoughts here.

ERIN GROANS: A GORMENVAST REVIEW OF EVERY ADAPTATION OF MERVYN PEAKE’S TITUS BOOKS

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Oh, you gentlest readers—oh, you fragile, quivering doves: this is something I have long intended to do to you I mean for you. And finally, FINALLY, due to some fools having generously donated $9,000, ALMOST A FULL DARCY-ANNUM UNIT, I can bring you a review of every adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books, not ranked because that’s a rubbish critical apparatus and this isn’t fucking Buzzfeed.

Why is it timely, you ask? It is not timely. No, it is not. However I managed to convince the chief reviews editor, the long-suffering Maureen,[1] that it could be, because Neil Gaiman’s Gormenghast adaptation is noised to come out soon. And he is Important. Don’t you think he’s Important? He sells very well, and he did Sandman half a million years ago, so I suppose he must be: important. While the production may get stuck in development hell due to my wishing very hard, just as I have cursed the last six attempts to remake Blakes 7 (or for other, unrelated reasons), it may indeed come to pass. And it would be just another adaptation, I suppose. It wouldn’t be an active unmaking of everything good in an evolving multi-authorial text like, say, Moffat-era Doctor Who. We would probably survive.

But! Wouldn’t you like to consider half a century and change’s worth of Gormenghast adaptations in order to provide context for this one? Of course you would!!

Read the full article here.

“Bring Back the Mice”

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For Hypocrite Reader’s Horror and Comedy issue, I talk about last year’s re-vamp of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Woman in White” musical, the sensation novel, ‘updating’ Victorian texts, the gothic and crap feminism.
You can read the piece here.
Here’s a bit that didn’t fit into the review, but which I found interesting:

The original West End production took some flack for its projection-sets, which some critics thought looked like a cheap special effect, and a wonky turntable effect. A contemporary American theatre could have pulled the revolve off smoothly enough, American theatre always being blessed with more money than anything else worth having. Nunn himself had previously used a turntable to great effect in his production of Les Miz (https://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2012/02/19/when-the-spinning-stopped-les-miserables-25th-anniversary-at-progress-energy-center). But British theatres are often forced to rely more on motor and truck automation; winched systems [http://www.theatrecrafts.com/pages/home/topics/automation-scenic/glossary/]. Sophisticated turntables were largely out of the technical and financial reach of West End productions (indeed, touring Les Miz productions had to drop theirs, and the West End Les Miz itself gave it up in a ‘modernisation’/scaling back), which are of course working with generally older theatres (where the sheer weightof a really good turn table becomes an issue) until this year’s Hamilton production, which relies very heavily on that effect, necessitated a thorough, expensive and time-consuming revamp of Victoria Palace. And god knows when Hamilton will vacate and let someone else have a crack at it. This smaller production chose to address the difficulty of dramatically re-staging the piece by pretty much abandoning ‘design’ as a concept, going incognito as a cheaper, Fringier production than this actually was (the original was staged in 2004–these rights aren’t cheap). Everything looked a bit am-dram naturalism.

 

Gormenghast Read-Along Review: Titus Alone and Aftermath

BOOK THREE: TITUS ALONE

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  • So we’ve started Titus Alone which is how I wish he would leave me

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  • Peake has decided to switch time periods, genres, modes, registers of fictionality?? We’re in a weird pomo Little Prince riff and nothing means anything, way way more so than nothing was Real for the last 2 books.
  • Titus meets *essentially his mother in like 5 respects* his dick *twangs like a guitar string* & I think I said ‘what?’ audibly, so they bang, of course they bang, and also there are cars idk we’re kind of in Les Cites Obscures now
  • Titus remains obsessed with Gormenghast even though it’s not in this book. He spits at the moon. A camel and a mule fight. Juno is way more interesting than any man she has ever condescended to date.
  • Honestly still creeped out by the two Knight things perpetually following Titus tho? #stilldoesmynutintothisday
  • I worry sometimes that I read literature entirely through a materialist lens that in considering capitalism takes on its prerogatives, its narrow and temporally specific ways of thinking about character. But also Titus needs to get a fucking job.
  • Me earlier: why only adapt the first 2 books?
    Me now: oooooooh
  • what did Peake read before writing this? *suspiciously* was it Joyce?
  • An unnamed friend actually cried reading Titus Alone. ‘This is just so fucking miserable.’ My reaction wasn’t that strong but my lads; my lasses, my enbies, my friendbies: skip this one.
  • Noted birds rights activist Titus Groan is always uncomfortable when we are not about him. In the chapters ‘War Crimes Victims: A Huge Downer’ and ‘EUGH she’s STILL SAD’, we see—
  • In Titus Alone, Gormenghaston succeeds in being so annoying I’m like ‘rewind can we go back to the ivy and try the other one I feel even full crazy he still had some potential left in him—‘
  • Times Titus refers to his own boner in narratively obtrusive fashion: 5ish
    Times ol’ Skewbald hate-ace did that to me: *a most blessed 0*
  • Titus sends 🍆pics honestly believing you want to receive them. On all occasions, he lays a special emphasis on ‘YOU’RE welcome’. He says he doesn’t necessarily believe in the arguments he’s making over dinner, ‘he’s just presenting alternative perspectives!’ YOU’RE welcome! 🙂
  • the other day I was bitching to an anarchist friend on here about how annoying Titus is as a character&he was just like ‘I work on historical anarchists, so.’
  • I was slain bc it is exactly hot topic ‘A in a circle’ hoodie 15 yo boy stuff. Friend nailed the text, me, himself, he was like a nail gun
  • Titus Alone is the most confused I’ve been about the sexuality of a Cheeta since “Survival”. (This is a joke for 6 people ever I’m sorry)
  • Please kill me.

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  • HOW DOES CHEETA KNOW THE ‘GET IN THE SEA’ MEME?!

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  • In which Titus is invited to the cook out

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  • Omfg well I’m done with Titus Alone wooooow
  • my advisor yesterday: I love Titus Alone!

me: *a face journey*

***

AFTERMATH:

  • I think Gormenghast is neither over- nor underrated, but reasonably esteemed, enjoying a sound but not inflated reputation in fantasy.
  • People like to say that in the 50s there was something of a contest as to whether Lord of the Rings or this would ‘win out’ as the dominant text in fantasy, and that this lost (often followed by ‘would that it hadn’t!’).
  • Personally, I think the sub-Gormenghast imitators would be if anything even more embarrassing and off-base than the sub-Lord of the Rings school.
  • This dichotomy seems, and I may be ignorant here, to be chiefly in the minds of Peake fans, bc Gormenghast just can’t be approached and used in the way Lord of the Rings can.
  • There was never *as ready* an opportunity to make ‘sub-Gormenghast’ the commercial, mass audience and politically appropriable thing Lord of the Rings and its imitators became. (Gormenghast was never going to resonate with American counter-culture environmental movements.)
  • Peake’s short story “Danse Macabre” isn’t bad, but it’s a bit like those children’s ghost stories you read, red ribbon around her neck and all that.
  • Btw if you don’t know Sting is a vast Gormenghast Stan in a manner so shameful I cringe to think upon it, it is time for you to learn a fell truth:

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  • Molly: Sting named his dog Steerpike.
    Me: Weird, because like Killmonger, it seems like a natural cat name to me.
    Ana: You know when cats walk horribly on their hind legs, hunched and wobbling?
    Molly:

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I AM SCREAMING

  • I don’t even know that I could say I ‘liked’ these books, I just know that they happened to me, and that I have to live with that forever now.
  • idk maybe I DO like this canon, I’m so grumpy and confused. it’s a lot. I would fight anyone who talked shit about it, like HOW DARE YOU, MY HIDEOUS SON!!
  • Like why not

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  • And so the skewbald, throbbing, grey heartburn pranked up the vast stone—
  • If you did a Steerpike vs Uriah Heep rap battle, the tagline would have to be ‘let’s get ready to humble’. Send tweet.
  • ‘Throb’ in Titus Groan, Boy in Darkness, Gormenghast and Titus Alone

 #digitalhumanities

Groan: image.png

Considering the relative lengths of the books involved Peake undeniably throbs at an exponentially increasing rate as he ages. Thank you for my genius grant.

  • Remember when I told you each Doctor’s fav Dickens book? Of course you do. I’m here to officially announce that the Master, whose canon hobbies include listening to King Crimson, quoting Tennyson&otherwise making an ass of himself, likes Peake *too much*. Ainley is the worst about it.
  • Three DID like Peake, until he found the Master in a shit Professor disguise organising a Peake conference ostensibly for his cover, actually for the lols. Three then hard reversed. Eight reread and loves this series, also Too Much. This is word of god level truth.
  • I’m so annoyed this tank top I’m eBay listing is literally ‘fuchsia’ I’m so  tired of spelling this stupid word.
  • Ultimately I don’t blame Kate Bush for ending up a little Tory bc it took so much for that poor girl to escape Gormenghast and manifest in the real world&change her name&she’s still on a journey of personal growth, that’s a v conservative upbringing to overcome you know?

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Breakup song, stuck in the only dress she came over with, smh.

  • oh god we have over 30,000 words worth of notes on the Gormenghast books and miniseries oh /god/ why
  • I’ll just–condense this, shall i??????
  • NO ONE NEEDS TO HAVE THOUGHT THIS MUCH ABOUT BLOODY GORMENGHAST I AM FAIRLY SURE PEAKE DIDN’T

Gormenghast Read-Along Review: The Boy in Darkness and Gormenghast

TW: THE SORT OF NSFW BULLSHIT THAT HAPPENS IN THESE THIRST-TRAP BOOKS, INCLUDING ONE MENTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT

BOOK ONE AND A HALF: THE BOY IN DARKNESS

Here we are in Boy in Darkness, Peake’s odd off-shoot novella that’s arguably book 1.5. Today Titus (but unnamed) is being sexually menaced by a goat.

  • NOT 🍆 EVERYTHING 🍆 HAS 🍆 TO 🍆 THROB!!!!

Bad breakup?

BOOK TWO: GORMENGHAST

  • Right when last we left these losers baby Titus was being dunked rather than dunked on in a baptism of ire: the Earling. Happy to report Titus now 7 or something, all grown up&ready to do modernist stream of consciousness narration.
  • Steerpike has developed a weird kink for aunt humiliation&is giving the heterosexualisms a go for Fuchsia’s HUGE tracts of land. Meanwhile Irma wants a party. There will be blood. There will be parrots.
  • A school that DID NOT PREVIOUSLY EXIST has materialised out of nowhere so we can do the next stage of a Bildungsroman because class and continuity mean less than nothing to Peake ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Irma: I want sex so bad I can taste it in the air *lizard tongue slips out, vibrating frantically*
    Prunesquallor: where r u Sepelchure take me with u to the land of sweet death I am ready
  • Wild times at inexplicable public school—headmaster super dead (yo). Chair pusher removed himself from the narrative via death.
  • ‘that phantom ripeness throbbed, that thing called ‘noon’’
    🚓  Peake you are too horny on main sir  🚓 
  • Noon has ‘fled unfingered’ what /what/
  • The Countess is immense in all senses 👌

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  • Me, sobbing: you can’t say a tree throbs!!
    Peake, points at a tree: throbbing.

🌲🌳🤤 

Me: oh wow another sensual pages-long description of trees huh 

Peake: Main horniness is not a crime! / Open your heart and your mind!!

  • a LOT has happened since we left off guys. Flay has gone spelunking. Steerpike fucked up hilariously trying to kill his boss&now looks like a boiled lobster. Fuchsia wrote mediocre poetry. Titus, nominal protagonist and general timewaster, continued to pine for the fjords.
  • Steerpike was almost successfully heterosexual, but then a miscalculation involved his monkey being spurned&he was forced to contemplate rape. Luckily before that could happen he was discovered in a Taunting Dance over the bodies of ppl he’d gotten killed.
  • Now he’s off slingshotting people to death with tiny stones, hiding in the woodwork or the sewer system or some shit. Keda’s kid’s living as an ewok, and because numerous chapters just give us inane snapshots of this I guess we have to respect that. Yub nub.
  • Titus’ tenth birthday party, with Keda’s kid in the trees (this adaptation rocks):
  • Eugh do you know how easy it’d be to write abo Gormenghast fic it’d be like making a cup of coffee such sin should be more difficult to stumble into [A/N: Gertrude is an Alpha]
  • traveled back in time to 2004 to find an lj com with fic for this series:

    ‘This is obviously not the work of Mervyn Peake. He wasn’t a dirty minded fangirl.’

    I beg your fucking pardon?? Pal. Hombre. Amiga. You have misread.
  • ‘I am aware that this Steerpike may seem terribly out of cannon but it comes after many many months of RPing Steerpike’

    come, gentle death
  • Meanwhile in canon, male sexuality is inherently rapacious&i can feel Dworkin nodding somewhere.
  • Titus’ Ewok foster-sister just burnt to a crisp in a lightning strike and I’m so fucking done log me out
  • I know he’s just there to symbolise the death of Steerpike’s justifiable self-protective reasons for rebellion&his descent into an arbitrary cruelty that recalls how Swelter once treated him, but dammit, Satan the monkey was real to me!
  • What happened to him after the loss of his tail?! Where are you little monkey buddy??
  • If I didn’t have a goal I’d have crawled through Gormenghast, or taken breaks for days at minimum and thus lost the flow&stopped. I’m not disliking it, it’s just like trying to eat a fatty pork roast or claggy desert, like a giant boiled pudding, by myself in one go.
  • Titus apparently feels no guilt over the burning of the Thing, though she’d still be alive if he hadn’t chased her, because she’s more personal symbol than person to him. This is the most boy bullshit ever, but what did I expect from an analogue of a British aristocrat?
  • I don’t know if I’m angry about Fuchsia’s role in the ending exactly, but I’m not—comfortable with it?
  • Hey kids do u like DEATH SCENES what about 30 pages of DEATH SCENE what about a 3 stage multi-part DEATH SCEEEENEEEE

💀⚰️👻☠️💧🌧🌊🏰🌿🍃🐓🔪🗡🔪🔪

  • Whelp so that was Gormenghast

🐎🌕😭👋

  • Man I’m AMAZED I can’t find a Gormenghast map attempt, you’d think the challenge would be nigh irresistible.
  • However when I tried to image search google straight up outed @ActuallyAisha

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