Heat Wave

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I am blaming @essers entirely for this one and the amount of brackets I use…

Last year, Essers wrote a review for Shiny Shelf about season one of Castle, starring Nathan Fillion.

Yes, that one.

So I watched Castle and enjoyed it. It’s not a serious, tough crime show. It’s pretty silly and built on the premise that millionaire crime writer Richard Castle (Fillion) is shadowing NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) for a new crime novel he’s planning.

Heat Wave
Richard Castle
(Hyperion books, 2010)

Heat is a no-nonsense NYPD detective working a murder case, shadowed by Jamerson Rook, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist.

Yes, they really did write a tie-in novel that is ‘written’ by the character in the show. Season 2 even has a two-parter built around that fact Heat Wave triggers a serial killer trying to get Beckett’s attention as “the real life Nikki Heat”. When one detective starts recounting the plot of the novel, Castle stops them finishing it with the word “spoilers”. Which, as I was about five chapters from the end of the tie-in novel, I’d been shouting at the screen.

This is where reviewing it gets complicated.

If I review it an actual crime novel, I’d say it was not great. The central murder mystery is good, but the writing is pure pulp. It’s workmanlike, the kind of thing that I’ve been tempted to throw out of a train’s window before now. (Did I ever actually review The Da Vinci Code here? It’s enough to know it nearly ended up on a railway embankment near Reading, right?)

But is that part of the meta-fictional games going on here? Is it meant to be a bad airport style novel because that’s what Rick Castle, character in Castle, would write? Is it spoofing millionaire crime writers? Especially given it has endorsements by the likes of James Patterson on it? (He’s in the show too, as a poker buddy of Castle’s.)

Oh, would you look at that. The publisher even maintains the fiction on their website, with an author profile of Richard Castle. He’s right next to Nigella. She’s not fictional, right?

In season two of the TV series, much is made of the sex between Heat and Rook because all the characters take it to indicate something is really happening between Beckett and Castle. They’ve got that whole Moonlighting thing going on…

This is where this book becomes fan service. Not that it’s a bad thing in this case. Shows built on Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST) struggle with the resolution of it. Look at season 4 of Moonlighting. But fans also want some action: there’ll be Castle fanfic (look it up yourself). This tie-in novel gives you a fictional character (Castle) writing a fictionalised version of himself (Rook) having sex with the fictionalised version (Heat) of the fictional character (Beckett). Do I need a diagram? It gives fans the satisfaction of resolving the UST without actually doing it and destroying a selling point of the show.

In short, as a fan of the tv series you will read this book as two layers. When you read about Heat and Rook, you’ll see Beckett and Castle. And it’s impossible to judge the book as anything other than a meta-fictional device. It exists – and all the cross-platform stuff like the author’s page etc exist – to keep fans engaged and amused.

Absolute kudos to Hyperion and Rick Castle’s “beta readers” (who I suspect are the real writers) for creating this.

(Oh, and Firefly fans? There’s a scene at the start of Castle season 2 episode 6 that made me spit out my beer with laughter.)

Moosifer’s Homemade Home

Monday, 4 May 2009

I finally caught an episode of Kirsty’s Homemade Home last Thursday.

Unlike many people I know, I like Kirsty Allsop.  She’s managed to parlay “being a bit posh and a bit mumsy” into a career and, unlike her tv partner in property crime, she can carry a show on her own.  She does, like Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen, actually know quite a lot about design principles and history. (If you don’t believe me, try tracking down LLB’s three part series Taste.)

And yet…watching Kirsty’s Homemade Home was a bit of a letdown. Not the fact that although she gamely tries all the crafts featured the time-consuming work of finishing the jobs is done by the craftsmen. That’s the magic of television, and the conceit that she has actually made everything is fine within that context. It’s more the idea that you can make a craft-filled home quickly that bothers me, or that such home-building is a revelation to the viewers.

Look, the curtain has pennyweights in it to make it fall straight! Yes, so has the old orange velvet one in my bedroom: I put them back in when I shortened the charity shop curtain and used the offcut fabric to cover a cushion.  Pepping up a sofa with a riot of colour is as simple as buying a crocheted blanket from a charity shop! Yes, I’ve had my crochet blanket since 1992: it’s done work as a bed cover, a sofa cover and currently acts as a sofa blanket.  You can buy old stuff from reclaim yards! Yes, I got a white porcelain toilet from one in Newton Abbot about a decade ago…

The very same Thursday I finally watched Kirsty’s Homemade Home, I’d dropped in to see Sarah at Otto Retro. I was just passing and wanted to say hi, but I came away with two new kitchen chairs. They’re blonde wood, varnished, and Sarah recovered them with some lovely vintage fabric. There’s no maker’s or seller’s mark, so we’re guessing they are late 50s. It’s taken me thirteen years to see a pair of kitchen chairs I liked enough to buy, and that suit my eclectic interior design ideas. It took me ten years to find a desk, during which time the old one was held up with a box full of papers from university.

Homemade houses can’t be bought in, they need to evolve over time. And part of that means living without the exact thing you want until you can afford/make it.  The programme suggests that an eclectic style is something that can come off the peg.

I can’t disparage it entirely: if the resulting exposure leads to craftspeople around the country getting more commissions then obviously that is an excellent thing. And I’ve always been a fan of getting things secondhand, simply as you find something more interesting and are reusing a resource. But I do wonder if, by eliding the time element of such home building, the show gives the mistaken impression that it only takes a season to develop an eclectic home.

Lost in Austin Austen*

Saturday, 6 September 2008

In all things WordPress, I bow to Allyn Gibson. If my own ability to put a site’s design together falls over, I will whimper at him until he helps out. So, given his posts about the joys of upgrading wp, I naturally approached my first live upgrade with some trepidation. It took less than five minutes. So that’s another time-wasting plan foiled. Only a few days left till I submit the novella, so I need some rocket fuel today.

I’m thinking about writing a review of Lost in Austen for shiny shelf, but I suspect my current editor – who also writes for t’shelf – might spot that. My emailed rant, the morning after, runs something like:

Someone suggested that watching Lost in Austen on ITV1 was a Bridget Jonesy thing that would count as research. It was not and does not. It takes the amusing conceit of The Eyre Affair and stamps on it until it becomes that Austen spoof episode of Red Dwarf but with less jokes. It demonstrates the depths Alex Kingston‘s career has reached. It doesn’t cut back to Lizzie Bennent on a binge-drinking session whilst watched a DVD of Colin Firth. And it has a Darcy about whom the only comment [big magpie] could produce was “he needs to brush his hair”.

Sorry, I can’t believe I wasted an hour on such drivel and I’d like to vent. The best thing about it was the advert for Paignton Zoo in the middle.

Naturally, any actual review will be more measured, and point out that, actually, Alex Kingston does a good job on playing this revisionist version of Mrs Bennett, and that Hugh Bonneville was a very good Mr Bennett. It might mention Lost in Austen not only in the context of The Eyre Affair but also the long tradition of Pride and Prejudice professional fanfic such as Pemberley or Pride and Promiscuity.  None the less, the tv series is lazy and presumes the central conceit will carry the viewer over the lack of convincing dialogue or original characters. Unlike Sam in Life on Mars (a series Lost in Austen is drawing much comparison to), there is zero empathy towards the contemporary character stranded in this strange world.

*I’m not the only one to think a comedy of errors in the style of the early Coen brothers and called Lost in Austin would be better, right?

This means nothing to me…..

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

“Do you remember a guy that’s been
In such an early song?
I’ve heard a rumour from ground control
Oh no, don’t say it’s true.”

I know, silent for an age and then just tv spam. Ignore the second half – someone is just poor at editing:

See also:
less interesting trailer
original Bowie Ashes to Ashes video
original Vienna video
Play 80s reference bingo with this video (demonstrating my lack of petrol-head knowledge, when Gene Hunt says “fire up the Quattro”, I thought of the drink).

At a more serious level, I’m rather curious about this. Life on Mars, whilst following many of the tropes of 70s stereotyping and design, managed to suggest that period which was on a cusp between post-war austerity and Thatcherite plenty. 1981 bling doesn’t inspire the same sort of nostalgic recognition in me: it’s not a lost world, it was a place where I was joining CND, playing 2-tone records and riding my mate’s cross-trail bike. It’s not hazy memories of childhood summers and winters of discontent, it’s a mere year before I first bought some red hair-dye. It’s hard to be nostalgic about a period when you were starting to shape your identity against the rising culture of conspicuous consumption. So I have no idea if Ashes to Ashes can work. I’m sure Gene Hunt will – the Sweeney were still going strong in 1981, after all – but the neat hook of Sam Tyler is gone, and the ending of Life on Mars seems to remove the possibility of repeating that trick. Unless they are suggesting Hunt and his pals are Jungian archetypes lurking in the shared mind of all coppers…

Take us to your planet

Monday, 23 October 2006

Take us, take us to your planet
Give us a mind and we’ll scan it
Sell us a ship and we’ll man it
Cos we mean it, uh-huh

There I was, settling on the sofa after a busy weekend in order to enjoy Torchwood (It’s Captain Jack Harkness…and he’s wearing the coat!). Ah, yes, the montage of the copper’s mundane life: making cuppas in the station, patrolling the mean streets of Cardiff, breaking up a pub brawl to the sound of The Pipettes—

The Pipettes?
In Torchwood??

Never mind how Captain Jack is soooooo cool…the Pipettes! On the Torchwood soundtrack! Eep!

What the gorram Dickens?

Sunday, 9 October 2005

As my penchant for Lost continues, and going to see Serenity again caused a Firefly marathon, I started to think about modern television and classic literature. More precisely, I started to compare Joss Whedon to Charles Dickens. Both write long, complex narratives with a clear beginning, middle and end which are released in a serial format. An episode of Firefly is very much like a chapter of Great Expectations. Only with more funny.

A quick google reveals that the process of following a Dickens novel is highly similar to following an entire (American) season.

Most of Dickens’ novels were serialized in 20 monthly installments, or numbers. They were usually bound in green paper, and — after the first two monthly installments of THE PICKWICK PAPERS — always included precisely 32 pages of text, two engraved illustrations, and, usually, 16 pages of advertisements. The final installment of a novel was double size, including more text
— from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/dickens/life_publication.html

This compares rather neatly with the 22 or 24 episodes of a season, even down to having the double episode finale. Of course, Whedon got a bit over-excited towards the end of Buffy and the finales started earlier and earlier into the season until you started to wonder if the entire thing was finale. Lost will obviously be following a similar structure, with season 1 now having moved into the middle part of the story. New Who is running to UK season lengths (13 episodes instead of 22 or 24) but also worked with the drip-feed storyline. A chapter a week, to keep you coming back, but each chapter relatively contained. And, just as Victorian readers paid for their partworks to be bound or bought a subsequent prebound edition to read in one or two sittings, we preorder ourselves the boxsets and have marathon watching sessions.

One of the reasons I started thinking these similarities was because I think Whedon etc are very good serial writers. I dislike the assumption that a film deserves more kudos than a tv series. Whedon really scores when he’s given the time to nuance his characters: the time scale the narrative plays out on really suits him.

There’s a rather interesting essay here about how the serialisation of fiction changes the nature of its creation:

Serialization deconstructs the single author as sole creator, and does so as part of a larger collaborative project within which the serial is framed.

Thus amateur and professional readers of serial fiction are encouraged to speculate about the story and the characters, to project the future, and to offer the writer advice.
When Is a Book Not a Book? Oliver Twist in Context

All of which could apply as equally to the modern tv serial writers as to Dickens, Gaskell and Conan Doyle. There is even Victorian discussion about issues of copyright and of ideas theft (something which ties this back to my own interest in looking at the literary antecedents of modern fanfic and the rise in the idea of copyright at the same time as the industrialisation of Britain – see the odd post in my readingblog):

When a magazine serial becomes popular, it gets copied, imitated, pirated, plagiarized, often before the story has been completed in manuscript, much less in print. Such imitations and anticipations rob the original producers of the story of some of their revenue and some of their options, both for the story and for merchandising the product. Hence Dickens and others were deeply concerned, when Oliver Twist was being published, about passing legislation to strengthen copyright.

It’s one of those horrid clichés people spout that if Dickens were alive today he would be writing soaps. I’m starting to suspect it would be far more likely that he would be convincing networks to give him a 22 part series of his own.

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