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Life in Outer Space Book Review.

Manfic Colour
Life in Outer SpaceLife in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil is a book about teenage film geek Sam Kinnison. As such, it’s a mid-eighties John Hughes film plot set in the 21st Century, replete with spring dance ‘prom scene’ that would flourish on the silver screen. Like a Jane Austen novel, LiOS successfully grips the reader with the fear that things are not going to work out. Then there are the cultural references. They’re not as clunky or ubiquitous as the comic references in Keil’s The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, but they’re a major part of the novel. And a lot of them seemed to be lacking an editor with general knowledge. “The X-Men had an invisible chick, but still” (p. 68) is the subheading of Chapter 7. I assume Keil meant The Fantastic Four. (At a ridiculously obscure push, this could be a reference to Alisa Tager/Cipher, but she was never really an X-Man.) Camilla Carter’s music journalist dad says that a band “Completely ripped off early Pulp... I almost wanna contact Pulp’s management and tell them to get their copyright lawyers onto it. I mean listen to the bridge on that track!” (p. 124.) Pulp formed in 1978. They didn’t release anything good until 1992. Nobody would rip off anything from Pulp’s first fourteen years, and if they did, Pulp would think it was a joke - even Jarvis Cocker has said that having the first three albums in the public sphere is embarrassing, like if somebody made a display of an artist’s finger paintings from kindergarten. I suppose it’s theoretically possible that ‘early Pulp’ is what Henry Carter means, or that he’s mistaken and means early-nineties Pulp. For the theme of the spring dance “It is decided that 1980 will be the official Old Hollywood cut-off.” That is, all costumes must be from 1980 films or earlier. Two of the main characters come as Jabba the Hutt and an Ewok, neither of which were in a film before 1983. Jabba is mentioned in 1977’s Star Wars, so I guess it’s excusable, but it is ridiculous in a book about a film geek that the costumes pass without their anachronisms being commented upon. And so on – I truly believe the manuscript was a worthy winner of the Ampersand Project, but the lack of editorial fact-checking kept drawing me out of reverie as a reader. Nevertheless, Life in Outer Space has genuine laugh-out-loud moments and I truly cared about the fates of its protagonists. Four outer space stars.
Manfic Colour
(Eleanor & Park is the St Edmund’s library Book of The Month on our intranet – here’s my review for everyone outside the school network.)


One of the St Edmund’s library’s latest purchases is by Rainbow (her real name: [hippy parents]) Rowell.  She’s the author of three great novels: Attachments is about adults in their late twenties; Fangirl is about university students; Eleanor & Park (the book that’s now in the library) is about students who are your age, in their mid-teens.  It’s set in the Eighties (1986 to ’87), so if you’re a current Eddies student, all of the ‘references’ are from at least ten years before you were born.  For me, the only reference that stood out as potentially anachronistic was “After dinner, they all watched Back to the Future on HBO”.  I’m not an expert on how American cable television worked in 1986, but Back to the Future was only released on videocassette at the end of November that year, so I’m surprised that the Sheridan family could see it on TV without a flux capacitor.  But maybe that’s my mistake - as an Eighties ‘period novel’, Eleanor & Park does an amazing job with contemporary references.  Once you’ve read the book, hopefully you’ll be catching Eighties (and pre-Eighties) references like your name’s Corey and you were born sporting a permed mullet.

Before it’s a novel about characters falling in love with each other, Eleanor & Park is a novel about falling in love with music.  Of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division, eponymous protagonist Eleanor Douglas says, “I just want to break that song into pieces... and love them all to death.”  The Eighties were a time where people made mixtapes (like sharing Spotify playlists), and other protagonist Park Sheridan does so for Eleanor, introducing her to The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, U2 and The Cure.  In turn, Eleanor repays that ‘debt’ by exposing him to The Beatles.  In the chronological first line of the novel, Park uses music “for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.”  Similarly, Eleanor uses her Walkman (the eighties equivalent of an iPod) as a way of drowning out her life.  Eleanor’s home life is one not just of poverty, but also of deprivation of her basic rights, and those of her siblings.  The novel is a reminder of how powerless teenagers can feel and how sometimes (as comprises Chapter 47) it can be like they’ve run out of options.

‘The girls are all so stereotypically girly and passive.  Half of them just think really hard.  Like that’s their superpower, thinking.  And Shadowcat’s power is even worse – she disappears.’
‘She becomes intangible,’ Park said.  ‘That’s different.’
(Eleanor and Park on the female X-Men.)

Eleanor & Park is a piece of literature, and as such, it tends to allude to other pieces of literature.  One of the main conundrums of the novel is a literary one.  How can a writer make a love eternal without killing off at least one of the lovers?  The most obvious parallel is to “the most beloved play of all time”, which is discussed by Eleanor and her English teacher Mr Stessman.

‘Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they wanted.  And now, they think they want each other.’
‘They’re in love...’ Mr Stessman said, clutching his heart.
‘They don’t even know each other,’ she said.
‘It was love at first sight.’
‘It was “Oh my God, he’s so cute” at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline... It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,’ she said.
‘Then why has it survived?’

Park suggests that the reason for the immortality of the Sixteenth Century play is “because people want to remember what it’s like to be young?  And in love?”  Eleanor & Park does this to a consummate tittle, and as John Green has been quoted as saying, the novel isn’t just a reminder of “what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”  A related tangent is whether one really can find or recognise true love as a teenager.  Park argues that “Bono was fifteen when he met his wife, and Robert Smith was fourteen” (Bono is the singer from U2, and Robert Smith from the Cure.)  Juliet was thirteen.  This also isn’t the first time that Rowell has referenced R&J.  In her previous novel, Attachments, the male lead’s ex-girlfriend says Romeo and Juliet “would have broken up if they’d lived for the sequel.”  This idea supports Eleanor’s thesis - Romeo and Juliet meet on a Monday, get married that Tuesday, spend the night together, never have another conversation after that and are both dead by Friday – it’s not hard to sustain passion over a few days, but can it really be done for a lifetime?

Eleanor and Park bond over a love of comic books.  These include Watchmen, X-Men, and Swamp Thing.  Watchmen is a limited series of twelve issues – like a self-contained novel such as E&P or play like R&J, that’s all there is.  (Yes, I’m ignoring the Before Watchmen comics released in 2012, and so should you.)  On the other hand, X-Men and Swamp Thing are serials.  To this day, X-Men comics have had an unbroken run since 1975.  When reading X-Men, Eleanor “didn’t get everything that was going on there; X-Men was worse than General Hospital.  It took Eleanor a couple weeks to figure out that Scott Summers and Cyclops were the same guy, and she still wasn’t sure what was up with Phoenix.”  Eleanor catches up on up to twenty-three years of X-Men comics five at a time, including the Dark Phoenix saga, from 1980.  Like the idea of Romeo and Juliet breaking up in a sequel, true passionate love is difficult to maintain in serialised fiction.  Jean Grey knows that while she lives, she will continue to become the cataclysmic Dark Phoenix, so she sacrifices herself because of her love for Scott Summers.  (Again, because it’s a serial, ultimately Scott meets and marries Madelyne Pryor – a clone of Jean who turns out to be, of course, evil; then apparently Jean was never actually Phoenix and is revived from a cocoon at the bottom of the sea; Jean and Scott marry; Jean is killed by being shot into the sun; and yet she’s still in current stories, since Jean’s younger self has been brought forward in time to the present.  But let’s ignore that too.  Incidentally, Scott and Jean were sixteen when they met, as are Park and Eleanor.)  Basically, great love stories are usually all about the build-up, and once they’re consummated, the best way to ‘preserve’ them (like in a cocoon) is by killing one or both of the lovers.  This concept and its practicalities are addressed by Rowell (and Eleanor and Park by proxy).

OZYMANDIAS: I did the right thing, didn’t I?  It all worked out in the end.
DR MANHATTAN: ‘In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian.  Nothing ever ends.
(From Watchmen #12, paraphrased in Eleanor & Park Chapter 57.)

Park “wondered what Dr Manhattan meant when he said, ‘Nothing ever ends’”.  Although, perhaps this review seemed like it might never end, it’s nearly there.  If you made it this far, you should borrow the book – it should be in the fiction section, under ‘ROW’.


Round and Round Colour
From The Front Cover To Page 3.

There is a cliché about bookcovers.

Back in 1860 George Eliot published her semiautobiographical novel The Mill On The Floss.  (Disclaimer: Anyone who has ever been in one of my classes knows that I tend to go off on tangents.  In mathematics, a tangent is the point where a straight line touches a curve.  I promise that even if it seems like I am heading off track onto that curve, I will return to that straight line.  Eventually.)  So, a biography is an account of someone else’s life.  An autobiography is when a person writes about him or herself.  Semiautobiography falls somewhere in the middle.  All novels are fiction, but some are less fictional than others.  (Round and Round is also semiautobiographical.  But I will get to that later.)  George Eliot was the pen name of Marian Evans Lewes, because she feared that as a woman her writing would not be taken seriously.  Maggie Tulliver, the heroine in The Mill On The Floss, is Eliot’s self-insertion character, and is a clever, literate nine year-old.  Maggie’s father buys her a pile of books that were “all bound alike, it’s a good binding, you see, and I thought they’d be all good books.”  So Maggie starts telling her father and his friend about the book she is reading, in which women are drowned in order to tell if they are witches, while “the Devil takes the shape of wicked men, and walks about and sets people doing wicked things, and he’s oftener in the shape of a bad man than any other, because, you know, if people saw he was the Devil, and he roared at ’em, they’d run away, and he couldn’t make ’em do what he pleased.”  Maggie’s father is embarrassed to discover that he has given his daughter The Political History of the Devil, because its cover looked “good”.  “But it seems one mustn’t judge by th’ outside,” Mr Tulliver realises, indirectly coining a phrase in the process.

The front cover of Round and Round is a representation of events that occur in the first three pages of the novel.  Evander is a Greek from Arcadia who has come to Italy and founded the city that will become Rome.  It is the 13th Century BC, before the Trojan War and the twelve labours of Heracles.  In Book VIII of Vergil’s Aeneid, an older Evander retells a story from his youth: “I/Cut down the front rank by Praeneste’s wall/And won, and burned the piled shields of the conquered./With this right hand I dispatched to Hell/King Erulus, to whom Feronia,/His mother, gave three lives at birth, and a/blood-chilling three sets of arms to fight,/So he had to be brought down three times./Nevertheless, this hand took all his lives that day,/And each time took his arms.”  Round and Round begins at the moment the young Evander defeats Rulus for the third time.  Annalise painted the scene:


I recoloured the image to look like a sixties paperback cover (and make it less obvious to the Mr Tullivers of this world that we had a severed head on the front of our young adult novel.)  The title font is Garamond, like most of the interior of the book, the eponymous typeface that can be traced back to Claude Garamond in the 1500s.  Garamond is one of the first fonts many of us read - it is the one used by Dr Seuss (also The Hunger Games trilogy and the US Harry Potter books.)  The ‘O’s are snakes eating their own tails, the main recurring image from the text, and the huge red circle represents the spiral of Evander’s destiny, alluded to on page 3.

Evander has “vague memories of his dad – a traveller’s hat, a pair of sandals, a staff – all somehow blended in Evander’s head with impossible images of wings and serpents”, all attributes of the Greek god Hermes.  Unlike his deadbeat father, “Evander’s mother refused to ever go away...  Evander had done so much and yet his mother was never appreciative.  When he taught his citizens the alphabet, his mother decided she could do better and changed fifteen of the letters to ones of her own invention.  When he slew a panther, his mother told Evander he was not bringing dead animals into any house of hers and threw out his leather clothes and bearskin blanket.”  According to Hyginus’s last fable from the turn of the first century, Nicostrate invented the Latin alphabet, and it was forbidden to wear leather or fur in her temple.  Coincidentally, considering the setting, I began writing these three pages on my way to Rome, and polished them after my trip.

The initial that begins the chapter represents Evander’s view, “lying on the Palatine hill with his two best friends, finding patterns in the stars.  Acoetes had pointed up towards the celestial dome, claiming he could see Mercury, but Carmenta contradicted this, saying that the god could not be seen in the sky.  Evander focused on what she had to say.  Evander focused upon Carmenta whenever she did anything – sometimes even when she did nothing.  Carmenta said it was Mercury’s job to ferry people’s souls from the Earth to the underworld, and so we shouldn’t be looking above us for such a god, but beneath us and amongst us.”  I believe this may be what we call foreshadowing.  The part where “She and Acoetes then began to joke about death, and Evander felt as if he were being pummelled in the stomach” actually happened to me - I still remember the moment I found out for the first time that nobody I knew was immortal.  See - semiautobiography - stick with me on the curves and we will always get back to the straight.


Bonus art - the colour version of Annalise's image from page zero:


Manfic Colour
So, I finally watched Joss Whedon’s newish film, Much Ado About Nothing.  The movie's not bad, but the dialogue isn’t up to Whedon’s usual level of wit, and sometimes it seems like characters are just speaking for the sake of adding polysyllables to the script.  Some even speak when no one else is around, breaking the fourth wall to explain their motivations instead of just showing us through their actions.  Despite this device, it can still be hard to follow what’s going on.  As far as I could tell, the plot is as follows:

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Illyria hate each other, probably because she’s taken on Winifred Burkle’s form permanently, even though he told her to “don’t ever be her” in ‘The Girl In Question’.  Wesley, Topher Brink and Mr Dominic have put Dr Simon Tam and Cheryl from Buffy in cable ties (for some reason) and they all go to Agent Coulson’s house.  Topher has a crush on Coulson’s daughter, so he gets Mr Dominic to ask her out for him.  They then decide to trick Wesley and Illyria into falling in love.  Simon convinces Topher that Miss Coulson is promiscuous, so he’ll be a total dick to her during their wedding ceremony.  Then Illyria, Agent Coulson and Wesley hatch a plot to convince Topher and Dominic that Miss Coulson is dead.  Captain Mal Reynalds and Andrew from Buffy show up, Cheryl calls Mal an ‘ass’ and they all prove Miss Coulson’s chastity.  They have another attempt at a wedding - Miss Coulson finally marries Topher, and Wesley marries Illyria.  The title is a good description of the plot, as ‘Much Ado’ is created ‘About Nothing.’  Also they make a big deal about Wesley shaving off his beard, presumbly because it demonstrates he's finally over his guilt for betraying Angel in ‘Sleep Tight’.

Overall, the film is mostly a device to demonstrate that Buffy and Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. all exist in a shared universe.  Despite its flaws, mischaracterisation and retcons, I look forward to more crossovers like this one.  (I think the sequel is called King Lear - I hear Cordelia's in it, so it should be interesting to see how Whedon brings her back from the dead.)

Round and Round: The Full Soundtrack.

Round and Round Colour
(Photo credit: David Pye.)

Each of my stories has a soundtrack - songs I listen to while writing, or that somehow encapsulate aspects of the plot.  (Annalise also drew inspiration from the songs for her artworks, not least of which for her triptych [as seen at our RAW exhibit] which literally and figuratively represents the lyrics for 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'.)  At the Round and Round book launch last Thursday, the novel's soundtrack was playing in the background.  Below, that soundtrack is broken up, chapter by chapter, over three CDs.  You can listen to it as you read the book, or listen to it afterwards, or not listen to it at all.

CD1.  Round and Round Chapters I-VI: The Soundtrack.

1.   ‘Do You Want To Play?’ by Jewel.
2.   ‘Fred Jones Part 2’ (live) by Ben Folds.
3.   ‘Berlin Chair’ (acoustic) by Smudge.
4.   ‘Somebody Told Me’ by The Killers.
5.   ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ (‘You Only Live Once’ demo) by The Strokes.
6.   ‘A Design for Life’ (Stealth Sonic Orchestra Remix) by Manic Street Preachers.
7.   ‘Everybody’s Changing’ by Keane.
8.   ‘Prettiest Eyes’ by The Beautiful South.
9.   ‘Cattle and Cane’ by The Go-Betweens.
10. ‘Purple Sneakers’ by You Am I.
11. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by Tori Amos.
12. ‘Dirty Dream Number Two’ by Belle & Sebastian.
13. ‘Cherish’ by Renato Russo.
14. ‘Rhythm And Blues Alibi’ (Pre-Mellotron Version) by Gomez.
15. ‘June Gloom’ by The Like.

CD1.  Round and Round Chapters I-VI: The Soundtrack.

I: The Wheels on the Bus Go.

1.   ‘Do You Want To Play?’ by Jewel.

“Are you only half-alive?”

2.   ‘Fred Jones Part 2’ (live) by Ben Folds.

“The passengers change,
They don’t change anything:
You get off,
Someone else can get on.”

3.   ‘Berlin Chair’ (acoustic) by Smudge.

“I’m the rerun that you’ll always force yourself to sit through.”

4.   ‘Somebody Told Me’ by The Killers.

“Heaven ain’t close in a place like this.”

5.   ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ (‘You Only Live Once’ demo) by The Strokes.

“To go through school,
Either you’re noticed or left out.”

II: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

6.   ‘A Design for Life’ (Stealth Sonic Orchestra Remix) by Manic Street Preachers.

“Libraries gave us power,
Then work came and made us free.”

III: Mortal Coil.

7.   ‘Everybody’s Changing’ by Keane.

“Try to understand that I’m
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game,
Trying to stay awake and remember my name
Because everybody’s changing
And I don’t feel the same.”

8.   ‘Prettiest Eyes’ by The Beautiful South.

“Well the bus shelter’s always okay
When you’re young.”

9.   ‘Cattle and Cane’ by The Go-Betweens.

“A bigger, brighter world:
A world of books
And silent times in thought.”

IV: Environmental Reasoning.

10. ‘Purple Sneakers’ by You Am I.

“Do you need somebody
To feel somebody?”

V: Controlled Damage.

11. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by Tori Amos.

“I want to shoot the whole day down.”

12. ‘Dirty Dream Number Two’ by Belle & Sebastian.

“In a town so small there’s no escaping you.”

VI: The Fall.

13. ‘Cherish’ by Renato Russo.

“Romeo and Juliet -
They never felt this way I bet.”

14. ‘Rhythm And Blues Alibi’ (Pre-Mellotron Version) by Gomez.

“Try anything twice.
Chasing after stories that have already been told.”

15. ‘June Gloom’ by The Like.

“Looks like the end of days
But it takes so much more
For anyone to say
We need another way.
But if we wanted one
We’d do it just the same.”

CD2.  Round and Round Chapters VII-IX: The Soundtrack.

1.   ‘In Your Car’ by Kenickie.
2.   ‘Unsent Letter’ by MGF.
3.   ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ by Morrissey.
4.   ‘Tranquillizer’ by Geneva.
5.   ‘Bobby Fischer’ by Lazy Susan.
6.   ‘A New England’ by Billy Bragg.
7.   ‘Little by Little’ by Oasis.
8.   ‘Incomplete Lullaby’ by Lisa Mitchell.
9.   ‘Butterflies & Hurricanes’ by Muse.
10. ‘A Sorta Fairytale’ by Tori Amos.
11. ‘Release Me’ by The Like.
12. ‘Hey Jupiter’ (The Dakota Version) by Tori Amos.
13. ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ by Gotye.
14. ‘St. Swithin’s Day’ (live) by Dubstar.
15. ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed.

CD2.  Round and Round Chapters VII-IX: The Soundtrack.

VII: Objects in Mirror are Closer than they Appear.

1.   ‘In Your Car’ by Kenickie.

“I get so tired of walking.
I’m in heaven:
I have been told.
I’m in heaven.
I’m too young to feel so old.”

2.   ‘Unsent Letter’ by MGF.

“With a girl who seems all right
And another one who’s better.”

3.   ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ by Morrissey.

“Come, Armageddon, come!”

VIII: Parental Guidance Recommended.

4.   ‘Tranquillizer’ by Geneva.

“Until it all seemed pointless,
We lifted up the mattress
From underneath the window seat.
Is this what checkmate means?”

5.   ‘Bobby Fischer’ by Lazy Susan.

“If I don’t concentrate
She’ll have me at checkmate.”

6.   ‘A New England’ by Billy Bragg.

“I saw two shooting stars last night.
I wished on them, but they were only satellites.
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.”

7.   ‘Little by Little’ by Oasis.

“My god woke up on the wrong side of his bed.”

8.   ‘Incomplete Lullaby’ by Lisa Mitchell.

“A second look;
Like a burning leaf of an open book.”

IX: The Butterfly Effect.

9.   ‘Butterflies & Hurricanes’ by Muse.

“Change everything you are
And everything you were.”

10. ‘A Sorta Fairytale’ by Tori Amos.

“Like a good book, I can’t put this day back.”

11. ‘Release Me’ by The Like.

“You’re a boy that I could love
And all I do is run
And still I keep you hoping someday soon our day will come.”

12. ‘Hey Jupiter’ (The Dakota Version) by Tori Amos.

“Sometimes I breathe you in
And I know you know.”

13. ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ by Gotye.

“In the end,
You just repeat yourself again.
When you don’t know who you are,
You dig yourself the hole you’re in.”

14. ‘St. Swithin’s Day’ (live) by Dubstar.
“I miss the thunder; I miss the rain,
And the fact that you don’t understand
Casts a shadow.”

15. ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed.

“Such a perfect day,
You just keep me hanging on.
You just keep me hanging on.
You’re going to reap just what you sow.”

CD3.  Round and Round Chapters X-XII (plus ‘1A’): The Soundtrack.

1.   ‘The Saturday Boy’ by Billy Bragg.
2.   ‘Juicebox’ by The Strokes.
3.   ‘Something’s Got to Give’ by Kenickie.
4.   ‘Regret’ by New Order.
5.   ‘Gone’ by Ben Folds.
6.   ‘Older Than You’ by Eskimo Joe.
7.   ‘Live Forever’ (live) by Oasis.
8.   ‘There Goes the Fear’ by Doves.
9.   ‘History Never Repeats’ (live) by Crowded House.
10. ‘The Girl Who Wanted To Be God’ by Manic Street Preachers.
11. ‘Summertime’ by The Sundays.
12. ‘From a Balance Beam’ by Bright Eyes.
13. ‘Distant Sun’ (live) by Crowded House.
14. ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths.
15. ‘Belinda’ by Ben Folds & Nick Hornby.

CD3.  Round and Round Chapters X-XII (plus ‘1A’): The Soundtrack.

X: Clash of the Titans.

1.   ‘The Saturday Boy’ by Billy Bragg.

“I never made the first team - I just made the first team laugh,
And she never came to the phone, she was always in the bath.
In the end it took me a dictionary
To find out the meaning of unrequited.”

2.   ‘Juicebox’ by The Strokes.

“Old time grudges will die so slowly.
I know you miss the way I saw you.”

3.   ‘Something’s Got to Give’ by Kenickie.

“This is no way to live.”

XI: Noah’s Ark.

4.   ‘Regret’ by New Order.

“Save it for another day –
It’s the school exam
And the kids have run away.”

5.   ‘Gone’ by Ben Folds.

“If you think that you feel nothing at all –
If you don’t
Then you don’t.”

6.   ‘Older Than You’ by Eskimo Joe.

“I chose to take this moment
To tell you I’m leaving.”

XII: Full Circle.

7.   ‘Live Forever’ (live) by Oasis.

“Maybe I just want to fly.
Want to live,
I don’t want to die.”

8.   ‘There Goes the Fear’ by Doves.

“Don’t look back when you break all ties.
Think of me.”

9.   ‘History Never Repeats’ (live) by Crowded House.

“I was so young, too blind to see,
But anyway, that’s history
And I say history never repeats.”

10. ‘The Girl Who Wanted To Be God’ by Manic Street Preachers.

“Black out the words, for the blind have eyes.”

11. ‘Summertime’ by The Sundays.

“Have I read too much fiction?”

12. ‘From a Balance Beam’ by Bright Eyes.

“You have waited for this day and finally
You are free.”


13. ‘Distant Sun’ (live) by Crowded House.

“It’s easy to forget what you learned
Waiting for the thrill to return -
Feeling your desire burn
And you’re drawn to the flame”

14. ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths.

“To die by your side,
Well the pleasure, the privilege is mine.
There is a light and it never goes out.”

15. ‘Belinda’ by Ben Folds & Nick Hornby.

“I met somebody younger on a plane.
She had big breasts;
A nice smile;
No kids either.
She gave me complimentary champagne.”

Election 2013: The Hapax Report.

Manfic Colour
One of the oddest outcomes of the 2013 Australian election is the number of people who seem to be surprised by the result.  There really weren’t a whole bunch of ways that this election was going to go down.   Basically there were two.  And the one that happened was a heck of a lot more likely than the other.  So I’m not sure what sort of deus ex machina people expected. Perhaps they thought that aliens would drop from the skies at 10pm on Saturday night and declare themselves the new rulers of our nation.  Sadly, for anyone who endured Rudd’s concession or Abbott’s victory speech, the aliens never arrived.  (Or they did, but were redirected to PNG for processing).  Another oddity is the number of people who have unironically decided that they are more intelligent than the majority of Australians, because a majority of Australians didn’t vote for the Labor party.  And the third piece of oddness is that people still seem to forget that we don’t have a presidential system.

Out of the 200-odd countries in the world, Australia is empirically the sixth most democratic, only beaten by Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and New Zealand.  We are one of only twenty-five full democracies.  We have free, fair elections with transparent rules, open campaigning and no bans on parties (however stupid they may seem from the outside).  The fact that we live in a country where the opposition even can come into power should be celebrated, not condemned.  If anyone wanted to be part of an election with a rigged government this year then they could always have relocated to Kenya, Venezuela, Malaysia, Cambodia or Zimbabwe.  It seems clear from my Facebook newsfeed that they’d rather be ruled by Robert Mugabe than Tony Abbott.

On the subject of whom... Australia still doesn't have a presidential system.  The only people who voted for Tony Abbot live in the electorate of Warringah.  Everybody else voted for his or her local member.  If you believe that everyone who voted for the coalition was voting for an idiot in the Northern Beaches, then - by the same logic - everyone who voted Labor was voting for a narcissistic psychopath in the electorate of Griffith.  I’ve lived through seven prime ministers.  Eight if you count Rudd twice.  And none of them has made a noteworthy difference to life in Australia as I know it.  (The one possible exception to this is the Howard government’s changes to the gun laws.  I like living in a country in which I’m unlikely to be shot.  Again, if you are into being shot to death, South Africa, Colombia, Swaziland, El Salvador and Honduras are amongst your best options.)

You are lucky to live in a country where you have the right to completely miss the irony of flooding my Facebook feed with claims that the majority of Australians who voted in the new government are more ignorant and uneducated than yourself (even though your own post is riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors.)  You are lucky to live in a country where you have the right to not understand that the make-up of the senate will be one of the factors that prevents the government from having the kind of power you are claiming to fear.  And you are lucky to live in a country where - come tomorrow morning - the sun will rise again and life will be much as it always has been.

Unless we’re invaded by aliens.


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Greetings, citizens of Canberra.  Did you know that the Department of Home Affairs received 764 suggested names for our fine town?  And that “Canberra” got twelve votes while “Austral City” received eighteen?  We should be living in Austral City.  How cool would that be?  I’d feel like I was living in a comic book.  Other potentials included “Eucalypta,” “Kangaremu,” “Eros,” “Thirstyville,” “Cookaburra,” “Paradise,” “Captain Cook,” “Shakespeare,” “Myola,” "Wheatwoolgold,” “Emu,” “Opossum,” “Gladstone,” “Cromwell,” “New London,” “Victoria Defendera Defender” and “Sydmeladperbrisho” (which, when spoken aloud, may sound a little more like a sexist slur than an appropriate name for our nation’s capital.)  Another of Canberra’s would-be titles was “Olympus”.  Which segues me to Round and Round.

Round and Round is, at its core, a novel about growing up in Canberra.  Waratah High is Telopea Park School, Narrabundah College and Canberra Grammar.  Tartarus airport is Canberra airport.  The Flower Man is the guy on the side of the Cotter Road who’s now been selling flowers to Canberrans from his van for the past twenty-five years.  The Poseidon Bus Service is ACTION.  Unless you are a lawyer.  In which case all bus services appearing in Round and Round are fictitious and any resemblance to real bus services, good or bad, is purely coincidental.

Both the writer and illustrator of Round and Round will be displaying their (our) work at RAW Canberra next Wednesday the 4th of September.  (More information here.)  If you buy a ticket for RAW Canberra in support of us (under the not-at-all-pretentious name of ‘The Elysian Mysteries’) then you will receive a $16.65 discount on the paperback version of Round and Round when it goes up for pre-sale in... about a week.  So if you were planning to buy the novel anyway, you get a free ticket to RAW.  And if you were planning on going to RAW anyway, you get a free discount on Round and Round.  Bargain.

In order to sign up for this amazing offer, you’ll need to buy your ticket at some point over the next two days from here:

And that's it!  We hope to see you at RAW.

Pitcharama Entry: Round and Round.

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Manuscript Title: Round and Round.

Author: Jordan Morris.

Age group: YA.

Genre: Commercial Young Adult Fiction.

Word count: 89,000.

250 word blurb:

Everyone thinks their high school is hell.  Students in the town of Tartarus might actually be right.

In 1254 BC, Evander, the founder of Rome is forsaken by his father, the gods and the girl he loves.  One hundred and ten reincarnations later, little has changed.  Bastian Vandenberg’s fate as a fifteen year-old is still governed by godlike elders.  He spends five days a week at school, following a timetable set out by adults.  His home is owned and ruled by parents who govern food, money and shelter. Sebastian has no control over the public transportation that ferries him from home to school and back again.  He even finds himself powerless over his feelings for Dora Peterson and Evie Smith. And his uncontrollable best friend Noah is going to get him stuck in detention (if not a youth detention centre.)

Round and Round is the story of these four students grasping at control of their own destinies and trying to break free of their tragic flaws.  Over twelve months, while dealing with teenage relationships, football, student council and schoolwork the students uncover a mystery.  It begins with the disappearance of the school’s most gifted pupils and leads to a conspiracy that goes all the way up to the principal and the head of the school board.  At which point, four teenage mortals take up the task of bringing down the gods.

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So I've come up with my top twenty songs by different artists that came out in the past twenty years and got into previous Triple J Hottest 100s.  I've also come up with a top fifty (including thirty songs that didn't quite make it in.)  The two conspicuous absences are Muse and Oasis.  For Muse, it's too hard to pick a single song, except Butterflies and Hurricanes, which didn't make it into a Hottest 100 and thus was against my self-enforced rules.  And likewise, the wrong Oasis songs made it into Hottest 100s. The top 20 I voted for (and then 21-50) in alphabetical order, not order of achievement are:

1. Ben Folds - Not The Same
2. Blur - For Tomorrow
3. Coldplay - Yellow
4. Crowded House - Distant Sun
5. Eskimo Joe - Older Than You
6. Gomez - We Haven't Turned Around
7. James - Laid
8. Lana Del Rey - Video Games
9. Manic Street Preachers - If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
10. MGMT - Time To Pretend
11. New Order - Regret.
12. Operator Please - Get What You Want
13. Pulp - Common People
14. Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees
15. Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars
16. Suede - The Drowners
17. The Sundays - Summertime
18. The Verve - The Drugs Don't Work
19. Tori Amos - A Sorta Fairytale
20. You Am I - Berlin Chair


21. Ash - Goldfinger
22. Billy Bragg - Sexuality
23. Bob Evans - Don't You Think It's Time
24. Dandy Warhols - You Were The Last High
25. Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Possess Your Heart
26. Florence And The Machine - Spectrum (Say My Name)
27. Garbage - Vow
28. George - Bastard Son
29. Gerling - Enter Spacecapsule (Guitarsarecool Remix)
30. Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know
31. Hole - Celebrity Skin
32. Kanye West - Runaway
33. Lily Allen - Everything's Just Wonderful
34. Lisa Mitchell - Spiritus
35. Little Birdy - Relapse
36. Machine Gun Fellatio - Unsent Letter
37. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. - Bang Bang Bang
38. My Chemical Romance - Welcome To The Black Parade
39. Pet Shop Boys - Can You Forgive Her?
40. Regurgitator - ! (Song Formerly Known As)
41. San Cisco - Awkward
42. Spiller - Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)
43. Supergrass - Alright
44. Teenage Fanclub - Sparky's Dream
45. The Killers - Somebody Told Me
46. The Smashing Pumpkins - 1979
47. The Strokes - You Only Live Once
48. The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
49. The Vines - Highly Evolved
50. Travis - Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

With hindsight, I shouldn't have voted for The Drowners since it came out in 1992, but... it's Suede.



I've come up with my twenty favourite songs that actually made it in:

1 (99): Lana Del Rey - Video Games (2011)
2 (23): Muse - Knights of Cydonia (2007)
3 (75): The Killers - Somebody Told Me (2004)
4 (66): You Am I - Berlin Chair (1994)
5 (49): Florence + the Machine - Dog Days Are Over (2009)
6 (41): Coldplay - Yellow (2000)
7 (9): Gotye - Somebody That I Used to Know {Ft. Kimbra} (2011)
8 (83): Pulp - Common People (1995)
9 (13): Radiohead - Paranoid Android (1997)
10 (22): Blur - Song 2 (1997)
11 (64): MGMT - Kids (2008)
12 (70): Regurgitator - ! (The Song Formerly Known As) (1998)
13 (87): The Kooks - Naïve (2006)
14 (39): Nirvana - Heart Shaped Box (1993)
15 (1): Oasis - Wonderwall (1995)
16 (53): Placebo - Every You Every Me (1999)
17 (21): The Smashing Pumpkins - 1979 (1996)
18 (48): The Strokes - Last Nite (2001)
19 (51): The Dandy Warhols - Bohemian Like You (2000)
20 (38): The Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition (2008)

The order above is based on the order the songs have been played on my iTunes, which hasn't been cleared in the past two years.  Obviously that doesn't judge how often I listen to them on CD or listened to these songs for the other eighteen years of the past twenty, and it's a bit confused by 'doubles' but it's a start.  The number in brackets is where it came in the Triple J voting. After not voting for Muse due to having to make a decision, it turns out that Knights of Cydonia is actually the ninth most-played song on my iTunes.  (It could possibly be supposed to be even higher than that since I have it twice on my iTunes and apparently seem to listen to both versions without a clear preference.  Also, I was even harder on Oasis, since Little By Little made it into the 2002 Hottest 100 and is the sixth-most played song on my iTunes.  Video Games is #1, so it wins above.)  I was thinking it was weird that there was only one Nirvana song in the countdown, and then realised Kurt hasn't been alive for nineteen years.  And that reminded me of my own mortality.  Sweet Disposition and Naïve didn't originally fulfil my voting criteria, but now that they've made a Hottest 100, they do.

There are six songs so mind-numbing that if I've actually heard them before, my brain has wiped them from my memory to prevent me from going into a coma.  I couldn't pick out these songs from a line up if they'd just gone Dexter on everyone I know right in front of me.  Which they wouldn't do because they're too boring. How they be anyone's favourite song from the past twenty years is beyond me.  They are: 61: The Black Keys - Lonely Boy (2011), 67: alt-J - Breezeblocks (2012), 73: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Home (2009), 89: TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me (2006), 57: Bloc Party - Banquet (2004) and 81: Angus & Julia Stone - Big Jet Plane (2010).

And the ten absolute worst songs in the Hottest 100 of the past twenty years are:

33: The Cranberries - Zombie (1994)
28: Red Hot Chili Peppers - Scar Tissue (1999)
30: Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication (2000)
93: Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun (1994)
26: System Of A Down - Chop Suey! (2001)
43: John Butler Trio - Betterman (2001)
4: Hilltop Hoods - The Nosebleed Section (2003)
88: Something For Kate - Monsters (2001)
63: Grinspoon - Chemical Heart (2002)
10: Powderfinger - My Happiness (2000) and 8: Powderfinger - These Days (1999) (Since these are basically the same song with different words, they can share a place.)

My Life As A Geek.

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I was born in 1977, the year in which Star Wars came out on this very day 36 years ago.  (Back then it was just called "Star Wars": "Episode IV" and "A New Hope" were 1981 retcons.)  In preschool I had a double-figure reading age and tested at some kind of Mensa-for-five-year-olds level, so my parents sent me to a private girls' school from kindergarten to second grade.  There's no typo between "private" and "school" in that sentence, but something about it may help explain why boys would continue to call me a "girl" for at least the succeeding decade.  Also on this day in 1983, Return Of The Jedi was released.  That same year, a group of five of us in 'prep' (the year after kindy and before first grade) were given extended group work and I was then specifically targeted to be regularly taken away for one-on-one 'gifted' tutorials for the next three years.  Early in this process, the school bought an object.  Now - from kindergarten to year 6 - the school had a single one of these items, called a 'computer'.  Even decades later, whenever Mum bumped into Mrs Modulski (the 'Computer Lady'), Mrs M would recount that for three years, whenever the computer crashed, she would have to head off to the infants school in order to fetch Jordan to fix it.  Computers are one of the tropes of geekdom, but I wouldn't call myself a computer geek.  Still, if you need your Apple II fixed, feel free to message me.  I don't know if I was ever happier than I was over those four years of infants' school, but at the end of Second Grade, the education system seemed to realise their mistake and moved me to a boys' school from year 3.

I must have continued to be amongst the top three students in my classes for the rest of primary school since I won an Academic Prize every year from 1986 to 1989.  There were three Academic Prizes and one Citizenship Prize for each class.  The 'Citizenship' Prize was based on popular vote, and I still remember being shoved aside by a third grade student who didn't appreciate the distinction between citizenship and academia.  He told me, "I don't know why you got one - nobody likes you."  There may be an allegory in there about popularity and geekiness, (or just being me) but something about that altercation never left me, to the point that a version of it made its way into Round and Round, my first novel.  Geeks are traditionally rubbish at sport, although to call me rubbish at sport would be an insult to rubbish.  My (still) best friend and I won the 'Pairs 11' category at the ACT Orienteering final, and I was Orienteering Captain in year 6.  That's pretty much emblematic of my ineptitude at sport, since orienteering is running for geeks.  I have won one trophy in my life: it was in year six, for topping the school in the Maths Olympiad.  I was in the band, two choirs, was a student librarian and went to an early-morning class run by the headmaster called 'Academics'.  Although all of that is emblematic of my geekiness in primary school, it doesn't serve to explain why I'm still a geek now.

In high school I was a comic book geek.  While the other teenage boys cut out swimsuit advertisements and glued them onto their folders, mine was a lever-arch covered in images from X-Men #1 and preserved in clear contact.  For my year seven 'Winter Project' I wrote, drew, coloured and lettered a seventy-page comic book, which I still have somewhere.  I felt butterflies as I made my weekly pilgrimages to Impact Records - my local comic shop - and spent all the money that a less geeky teenager would have spent on fashion, recreational drugs, socialising and girls.  Still, I wasn't necessarily a proud geek.  I would hide my folder under my arm between classes and only occasionally wore my X-Force, The Maxx or death of Superman T-shirts in public.  And I was still a music geek in bands, orchestras, and choirs, culminating in the awesomely-long title "Vice-Captain Of Concert Bands".  I did my 'college' years in the UK, where I became a ravenous music trivia geek, devouring NME and Melody Maker each week and spending all the fashion/drug/socialising/girl money on CDs and the occasional concert.  In a way, I ultimately won my wife as a music trivia prize from the Wig and Pen and Impact Records.  (That's a different story.)

In the wake of geek chic and modern hipsters, people outside the subculture of geekdom don't necessarily understand what it entails.  Back on today's topic of Star Wars, people can believe they're Star Wars geeks just because they like the films, and that's great.  The last two novels I reread were Star Wars books, I'm currently rereading one, and the next eight in my pile are Star Wars novels too.  I've collected Star Wars action figures, read about a hundred more Star Wars novels, spent days of my life playing Star Wars computer games, and fourteen years ago I went to the Australian premiere of The Phantom Menace in a Jedi cloak.  I don't think of myself as a Star Wars geek.  In geek terms, I feel like that's just the minimum functional knowledge and activity one needs in order to have a passing interest in Star Wars.  A geek was originally a circus freak who bit the heads off chickens.  To be a geek, one inherently needs to be an outcast from the mainstream.  Being a cool person who likes Star Wars doesn't make one a geek, it just makes one a cool person who likes Star Wars.  I am a geek, but it's not because of Star Wars.  To find out why - if you're in Canberra, tune in to 98.3 2XX between 6pm and 8 (probably about 6:30pm) tonight (Saturday the 25th of May) to find out why on a very special Geek Pride Day episode of NBC radio.  (If you're not in Canberra, listen online here.)


2XX is currently raising money via its 2013 radiothon here.  As a geek, I will point out that a marathon is thusly named because it's the distance Pheidippides supposedly ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens.  "Thon" isn't a suffix meaning anything to do with endurance.  But the radiothon is a good cause nonetheless.

And please 'like' Round and Round here.


Happy (Chinese) New Year!

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A new promo page and the launch of a new website for a new year...

Click on the image and 'like' on Facebook to stay in the loop.

(Ha. Loop. Pun subconsciously intended, if I know myself.)

Feb. 10th, 2013

Manfic Colour

Round and Round Colour
Greetings!  If you are reading this and haven't already liked the Round and Round Facebook Fanpage, could you pretty-please do so?  Only eleven more likes and Facebook will determine it to be a sufficiently deluxe fanpage to give me access to 'insights' and analytics that will be truly useful in the year ahead.  Also it will mean I can create a shorter and more memorable URL for the fanpage rather than the ridiculously long  Not that 271654286194959 is a difficult number to remember - it's merely pi to thirteen decimal places, multiplied by 100,000,000,000,000, minus 42504979164019.  Simple really.  (To remember pi to 13 places merely requires remembering the following sentence: "How I like a drink, alcoholic of course, after his vapid lectures involving molossus."  Count the letters of each word and you get 31415926535898.  Insert a decimal point after the first 3 and you're sorted.)

As a reward for your awesomeness, here's a teaser preview of a minute fraction of what's to come over the year ahead, three days before it technically makes sense:

Back To The Eighties.

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When I got up today, I didn't expect it would be quite so Eighties.  Here I am in a DeLorean DMC-12 from Back To The Future, and a t-shirt featuring Elliott from E.T. and an H.R. Giger Alien from Aliens:

(I should have remembered to lift my glasses.)

(Love the Canberra number plate and flux capacitor.)

And this new street has just appeared 500 metres from my house:

Peter Cullen is the name of the actor who played (and still plays to this day) the voice of Optimus Prime from Transformers.  Amongst countless other gigs, he's also the voice of Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh, Murky Dismal from Rainbow Brite, Venger from Dungeons & Dragons, K.A.R.R. from Knight Rider and the narrator from Voltron.  (Peter Cullen was also the name of a great Australian environmentalist.  But I'd like to imagine that the street is named after Optimus Prime.)


(Thanks to Callum for his DeLorean.)
Manfic Colour

"We're going to write one album, sell sixteen million copies and then split up." (Nicky Wire, 1991.)

Twenty years and ten studio albums later... that clearly didn't happen.  Nevertheless, Generation Terrorists, Manic Street Preachers' first album is still one of my desert island discs, and for its 20th anniversary Sony has made it even better.  Or at least even longer, with two bonus CDs of demos, rarities, B-sides and one extra track on top of their already-drawn-out 18-track début.

As I wrote earlier this year: for some questions, I'll never know the answer.  Like "where will you be in ten years' time?"  Or "what's the actual definition of a sport?"  Or "where does a snake's tail begin?"  Like "do you drink soup or eat it?"  Or "why is there a light in the fridge but not the freezer?"  Or "who'd win in a fight between a shark and a crocodile?"   But "What's your favourite song?" is a question I can answer (and often have answered) in an instant: 'Motorcycle Emptiness'.  Track four and the high point of Generation Terrorists, 'Motorcycle Emptiness' is an anti-consumerism anthem, loosely based on Rumble Fish, one of S. E. Hinton's young adult novels that I read in primary school.  Musically it's a combination of two very early Manics songs, one of which is included on CD 3.  Bizarrely, the home demo of 'Behave Yourself Baby' is the Manics sounding like The Seekers crossed with Belle & Sebastian and a sixties girl group rather than the Guns 'n' Roses of Generation Terrorists, but it's where the Middle 8 of 'Motorcycle Emptiness' originated.  'Go, Buzz Baby, Go!' isn't here on the album, but it made up much of the rest of the song, and it totally sounds like Ratcat. Finally, there are a couple of stories about how James Dean Bradfield came up with the most uplifting guitar riff ever.  One is that he dreamt it, the other is that (like the piano hook from Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello) he ripped it off Dancing Queen.  Put it all together and you have the greatest song ever written, about youth culture as a product and as an alternative to the mainstream.

"We'll never write a love song, ever.  Full stop.  Or a ballad."  (Nicky Wire, 1991.)

Yes, ultimately, they did both of those things, but on Generation Terrorists, 'Motorcycle Emptiness' flows straight into 'You Love Us' - not a ballad, and not actually a love song unless the line "throw some acid into your face" is able to be included in a love song.  Live, this is one of those songs where the pogoing audience shouts along - does the crowd love the Manics or do the Manics love the crowd?  (Both.)  The better original Heavenly single release is now included on CD 2.

As became a Manics tradition, in the liner notes each track include a quotations from the likes of the Futurists, Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, Camus, Confucius, Ibsen, George Orwell, Nietszche and Chuck D.  For protest-singing punks, the early Manics music didn't always preach in a transparent fashion - between James's diction and Nicky and Richey's lyrics, some of the protests can be downright unintelligible.  On the other hand, Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds is clearly about banking.  It's either a Nostradamus-like prediction of the GFC, or Nicky ranting about the fact that the banks wouldn't give him a mortgage.  One of the most intriguing things about Manic Street Preachers songs is that there's rarely any rhyme or metre and yet somehow it works.  There's only one rhyming couplet in all of Little Baby Nothing - written to be a duet with Kylie Minogue but instead was sung with Traci Lords the then-24-year-old retired porn star.  At the time the song was recorded, Lords had started her career in porn nine years before.  The fact that a teen actress and teen porn star were both appropriate for the song is intriguing, but both of them fit.  Kylie did finally sing her part live fifteen years later at the Brixton Academy.

Finally, for the 20th anniversary version, the Manics' cover of 'Suicide is Painless' is a nineteenth and bonus track.  In a bizarre coincidence as I sat here writing this review, Channel Ten's The Project played James Dean Bradfield's guitar riff from that version of the song over a report on the mental health of employers.

Generation Terrorists is far from a perfect album.  'Repeat' lives up to its iterative title as both track 8 and track 13, and GT also breaks my own rule about albums not having cover songs on albums (their thankfully more concise version of 'Damn Dog', from the film Times Square.)  The original album didn't even include 'Motown Junk', one of the highlights of early MSP and stronger than most of the tracks that made it in (it's now on CD2.  Twice.)  It's not even the Manics' own best album, or even in the top two.  Like Caesar, the early Manics were hopelessly ambitious and hubristic.  On vinyl, Generation Terrorists was a double-album that they wanted to release with a sandpaper sleeve so it would gradually (or instantly) destroy itself and the albums shelved beside it.  That also didn't happen.  What it was released with was a cover image of Manics lyricist and air-guitarist Richey Edwards' torso and bicep, his Useless Generation tattoo airbrushed into the album title.  Interestingly the shot didn't include Richey's forearm where he'd carved the words '4 REAL' with a razor during the infamous interview in which Steve Lamacq claimed they weren't.  In 1992, the Manic Street Preachers really were the pissed-off alienated youths they claimed to be.  Their passion was real - they never set out to be anyone's second-favourite band.

So I now own two copies of Generation Terrorists.  It's not sixteen million, but it's a start.

Avengers Arena #1 Review: Snatching Fire.

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So I’m reading Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  Apparently I’m not the only one:

That’s Arcade in today’s Avengers Arena from Marvel.  Yes, it’s The Hunger Games with super powers, and writer Dennis Hopeless is clearly not afraid of shining a meta-spotlight on the high concept.  Sixteen young heroes in Murderworld have thirty days to kill everyone else if they individually want to survive.  Or they could threaten to eat some berries or something.  The characters in approximate reverse order of fame are Darkhawk, X-23, Nico Minoru, Chase Stein, Reptil, Hazmat, Mettle, Juston Seyfert (and his Sentinel), Cammi, Kid Briton, Nara, Ryker, Anachronism, Bloodstone (not Elsa), Apex and Red Raven.

And... some more of Arcade's meta-commentary, above.  Avengers Academy only finished last month, and the concept of this new book is that only one of five of those Academics may survive.  Since Page 1 of this issue is a flashforward to Day 29, we know that at least X-23 and Hazmat make it that far.  X-23 is the female clone of Wolverine and Hazmat’s a living Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, so perhaps their longevity isn’t too surprising.  Runaways fans (of which I have been one since 2003) are no doubt going to be rooting for Nico and Chase.  And Ryker, the cute little Deathlok cyborg girl is set to be a new fan favourite regardless of whether or not she even survives another issue.  Because of its serialised nature, Avengers Arena may actually be structured like a reality TV show: kill one character an issue.  Two pages of this issue are devoted to breaking Scream’s first rule-to-successfully-survive-a horror-movie, so there may be some genre-logic to who will or will not survive.

If I ever got a job at Marvel, one of the concepts I planned to write about was a supervillain makeover crew, dedicated to taking villains who are a joke and making them an actual threat.  Arcade was the first character on their list.  And the best thing about Avengers Arena is that after thirty-four years of looking like a ginger seventies sideshow ventriloquist’s dummy, Arcade has finally been visited by Queer Eye For The Bad Guy.  He let his hair grow long, lost some weight, bought a fitted suit and got rid of the stupid bowtie.  He looks like a serious supervillain and a serious threat, which is what this series needs.  Kev Walker’s art makes Arcade scary for the first time.

Well done, Hopeless and Walker - I look forward to issue #2.  (Just as long as you don’t kill Ryker.)

Commandrons II: Solardyn and The Copy-bots.

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Last week, I advocated that McDonald’s is the biggest toy distributor in the world.  An incalculable number of Happy Meals are sold each day, and with a new toy or two every single week.  For one week in the September of 1985, it was Solardyn’s turn in the commercial spotlight.

As suggested on his collectors' card above, Solardyn was actually the third of the Commandrons to be released - I'm reviewing him first as a tribute to Laramus-Prime's Solardyn Headshot design, which inspired me to embark upon this whole Commandron quest in the first place.

Solardyn's transformation is simple - stand him upright, flip up his face, flip over his arms and pull out his hands.  In fact it's so simple that I'm not sure why it takes seven steps in the above instructions, except that they wanted to show off his awesome elbow articulation.  On the subject of articulation, Solardyn's is so awesome that he can actually do the head-up-arms-forward 'Superman' pose from the opening pages of the comic book:

Okay, so the toy is just sitting there in vehicle mode, but believe me, he can do it.  One of the most ingenious aspects of the Commandron design is that the pull-back motor mechanism is super-fast when horizontally speeding across the floor, yet substantially slowed down when walking upright.

Like all the Commandron toys, Solardyn is cream, red and blue with chrome hands, rubber wheels and a translucent brown plastic windcreen.  Each of them is stickered with two grey, red and blue stickers for vehicle mode and one red orange and white sticker for robot - in Solardyn's case it's his face.

Solardyn came with 'The Copy-bots', issue #3 of the Commandron minicomics, the summary of which is:

"Will success spoil the Commandrons?  The evil robot-maker Sylvester Slag has a fiendish plan in store for them: He’s unleashed a sinister quartet of Commandron replicas called Copy-bots!  Capable of unlimited destruction, the Copy-bots are threating Metroplex harbour - and the Commandrons must race to stop them!"

Yeah...  Probably the most interesting aspect of this issue is its cover:

It's a homage to the cover of X-Men #100 by Dave Cockrum and Dan Crespi:

Which in turn was coincidentally homaged by another comic book I own, Brute Force #4.  Brute Force is one of the toylines to suffer even more than the Commandrons, owing to the fact that it never actually existed.  In my other identity as Drancron, I supply some more information about that here.

Next week... another Commandron.

"A Strange Pair Of Reds" Indeed.

Manfic Colour
This might amuse anyone who enjoyed my Batman post last year:

I love Geoff Senior's art.  I actually own some of his original pencil/ink/whiteout pages:

(Framing and hanging my 2D artistic possessions is on my eternally never-quite achieved list of stuff to do.)

Dawn Of The Commandrons.

Horizons Colour
The 1980s were the decade for robot toylines.  Stores full of Transformers, GoBots (Machine Men here in Australia), Voltron, Robotech, two-Star-Wars-films-worth of droid toys and many more hung on pegs or sat on shelves to be snapped up by kids and their tolerant parents.  For every one of these that has stood the test of time, there were dozens that died in a puddle of oil not too far from the production line.  In the 80s, toy company Tomy's biggest robot success was Zoids (briefly called Robo Strux), their main line of walking-and-rolling robots, but they liked to put their eggs in multiple baskets.  Not hugely dissimilar baskets, however - walking-and-rolling robots was the thing Tomy did well, so they did it a lot.  They designed the walking-and-rolling robots that became Sky Lynx and Omega Supreme for Hasbro's Transformers, and also their own secondary line of walking-and-rolling (and spinning) robots called Starriors.  One of Tomy's 1985 franchises that received wide release as toys were their walking-and-rolling-robots called the Commandrons.  These were released internationally by the biggest toy distributor in the world - McDonald's.

One thing that was not widely distributed however was the supplementary material in the form of cardbacks with collectors' cards and DC minicomics.  These received a limited test market distribution, which meant that any canonical information about the Commandrons is scarce.  And thus, for what appears to be the first time on the internet, I reveal and retell... DC and Tomy's origin of the Commandrons:

The planet Havon has been divided into isolated populations by natural disasters.  Four doctors in the futuristic city of Metroplex have created intelligent vehicles as an attempt to deliver supplies, but three of them deem the project a failure.  The fourth, Doctor Wu, secretly reprograms the vehicles to speak the language of Havon and rebuild themselves into transforming robots - the Commandrons: Motron, Velocitor, Solardyn and Commander Magna.  With the help of four kids, the Commandrons become the saviours of Havon against storms, fog and fire.  But can they defeat the evil Sylvester Slag?

SPOILERS!  (Yes.  Yes they can.)

Coincidentally, Metroplex would also be the name of a futuristic city (released the very next year) for the Transformers toyline.  Tomy now owns the Transformers in Japan, since it merged with Takara in 2006.  And the Commandrons were canonically retconned into the western world of Transformers in The Allspark Almanac II in 2010, where it is stated that Commandrons "were welcome" at Maccadam's Old Oil House.  (No relation to McDonald's Family Restaurants.)

Join me on this blog over the next few weeks as I review each Commandron and his (or her) respective bonus material.

Three Demon Generals

Manfic Colour
So I drew and put together the new banner for Ozformers Transformers Collectors Australia. It's of Beast General Predaking, Monster General Abominus and Dinosaur General Trypticon - three of the nine Destron Demon Generals from the Transformers: Zone Original Video Animation and Manga. In Zone, the Demon Generals all cosplay as humans, or at least they all wear 'armoured gear'. Basically I love it whenever Transformers wear clothes. Because it's simultaneously awesome and hilarious. Seriously, a robot tyrannosaurus dressed as an ancient Roman - that's three of my obsessions in one image. I've drawn them as if Takara had released Abominus, Predaking and Trypticon as toys with their Zone Armoured Gear as accessories, and this is the 'box art'. In the background are the three faces of their Emperor, Violen Jiger or it's just a Rorschach test in the night sky. These three were drawn in pencil, black ink and acrylic paint, then scanned in and Photoshopped. On the OTCA banner, they're complete with a bad 'general' pun: "Generally, we rule." Ha.


Manfic Colour

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