Friday 29 December 2023

FantasyCon 2023 | report from Stephen Theaker

This report originally appeared in TQF75 in November 2023.

FantasyCon 2023 took place from 15 to 17 September 2023, at the Leonardo Royal Hotel Birmingham. The same hotel (then called Jurys Inn) was the location for FantasyCon 2021, and I was glad it was back there. The suite of smaller rooms is perfect for hosting several strands of events, the bar is downstairs out of the way so no need to wade through boozy blokes to get to anything, and best of all it’s in Birmingham so we (Mrs Theaker and I) can get home in a taxi at the end of the night.

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Godzilla Minus One | review by Stephen Theaker

It’s a good time to be a Godzilla fan! His next encounter with King Kong is in cinemas next year, the Monarch tv series is currently showing on Apple TV+, and now we have Godzilla Minus One, already the highest-grossing live-action Japanese film ever in both the UK and the US. Most Japanese Godzilla films are sequels to the original Godzilla (1954), while often overwriting each other, but like Shin Godzilla (2016) this is a complete reboot.

Shin Godzilla, from the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, was very enjoyable, but it was quite radical in its approach to the monster: for most of the film he wasn't recognisably Godzilla at all, although he did have a spectacularly impressive tail by the end. Most of the fun of the film came from the comedy of a calcified bureaucracy responding to a giant monster attack with a series of ever-growing meetings.

Friday 15 December 2023

Office Invasion | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

If you like dumb, watch this horror/sci-fi/comedy mash-up. If you like humour, don’t.

Melusi Nkosi (Kabomo Vilakazi), the merciless new leader at mining company AMI, takes some extreme cost-cutting measures that put the three heroes of Office Invasion in financial peril:  geologist Sam (Rea Rangaka) can’t afford medication for his ailing daughter, accountant Prince (Kiroshan Naidoo) needs to stay in the finance department for five years to get access to his trust fund and therefore escape his tyrannical father’s hold on him, and security guard Junior (Sechaba Ramphele), frustrated by his mooching flatmates, just needs to make ends meet. 

Melusi sells the South African business to an international firm represented by a patently duplicitous trio consisting of Gregory (Greg Viljoen), a chipper Australian with bad hair, Badrick (Stevel Marc), a Jamaican ready to throw down, and Anya (Aimee Ntuli), a conniving Eastern European. 

The desperate heroes hatch a plan to steal some Zulcanoid, the liquid metal at AMI mines, and then sell it to a Chinese gangster who says he’s going to use it for benevolent purposes.   

Overarching all of this is an impending alien invasion, implied by the attack that opens the film and toward which it builds. It takes a long time – too long, in my opinion – before the aliens appear. 

The film’s primary shortcoming is its lack of humour stemming from an imbalance in characters: while the leads lack the eccentricity that would have made them more compelling, the secondary characters’ performances feel overblown and derivative. The outrageously idiotic Paul (aka Knobface), for instance, is clearly a rip-off of Brick (Steve Carell) in the Anchorman series. 

The protagonists have their moments, the best of which involve Prince and Junior showing their frustration. Prince has visions of extreme violence, but they seem tossed into the film for no other reason than to shock the viewer. 

Most of the scenarios in which the trio finds themselves end up feeling stagnant. When Junior loses his gun as part of the cost cuts, he gets sent to a training session where a supposed-to-be-funny-but-not-funny overly serious instructor shows security guards how to defend themselves with typical office supplies.

Office Invasion plays the typical, stale feel-good cards like victims revolting against corporate oppressors and putting the needs of others before personal needs. Yawn.—Douglas J. Ogurek **

Monday 11 December 2023

Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials | review by Stephen Theaker

During the lockdowns, Russell T Davies (former Doctor Who showrunner), David Tennant (the tenth Doctor) and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) came up with a plan to return to their previous roles for a special story, initially intended to be a flashback. As plans developed, it turned out that the former showrunner would follow on from Chris Chibnall as the next showrunner, and so we have three whole episodes, now integrated into the ongoing story, with Tennant as a fourteenth Doctor and Catherine Tate as an older, slightly wiser Donna. The unspoken hope is that they can bounce the ratings out of the crater before the new Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa, takes over.

I think the problem for Chris Chibnall and his thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, had been that Steven Moffat set the bar so high with his stories for Doctors eight through twelve: a recent poll placed five of his stories in the all-time top ten. How do you top that? Instead of taking the show in a more serious, dramatic direction, Chris Chibnall tried to carry on in a similar vein. But though everyone acted like they were still in the same, hilarious programme, the dialogue wasn’t as funny, and wasn’t as impactful. Watch “The Night of the Doctor”, the eight-minute episode Moffat wrote for Paul McGann: it has more quotable lines than the entire thirteenth Doctor era combined.

Returning to the show presents Russell T Davies with the same problem. Can he top what Moffat did? Can he top his own best stories?

Tuesday 5 December 2023

The Hair-Carpet Weavers by Andreas Eschbach | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #288 (September–October 2020).

The Hair-Carpet Weavers, which one could call either a mosaic novel or a collection of closely-linked short stories, was originally published in German in 1995 as Die Haarteppichknüpfer, and then by Tor in 2005 as The Carpet Makers. This Penguin Classics edition presents the same Doryl Jensen translation, but drops the Orson Scott Card introduction and restores the hair (and thus some strangeness) to the title; perhaps UK readers are thought to be less squeamish. It is part of a very welcome new range of science fiction Penguin Classics, on which Adam Roberts consulted in the early planning stages. It also includes work by Angélica Gorodischer, the Strugatskys, Stanislaw Lem and Robert Sheckley, with books by Kobo Abe and more to come in 2021.