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Sunday, 26 April 2015

A love letter to Star Wars

"Chewie, we're home".......cue a million tears
The Internet nearly broke a couple of weeks ago, it really did. It was completely the fault of the release of the new teaser trailer for a particular movie that takes up a story that took place a long, long time ago. In a particular Galaxy, far, far away. Star Wars : Episode VII. The Force awakens trailer was published online and so it seemed the entire world, including this here blogger, exploded into a mixture of frenzied excitement and tearful nostalgia. But more about that trailer shortly.

I know I'm not alone in my love for the series of films, in fact I'm certain that there are countless individuals who may be far more knowledgeable, informed and obsessed with Star Wars than I am. So I'm certainly not special in that regard. All I know is that in 1978 I was 11 years old and my life was irrevocably changed forever.

I can still remember the very first moment that the words 'Star' and 'Wars' first entered my personal conscious back in the early summer of 1977. It came while I was reading my latest acquisition of the 2000AD comic where mention was being made in the readers letters section about the increasing commotion that a new sci-fi film was making in the States. The film had only been released to limited theatres in May, just a month or so previously, but word was already beginning to get around about the interest it was creating. 

Now kids, you need to remember that this was a world before the advent of the technological wonder that is the Internet and the World Wide Web. In other words, growing up in the 1970's was crap. Don't listen to those who say because life was simpler it was also better, because it wasn't. It was often boring and insipid, particularly here in the UK when there were few radio stations of quality and even less TV channels. In fact I seem to remember that we only had 3 channels - dear god, it was living in the dark ages! There was no Youtube, Internet search engine, online social network, online streaming or even, ahem, a handsome charismatic sci-fi blogger to keep up to the latest developments with ones fingertips. No, we had to rely on snippets of news in magazines or newspapers (often well out of date) or the odd news item on TV. As I said, life then was crap.

Not my queue, but it did have the same iffy fashions
Another problem back then was the fact that films in the US were often released sometimes months before they came over here to the UK. Star Wars was no exception, having been released initially to a handful of cinemas in the States in late May and then becoming the behemoth of a movie beast over there through the subsequent summer and Fall of '77. All we could do here in Europe was twiddle our fingers as we watched on the news the pandemonium that was taking place elsewhere. I suppose though in a way it did help to provide a continuous building up of excitement through the months because by the time it came to the initial release at the end of December on this side of the pond - the anticipation was barely controllable. In January 1978, everything over here just went crazy.

For those of us that experienced the first wave of the force back in 1977/78, we were quite simply blessed to be part of the whole insane adventure. Prior to the arrival of Messrs Skywalker, Solo, Vader et al, the science fiction scene in the 1970's was dire. Star Trek was nothing but a distant memory and the genre was wallowing in memories of well meaning (and some not so well meaning) B-movies. Yes we had Doctor Who on TV (thank god), but every other attempt at producing good science fiction television was either good but short-lived (Planet of The Apes) or just plain rubbish (most everything else). The injection that George Lucas provided to sci-fi was seismic in proportions and arguably the greatest revolution in cinematic history that can still be felt in the genre today.

That stormtrooper in the middle looks a bit on the skinny side...
On a personal level, I know I'm being far from original in my opinion, but nothing for me has ever surpassed the excitement of seeing that first movie for the very first time. I remember the morning quite clearly when I was heading down to get the bus into town on a crisp February afternoon in 1978. I passed my best friend Ian on the way, he had seen it the week before. As I passed him on the street I simply said "I'm going to see it". He simply smiled knowingly back. 

The film had FINALLY been distributed outside London and it had been on at my local cinema for a week or two, but thanks to an annoying bout of illness this had been unable to make it thus far. I was thinking that most of the initial excitement would have died down by now and that I would turn up, go in and take my seat and enjoy. It was nothing nothing of the sort. The legendary queues around the block were still there (some of my friends were now seeing it for the umpteenth time that week) and the start time of it had to be put back until we all could get in. Inside the cinema the noise and excited anticipation was something that I had never encountered before in such an environment, and possibly since. What perhaps had increased our excitement was the appearance of three individuals who were inspecting our seat tickets before letting us find our place - one was Darth Vader, he was accompanied by two stormtroopers and a Tuscan raider. Genius.

Sometimes these much anticipated events turn out to be at best an anti-climax, at worst a distinct disappointment. Seeing this, and indeed the following two movies on their first release, was a truly genuine magical experience. Soon I was to fall in love (and lust) with Princess Leia and all I ever wanted to be was be as cool as Boba Fett.

To those that weren't around in those heady days it is difficult to explain just how exciting and new the Star Wars universe was. It was everywhere; in film, literature, merchandising, music. In fact there wasn't one facet of popular culture that wasn't affected during those mad early years which evolved into living through the release of three truly iconic films. 


Harley Cokeliss
This love for the series of films led me eventually to start blogging about it and other obsessions from my favourite genre's of sci-fi, fantasy and horror - so there you go, that's who you have to blame. What I didn't realise when setting out on this blogging lark were the opportunities that were going to present themselves to me, in particular the opportunity to chat with people from within the industry itself. Last year I was very lucky to have the chance to chat with director Harley Cokeliss, who besides having a distinguished directorial career in his own right was also the 2nd Unit director on The Empire Strikes Back - yon imagine that any semblance of professionalism I may of had quickly disappeared at that point!

The link for the full interview can be found HERE, but here's a snippet of what he discussed in relation to his involvement in the movie, and in particular, perhaps the most iconic of all Star Wars scenes.

Q) I simply have to ask you about The Empire Strikes Back if that's ok. You were the 2nd unit director on that, if I'm correct. What is the role of 2nd unit director for those who don't know?

HC:" On big productions with lots of action, stunt work and special effects they often break up the workload between the main unit and the second unit. Sometimes on complicated shoots there are even third and fourth units as well. The main unit with the director shoots all the key scenes with the main actors, while the second unit takes on much of the action, stunt work and special effect work, as these shots are usually very time consuming. I was the Second Unit Director for the work done at Elstree Studios and to get through the difficult schedule there, with a large number of sets to be built and only 7 stages available, we needed to 'shoot out' a set - that is get all the necessary shots needed for all the scenes that happen on that set - as fast as possible so they could strike it and build a new set on that stage.

"Just don't look the Wookiee in the eyes"...
To speed up the process they integrated the units more. For example on the Millennium Falcon scenes Irvin Kershner would stage the scene and set the performances. He'd shoot the master shots and all the front angle close-ups on the principal actors. He did everything he wanted that didn't have a window or a special effects or stunt work. The main unit would then move on to another scene and the second unit came on with the principal actors of that scene still there. Having a window in the background was a problem in those days because windows needed a time consuming blue screen shot, with the view out of the window being done at ILM months later, so all that fell to the second unit."

Q) Which scenes from the film were you involved in?

HC: "I was on the film for over four months and, as I was saying, our unit got involved with shots for any scene that was time consuming and/or dangerous, whether it be blue screen, stunt work, or special effect. Occasionally we would do a whole scene. For example when Darth Vader and Luke have their sword fight in Cloud City the second unit was assigned to shoot that scene because almost every shot had an effect or a stunt: laser swords needed special lighting for the 3M material on the swords and the electrical discharge when a sword hit metal were explosive charges that had to be individually wired and carefully timed with the fight choreography for each take. 

He's Luke's dad, you know....
We had a stunt man in the Darth Vader costume, but Mark Hammell did most of Luke's swordplay, though sometimes we had acrobatic doubles for the jumps and falls. It boiled down to this: if it was difficult or time consuming to shoot we would do it, usually based on the extensive storyboards.

There have been a number of television programmes that have counted down to the best film and several times Empire Strike Back has been named as the best film ever made, or the best science fiction film ever made, or whatever, and each time they announce the results on TV, if it is Empire, the scene they usually show is the sword fight between Luke and Darth Vader which ends with Darth cutting Luke's sword hand off and Luke falling through space and the Cloud City ducting system before ending up hanging upside down on an antenna. The Second Unit shot that."


Then at the end of the 1990's the next three films came along..... and not everyone was happy.

The original three movies, and the subsequent build up to the new releases had heightened the expectations of fans to the impossible extent that I firmly believe that no film would have ever been able to meet them. Now, don't get me wrong. I am in no way way saying The Phantom Menace is the best of the lot by any stretch of the imagination or that it's perfect - It certainly has numerous flaws (Yes, I'm talking about you, Jar-Jar Binks).  What I am saying is that this movie such not be treated as the much maligned Star Wars pariah that it has been since the day of it's release.

All right, I'll get this out of the way....….
Darth Cool

- I truly do. It and the two that came after it are in no way the disasters that many people suggest that they are. In fact, I adore Phantom and think is is quite simply is something of a sublime movie…..

So, there I said it. Now I could sit back and wait for the avalanche, the Tsunami, the absolute cacophony of outrage that will come from some in my fellow Geek fraternity at the sheer audacity of that comment. For few movies in the history of cinema have been condemned  and criticised as much as this was and in many ways, still is. For example, only yesterday I saw a "Kill Jar Jar Binks - save the series" t-shirt advertised on some online store. The strength of 'anti-Phantom Menace' feelings amongst many is frankly disturbing in its intensity. I would argue it is time for a re-appraisal but that might be just my own obsession.

When you look at it dispassionately, is actually a very good piece of cinema that takes us through the straightforward plot of a planetary trade dispute at an often steady and understated pace. Whereas the previous movies were seemingly a sequence of one cliff-hanger after another, this is a story that needs to take it's time to allow the viewer to immerse himself or herself in the experience by providing the underpinning of the story that has begun - The disintegration of the Republic and eventual emergence of the empire. Yes there are glaring weaknesses in the film, but for me, the various strengths far outweigh the few weaknesses. So open your mind and watch it again and see if you change your mind. If it doesn't change then that is ok. It's still a fine film in my eyes.

And remember, as great as the first 3 Star Wars movies were, one of them contained those bloody Ewoks.........

I must admit that when I heard that the new trailer for the latest edition to the Star wars Universe was about to air, I was naturally excited. However nothing had quite prepared me (and it seems the rest of the population of a certain age) for the subsequent wave of emotion that would engulf me by the end of the short clip. I was actually doing fine up to a point; I was enjoying the Skywalker voice-over, loving the sight of a crashed Imperial cruiser, smiling at seeing more X-Wing fighters plus the Millennium Falcon once again and also loving the clips of character action (whoever the hell they may turn out to be).......

However, I wasn't fully prepared for the moment when a much older looking Han Solo and suspiciously non-aged Chewbacca appeared, at first a huge beaming grin sprang across my face. A split second later I am not afraid to admit that I turned into an emotional wreck as Han uttered "Chewie, we're home".......oh boy. Because in that moment I was transported back to those first moments in 1978, I was 11 again - and judging by the social network meltdown, I wasn't alone.

In December of this year, when Star Wars: Episode VII comes to our local cinema, I think I may well be 11 years old once again.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Discovery: A Col Sec Novel: Volume 3 (Col Sec series)

My previous book-related musing, Pandora's Brain, concerned a rather fine piece of science fiction writing that deals with a variety of interesting and relevant philosophical themes surrounding the key questions of not only whether we can successfully create a genuine self-aware artificial intelligence, but whether or not we actually should continue ( and if indeed we could actually stop) trying to find that illusive breakthrough. A technological leap that would inevitably result in perhaps the greatest social revolution in human history. It's all good stuff (I mean the book, not necessarily the the blog article) which you can catch HEREif you have nothing better to do that is.

The particular book offering on this occasion is a very different and noticeably less complex beast, though not necessarily the worse for it.

A week or two ago I was contacted by Kris Barnes from Authoramp, a company that work with authors & publishers to help them promote their books. He went on to explain that he is working with Jan Domagala, a sci-fi writer, who has released a series of books called 'Col Sec'. and due to my being a highly regarded sci-fi reviewer he wanted to contact me (No, I'm not making that last bit up, he really did say that). Kris further mentioned that the third book in the series, 'Discovery' is out - and wondered if I'd like to read and review this for them?

Yes you've guessed it, my self-indulgent side (which quite frankly is probably the vast majority of me) was fixated on the 'highly regarded reviewer bit' and I'm fully aware that it may have been said as a way to hook and then reel me in and appeal to my already abundant ego. Well it worked.......again.

"Kurt Stryder, the hero of Ronin not sure which direction his life should go, takes a cruise on the Colonial Queen but even this leads him into further trouble. 

A rich passenger persuades the Captain to take a diversion to the Tartaran Battlefield, once the scene of one of the greatest battles between the Colonial Confederation and the Elysium Alliance. A wasteland of derelict, abandoned husks of once great starships, now home to a colony of outcasts and dregs from every society known simply as, The Outlaws. 

Kurt is thrown into a deadly race to save as many passengers as possible when the Outlaws attack and knowing he won’t save them all he calls for help.
The Wildfire Team, a new elite unit set up by Col Sec to handle the worst case scenario is dispatched to help Kurt but when they arrive all is not as it seemed. 

A secret is discovered on the planet below, one that both the Confederation and Alliance alike had thought buried forever, a secret that could ignite another war between the two Superpowers should it be revealed.
Kurt and the Wildfire Team must fight side by side against insurmountable odds to save the life of Prince Aswan and Natasha Garvey, his bodyguard from Col Sec Diplomatic Corp. 
While in orbit above the planet, the two Superpowers flex their military might in a game bluff and counter bluff. "

I will admit to not having read either of the first two in the Col Sec series, Ronin or Omega and did wonder whether this would impact on my appreciation and understanding of Discovery. I needn't have worried, for while there my be a number of unavoidable references to some of the preceding episodes it certainly doesn't detract from the overall experience.

As I mentioned earlier, Discovery is a very different type of beast from the previous book on the philosophical issues of the introduction of fully aware Artificial intelligence. I certainly don't mean that comment as any form of criticism or mocking of the subject matter in this story, because the book (and by definition, the author) are not concerned with any convoluted intellectual issues. There are few philosophical ponderings about the human condition in this book. Instead the intention is to provide us with a fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled futuristic space adventure - and in that is succeeds very nicely.

For some reason people often look down upon stories of this nature, a good old straightforward adventure store whose main intention is quite clearly to entertain it's readership. I'm the first to own up to be something of an obsessive of authors such as Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury who set new standards of science fiction writing with their futuristic contemplations of contemporary social, technological and philosophical issues. However, there is still a place for more entertainment-focused styles such Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat series that imply that it's perfectly OK to say that good sci-fi doesn't always have to have high pretensions of premise. Now I'm not saying that the Col Sec series is approaching the quality of Harrison's eponymous work, but it's certainly an good substitute.

What we have here is a genuine roller coaster of a sci-fi ride as we follow the formidable Kurt Stryder while he faces another highly charged episode after highly charged episode. He is a likable, if rather familiar hero whose enhanced abilities and seeming indestructibility make him the perfect foil for all manner of bad guys (and gals) who want nothing more to blow his brains out. Though there are some weaknesses to Kurt's character (which I'll refer to shortly) the author Jan Domagala succeeds in making him a wonderfully amiable rogue who often has one or two nice quips to match his propensity for violent adventure.

I will readily admit to simply letting myself be happily carried along as we travelled through the author's nicely written and widely imaginative futuristic universe. There admittedly is little complexity to the plot and concepts within the book, but once again that's not meant in any patronising way. On the contrary, I mean it as a compliment because Discovery is a rollicking, and at times incredibly violent ride into space and onto other worlds. In other words, it's completely enjoyable. 

Though the plot is imaginative and the narrative carries us along often at a pulsating seaside ride speed, this inevitably leads to some negatives. Whilst the protagonist, Kurt, is suitably heroic and resourceful there does come across a feeling that his character is somewhat under-written, leaving him at times bordering on coming across as one-dimensional in his behaviour. I could be doing the author a disservice with not having read the first two in the series where I'm assuming more character background will have been laid down. However the feeling pervades throughout that as exciting the plot may be, Kurt and the other characters would he benefited from more texture and layer.

In addition at times a little (but by no means all) of the dialogue at times becomes somewhat laboured and cliched, the effect leading to a lack of credibility at some points in the interaction between one or two of the characters.

These though are but minor considerations because I found Discovery an immensely entertaining read which ensured that, given the chance, I would have no problem at all in reading the rest of the books in the series. So if you like a nicely put together mixture of space adventure and some in-your-face characters who couldn't give a monkeys uncle about the philosophical nature of life but who would rather blast their way out of a problem - then this may well be for you.

About the author........

Jan Domagala (1955-ongoing);

" I have never considered myself a writer, I would like to think of myself as an entertainer, a teller of stories. I would hope that the stories I write entertain you the reader so that when you finish the book two things happen, firstly that you feel you have had your money's worth and secondly it makes you want to know what happens next. If that happens then I can feel satisfied that I have done my job well.

I recently returned to live in Staffordshire, where I grew up, after a brief sojourn in the Derbyshire Dales. At present I am busy writing the next book in the series."

For more information about Jan Domagala and how to purchase copies of Discovery, and the rest of the Col Sec series, visit his Amazon page RIGHT HERE

Jan Domagala's Facebook page can be located HERE

You can view the Authoramp website, and the work they are doing for authors & publishers here at

You can check out the Authoramp Facebook page at

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Necroslinger - Indie filmmaker advances in $1M CineCoup contest

CineCoup Film Accelerator opens second round of public voting, April 19

Audiences have voted in support of filmmaker King-Pin Lei to win $1 million to produce his original Western/horror/fantasy film The Necroslinger.

The first public voting round in the CineCoup Film Accelerator advanced The Necroslinger to the TOP 60, and brings the concept film one step closer to winning $1 million in production financing and national Cineplex release.

The public can get behind The Necroslinger again beginning 9 p.m. EST on Monday, April 20, when voting for the TOP 30 projects begins. Voting for the TOP 30 closes on Friday, April 24 at 8:59 p.m. EST.

CineCoup Film Accelerator is a unique program that gives Canadian indie filmmakers an opportunity to pitch their ideas to the public and make their film a reality.

"I'm thrilled that Canadian – and even international – audiences have put their support behind The Necroslinger, and I'm excited to share more about the film as we advance through the program. Next stop, the TOP 30," says Lei.

The Necroslinger is a gritty post-apocalyptic Western/horror/fantasy hybrid that spins classic ideas in a new direction. It combines what audiences love most about these genres into a concept that is both familiar and new. The public can see a 60-second concept pitch trailer – which was filmed and produced in two weeks – online at

The Necroslinger is a spellbinding story that mixes genres and explores a post-apocalyptic future where the return of magic and monsters has pushed humanity into a frightening new path,” says Lei. “I see The Necroslinger as a type of Western film noir-meets-supernatural horror fantasy with a dash of steampunk.”

Lei is asking the public to support The Necroslinger by signing up on the CineCoup website ( as a fan, and casting votes. Fans can sign up to rate concept trailers and ‘follow’ their favourite projects at anytime, and cast votes during voting periods.

Filmmaking teams in CineCoup Film Accelerator develop and market their film ideas over a 12-week period through weekly missions and with audience feedback. Teams advance in the program through several rounds of public voting. The winner is determined by CineCoup, and receives up to $1 million to make their film, as well as a national film release through Cineplex.

CineCoup Film Accelerator provides an exciting platform for The Necroslinger to build excitement with Canadian audiences. The Necroslinger, says Lei, feeds the public’s hunger for original genre films in a time of big studio remakes and sequels.

“The team behind The Necroslinger will make audiences believe in magic again,” he says.

Lei’s previous work in film has earned him several awards and nominations, including The Night of the Living Film Festival’s Audience Award for Best Sci-Fi Film (2010), Best Screenplay (2010) and Best Debut Director (2010) for his gripping thriller Killing Schrodinger’s Cats.

He also advanced to the Top 20 of the 2013 CineCoup Film Accelerator program with his concept for the sci-fi thriller The Never Man, an eerie and haunting space exploration film.


Here’s how the public can participate:
• Register with CineCoup and sign in to vote for a project;
• Cast your votes during the three voting windows (Top 30 and Top 15); and
• Use social media to spread the word about The Necroslinger ( ( – don’t forget to use the social media hashtag #necroslinger for this project.

For further information or to set up an interview, please contact:
Ashley Goodfellow Craig
Media contact – The Necroslinger

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A love letter to Daredevil

Cover art to Daredevil #65 by Greg Land.
I can remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. It was a cold wet winters day at school which meant that the lunch hour was a wash out and myself and a few friends (behave, I did have some) were sat in my school's excuse for a library chewing the fat, as only 10 year old geeks can do. Having exhausted all conversation, at least for a while, on the latest instalment of Doctor Who, The Six Million Dollar Man, 2000 AD and the actual air dynamic effectiveness of an X-Wing fighter, talk progressed onto the subject of superheroes. To be specific, Marvel superheroes.

We had little or no time for that DC lot, it was the one thing that my little geeky group always agreed on. I'm pretty sure that if the occasion had ever arisen that someone may have gone to the DC side, then the consequences would have been immediate ejection from the safety of the group. You may laugh, but this was an extreme measure. Back in those dim and distant days of the late 1970's & early 1980's it wasn't almost cool to be a geek as it is now, no sir, not at all. I'm not saying that we were physically threatened by others in regard to our rampant nerdyness, but we were often ridiculed beyond what was probably acceptable. So it was a case of safety in numbers, or at least, comfort in numbers.

Anyhoo, as I said the conversation moved onto superheroes. Now for some reason that we were unable to fathom, we had never actually discussed who our own personal favourite superheroes were so this seemed like the perfect way to spend the next hour. By the time it came to my particular turn to explain who my particular favourite was the usual list of suspects had been named. Ian had gone for Iron Man (he loved the suit), Paul explained he had an obsession with Spider Man (even though he had a phobia of Spiders), David was a Hulk aficionado, Jack was well and truly a Thor man and Nigel was belonged wholeheartedly to Wolverine. As each of them stated their hero, each of us nodded sagely and respectfully, this was important stuff. 

I remember thinking that my choice might elicit a slightly different response, after all, he never really seemed to ever be included in any ones top ten, let alone, their absolute favourite. When I said the word 'Daredevil' the response was totally unexpected, instead of mocking derision the reaction to man (or boy) was "Daredevil....never thought of him......that's such a cool choice!" Therein lies the rub, because few people ever put the softly spoken blind lawyer by day and red costumed ninja-style warrior by night at the top of their personal all-time list. However, what never fails is that as soon as you mention the name to anyone of a comic book minded way, suddenly they realise just how much of a fan of the devil of Hell's Kitchen they are actually are.

Daredevil #184 (July 1982). Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.
In truth, I can't quite remember why Daredevil resonated with me to such a degree to begin with. I had come upon the first comic I owned of his quite by chance. The town where I grew up had no comic shop of it's own so people like myself had to simply make do with what our local newsagent decided to sell. I remember one day buying the one and only Marvel comic they had on sale. It was an issue of Daredevil (no shit Sherlock, I hear you say). It is though to my eternal shame that I can't remember exactly what issue it was. I then remember a year or two later when re-organising (yet again) my comic collection and suddenly realising that the editions that I had somehow managed to obtain of DD far outnumbered any other Marvel superhero - The Defenders series was a very close second, but that's a different self-indulgent story for another time (sorry about that).

I came to the story of Matt Murdoch/Daredevil obviously many years after he'd initially debuted in 1964 “Daredevil” No. 1, by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. For the foolish of you who don't know the story: Matt as a young child is blinded after an accident involving a radioactive liquid material, though the blindness is accompanied by a selection of 'superhuman-esque gifts' as his other senses become improved to such an extent that they more than compensate for his lost sight. Matt decides to dedicate his life to fighting social injustice after his father, the not so successful boxer Battlin' Jack Murdoch is murdered after crossing the local mob after refusing to throw his fight. Ahhh we've all been there; Boy has loser dad, boy is blinded by radioactive substance, boy can hear heartbeats from a mile away, boy's father tries to impress boy, boy's dad is knocked off by mobsters, boy decides to become a lawyer by day and a costume-clad vigilante by night.

I've stayed loyal to the comic book Daredevil as long as I remember from that initial purchase in my local newsagent. By the time I 'discovered' him the character had just gone through a period where comic book sales had dropped to a level that meant for a time the issues were downgraded to a Bi-monthly status. In fact, if the stories are to believed, there were plans afoot by Marvel to completely discontinue the story altogether and consign him to an already large contingent of Superheroes gone bye bye. However as luck would have it, the story of Daredevil was about to enter perhaps my favourite of his periods, the much darker tone employed by Frank Miller which was to become for many, the greatest of all DD's incarnations. 

One of Marvel's greatest skills is to regularly change and at times completely re-write a character's story arc. While this may alienate some die-hard fans of a superhero what it does do is to constantly refresh and reinvigorate what in some cases may have become stale and lacklustre. This in essence is what Frank Miller did when taking over previous pencilling incumbent, Roger McKenzie who had began taking the Daredevil character down a noticeably darker road than he had travelled before. In fact not only did Miller continue the  character transformation he actively ignored virtually all of DD's previous story arc from the very beginning - for example, the previous depiction of Matt's dad as a caring and engaging father figure were completely changed to him being depicted as a drunk and a bum who would regularly beat  and abuse his son. This change thus totally changes Matt's initial reasons for choosing a career in law. In addition, numerous other changes were made to supporting characters and villains alike. The fans loved this new anti-hero version of Daredevil and the move to an almost crime-drama feel rather than superhero adventure.....and so did I.

Look away folks, nothing to see here.....
When it comes to film or TV adaptations DD has either been chronically under-represented or downright mistreated. This may on part be due to the movie rights being controlled for a good while by Fox and in part due to never having any form of Christopher Nolan type visionary who has a sympathetic feel for the character or his universe. 

The much maligned Ben Affleck transfer to cinema from 2003 is a prime example of a film that could have and should have been so much better that it turned out to be. In truth, while the film in parts is pretty dire (yes I'm talking to you Colin Farrell) the subsequent directors cut a couple of years later added a good deal of the darker Miller feel to the plot. The revised version of the film may well be an improvement on the original, it's still pretty poor and a million miles from where a true representation of the Daredevil universe.

So when I heard some time ago that Marvel has re-acquired the rights to film DD's story and that a TV series was being mooted, I was more than a little excited. However that excitement was continually tempered as the words Ben, Affleck, Colin and Farrell were whispering in my ear all the while saying 'don't get excited Stuey, this is going to suck......again". So I decided to wait, do very little prior research and simply just hang around for it to appear, thus avoiding either getting my hopes up or falling into pits of despair. I also had a hundred million (well a few) questions; Would it be nicely dark and film noirish or would it be fluffy duffy DC lite? Would it take a chance and risk the DD not so happy endings or go for a fluffy duffy DC lite everybody-lives-happily-ever-after? Would the guy playing Matt/DD be a Mark Ruffalo or a Ben Affleck?

Can you imagine my delirious delight when I learnt earlier this year that not only had the first 13 episode series been filmed and would be showing in April on Netflix, but also that the whole series would be available in one god almighty delicious 13 episode lump sum? It was like every darned Christmas had come in the one go...... or rather two 6 hour plus lump sum sittings over this last weekend. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.

In my dreams I look this cool....
Quite simply, the series is a triumph. Think gritty, think dark, think somber, think violence. Think Frank Miller. 

For a start the character development throughout is almost note-perfect - and not only in case of the main man himself. The complex character and philosophies of Matt Murdoch are given ample time to mature throughout the series, in part due to the use of intelligent flashbacks but also in the pacing of each episodes where the metamorphosis of DD is given air to breath and mature.

It helps too that portrayal by British actor, Charlie Cox is both sympathetic to DD lore but has a layered textured feel that perfectly conveys the regular conflicts of emotion and inner turmoil that the character experiences. The one scene where he as Matt confesses to the quite outrageously delicious Deborah Ann Woll, who plays Karen Page,  just how utterly alone he feels, is simply stunning in its effectiveness.

I'm not too sure how the US audiences will feel as yet another Brit actor makes an American icon his own, but if other reactions are currently anything to go by, he may well have won them over.

Mad, bad & dangerous to know....but I like him
The supporting cast too are excellent, in particular the always magnificent Vincent D’Onofrio, as Wilson Fisk, who is given the chance for once to add levels of complexity to the big bad guy. This quite simply is inspired casting - It's no secret with those who know me well that since Full metal Jacket I have been a huge fan of D'Onofrio's work. As a consequence I was expecting a fine performance, I wasn't though expecting the tour-de-force that actually takes place.

All too often the arch-villain is portrayed as a one dimensional psychopath (yes, once again I'm talking about you, Colin Farrell) who has few redeeming qualities and even fewer shades of grey. Here, both the writing and performance of D’Onofrio provide a plethora of personality shades that at times have the viewer downright empathising with Fisk in regard to his obvious vulnerabilities and genuine feelings of affection towards some of the people he trusts. However, sometimes just a moment later, we can then witness horror and revulsion in regard to the extreme violence that he can be capable of and the sheer terror he can inspire.

More often than not, the arch-villain simply acts as a cliched parody in order to highlight the qualities of the good guy, but feeling sorry for, and at times even liking the villain is unusual in the extreme. If the immensely powerful performance from Vincent D'Onofrio doesn't receive award recognition in due course I will eat my keyboard. 

Filming in New York certainly also helps in providing the delicious dark and gritty effect, both in tone and also in a literal sense. Many of the fights take place in dimly lit sections of Hell's Kitchen. The episodes look wonderful, its as simple as that. It's heartwarming to see that nods in visual style of the Frank Miller era of shadowy dark visuals have been made to such an authentic level.

I cannot wait for the second series.

At last Daredevil, the greatest superhero of them all, has has the film treatment that he deserves. It's enough to make me root out my comics and read them .........yet again.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Pandora's Brain - A Sci-fi novel from Calum Chace

I will admit that I'm a bitter man, though not about life in general, but rather in one very particular sense - and no, it's not because Helena Bonham-Carter has yet to succumb to my undoubted charms and finally relent into accepting my dinner invitation (and hopefully in the process removing the remaining retraining orders on me). Instead my bitterness is due to the fact that I feel somewhat cheated by the promises made to me in my childhood.

You see, ever since I can remember, there have been promises after promises and predictions after predictions about what life would be like for us all by this point in the 21st Century. You all know the things that I'm talking about; personal jet packs, hover boards, hover cars, human colonies on Mars & beyond and our own personal highly intelligent robot - to name but a few. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I'm completely disappointed with the leaps in technology that have taken place in my lifetime - the world wide web, the Internet and smart phones have taken information gathering and sharing to unbelievable heights of complexity. So don't believe a word of those who say that life was better, less complicated before the Internet, because it wasn't. It was crap. I love this technological world that we live in nowadays with the seemingly limitless possibilities that it offers us. Compare that to the 1970's when I was a child and we had three TV stations, and, well, erm....that was about it. People say it was a happier simpler time. I say Bullshit.

However, I would still quite like my jet pack and hover board. I also still have a hankering to visit the outer reaches of the solar system with my special weekend family spaceship voucher that came as a prize in the Intergalactic online web series. But most of all I want my artificially intelligent robot that will attend to my every need. Alas, they all still seem very far away...or do they?

Well if the debut novel from Calum Chace, Pandora's Brain is anything to go by and has at least a bare modicum of truth & fact behind it's premise, then the world of a genuine AI creation may not be as far away as first thought. 

"Set in the near future. This science thriller features Matt, a shy but engaging and resourceful student who becomes involved in a project to create the world's first conscious machine. 

Matt's enquiries lead to him being kidnapped as he is fought in the crossfire between two groups pursuing that goal - one lead by a Russian Billionaire, and another backed by the US military.

As he is drawn deeper into his adventure, he becomes both the symbol and the victim of a global struggle over the approach to be taken towards this powerful new technology."

Before I talk (some would prefer the term, ramble) any further, I want to go on record as saying that Pandora's Brain is a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating tale that will have you thinking far after you've turned over that final page. It is quite simply the best book I've read in some time. Yes, it's that good.

So what makes this debut novel about the possible technological developments in Artificial Intelligence so good? Well, for start the book deals with a variety of interesting and relevant philosophical themes that surround the key questions of not only whether we can successfully create a genuine self-aware artificial intelligence, but whether or not we actually should continue (if indeed we could actually stop) trying to find that illusive breakthrough. Now before some of you start to roll your eyes and wince at such terms as 'Philosophy' and 'technology ' just stop right there. You don't need to be concerned that this book is another self-satisfied diatribe from an author who likes simply to use lots of long technical words, with the end result being a dry lifeless tone. I have no problem in an author who hits me with numerous technological themes and philosophical viewpoints - as long as I don't feel patronised and on the edge of some secret club full of elusive passwords. Chase lets us in to to this strange and complex world of AI and makes us feel like we are in a sense part of it all.

Whenever the theme of the creation of AI is dealt with by novels or Hollywood the results tend to be absolute - we have either a Nirvana of endless positive possibilities, or AI simply results in the end of humanity. There is often little time for any middle ground. One of Pandora's Brain's main strengths is the intelligent way that it deals with questions and themes that are far more complex than many treatments of the subject. Indeed, the title itself borrows from Greek mythology where that naughty old playful god Zeus decided to have a little fun with we mortal men by creating the first woman (Pandora) to teach us guys a lesson we wouldn't forget. Our crime had been to accept from Prometheus the strictly forbidden gift of fire, a fact that meant Zeus wasn't happy, nope he wasn't happy at all. So much so that he tricked Pandora into opening a container that held within it all the world's evil and pain. Zeus knew that even though she had been told never to open the container, the insatiable curiosity of humans meant that she would do exactly that. As a result, evil and all its interesting associations entered our world. However, as luck would have it, the container continued something else - Hope.

In other words, once we create AI, there is no going back, and the challenges we face will be beyond our current comprehension and perhaps the biggest challenge of all will be addressing the ultimate idea of what is to be be conscious, to have a soul - to be human.

However, please don't think that Pandora's Brain is simply a technology-rich piece on the philosophical aspects of the AI breakthroughs that may happen, because it's not. This is also a story that fairly rockets along, alternating back and forth from it's other guise as a good old fashioned Science fiction adventure thriller. The plot is well written and crafted in a way that one is constantly questioning not only the philosophical aspects, but also just who we should or shouldn't be trusting in what appears to be a familiar scenario but quickly turns events on their heads as preconceptions are constantly challenged.

The characters too are confidently written and well-rounded, particularly the main character of Matt, with whom the reader immediately identifies and connects with as we share his journey of shocking discovery. Authors such as Asimov, Bradbury and Philip K. Dick were masters of incorporating ideas of technological advancement in their work without ever losing what should be the main element of any sci-fi adventure story, strong characterisation in order to fully explore the human condition. I'm not being all hyperbolic and saying that Calum Chase is ready yet to join such pantheons of the genre, but if this book is anything to go by, well he's well on the way. The great skill of an author is not to let the themes within a story overwhelm our ability to connect it's characters and this is achieved very nicely here.

According to at least 50% of experts working in the field of Artificial intelligence, we are but 35 years away from creating the first human level of AI intelligence. Pandora's box has well and truly been opened and the subsequent explosion of development could mean a future for humankind that few of us dare imagine. Pandora's Brain suggests that how we deal with the decisions that this advancement will bring are more complex than we dare imagine. But above all, this is a confidant and enjoyable debut novel that will keep the reader enthralled from beginning to end.

As the number 15 review cliche in the Dummies guide to writing a review suggests......'It's a real page turner!'

About the author........

" Calum retired from full-time work in 2012 to focus on writing after a 30-year career as a journalist, a marketer, a strategy consultant and a CEO. He serves as chairman and coach for a handful of growing companies. 

Having started his career as a trainee journalist with the BBC, he has always combined business with writing. He has contributed articles to several newspapers, and was a columnist at the FT. He has published several non-fiction books, including The Internet Startup Bible, a business best-seller published by Random House in 2000. He is now publishing his first novel, a science thriller called Pandora's Brain.

Calum studied philosophy at Oxford University, where he discovered that the science fiction he had been reading since boyhood is actually philosophy in fancy dress. He is intrigued by the idea of conscious machines being created this century. He is a regular speaker on artificial intelligence and related technologies and runs a blog on the subject at

He lives with his partner and their daughter in London and Sussex."

Calum Chase's Amazon page can be found at