Driving Ambition: Where To Get It

Driving Ambition! It’s a novel of murder, labour relations and self-driving cars!

If you want a dead tree version, click here to order direct from me (via Amazon).

If you want a version in pixels, click here for Kindle.

The audiobook is available here.

For content previews, you can of course read a sample on Amazon, and you can also see me reading Chapter One here.

And if you want to buy one direct from the author– just flag me down at any event I’m attending!

LEXX 2.1: Mantrid

And now, on with the episodic series! Not a promising start to the new season, with an episode with way more length than story (Kai is possessed by His Divine Shadow; Kai attempts to re-embody His Divine Shadow with the aid of Mantrid; Kai fails to do so and His Divine Shadow is still on the loose). Plus, for the story to work, both Xev and Stanley have to not suspect that Kai is possessed by His Divine Shadow, and, given that Stanley at least is paranoid to the max, I find it hard to believe the thought didn’t cross his mind.

On the positive side, the special effects to render the titular character, essentially a sentient floating jar full of organs, really are wonderfully grotesque, the cyborg technology of the LEXX universe is consistently well realised, and the digital sets stand up to scrutiny even today.

Eva Habermann, so good as Zev in the telemovies, is really struggling here, hinting at the behind-the-scenes troubles that will force her off the show in a couple of episodes’ time, and her hair looks like a wig.

Tiny Travelling Tales: About St George

23 April is St George’s Day. He’s patron saint of a ridiculous number of places, only one of them England, and, having been born in what is now Turkey, the veneration of him by White supremacist English people seems a little ironic.

My last trip abroad was to Athens in 2019, and I fled the UK with Brexit and nationalism and all the usual appeals to St George ringing in my ears.

After a few days of exploring classical ruins, I woke up one morning feeling the strain of all the walking and hill-climbing I’d been doing. Checking the guidebook, I opted to visit Mount Lycabettus, the highest hill in Athens, because various sources assured me there was a funicular railway up and down, so I wouldn’t have to walk.

One-third of the way up Mount Lycabettus, I began to question the existence of this funicular railway.

Halfway up Mount Lycabettus, I discovered the site where Google Maps said it ought to be, and questioned its existence further.

Two-thirds of the way up, I looked up to the top, said to myself, “should I just say I’ve made a good effort at it and go down right now?”

I could see there was a chapel at the top, so I said to myself, “If I can make it to that chapel, I’ll buy an ikon of its patron saint there.”

One-third of the mountain later, I hauled myself on to the plaza, sweating and exhausted and sore of limb, and went over to the chapel to find out who the patron saint was.

It was St George.

And yes, I bought an ikon. Not just to mark the achievement and to support the upkeep of the chapel, but as a nice reminder that he transcends his nationalist following to link the English, whether they like it or not, to Europe and beyond.


LEXX 1.4: Giga Shadow

In some ways Giga Shadow is a pretty appropriate end to the LEXX telemovie series, tying up the loose ends, bringing the LEXX out of the Dark Zone (and throwing it back in, of course) and giving Malcolm McDowell (because they’ve already had Tim Curry and Rutger Hauer) a chance to play a disembodied head.

In other ways, OMG was that ever homophobic, though I suppose it’s a challenge to the usual telefantasy trope to have (mild spoiler alert) the male lead being a rape victim. Still, it kind of went beyond the usual LEXX “I can’t believe they did that!” into “I really wish they hadn’t done that. Ew.” So far LEXX has mostly handled potentially dodgy gender stuff well and gotten away with it: Giggerota could easily have been a let’s-all-laugh-at-the-crazy-lady misogynous thread, but Ellen Dubin’s performance is so hilariously monstrous and over-the-top that she transcends it; furthermore, Zev’s transformation from fat to thin is not so much body-shaming as a repeated indictment of it, as we see over and over how she was abused for her appearance by her parents, teachers, husband and judge, and ultimately forced into her current form. However, nothing about the male-rape plot can be remotely described as clever or subversive, so be warned.

On a more minor point, Squish The Cluster Lizard (LEXX! Where even the cute animal sidekicks are creepy worm thingies!), while a really engaging and delightful addition to the crew, felt rather hastily introduced and then dispatched. I think there’s no reason they couldn’t have had him hatch out in Eating Pattern, to give us the impression he was going to be a regular, before doing away with him at the end of Giga Shadow.

On to the episodic series!

Tiny Travelling Tales: Where Not To Go For Ramadan

I’ve visited majority Muslim countries during Ramadan four times now, and, generally speaking, would recommend it.

The standout experience was undoubtedly Istanbul. On my first day, on my first visit to the city, I was walking around the Blue Mosque around four-thirty and noticing that the lawn outside was filling up with families with picnic cloths and baskets, and a small market of food sellers were stealthily firing up their grills. The moment the call to prayer went out at five, a huge cheer went up and, shortly thereafter, everyone set to work.

Other visits, in Izmir and in Singapore, were rather more low-key, but still entertaining. Singapore is a city of multiple religions and one where everybody loves a party, so Ramadan is a time when it becomes harder than usual to book a restaurant, but it’s even more than usually worth it if you do. Izmir had special holiday bread loaves, fireworks at sundown, and a team of young people who would walk through the streets at 5 AM banging a drum to let everyone know the party was over and it was time to go back to fasting.

The one exception in my experience? Surprisingly, Cairo.

I’d booked a trip deliberately during Ramadan of 2010, based on my positive experiences in other majority-Muslim countries, and Cairo’s reputation as a cosmopolitan, cheerful city.

And the place closed the shutters for Ramadan.

Although it’s tempting to put it down to this being 2010, less than six months before the revolution kicked off, the reaction of local people was that this was normal. Everything shut for Ramadan; this was just what one did.

On the positive side, the Coptic establishments all opened up in the evenings, which led to some very exciting culinary experiences, including the best Hongkongnese food made by a non-Hongkongnese that I’ve ever had, and the discovery that Egypt, one of the inventors of beer nine thousand years ago, has definitely kept up the brewing tradition in the meantime.

But if I get to travel during Ramadan again, I’m going to Istanbul.

LEXX 1.3: Eating Pattern

The third LEXX telemovie is not really as subversive as I Worship His Shadow, or as schlockily bonkers as Supernova, and the themes are rather obviously telegraphed even by LEXX standards (I get it, it’s about eating. Move on, OK?). Also, the CGI was more obvious than in the first two stories for some reason: possibly they were saving up money for the grand finale.

Nonetheless, it takes balls to develop a hybrid of Soylent Green, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Screamers, Reefer Madness and Mad Max and make it work as a story. Doreen Jacobi, as unlikely villain Wist, is stunningly beautiful, and Rutger Hauer is, well, Rutger Hauer, and clearly having a lot of fun. The interviews on the DVD extras were also weirdly hilarious.

Not really an awful lot more to say, so let’s move on.

LEXX 1.2: Super Nova

Finally continuing the LEXX capsule reviews with the second Lexx telemovie, Super Nova. Still pretty good, but this one was lower on the subversive wit, higher on the body horror, and had a shower scene where Stan spies on Zev the love-slave (and gets found out) that I’m pretty sure wasn’t in the Canadian version that I first saw back in the nineties (research indicates it wasn’t, and that the team filmed some too-porny-for-Canada sequences with a view to putting them in video releases and European versions).

Without spoilers: this episode sees the crew trying to fix Kai’s longevity issue (having no fresh protoblood, he’s only got ten days to live) by travelling to his home planet of Brunnis. Since he’s also the Last of the Brunnen-G people, it’s inhabited only by The Poet Man (Tim Curry), a hologram who isn’t going to let a little thing like being dead stand in the way of having sex and reproducing. The story also introduces Giggerota, a strangely charismatic recurring baddie with cannibalistic tendencies. The story does some interesting things with the concept of prophecy and destiny; on the negative side, Giggerota, at this point, just feels like a gratuitous if entertaining Rabelasian side-plot, but her importance to the series does become clearer later on.

I have a DVD copy of this, and there was a fun interview on the extras with Lex Gigeroth and the team in which they explain the terribly-new and cutting-edge concept of CGI backgrounds. These have actually stood the test of time pretty well– a lot better than The Phantom Menace, which had more money thrown at it; I hadn’t realised quite how much of the backgrounds weren’t sets until seeing the behnind-the-scenes footage. Also the giant head surrounded by steampunk electrical pylons on Brunnis is astonishing.

Phantoms for Free

Some exciting news just dropped. To celebrate becoming a monthly magazine, Shoreline of Infinity are making next issue pay-what-you-can (including free)– and it includes my story The Ghosts of Trees!

If a story about eerie supernatural happenings on a terraforming project in the Nevada Desert sounds like your thing, get your copy for whatever you want to pay at this link.

LEXX 1.1: I Worship His Shadow

For the last couple of years I’ve been re-watching the LEXX series, apart from Season Four (which isn’t on Amazon Prime for some reason) and microblogging about it on Facebook. And then I got asked by a friend if I could make the reviews generally available so he could read them while doing his own re-watch.

So, a new periodic blog feature: LEXX capsule reviews. I’m editing and expanding these from the original microblogs to fit the new format, obviously, but the reactions are more or less the same.

I Worship His Shadow is the first 90-minute (plus adverts) telemovie, which I initially watched on first broadcast on CityTV in Canada. Rewatching, it’s actually a lot better than I remember it being. My past impression had been that it was just a lot of gratuitous schlock, but watching it again there was a lot of wit and subversion of narrative tropes and expectations (it builds and builds towards a story about heroic naughty-but-likeable outlaws with the most powerful ship in the universe…. and abruptly tears that away), casual bisexuality, and surprising gender egalitarianism (I’d been worried about the premise of Zev’s character– an ugly, fat woman given a beautiful thin body and sentenced to life as a love slave– but it winds up being less about the fat-shaming and more about the insidiousness of patriarchy).

There was also a whole lot of really graphic body horror, and (mild spoiler) I’m amazed that they got away with a sequence of multiple child murder on network television.

My summary of LEXX as a whole is: “Blake’s 7, reimagined by Lars von Trier and Ken Russell.” I Worship His Shadow is pretty much that.

Tiny Travel Tales: The Globetrotting Suitcase

One summer, I arrived in Milan to discover that I’d travelled to Milan Malpensa Airport and my suitcase to Milan Linate Airport. The case could not be transported across town from the one to the other because it had not been checked out. As I had, however, passed through security, I could not go to Milan Linate and physically retrieve my bag. So close, and yet separated by an invisible, intangible barrier, no less powerful because it did not actually exist.

On the one hand: disaster! I was meant to attend a conference at STA Bocconi the next day, and had only a T-shirt and jeans to do it in. On the other: even on a budget, there is no better place to need to do emergency clothes shopping than the fashion capital of Italy, and therefore the world.

In the end, the airline returned it to my address in Oxford, via Moscow and Helsinki (according to the stickers on the bag). Since I had spent the week alternating between trying to get a job at a busy Academy conference, and trying to sleep in a residence room that overlooked a busy street, I think my suitcase had a better time than I did.

And the suit I panic-bought at a discount fashion emporium down the road from STA Bocconi is still hanging in my closet, emerging periodically for formal-dress occasions.