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The Full Lid 26th April 2019

Hi! I'm Alasdair Stuart, professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst, podcaster and 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist. This is The Full Lid, my weekly pop culture enthusiasm download.  Welcome!

First off, what isn't in this week; no Spotlight and no 'So Where Can We Find You?' sections. I make sure the person involved has final say on the spotlight text and photo before publication and, it being a short and intense week, I've not had time to do that. It'll return next week. Likewise, 'So, Where Can We Find You?'. The answer to that is 'Some new places! Which is why the feature is back next week.'

So, shall we see what's on deck?

Contents

Podcast 301
Moonbase Theta, Out
Boldest Going
ConLore
Signing Off
 
Spoilers abound and sharing is caring so if you enjoy this issue, let your friends know. Now, let's open the lid!
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Podcast 301 at EasterCon


I've been attending conventions in the UK for ten years now and the changes I'm seeing are starting to be pleasingly noticeable. The most obvious ones are the embracing of pronoun and communication badges, pioneered by the late and hopefully returning Nine Worlds. These were initially pronoun stickers and traffic light badges signalling how comfortable you were talking to folks. At EasterCon last weekend, that had evolved into custom made pronoun badges (She/her, He/Him, They/Them and so on) and specific iconography. That's BRILLIANT, and shows an industry that has all too often, in my experience, turned to it's past for how to behave instead facing it's future and addressing it how it wants to be addressed, instead of how they would have done so in the '50s.

But that's not the only way things are visibly improving. Four years ago, volunteering at a convention, I had to explain to a decades-in-the-business, award winning creative you've probably heard of that a harassment policy was not a needless frippery but rather the equivalent of putting a roof on a house. Sooner or later, you always end up needing it. That wasn't the only complaint we had about the policy, but it was the one that left the nastiest taste in my mouth. A taste, I notice four years later, has gone. Harassment policies are now the norm. The Overton Window of tradition has shifted and shifted, FOR ONCE, to the left.

That doesn't just apply to cultural changes either. I'm seeing the ragged leading edge of the singularity hitting at multiple places across the industry and improving what came before it every time it does. Ten years ago I explained that I worked for a podcast and was greeted with the polite, confused expression of a relative who's pretty certain they've been told a joke but have no idea whether or not to laugh. This year, I was part of the best podcast panel I've seen, or been on, at a convention to date.

That's entirely due to the type of information we were talking about. I'm always aware of the fact every issue has to be someone's first, and every panel is someone's introduction to a subject. I'm also aware that the same year I had the harassment policy conversation I appeared on the exact same podcast panel, with the exact same brief and exact same people, at three conventions. The UK scene is not large. At all. Yet there we were, swapping moderator each time to try and keep it fresh. Trying to push things forward even as we were making sure no one got lost.

Eastercon was something different. It was a collection not just of people who work in the field but an audience who are as comfortable with 'podcast' as they are 'youtube' and 'kickstarter'. The digital economy is alive and, if not well, then certainly yelling abuse and demanding to not spend the rest of the winter tied to this fucking couch.

This week alone saw Luminary launch months early and missing a stream of major shows. We've got Spotify fighting the BBC, the BBC pulling shows from other platforms and Himalaya and The Athlete prepping their own strands even as the BBC quietly fires up it's own podcast service. It is a very weird time to be in this field and a very, very good one too. The issue of pay and how that's balanced with overtly capitalistic tendencies and the obstacles they represent is being talked about in a way I've never seen before and it's as inspiring as it is mildly intimidating. Podcasting, like I've said before, is mid montage and there's a LOT to catch up on. This weekend, I had the chance to not just do that but discover that everyone else is in doing the same thing. Which is a roundabout way of saying that despite this being my first Eastercon, I felt very at home and that can only be a good thing. Thanks, folks.

And speaking of that excellent panel,here's the Unroll of Marguerite's livetweet.

Moonbase Theta, Out

Moonbase Theta is shutting down. As the corporate enclave that owns it shifts form, and unease on Earth, begins to rise, the experiments are put in storage and the crew prepare to go into stasis for return to Earth. Crewmember Roger Bragado-Fischer sends weekly reports, closed out by the short personal message he's allowed every week for his husband, Alexandre. It's been a long tour and Roger is ready to come home. But home is further away than he thinks.

Moonbase Theta, Out is a masterclass in invention, writing and acting. Invention because the format of the show, five minute reports delivered by a single voice, gives it a lightness of touch and an intimacy that benefits every aspect. This feels like a slightly blue collar science station reporting in, the sort of place that the Nostromo would stop off at and trade coffee and beer with. The sort of place that is perpetually a couple of hills away from Sam Bell's lonely outpost. The crew have tensions, friendships, tragedies. It's a workplace, just one a quarter of a million miles away. That familiarity lures both us, and Roger, into a false sense of security as does the bite sized nature of the episodes.

Writing, because DJ Sylvis slowly unravels Roger's world with masterful ease. What begins as minor workplace irritation becomes major world shaking events. World building is subtly baked in and even when exposition is used, Roger is literally being paid to brief people about life on the base. It all makes sense, it all feels real and earned and that makes the back half all the more effective. The final two episodes especially do a brilliant job of placing the events we've seen in a wider context and showing us not just the terror of being left behind, but the strange beauty and temptation that comes from being awake in places like this. It's not horror, not at all, but it's also a show that isn't afraid to explore the untidy edge of human emotion with clear, kind eyes.

Finally, it's a masterclass in acting. Leeman Kessler, who I've had the privilege of working alongside, does extraordinary work as Roger. His warm, friendly tones instantly put you at ease and establish Roger as a fundamentally likable leading man. Then, Leeman and DJ slowly curdle them as tragedy and stress take their toll. An episode that opens without the usual introduction makes you sit up straight. An episode that closes with Roger using the personal message time to tearfuilly plead with Alexandre to take drastic action doubly so. Leeman is utterly convincing here as a decent, put upon man in an impossible situation. it's one of the best podcast performances I've ever heard. 

Moonbase Theta, Out is everything science fiction likes to say it is. Character driven, action defined, intellectual and concerned with the human condition as well as the unfolding plot. Season 1 is available now through all good podcatchers. Season 2 is casting as we speak and here's their call sheet. 

Boldest Going

The best magic tricks happen in plain sight. I've levitated milk, produced whiskey from thin air, harpooned balloons and passed objects through solid steel in full view of audiences knowing full well that while they can see the pieces they can't see how they fit. That exact structure is what the second season of Star Trek: Discovery used and I've rarely seen it used better. Pledge, Turn, Prestige. The classic magic trick narrative, just spread across 14 episodes and seven signals.

Pledge first. Nothing more, nothing less than that this is a Star Trek prequel show. A simple truth instantly complicated by the fact the show was never going to be made with the 1960s aesthetic of the original because, well, time's linear. As a result, the show's production values and it's use of high tech devices you just couldn't represent in the 1960s drove a lot of people absolutely wild. It's the classic fandom Uncanny Valley: listen to the people who want the old stuff again and for every one you'll please there'll be two yelling about how you did it wrong. Probably in writing.

So, problem. Solution? Stop setting the show in the past of Star Trek. At all.

The Turn next where you assemble the solution from a fleet of components that in isolation don't seem to be part of the larger picture. So we get the human colony on Terralysium, the Kelpien emancipation, the rescue of everyone's favorite Gay Space Grandma, Engineer Jett Reno and so on. Best of all though, it's here that the show throws a couple of red herrings in the way. The most obvious is the ridiculously compelling, instantly likable Enterprise command crew as played by Anson Mount,. Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck. We want these folks to stick around, they're familiar in the best, newest way. Likewise characters like Admiral Cornwell and Ash Tyler, who get chunky roles in the finale. Then there's the Short Treks produced between seasons, 'Calypso', 'Stowaway' and 'The Brightest Star' proved utterly vital while the Harry Mudd spotlighting 'The Escape Artist' was also present. Without that, you can see the shape of the solution. With it, everything is just obfuscated enough. You can't help but feel Mudd would appreciate the deception too, After all, magicians are just grifters with better agents.

And finally, The Prestige. We hear a band but there is no band. The bird really does disappear. The willful deception of the trick, that we all buy into, is replaced with the stark cold water realization that this really is something different. Something new. Best of all, something new that we've been watching assemble itself in front of us. I love how the final episode contrasts the crew frantically building the time suit with Burnham's fierce calm once she realizes what she has to do and in fact has already done. She's always been the architect of her own salvation. She's always been the one who reprograms the test so it's possible to win. She's always been heading for this exact point and the moment she realizes that, every terrible wound she's suffered becomes a course correction, every tragedy a compass bearing. All of them leading to a new home, a new frontier, a clean getaway.


A series defined and imprisoned by five decades of expectation, finding a way out of that prison. An orphan discovering not only why she's an orphan but that her mother has shown her how to save her friends. A Star Trek show, boldly going somewhere they truly never have before. Using the past not as armor, but as a launch pad to catapult itself into the Undiscovered Country. And doing so, led by a black woman with flaming wings, hurtling head first and eyes up, into a future that may not be better but is sure as Hell different to where she and her new family came from. You bet your ass I cried. You bet your ass I applauded too.

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix now. They are wildly different, but both worth your time.
Last Week Tonight introducing you to the wonders of massively violent unofficial mascot Chitan. You're welcome.

ConLore

This is the way my brain works. I am busy in exactly the way I like at the moment, a state of mind which exists somewhere between ‘I am a leaf on the wind’ and ‘They’re coming through the goddamn walls!’ just with much less death. I’m second drafting a novel, first drafting a novella, have two audio projects in various stages of completion and am in talks for a bunch of other projects. It’s great, and terrifying, and great and the reason why i face forward on the rocket at times like this? Is so I can steer and not freak out about how fast things are going.

But there’s a thing that’s bothering me and has bothered me for a year. I’m going to talk about it and in doing so put it down and tell you what I learned from it. Last year I was hired to moderate some convention panels for a show in London. I researched them, I worked my ass off and we did good. Until the panel I was parachuted onto at the last minute to fill a hole. You’ll note I’m naming no names here. That’s deliberate.

A panel host dropped out at the last minute and a friend of mine put me forward for the slot. The PR running the panel, clearly, did not want me. However, because English is a culture made entirely out of tolerating things we hate, would not say that out loud despite me spending a lot of time trying to tell him it was fine if someone else did it. So I dug in, started research, tried to do a good job. Then we lost half the guests. Suddenly I was looking at a panel with two directors, a star and a character actor a good chunk down the cast list. I bloody love character actors (This guy actually went to the same school as me!) but the muscle of the panel was shifting.  All the while, the PR was giving me constantly contradictory instructions including, literally at one point, giving me a long list of things that had to be talked about and then ‘But have fun with it!! Be chatty!’

When two people working at different speeds have to work in the same space one of two things happens; you either mesh or the cogs shred gears. This was not a situation where meshing occurred. In between a vast array of very sympathetic, long suffering looks from one of his assistants, I found myself in the Green Room, ten minutes before the panel, being asked if I’d seen the movie yet. I am honest. To a fault. Deliberately. I’d seen enough of it to build questions at that point and researched the rest so I told the truth. PR dude did not react well. The cast members and directors? World of difference. Especially after I ran the panel, hitting every single point the PR guy wanted and giving everyone equal mic time. We ran to schedule, we got applause, even as PR dude prowled the outer edge of the room like a caffeinated 1970s panther.

The panel ended, I thanked everyone for their time, including him and got my head bitten off. He took me to one side and accused me of being about to criticize the movie in front of its directors back in the Green Room to make him look bad. I am 6’2 and built like a quarterback. I’m also neither an idiot or a sociopath. I don’t raise my voice. I don’t get confrontational. So when I say my first response to this was ‘How fucking dare you?’ You get some idea of how far I’d been pushed. He’d shown up late, he’d been endlessly micro managing and contradictory and passive aggressive. I’d had enough. He backed down, assured me that now I’d explained myself he wouldn’t file a complaint and left. About three hours later, after the Adrenalin dump had faded, so did I.

I filed a report. Not a complaint. I made that clear at the time. But the way this guy carried himself and acted was a liability for any future staffers he didn’t have a prior relationship with. I co-run a convention volunteer team. I know how much work it is and I know how important it is to alert people to problems even if you aren’t there to deal with them.

I was assured I wasn’t at fault. Repeatedly.
I wasn’t hired again.
Emails about possible future work have, to this date, gone unanswered.

Freelancers don’t get blacklisted. We just don’t get called back.

Nothing that happened was my fault. I was placed in a situation I shouldn’t have been in with someone who didn’t want me there. I did the best I could and, as was always going to be the case, it wasn’t good enough. And, as the only member of this equation who cost the convention money rather than bringing money and guests (in theory) to the table, I was the part that could be lost. I understand that. I don’t like it. I don’t like that it seems like I got jettisoned for someone else’s bad behavior and i especially don’t like that I’ve had to put this together myself instead of being told. But that’s where I am, and, with this year’s show imminent and no word about if I’m working it, it’s time to put this down for good.

There are two take homes here. The personal one is this: if you happen to be running a UK genre convention, need a panel host and can cover accommodation and transport costs, get in touch. Hell, if you can't cover costs get in touch anyway - maybe we can work something out.

The more general one is this: If you find yourself as a convention volunteer in a situation that feels wrong, say so. Compromise only works until it doesn’t and if you’re going into a panel feeling sick with stress then you shouldn’t be in there. It’s okay to not want to do things. It’s okay to have boundaries and it’s mandatory that those boundaries be respected.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, wind to soar on, walls to secure and I really should find something better to put in the brain space this experience has been taking up...
I picked up Billie Eilish's album a little while ago (Slightly mumbly horror inspired sort of hiphop? ME?! Who could have known?!) and there's a lot of good stuff on it and inspired by it. This Galen Hooks routine is a favorite, especially Linda Celine's amazing solo performance that closes the video out.

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

Signing Off

*hurtles sideways and on fire into Friday evening*

Well that was intense.

Hi! EasterCon! Project Management training! Hugo Voter Packet submission! Multiple deadlines! Sending the final component of the After The War text in! That's a WEEK, and it's felt at times like I'm spinning burning plates in a circus that's also either spinning, on fire, or both.

Not true.

I've got this. And so have you. Drink some water, take some time away from the noise, plan your day to have holes in it where you do things other than work. I'm trying that. It's GREAT.

Anyway! Hope you enjoyed this week's newsletter. Why not check out Escape Artists podcasts and the Instagram page I share with the world's best in-house counsel/off duty Kryptonian at KennerStuart?

Finally, if you enjoyed this week, please consider buying me a coffee. Coffee defeats the Cheese Brain

Playing us out is the cast of little known indie movie. Avengers: Endgame, in select theaters now. You'll laugh, you'll wonder what the painting in Paul Rudd's attic looks like, you'll cry (DOUBLE emotional gut punch closing!) and I'll see you back here next week because this?
Is a Full Lid.
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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