The Full Lid 19th 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. Let's see what's on deck this week.


Lost Movies Found: Anna and the Apocalypse
FairLady Issue 1
Secure. Contain. Podcast.
Spotlight: James Davis Nicoll
Bucket Check A-OK
So Where Can We Find You?
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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Lost Movies Found: Anna and the Apocalypse

Last year I wrote this about the promising looking genre movies that never showed up outside eight cinemas and a handful of screenings in the UK. They're now filtering out onto blu-ray and VOD so I'm finally getting a chance to see some of the movies I've been excited about for a while. The first of which, Anna and the Apocalypse, sets a ridiculously high bar.

Anna (Ella Hunt) is about to leave her hometown for University. John (Malcolm Cumming) is about to apply to Art School. Steph (Sarah Swire) is about to break big as a social justice and issues based school journalist. Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is Steph's kindhearted cameraman who's dating Lisa (Marli Siu), an endlessly enthusiastic over-achiever. They're all resolutely normal kids in a normal town on a normal day. Except Anna's not going to Uni, John hasn't even applied to art school yet, Steph's been functionally abandoned by her parents and dumped by her girlfriend, Chris is struggling with an assignment and Lisa is about to be given more responsibility than she ever thought possible.

Oh and the dead are rising.

Written by the late, much missed Ryan McHenry and Alan McDonald and directed by John McPhail, Anna proudly drops it's blood-spattered candy cane quarterstaff on the table and takes a seat next to Slither, Shaun of the Dead and Brain Dead as one of the best horror comedies of all time. The humor here is almost constant, always deeply weird and, for me, reassuringly familiar. Small towns in the UK? WEIRD as Hell. Northern small towns? And speaking from personal experience ones on small islands? Weird as Hell squared. The school talent show is especially familiar ground to me although I tended to do magic rather than fish based (w)rap. Had I known though. Had I known. 

Every main character is ready, desperate even, for their lives to change. None of them are ready for it to change like this and that throws the film into some rich, rarely explored territory. An entire musical number, which plays us out this week, is based on Anna and John being so happy for once that they don't notice the world ending around them. It's funny and dark and melancholy and exuberant and the entire movie is this good and this brave. The B-plot, which sees Anna's dad, the school caretaker  (The always excellent Mark Benton) clash with the increasingly deranged headmaster Mr Savage (Paul Kaye turning in career best work and one hell of a solo number) is especially good and pulls absolutely no punches. Things end badly in this movie. For far more of the cast than you might expect. This is a story about a small town being hammered flat by an event it can't understand and there really is no Hollywood Ending. Just brave, flawed people doing the best they can and, often, realizing that's putting themselves in harm's way so someone else isn't. To borrow The Breakfast Club's Bowie quote, these children too are painfully aware of what they're going through. And they do it anyway. 

All of which would mean nothing if the cast didn't work but they're all just ridiculously good.. None of the characters leave the movie as the people they begin as and all of them have moments of extraordinary courage and towering, gloriously familiar, incompetence. Anna and John's magnificently bad dancing in Turning My Life Around, Chris' sincere love for his Gran, Lisa's magnificently filthy (And yet not filthy at all) musical number. Nick (Ben Wiggins), Anna's ex-boyfriend and his gradual transformation from action hero to terrified but resolute victim. Steph's flat out sprint towards any Good fight. Everyone's fear when the phone network finally collapses. These are familiar characters. You'll have been at least one of them. I know I have and win or lose, live or die they're all in the spotlight and all deserve their place there. Soaked in blood, laughing so they don't cry and hurtling towards an unknown future. Just like the rest of us, but with candy cane quarterstaff at the ready.

Easier to dance to than 28 Days Later and braver than Shaun of the Dead, Anna and the Apocalypse is brilliant, available now and you need to see it.
Due for release next month, Alt-Frequencies casts you as the only person who realizes humanity is locked in a three minute time loop. You can change the next loop by connecting the dots between the people you hear on the radio. Doesn't that sound GREAT?! I'll be playing this so will report back.

FairLady 1 Issue 1

Jenner Faulds posed as a man to fight in the last war. When it ended, she had the same problem every soldier did; returning to a world she'd risked everything to protect and finding it no longer fitted her. Many soldiers became Fairmen, licensed investigators helping to keep the peace, often by clashing with former colleagues.

Jenner became the only FairLady.

Brian Schirmer's script won me over with the first page. The issue opens in media res and there's a gag involving a thug, Oanu, Jenner's partner and violence which had me laughing for five straight pages. Schirmer talks in the backmatter here about the book being 'gender swapped Magnum PI in a post-War of the Ring world' and that's a perfect description. Hard-boiled, morally complex crime investigated by someone who is no longer quite sure what the right side ever was, let alone if they were on it.

The book, like Jenner and Oanu, has plenty of tricks up its sleeve. The first is Claudia Balboni's art which combines the grounded pragmatism the title needs with the fantastical imagery the world requires. Most of the issue is set in a settlement built into the remains of a vast automaton, Jenner and Oanu ride bear-like creatures rather than horses. Countless visual cues let us know this isn't our world but never do at the expense of atmosphere. Marissa Louise's color choices are a big part of that too, especially on the final reveal where they communicate total fragility and terror, all in lockstep with Balboni's confident, precise lines. David Bowman's lettering and design is the final tumbler in the lock,  focusing the confidence of every other element and giving each character an instant, and instantly likable voice. Plus, together they pull off multiple visual gags like this which I just love.

Oh and every issue is a complete story (including an additional case file this time, written by editor Dani Coleman). So not only is this a great first issue but this is a book designed to ensure every issue can be someone's first issue. Like I say, tricks up every sleeve.

Fun, kind, hard-bitten and clear-voiced FairLady is great and you should read it. Issue 1 is out now. Find it at  my local comic shop, your local comic shop or Comixology.. Once you have, go say hi to the team on Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.
SciFi London's 48 hour movie challenge is as gruelling for the filmmakers as it is fun for the viewers. Do check out the movies, under the hashtag #sfl48hr. This, by my old friend Chris Brosnahan and team is a particular favorite.

Secure. Contain. Podcast.

I'm just going to leave this here. Be warned, if you read one article, you'll read ten. 

The SCP Foundation is a fictional umbrella for the nightmares that haunt us and the ways we deal with them. Equal parts Wiki-based fiction community and cross-section of modern horror evolving in real time it's an astonishing achievement and one that's led to numerous spin-off projects. Here's Gavia Baker-Whitelaw over at The Daily Dot with an excellent rundown of some of them, as well as what the SCP does.

And now, it has a podcast.

Created by Pacific S. Obadiah with a cast and crew including Vin Ernst, Michael Miller and Mather William the show takes everything you'd think wouldn't work on audio and uses it to weave precise aural nightmares. What you get is an SCP file, detailing a subject under containment, what they are, how they were discovered and any offshoot research that their presence at the organization has led to. Names are redacted, most of the time, and the show makes a point of hinting at other files. Files which you can in turn look up and be drawn further in. This isn't a 'go here for bonus content!' scam, far from it. Every episode is a door into the SCP itself. A door you don't remember opening and one that will absolutely lock behind you.

What I've always loved about SCP as a concept is what I love about this show. It's an idea I find myself encountering a lot, that of the 'ragged singularity'. It's not that the future is on the way, it's that it's continually arriving and in some cases has been here for a long, long time. The artifacts and creatures the SCP encounter, and that the show details, are often living proof of that. The future has teeth, the future is patient and the SCP's job is to understand it before it can attack. That's vastly compelling, and the show captures that tone perfectly.

Any episode is a good jumping on point but for me, the highlight so far has been SCP-049-The Plague Doctor. The story of a polite, well-educated French doctor who is not even a little human anymore it features a superb central turn from Karim Kronfi as SCP-049 and an able foil in Audrey Cassil's Doctor Hamm. It's also worth noting the show clearly works extremely hard on representation, and the way Doctor Hamm's character is presented was as impressive as it was welcome.

The SCP Archives is clever, versatile horror audio that combines the format of it's text with the format of it's delivery to create something that feels streamlined, clever and deeply unsettling. It's one of my favorite podcasts right now and you can find it here and on all good podcatchers.


Spotlight: James Davis Nicoll

Fellow Best Fan Writer finalist, and fellow former games store manager, James Davis Nicoll's work takes in columns and reviews.  What I particularly like about it is his ability to take a wide concept and explore how it's been approached by multiple authors, educating you in both the concept and the approaches to it. World States and Mega Empires in SF over at Tor is a good example.

James also has a healthy engagement with the scientific side of science fiction that, for me at least, involves a truly refreshing lack of off-putting technical crunch. How to Destroy Civilization and Not Be Boring is especially good for this, presenting a smorgasbord of apocalypse for you to pick from with a welcome, playfully cheery approach.

But for me, James' best work is Young People Read Old SF and its sister project, Old People Read Young SF. It's one of those projects that does exactly what the title says, placing SF from each era in front of readers who aren't. It could so easily have been a minefield of snark but instead James has created an honest, direct look at the differences in generations of readers. That same approach informs his book reviews and provides a much needed lens to examine SF through, golden age and contemporary alike.

James, like everyone on this list, is a pretty active digital citizen. He blogs at James Davis Nicoll. You can find his pieces here and he's on Twitter as @Jamesdnicoll.
A few weeks back I talked about Tim Maughan's excellent Infinite Detail. Warren Ellis really liked it too and linked to this lovely piece of tie in audio from Lifted Icons in his newsletter this week. 

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

Bucket Check A-OK

When I'm asked to hop on a phone call in the middle of the day, it's usually for something exciting. I'll admit, there's always a nasty little voice going 'IT'S SOMETHING BAAAAAAAAD!' but it's quieter than it's been in years. Oh and yes it does sound like Binky the Clown

Anyhoo, on the call I hopped:

-A friend of ours had a sit down meeting with a commissioning audio department at a very large organization with three initials you'e heard of. The brilliant thing about that is that Americans and Brits will be thinking of equally plausible entirely different organizations.

Anyway, he asked whether we had any pitches ready and there are a couple of things we've been working on for a while which would be a good fit so I spent two hours working them up. Marguerite edited them, And the seven not-house trained, not especially well-formed others I worked up too. We sent them to our friend, got notes, acted on those, sent the revisions across and the meeting was yesterday.

There are two punchlines here. The first is that this entire process rendered our creative brains like unto things of cheese for 24 hours. Seriously I was not able to write fiction yesterday at all, although I did put 300 words into Every Hungry Thing which will be 500 that don't suck when I go back to it. So, I work well under pressure and not at all for a day or so once that pressure is lifted.

The second punchline is that there isn't one. Or rather that there isn't one yet. What this process is far more about is learning how to write series pitches and learning how you work best then combining those two. Will anything come of this directly? No, odds are. Will the skills I've begun picking up pay off further down the line? Either with three letter acronym organizations or in general work? Damn right they will. 

More words in the bucket than at the start of the week, progress made and frontiers pushed. That's definitely worth a day of brain cheese.

So Where Can We Find You?

At PseudoPod!
At Eastercon!
  • For one Sunday morning only! I'm on The Current State of Podcasting at 10.15am on Sunday. I have opinions and also a tremendous amount of hope and excitement for the future. Come join us! Con details here.
At SciFiBulletin!
  • Supergirl's current season is the best show has ever been and I had a lot of fun catching up with it. Blood Memory does an excellent job of mixing the show's core themes, Menagerie introduces a fun new villain, What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way? gives David Ajala's wonderful Manchester Black a ton to do while Stand & Deliver is an all-time great, with one of the best closing sequences the show has ever had. Finally, O Brother Where Art Thou? brings the other Luthor into the fold in a big way.
  • There are persistent rumors The Orville may be on the cancellation bubble. I hope not as it's not only the least on-brand (And best) thing Seth MacFarlane's ever done but it continually takes really fun chances. This week's episode, Sanctuary, focuses entirely on the clash between Moclan culture and the Union and is one of the show's best ever hours.
  • Black Lightning rounds out a vastly ambitious second year with Book of the Apocalypse Chapter 2: The Omega. This effortlessly upends the entire premise of the show and sets up an even stronger third season.

Signing Off


So yeah that was a WEEK. Tomorrow I'm off to EasterCon. Come say hi if you're there! Then next week it's a project management seminar (Where ARE the pencils?), Hugo Prep and back to the buckets and everything else. The year has arrived, folks, and it's put a brick on the accelerator for sure.

But we've got this. Take some time for yourself, make sure your people are good too (in that order, your oxygen mask first, remember) and let's get to it. Meet me back here in 7 days and we'll catch up. Cool? COOL.

Did you enjoy this week's newsletter? Why not check out Escape Artists podcasts and the first of no doubt numerous digital examples of the imminent Marguerite/Alasdair overmind on instagram at KennerStuart

Finally, if you enjoyed this week, please consider buying me a coffee. The Cheese Brain fears coffee but I love it.

Playing us out this week is the gloriously perky, and mildly blood spattered 'Turning My Life Around' from Anna and the Apocalypse. So remember, aim for the head, destroy the brain 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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