The Full Lid
19th June 2020

Hi everyone! Welcome to The Full Lid!

It's Friday, you might have a commute, you might have some time to kill and you DO have email! The good kind! Pop culture enthusiasm, career notes, reviews and anything else that I've enjoyed this week.

Our interstitials this week are short indie SF films. These are amazing, and I discovered so many more than I could feature in a single week so you'll be seeing plenty more of them in future issues too.

I'm honored to be a Hugo finalist again this year so if you're eligible, please consider voting for me; you can find my voter packet here. I'm also launching profiles of the other Fan Writer finalists shortly so you'll get a chance to learn more about their amazing work. And thank you!

Now? Let's open the Lid.


War of the Words
Club Ded
Signal Boost
The Department of Esoteric Printed Goods
So How Was Work This Week?
Signing Off / Playing Out

War of the Words

First, a small lesson in graphic design. Both these posters are for the recently concluded Anglo/French modern version of War of the Worlds. The poster on the left  was used to sell the series. It's what's called 'key art'. Meteors falling from the sky! Gabriel Byrne's enormous face shattering under their assault! Elizabeth McGoven is Downto(n) Survive! (sorrynotsorry), also some other people! Look not all the actors are white! Radio telescopes are COOL!

So this tells us the show is a big flashy series where lots of bad stuff happens and Gabriel Byrne comes apart at the seams while everyone else is slightly less important. That... is surprisingly accurate actually.

Poster two! A burning, deserted London -- cars on the street, dead bodies too. Something awful happens to the sky as two frightened, resolute young people walk along Westminster Bridge. One of them is black. Neither of them are Gabriel Byrne.

This was the poster used to promote the show while it aired. It's also a still from the final episode. We'll get to that. But what these posters illustrate beautifully is the weight of expectation on any version of War of the Worlds. People want tripods, underground cities, the red mist and possibly the holographic head of Richard Burton. They get frightened and annoyed and confused when none of those show up. Or as the recent BBC attempt found out, they don't show up enough.

Let's re-frame that reaction: the expectations of War of the Worlds are contradictory. Be the same as it ever was, but also be different and new. My contention this week is (a) this is impossible, and (b) the only way forward for future adaptations of genre classics is to as ignore as much as you can, build atop the rest and walk across Westminster Bridge towards your likely doom.

It'll be fun! I've got pictures!
Parallel evolution is a hell of a drug, and this is actually the second War of the Worlds adaptation to hit inside a year. It's not the best timing. Not Deep Impact / Armageddon bad but more Red Planet / Mission to Mars: one of them was interesting, tried new things and was overall a pleasant surprise and the other was Mission to Mars. Or in this case from Mars! Ha!


The BBC show, which I talked about late last year, had its moments. It did an interesting job of switching around the narrative, it remembered women existed, and it drove a big three-legged spike through the heart of British imperialism six months earlier than we might have wished. The cast and special effects were solid and the pacing made for a gripping, complex six part series.

Just one problem. It was three episodes long.

The failure broke along three different lines. The first was length, forcing the show to cram as much into each episode as possible leaving no room for any plot to breathe or fully develop. The second was how fundamentally dour it was. WotW isn't a barrel of laughs at the best of times, but the addition of George's marital angst, his eventual death and the never ending parade of stuffed shirts assuring us everything would be find while they whittled buses from cardboard boxes to confuse Victorian Google just turned the whole thing into a trudge. It had too little space to accomplish its goals and took too long to get anywhere to make use of what it had. 

And then there were the tripods. The show, scripted by Peter Harness, was so focused on the human drama that the tripods' appearances were both sporadic and felt oddly grudging, as if they'd wandered in from a different, more viscerally exciting version of the story being filmed next door.

It's a great sequence but that's, conservatively, a quarter of the Tripods' total screen time across three episodes. It feels like an action movie, where the rest of the series feels like Downton Abbey: Shit! Just! Got! Real!.

They double down on the tonal dissonance with the series' twin plots, one focused on the invasion, one five years later. It comes across like a great stand alone genre period drama that's been reluctantly retrofitted into a War of the Worlds mold. This is an adaptation buckling under the weight of expectation rather than standing up on it and bellowing its ululating alien cry of victory to the uncaring Woking skies.

The 2005 Tom Cruise-fronted movie version has exactly the same problem only backwards, in heels and with added death rays. Where this adds Victorian angst and imperialist guilt, the 2005 version added moments of abject horror, a terrible cop out ending and rather too much three legged death machine. The balance is remarkably difficult to strike and the perception of the balance is that as long as you stick to the original text it will be fine. Even if the original text is now so indivisible form the Jeff Wayne version you actually hum the overture as you open the book. 

There's an impression of this being a perfected text. Of, as I say, cover versions not adaptations being the way forward.

Howard Overman did not receive that memo.
Overman's version, co-financed by Sky and Canal + is set in the present day. Astronomer Doctor Catherine Durand (Léa Drucker) detects a signal which suggests intelligent design. As she studies it, multiple objects enter Earth's atmosphere  and a magnetic pulse kills everyone who wasn't sheltered. Aided by her security detail led by Colonel Mokrani (Adel Bencherif) Catherine tries to understand why this is happening. Elsewhere neuroscientist (Gabriel Byrne) Bill Ward takes extraordinary measures to protect his ex-wife Helen (Elizabeth McGovern), while Sarah Gresham (Natasha Little) and her husband Jonathan (Stephen Campbell Moore) find themselves on opposite sides of the English Channel. Sarah grapples with keeping her children Tom (Ty Tennant) and Emily (Daisy Edgar-Jones) alive while Jonathan is aided by French survivor Chloe Dumont (Stéphane Caillard). Elsewhere, former soldier Kariem (Bayo Gbadamosi) and hospital porter Ash (Aaron Heffernan) find themselves on very different fronts of the war.

No tripods. Almost no aliens. Instant, clinical, near-mass extinction. Overman's script lays its cards on the table early and sets most of them on fire. This is a show where survival is a constantly evolving equation. Difficult choices are constant. Sarah does a lot of heavy lifting as she constantly sacrifices others to protect her kids. Likewise, Bill is either borderline or actively abusive. Depending on how you view it, he uses the end of the world to make things right or double down.

There are no photogenic survivors, no convenient skill sets. Just terrified people, an eerily quiet Earth, and the constant threat of relentless quadrupedal robots finishing the cull.

Content Warning: this segment contains descriptions of violence to pregnant women

It's very bleak, and that's even before we get to the pivotal role a Nick Cave song plays in proceedings.

As the series progresses, Overman feeds us crumbs about the aliens' intentions which go down a near impossibly dark path. A maternity ward is emptied by the robots. A woman Helen and Sarah try to help survive is revealed to be heavily pregnant and pursued by the robots. In arguably the moment the show doesn't so much cross the line as set fire to it and dance on it's ashes, a pregnant police officer's body is shown floating away, her torso opened and her baby removed. The fact this happens at all is going to turn some people off. The fact it happens in the middle of a two episode plot that touches on both incest and murder? Doubly so.

The show is A Lot. At times it's Too Much. Just when it starts to tip over into the performative, it begins to reel things back in. The disparate groups begin to meet up, a plan forms and with it a tonal shift. This isn't an endless adrenaline-drenched fight for survival. Or at least not just that. It's also a biological puzzle, one intrinsically tied to Emily, Chloe's son Sacha (Mathieu Torloting) and the robots. Emily is blind until the robots arrive. Sacha feels a kinship for them and through them, has visions of Emily. When Bill dissects a dead robot, he finds a complete map of human DNA. There's a growing sense of menace in the later episodes which in turn, cleverly steers the story back to the original text and splits it along largely generational lines. The older characters become focused on survival and rebuilding, the younger ones on knowing why this has happened at all.

All of them fighting their way through environments not choked with red weed but with the bodies of their former neighbors, friends, lovers. Survival, denied the comforting closure of the original text. Moments of grace in the rubble. The latter episodes of the show are very, very good.
And they all lead here: Kariem and Emily. A terrified former child soldier turned illegal immigrant and an equally terrified occasionally blind woman walk the streets of a dead city, seeking to understand their connection to the creatures killing everyone. Initially tropey characters taking control of the narrative and interrogating it. No red weed, no tripods, no massive scale assault. Just two brave, frightened young people facing down death and refusing to stop moving forward.

This is why the Overman version works for me. Despite the decompressed storytelling, despite the show's wild swing into mid-season Gallic dour. That when it comes down to it, a situation like this isn't about the colossal war machines killing us. It's about the people surviving, and what they do not just for themselves, but for each other. The war is waged, certainly. But the war against terror and entropy has at least as much importance as the war against Boston Dynamics' feral children. It's easier to win too. Especially on the home front.

I really hope the show gets another season and I know a production office was opened in January, but this is 2020 after all. Even if it never goes past season one's thrilling, uncertain ending, the lesson for future adaptations is simple, powerful and undeniable.

Play your own tune. Pick the notes you want to play not the notes people expect. Tell the story you want, and trust it will intersect with the story your audience expects. Be like the second poster not the first. Don't stand still to be bombarded with audience expectation. Go find the story you want your audience to see. The people that matter will come with you.

The BBC War of the Worlds is on iplayer now. The Sky/Canal + version is available via Sky boxsets.
Kifaro by Dilman Dila
I was introduced to Dilman Dila's work by Charles Payseur and, like every recommendation I've ever seen from Charles, it was absolutely spot on. Dila's work is full of wit, humour and invention and Kifaro, the story of a man sending a drone to kill his wife's lover, is no exception. There are multiple Terminator sequels that wish they were this good.

Club Ded

Editor's note: spoilers

Welcome to Cape Town. If you're Brick Bryson, washed up '90s action star, it's the last place you want to be filming a movie. Especially the increasingly troubled Club Ded. And especially with Croeser, Bryson's disgraced former friend.

But Brick, for once, is not the star, just a player. On the surface, under the pages and all around Club Ded, Capetown is moving and evolving. Operatives of a secret intelligence gathering organisation have gone rogue and are pushing a fish-derived hallucinogen on the populace. Revolutionaries are drawing up their plans, even as others hide in basements made of their childhood nightmares. The film must be made. But whose story is this really?

Singh uses the different cultural approaches of his leads like a magician uses cards, always holding your eyes but never quite letting you look where you think you should. The film narrative is overlaid on Brick's fading career, which in turn collides with the rising tide of drugs and the conspiracy behind it. Celebrity here is revealed to be an elevator that goes up as well as down and Brick spends much of the novel working out what he feels about that.

But Brick is far from alone here. A lot of the book is concerned with Sulette, a thoroughly bored woman who falls in -- and in something approaching love -- with Trill. Trill is a gender fluid sex worker and low level drug dealer and Sulette is fascinated with them the same way a cat will fixate on the spider it eventually eats. This is some of the hardest work to read in the novel, and Singh pulls no punches. Sulette's casual referral to Trill as 'It' is deliberately normalized in the text so we have to make a conscious effort to notice and push back against it. When Sulette falls into a deeply weird, torturous pseudo-relationship with one of Trill's customers, and her neighbor, things get even more complex. She's vile. So is he. But together they have, balance, if nothing else.

This is where Club Ded dances; on the line between camera and shot, between director and writer and actor. Capetown re-imagined as a set, as a playground, as a canvas for a painting made of hallucinogens. Ideas are thrown at the page with the same density as the heat that hangs in the air but they never overwhelm. Singh holds there, in the liminal ground between a dozen different ways to create a novel which is noir, comedy, science fiction, conspiracy thriller and more.  The collision between creative methods, between cultures, between moralities, all of it happening on every page as the band plays faster with every hit. It's heady, intoxicating, challenging stuff. But that's the plan, as Singh clearly delights in showing us.

Club Ded is complex, ambitious, disturbing and bleakly funny. It's out now from Luna Publishing.
Suicide by Sunlight by Nikyatu Jusu

Recommended to me by the mighty Brendon Connolly, Suicide by Sunlight is a deeply inventive and personal vampire story. Nikyata Jusu's direction is tight and nervy, the plot plays out at agonisingly perfect speed and finishes in a way that's as horrifying as it is fitting. Brilliant stuff.
New reader? Find The Full Lid archive here.
Follow this link to toss a bean in the caffeine cup.
Website Website
Twitter Twitter
Instagram Instagram
Facebook Facebook


Editor's note: spoilers

Earth is a distant memory and the past is a junkyard of fortune and death in equal measure. Joss is an Engineward, a doctor and priest for machines who can make anything she can't fix. Ichabod works security for the figs out in the wastelands, as confident as he is capable. But when Ichabod's latest job yields something extraordinary, he and Joss find themselves at the centre of events that will change their lives and their world forever.

George Mann's script is the first thing you notice, which is impressive given how good Joe Eisma's art is. The world is convincingly sandblasted and barren but also busy and full. There's a neat balance of scale and character, especially in the first sequence and the character designs all really pop. Joss is delightfully both a character and a woman who has clearly been drawn by someone who knows what humans look like. Ichabod is an amiable wall of mass but not muscle, carrying the physique his work would bring him, as opposed to the one he'd be expected to have. They're normal, and they're likable and they have conversations like this:
Not romantic, but a nicely edges-knocked-off relationship that defines the series instantly. It also grounds it as the more fantastic elements come into play, starting with the ghoulem (a robot, sort of...) Joss is working with who may have gained sentience...

Kreek is an instantly fun character and one I suspect will be vital to the story. Kreek is also a clever in-road into both the art and just how different this book is. Eisma's character designs are pleasingly organic but also just a little fantastical and Kreek feels alien but at the same time, oddly familiar and reassuring. On the flip side, the glimpse of the Celestials we see is terrifying, their decadent lifestyle and asymmetrical metal body parts giving the book an instant tangible threat while reinforcing that this is a very odd world.

That's also true of Michael Garland's subtle colour work, giving the book a sunblasted feel at the same time as making sure each character pops visually. Great work too from the always excellent Hassan Otsmane-Elhrou on lettering, who nails the bounce and rhythm of how these wildly different characters speak.

Engineward is a fantasy series with a science fiction heart, a brasspunk extravaganza with a sword in one hand and a soldering iron in the other. It's a twelve issue maxi-series and if you want it, you need to contact your local comic shop and ask for it. In fact, if you can do so before Monday because that's when final orders are due. Please do, you won't regret it.
White directed by A. Sayeeda Clarke
Set in a near future where the Earth is baking under global warming, White follows Bato (Elivs Nolasco in ebullient form) as he makes an intensely personal sacrifice to save his newborn child's life. This is FANTASTIC, the sort of thing Black Mirror does at it's best but with a very different feel and tone. Thanks to 7th Matrix for the recommendation.

Signal Boost

  • Geek Syndicate are one of the best geek culture podcasts in the UK. Just period, no more needed. If you like what I do, you'll LOVE that they do. Their Ko-Fi and Patreon have just been re-launched so please go help them out.
  • The always brilliant Jennie Gyllblad and fefeTea from The Association of Comic Creators in response to some of this week's events. As Jennie told me:

    'The Association Of Comic Creators is a safe space for people involved in the small press and mainstream comics industries to share knowledge and advice with each other. To keep this space safe, we verify that people are indeed creators in the industry before they join. The AoCC is one big inclusive community. We do not tolerate harassment or discrimination of any kind."

    If you're a comic creator, you're going to want to join. Details are here.
  • Six to Start, who will short be publishing Wreck Runner! by Mur and myself, are open to submissions again. They're great to work for and it's a fun process. Would recommend.
  • Fighting for the Future, Liverpool University Press' anthology of critical essays about Star Trek: Discovery, is released at the end of this month. Heads up, it's a £90 hardback. Definitely worth requesting from your local library while we await a paperback release.
  • Tripwire's 2020 Comics Awards have been announced and are full of some great titles.
  • Andrea Philips, who wrote one of my all time favorite books, needs preorders for her latest one, a novel-sized treatment of the fantastic novelette The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike (here on Escape Pod). Full details are here and you really do need to pick this up.

Editor's note: We both pre-ordered this by accident. No regrets.

That's this week's Signal Boost, folks. If you have a project you'd like to see here get in touch.
The Water Phoenix by Bola Ogun

Bola Ogun's powerful short debut hits every mark in its short runtime. What impacted me the most was the central character, a captured mermaid played by Ogun herself, centers a version of this iconic mythical creature that's not white. Intensely smart, nuanced and beautiful work all round. Thanks once again to 7th Matrix.

Department of Received Esoteric Printed Goods

The gorgeous chapbooks are the latest batch of short fiction from Nightjar Press. Limited edition, signed, individual stories that have sharp edges and bright eyes. I'll be talking about them in detail here shortly.

Dead centre is the latest weirdmail from the incomparable DreadSingles. Join their Patreon and get their comedy horror novel Hot Singles in Your Area here

So How Was Work This Week?

I figured out three important things this week:
  • I can only write one book at a time. Right now that's the Doctor Who one and it's going well. I'm no longer afraid of it, not quite no longer terrified of writing a shitty first draft but definitely in a good head space.
  • The novel, when I circle back to it, is going to need some rethinking. Nothing major but no one wants space police in 2020, and I can write something better and more interesting. Just not at the same time as the Doctor Who book.
  • I have a maximum capacity. I know, I know, this just in! MAN DISCOVERS LIMITS! But it's true. I got two pitch opportunities this week and one possible article sale and it actually gave me the fear. The article fell through and I instantly felt better. So, my take homes are that I'm doing the right amount and that I should stop trying to do more. 

The Clark Kent Beat

  • Something Good closed last week with Marble Racing. And yes I almost did add another category called SOMETHING FUCKING BRILLIANT just for this.
  • Something Good opened this week with The Correspondents and an actual bullet time musical number. YES.
  • Oh hey! Here's my Hugo Voter Packet! And next week Fan Writer finalist profiles begin!

In Podcast Land

PseudoPod 707: CryBaby Escape Pod: 736: Techno-Rat (Summer Flashback)

Signing Off / Playing Out

This has been a difficult week in a way that's hard to articulate. I'm going to take a run at doing so anyway.

I've been a fan of Warren Ellis' work for half my life. His Come in Alone columns got me through my BA dissertation. Transmetropolitan and Stormwatch got me through my years as a comic store manager. Planetary and Global Frequency taught me how to do ethical, exciting, diverse modern pulp. So much so in fact that an upcoming project, YouTube Archaeology, had the Global Frequency pilot pencilled in as it's first instalment.

Closer to home, this newsletter was more than slightly inspired by his own, which for years has been a combination of reassurance, cultural enthusiasm and notes on the creative process.

Then this happened

And last night, whatever this thinks its trying to be. 

I don't have the time or energy to get into the 'art vs artist' battle that has reared its head yet again. It's an intensely subjective and personal issue, devoid of universal truths or iron clad rules to put your back against. I like my friend Imogen's approach.

But I will ask this: What aren't you doing when you're defending someone you admire but don't know? What aren't you bringing into the world? Why are you making that sacrifice? What part of yourself are you giving up to bathe in someone else's limelight? Who benefits? Who are you leaving out of the conversation? Who are you hurting?

Is it worth it?

Go make something. Go engage with old work and new perspective. 
And believe women. I do.

Playing us out this week are Lyle Workman featuring Bootsie Collins with 'Super What?' from the SuperBad soundtrack. I would ask you if Bootsie yelling 'LET ME PLAY WITH THE HAND OF FUNK NOW, BOBBLES!' is one of the great lyrics of history but we already know that.

You know what else we know? That this
is a Full Lid.
Copyright Alasdair Stuart © 2020 -- All rights reserved

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

This email was sent to <<Email Address>>
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp