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The Full Lid 26th July 2019

Happy Friday everyone!

I'm Alasdair Stuart, professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst, podcaster and 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist. Welcome to The Full Lid, my BRITISH FANTASY SOCIETY AWARD NOMINATED HOLY CRAP THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO NOMINATED ME weekly pop culture enthusiasm download.

Every Friday, around 5, you get all the details of the interesting, weird, fun, clever or often all of the above pieces of pop culture I've encountered in the last seven days. If you like what you read,the archive and sign up link are here. Please share it but if you do please tell folks how to subscribe and where you got it. Also if you want to buy me a coffee, thank you!.

Oh also there is a theme this week. Click through for spoilers.

Right then, contents time!
 

Contents

Space Race Episodes 1-3
Apollo at 50
Alan Moore
Signal Boosting
So Where Can We Find You?
Signing Off/Playing Out
Read More

The Space Race Episodes 1-3

B7 Media and Boffin Media are responsible for some of the best science audio and audio drama being put out right now. Space Race, which I'm three episodes into, already feels like their greatest achievement to date. Narrated by Kate Mulgrew, it's the story of crewed spaceflight's past, present and future. All of which are happening at once.

'Return to the Moon', the first episode cleverly balances the incredible engineering feats of Apollo with the context that led to their creation. There's a wonderful sequence inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, so large it has its own weather and a detailed look at the challenges of training astronauts to be geologists. There is no reference to training astronauts how to drill holes. I checked.

I know, I know, audio of people being excited about geology doesn't sound gripping but it really is. There's a moment from Apollo 17 where the landing crew find orange soil on the Moon that's incredibly exciting because everyone involved has precisely no chill whatsoever. The bleeding edge of human innovation is still human and that's both brilliant and has consequences, both of which are discussed here. All that, plus a pleasingly side-eyed discussion of the 'plan' to return to the Moon in five years makes the first episode a smart, driven pilot. Better still, as I say, it flits between the past, the present and the future, using a minor accident on a ferry in 2050 to explore the dire consequences of injury in space.

'Cold War Space' focuses more on the past and benefits from that purity of setting. It explores the complex moral and political grey areas that arose between the US and Russia after the war. Contrasting Von Braun's hero's welcome in the US with Sergei Korolev's quietly horrifying life it's a stark reminder of two things; how young this science is and just how much pressure everyone involved in its creation was under. So much so in fact, that Korolev is revealed to have become deeply attached to the dogs sent on experimental flights and inconsolable when they didn't return.

But he kept launching them anyway. And the Americans 'sanitized' the records of the Nazi scientists needed to get to the Moon. Under two decades after developing the weapon that devastated London, Von Braun was presenting a Disney TV show. Brave new words for a brave new world that quietly doesn't make eye contact with what came before.

'Space Warriors' is where everything comes together. Stories of the horrific injuries astronauts endured on acceleration couches are mixed with the birth of NASA itself and Kennedy's own attitude towards space travel to show you just how uncertain the ground beneath the program was, at first. From there it folds in the Mercury 7 and the Mercury 13 and finishes with John Glenn's flight. Oh and a cliffhanger, which is a really smart way of not only upping the stakes but showing how the process has evolved.

What impresses me more and more about the series is both the scope and the honesty. Episode 2 focuses in, almost entirely, on the moral vacuum at the heart of the US Nazi retrieval program. Episode 3 is all about not the astronauts, but the people who built what the astronauts would train on. It also pulls no punches about the disgraceful way the Mercury 13 were treated, including naming the beloved astronaut sent to drive the final PR nail into the coffin.

This is a complex, detailed series about a complex, detailed human endeavor. It's fair, balanced, light on it's feet and clearly has a plan. I'm looking forward to the other episodes.

The Space Race is available on Audible now.
The excellent documentary on the Mercury 13 is on Netflix now.
Oddly enough, I'm rather fond of the short story as art form. Last year's Short Treks were an absolute joy and Calypso is hands down one of the best pieces of Trek ever produced. This season looks just as much fun, with the added bonus of guessing what the writers have up their sleeve. Marguerite has a theory that Pike is much less alive than he seems in his story. My theory? I'll see you at the next interstitial.

Apollo at 50

I have, of course, spent a good chunk of the week up to my knees in the Apollo anniversary programming. It’s been heady and weird, depressing and uplifting watching the old footage alongside some innovative and at times wildly eccentric new perspectives.

Let’s rip the bandaid off first. Fifty years ago people were concerned about the environment, a seemingly unwinnable war or two overseas and whether or not we really should be spending all this money on something that isn’t houses and jobs for poor people. It plays a lot like the issue of Sandman which introduces the immortal Hob Gadling; a story bookended by two pub conversations, centuries apart which are essentially about the same things.

But while there’s reassurance here there’s also entitlement and complacency. We can, and have waited for the future to come when we could have gone out and built it. But instead of a first step Apollo has come to be viewed as a destination and you can see the seeds of that here.The surly bonds of Earth have been stripped and now all we have to worry about is waiting for the next trans-lunar shuttle. Seeing BBC Panorama’s counsel of luminaries, including an impossibly young Brian Aldiss, discuss the philosophical impact of the landing was especially weird. The greatest minds of their time, which was fifty years ago, talking about a future which, for us, has yet to arrive.

So there’s that, the sense of a brave new world which a full lifetime and a bit for me later, is still brave, new and years away. But on the upside there’s the genuine sense of wonder and awe.. The German live coverage was fronted by a brilliantly enthusiastic broadcaster with a desk full of papers and a pair of guys in silver overalls simulating Armstrong and Aldrin’s landing. When the landing was confirmed, seeing Walter Cronkite, another name for God in the annals of broadcast journalism, visibly tear up was incredibly powerful. Even the BBC, terribly proper then as opposed to the ‘EPIC BANTS AND DYSTOPIA!’ It defaults to so often now, was oddly sweet to watch. Lots of serious people in bow ties discussing the implications of an event that had clearly shaken them to their core. 

These images still have incredible power, more so because of the manner they were presented. Channel 4’s coverage cheerfully refused to be tidy and we saw countless moments of humanity in among those vast beats of achievement and history. In the ‘Go/No Go’ rundown seconds before launch, you can hear Poppy Northcott. The only woman in Mission Control, forgotten for decades but inescapably present, indisputably there. A road that would lead to Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Christa McAuliffe, Cady Coleman beginning with one simple incredibly powerful ‘Go.’ Poetry in rocketry, hiding in plain sight.

Danie Ware talks here about the magic of little things and that’s what so much of this brilliant coverage exposed. The polite lie that Mike Collins would be able to ‘swoop down and rescue’ Aldrin and Armstrong had they got in trouble is delivered with a straight face. Minutes later it’s followed by a terse conversation between Eagle and Ground Control wherein Aldrin explains a switch has snapped off and they think they can fix it.

A switch.

Snapped off.

In the truck cabin you’re sharing with your commanding officer, while both wearing deep sea diving suits, perched on top of a chicken wire and good intentions frame holding a bottle rocket under you. Which is on the MOON. They fixed it. I’d have thrown up, fixed it, maybe thrown up again and needed a nap.

This was HARD. This took brilliant people a decade to do at a level where it was PRETTY certain stuff would work out and even then the Eagle was 17 seconds from using all it’s fuel, off course and had to be looked for by Collins during overflights. Alone. 250,000 miles from home. Looking for the only two people he could share a ride home with. Who, by the way, joked with each other about whether the door was locked or not ON THE LADDER TO THE LUNAR SUFACE LIKE IT WAS NOT IN FACT A THING.

The Moon landings? VERY much a thing.
That combination of gloriously weird humanity (There’s a lovely Collins quote about how he had warm coffee and peace and quiet before they came back) and epic awe inspiring achievement powers the Channel 4 coverage but it isn’t the only new perspective this anniversary found. 

The BBC’s 8 Days: To the Moon and Back, directed by Anthony Phillipson not only includes a lot of these moments (One of which is my favorite conspiracy trail head, the Chinese folk tale the crew were told to keep an eye out for) but wraps them up in something I’ve genuinely never seen before. Patrick Kennedy, Jack Tarlton and Rufus Wright play Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong respectively and the words they say are exactly the words the astronauts used.

So are the voices.

The actors are fed real time recordings of in capsule conversations and re-enact them. There’s still emotional nuance and physical presence to the performances but it’s given a superstructure of established history that gives the whole thing, oddly enough, a unique voice.  It’s great work from the actors too whose emotional trajectory matches the astronauts’ as well as their speech patterns. Not an easy choice to make, but then even that’s thematically appropriate.

The Apollo program, all of it, was humanity at its best built on rockets based on designs by humanity at its worst. It’s an extraordinary story and one that rewards you the further in you dive. The shows I mentioned today will be available for at least the next 30-60 days I would guess. Here's 8 Days: To the Moon and Back, the Channel 4 coverage and If you want more, I cannot recommend From The Earth To The Moon by HBO highly enough.
So when did you start crying? I was fine until 'Engage' and a human snotball by the time the overture hit.
Anyway! My theory. The final scene in the trailer is actually from the Short Trek that's been announced to set up Picard. Two characters, carefully neutral environment, one of them somewhat less alive at present than the other? It fits. Also this looks wonderful and I really hope we get more of Number 1, or as I like to think of him, Jean Luc Picardog.

Bravest Kitchen Warrior

Roy Batty in Blade Runner was, of course, a definitive role. One that just like Richard E Grant and Withnail, and I’m increasingly convinced Star Lord and Worst Chris, is a something of a curse. You can spend the rest of your career doing interesting, weird fractious stuff but people will still ask for Freebird and still be weirdly annoyed when they don’t get it, even if what they get is better. In fact, Blade Runner is part of Rutger Hauer’s quadrilogy of iconic roles, including Wanted: Dead or Alive (On a motorbike! In a studio apartment!), Ladyhawke (Just IRRATIONALLY hot! Also crossbows and multi species curses and romance!) and The Hitcher (In your car! And your FACE!). all four showcased his arresting combination of charm and brutality, the sense ofan intelligence acutely aware of the mortal and moral weight of it’s actions and doing them anyway.

That self awareness carries through into his other best roles, and over time turns into something really rather lovely. Hauer looked to have made his piece with his iconic status by using it to heighten the reality of whatever role he was cast in. Of COURSE the evil Wayne Enterprises exec in Batman Begins is played by him. Of COURSE he played Morgan Edge, head of Intergang, on Smallville. Of COURSE his magnificently louche vampire in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer takes an opportunity to give his most annoying, and loyal, henchman the best death scene ever. There are entire Hauer movies where he could be forgiven for walking on, winking to camera and mouthing ‘here comes the bad guy’.

It’s no surprise then that Hauer retires undefeated openweight ‘90s B movie champion of the world. Wedlock. Surviving the Game and the magnificent Split Second (Want to know what’s happening in that movie? So do the writers!) are all honking lumps of cheerfully bloody cheese elevated in no small part by Hauer’s presence. In fact Surviving the Game has him going toe to toe with Ice T and it is, somehow, MORE fun than you’d dared hope. He’s just fundamentally enjoyable in everything he’s in, especially if what he’s in really isn't very good. The last movie I saw Hauer appear in was the impossibly beautiful opening sequence of Valerian,I didn't get on with the movie but it was great seeing him again and I rather like that the last role I saw him play was Earth president. I get the feeling he would have been good at it. Or at the very least been enthusiastic and nurturing about the planets' new found culinary bravery and fondness for Guiness.

Rutger Hauer isn’t dead, he’s just become a point on the compass. Steer towards it, discover the rich lowlands of the 1990s b-movie golden age. Any of the movies mentioned here are worth your time, but honestly start with that initial loose quadrilogy. Oh and Split Second. Everyone should see Split Second once in their lives.
There's a realization truly great Star Trek scores have at their core. Something halfway between compassion and mischief, the effervescent joy of discovery mixed with a nod down the bar to the crews that have boldly gone before. You hear it in the impish Next Generation refrain in the Picard trailer. You hear it, with the transporter noise especially, here too.

Signal Boosting

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

So Where Can We Find You?

At SyFy Wire! At the BSFA! At SciFi Bulletin!
  • Fear The Walking Dead is not the first, or perhaps tenth, show you'd think of if I told you it was really touching and sweet. Yet, here we are.
  • The Orville Season 1.5 hits comics and is, against all odds, both a fantastically good licensed comic and one that enhances the original show.
At Escape Pod! At the Blog!

So How Was Work This Week?

Shut up, Opera Singer! You're not the boss of me!

Three! Weeks! Till WORLDCON! (Possibly less now but hey, I didn't make the rules, the Beastie Boys did). It's all hands to the pumps. I'm halfway through the second draft of the novel, I've got newsletter content, blog posts and podcast stuff to all parcel out and schedule as well as a couple of columns if at all possible. Oh and voter packet stuff for the BFS but that is a lovely problem to have:)

Things are frustratingly busy, the country is re-enacting the final act of The Day The Earth Caught Fire because we've broken the environment and I at times feel completely inadequate, physically lumpy and thoroughly annoyed. So, right on schedule basically. Onward!

Signing Off/Playing Out

We made it, folks! We did not melt even though many of us in the UK wanted to very badly! And if the massively hot weather returns, do you know what will distract us from the fact we're pretty certain we're actually walking on the sun? Why, the patented Escape Artists Podcast Network of course! And it's plucky sidekick, the Team KennerStuart instagram page!

Did you have fun? Cool! Me too! This is all done for free so if you can, and do, want to show your apprecation please drop some money in my Ko-Fi. Thank you:)

Hydrate, sun block and have a great week, okay? I'll see you back here in seven days and to play us us out this week we have Foo Fighters with 'Next Year'. Because this?
 
Is a Full Lid.
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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