Review: Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey

Album cover for Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey

Album cover for Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey

Whoooo-boy. It’s amazing how ranty people get when you like things they don’t. Or when you critique things they like. Comes with the territory, I suppose, but I’m sort of beyond busy at the moment and haven’t had a lot of time for responding to the Angry Internet, let alone writing new critical posts for them to stew over.

So here’s a little article that’s all about joy and celebration. You all need to get your ears on this album: Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey.

This album is just a breath of fresh air, joy, and exuberance. If you’re a geek and you love quirky, beautiful, original music, you need this album in your life.

I first encountered Stephanie Mabey’s work when Battleaxebunny posted ‘The Zombie Song‘ as part of the Music for the Apocalypse series that I started over at The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. I have an extensive knowledge of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic music, but I’d never heard this one before. One of the great things about being involved with this series was actively looking out new songs and finding the indie creators that I’d never hear just listening to mainstream radio, but when Battleaxebunny posted this one I had barely dipped my toe in that water, and it really opened me up to the amazing stuff scrappy creators are doing independently of big business.

If you haven’t heard ‘The Zombie Song’, allow me to improve your life (complete with some really fantastic artwork from Maddy Ashton):

When I had a post-apocalypse themed birthday party last year this song was the one everybody’s ears perked up for. The catchy rhythm somehow manages to suggest the lurching movements of a zombie whilst remaining charmingly upbeat. The lyrics are witty, sweet, and dark all at once. They clearly come from a place in love with the genre and simultaneously breath new life into the undead and into love songs:

Our love story

could be kinda gory

far from boring

We’d meet at a post…


The narrator warns, perkily, instantly setting the tone – this is going to be both a love song and graphically macabre, but no part of it will be maudlin. It’s not just a pleasing juxtaposition, these first lines trip us from the clichéd, saccharin notion of a ‘love story’ to the equally cliché ridden zombie genre, highlighting how narrowly both are often viewed and how much fun can be had in mashing them together, each using the other to throw its own bounds open to new possibilities.

And, as a woman listening to a female musician with clearly geeky tastes this also confronts head on the idea that women are somehow ‘naturally’ more suited to the romance genre. ‘You think I can only write love songs because I’m a girl?’ the song seems to say, ‘Well, take this love song.’

But it’s not just a ‘I’ll show you!’ forced affair, this song is written with love for a genre whose tropes are known by the writer and held with great affection – an affection that is somehow in tune with the love that is also central to the song:

You’d be hiding in

a second floor apartment

knocking all the stairs down

to save your life…

from the undead.

Double-barrelled shotgun

taking out the slow ones

then you’d see the passion

burning in my eye

and I’d keep my head.

But beyond the interest, the quirkiness, the experimentation and juxtaposition, this song is more than anything else fun. It’s so catchy I woke up with it in my head the other day and I’ve been singing it since… and I’m not sick of it yet. It’s not the sort of catchy that comes from mindless repetition; it’s the sort of catchy that comes from a tuneful, original, easy to sing chorus set in the context of genuinely interesting and non-repetitive verses. And the chorus itself catches the attention as the singer lets out her (powerful and expressive) voice in a tone whose passion and poignancy cannot help but make one smile when applied to lyrics that say:

If I were a zombie

I’d never eat your brain!

Honestly, the whole album is worth it just for this song, but after a year of loving this one track, a friend (who had bought the album after I played her the song) persuaded me to buy the rest, and boy, it was worth it.

Mabey sets the tone for the album with the joyfully apocalyptic ‘I Pushed the Button’:

Again, it’s a love song, but the metaphors via which the narrator’s emotional state is expressed are of swinging wrecking balls, having a heart ‘shaped like mushroom clouds’, being ‘wired to delete’ and ‘disassembling‘. We’ve all heard a million songs about people who sabotage their romantic relationships and self-destruct, but rarely is the familiar state of mind conveyed via such distinctively geeky reference points. It’s delightful, and the fairground quality of the melody perfectly chimes with the sense of someone who is queesily out of control in a Waltzer, (rather than the conventional rollercoaster) of highs and lows and unpredictable turns. This song is coming at a familiar idea about love from a new angle, finding extra nuance along the way, and laying out Mabey’s geek credentials up front.

And it’s not the only fairground-themed song. Track number 7 (far enough into the album to avoid overdosing on the fairground) ‘The Main Attraction‘ tackles directly the link between the modern meaning of the word ‘geek’ and its origin as a term for sideshow ‘freaks’ – ostracised by society in a way analogous to what most of us with geeky tendencies (especially women, who tend to be shunned both by the mainstream and by male geeks) grew up experiencing. In identifying herself with the ‘bearded lady’, Mabey reminds us, again, of the special pressure on women with regard to appearance. There’s something intriguing about using an identification with outsiders as a way of expressing to fellow geeks that she’s ‘one of us’, and theme of the song draws out the special comfort of finding solace in one who loves you because you are different in the same way as they are:

None of your friends

comprehend why we’re both so happy

Your parents just think

we’re a couple of freaks

Solidarity in exclusion really means something. And isn’t there something universal in that, too? We all want to feel different because our individuality makes us special, but equally we want to find someone who shared all the special things that make us different. And love is like that: that contradiction – needing someone to be like you in the ways that make you unique, unusual, different.

The title song, ‘Wake Up Dreaming‘, could sit respectably on any number of pop or rock albums:

And he can’t shake the feeling

that this whole world’s asleep

He’s full of vision no one else can see

Granted, the song’s about a wannabe comic book artist with a boring day job, but I like that it appeals to such a universal trope: to want to somehow ‘wake up’ in the dream world – the one where you’re famous, or rich, or you have the job you’ve always dreamed about – and the encouragement to keep on dreaming, that you might get there if you just hold on… And by likening the ‘day job’/dream binary to the secret identity/superhero one it’s a really clever way of exploring how geeky passions aren’t so very different from so-called ‘normal’ ones. It’s just another way of dreaming of a better life.

It’s a recurring theme throughout the album, which I guess might be why the title takes its name from this song. Some of the songs, like ‘The Zombie Song’, wear their geek card front and centre, perhaps culminating in the final song ‘The Next Level’, with 8-bit tones and lyrics which read:

I wake up, I’m pixellated

Ching, ching, collectible coins

The music gets all evil

Creepy, could this be

dun, dun, dun

The theme song for the boss

This is a song with geekery in every beat, but the overall album shifts between the geeky and more universal themes that riff on this thought of the interrelations of apparently niche passions and more generally accessible themes of what it is like to be a human.

Stephanie Mabey is a great artist with a beautiful voice turning her talent to the sort of subject matter that, if you read this blog, should be right up your alley. I can’t recommend her work enough, and she’s an indie creator, so if you give her money you’ll be doing a good thing to feed diversity in the arts.

Go here and buy her album. It’s only $10 for 11 songs, which is, like, £6.50 at the time of posting in Brit money. BARGAIN.

Today In Search of the Happiness Max has topped 50,000 hits!


I feel like I ought to have something more intelligent to say about this happenstance, but I’m a bit tired, so I’m afraid it’s all going to get a bit Tumblr-y. By which I mean to say: Let the reaction gifs commence!


Aww Yisss

Daleks Party

The Doctor Parties

The Tenth Doctor Parties

Batman and Robin Party

Fred and George

Arya takes a bow.

Lee Pace smiling

I like to imagine all the above came to party in this post. Except the baby. And probably the owl. I’m just saying, it would be a good party.

Reviewing Through the Time Machine: Inexplicable Objects

Today, this most wonderful piece of nonsense rolled across my Tumblr:

An Inflatable Beard of Bees

An Inflatable Beard of Bees. Click it to go to the shop from which you can buy this treasure!

An Inflatable Beard of Bees!

‘None of the danger of using actual bees’

When a beekeeper wants to impress the ladies, he puts a queen bee in a small cage under his chin and waits for the other bees to swarm and form a “beard” on his face and body. That sounds like a lot of bother… If you want to say “bee mine” to your honey, just wear this Inflatable Beard of Bees and you’ll be all the buzz.

In addition to the incalculable joy of beholding such a fabulous object, I was reminded of one of my very favourite corners of the Internet: Inexplicable Objects.

By the time I found Inexplicable Objects it had already ceased updating, but thanks be to tiny little kittens, the owner of the website is still maintaining the archive. I can only hope that he does so indefinitely, because this little pot of joy can keep even the most world-weary of wombles serene for months.

A cupcake with a festive plane-on-a-stick in it.What it is, is this: once a week (roughly) from 19th April 1998 to 10th June 2001, Bill Young (aka thoughtviper) posted photos of various objects from his uniquely inexplicable collection. Supposedly, this InExObsession started when, on a plane as a child, he had been given a cupcake decorated with a plastic stick topped by the image of a jumbo jet, pointed at the ground. Quoth he:

When I was a kid I went on my first airplane flight.
The stewardess gave me a cupcake with a festive plane-on-a-stick in it.
Even as a kid, my first thought was:
I don’t want to be on a 707 if it’s approaching the ground at that angle…
Plummet the Friendly Skies of United.

With the advent of the Internet, Bill was able to share his obsession with the world, along with a witty commentary rarely to be equalled. The website is simplistic in the manner you’d expect from its era, but this is joy that doesn’t need to be muddied by frills and whistles (thank goodness, we are not treated to 8-bit Greensleeves).

Given that the website has not been updated in over a decade it’s something of a miracle that it still exists. Others have not been so lucky. At Week 47, Bill introduced Inexplicable Links of the Week to accompany the Inexplicable Objects. Most are now dead. In fact, many were hosted on sites, like geocities, which themselves no longer exist. It makes me reflect on the changes the Ineternet has undergone. Sure, the crazy is still out there, but it’s less likely to have a website of its own. It’s more likely to be hanging out on Twitter or Tumblr or Reddit. Even then, I tried to Google for ‘crazy tumblrs’ and all I came back with was a bunch of witty, slightly surreal, generally well-put-together blogs, such as ‘Feminist Ryan Gosling‘, or blogs like ‘Crazy shit people do with their Barbies‘, most of which is quite artistic, if also a bit disturbing. I suppose the independent crazy is still out there, but it gets much less traffic, these days: squeezed out of Google rankings by the millions of well-made, useful, insteresting, or intentionally funny websites out there.

It’s not bad thing, in and of itself – better content is good, right? But it does seem to me that this is a reflection of the passing of the Frontier Age of the Internet, where claims were out there for the staking for anyone with imagination and just a little spare time on their hands. Which I guess is why it’s so wonderful that so dated and-yet-still-amusing a site as Inexplicable Objects still exists.

A Pez with the head of an octopus... or is it...?My first encounter with Inexplicable objects came when a friend of the Lovecraftian persuasion linked to it from their LiveJournal. Or possibly someone had found the site for them and was drawing it to their attention – the details are lost in the mists of time. Anyway, the object in question was this: CTHULHU PEZ. I challenge you not to feel enchanted. In the words of Bill Young:

‘Yeah, big deal, Pez.

Wait a minute–
If it’s a Pez dispenser, then that’s not an octopus–
It’s something with the head of an octopus–

At The Big Rock Candy Mountains of Madness!
The Coloured Flavored Chalk Out of Space!

You know–
Eating something that’s been disgorged from some critter’s throat is kinda creepy when you think about it.’

I was so tickled by this that I went to investigate the rest of the site, which then continued bringing me joy for months as I worked through its archive. I was crestfallen when I realised it was coming to an end. Granted, at some point, we must all get on with our lives, regardless of how beloved our Internet sensation has become. We can but be thankful that it is still there to visit.

I hope that this trip through the time machine has allowed me to pass some of the joy on to you, and that perhaps my links will help provide a continued influx of hits to the site and let its owner know that it is still valued.

The Second Annual Serene Wombles

Two years! Woo-woo! Thanks for keeping with me. It’s been another hell of a year, and although Life Events have meant that I wasn’t able to review quite as much as I would have liked, you’ve stuck with me, and that’s awesome. In fact, with 28,000 hits this year, three times as many people have shown at least a vague interest in this little blog as last year. So: thanks! 😀

Those of you who were here last October 3rd will remember that to mark the aniversary of this esteemed blog I decided to hand out some meaningless awards: The Serene Wombles!

What exactly are the Serene Wombles? Well, to quote myself last year:

Eligibility for a Serene Womble i[s] conferred by being the subject of a review [on In Search of the Happiness Max] in the past year. There may have been better or more worthy things that came out this year, but if I didn’t find them relevant to my interests, or if I simply didn’t have the time to review them, they won’t be eligible for a Serene Womble. I make no pretense that these awards are significant or important in any way, but I enjoy having the opportunity to praise and draw attention to things I have loved.

The Serene Wombles are divided into two categories, those that apply to recent releases, and special Time Travelling Wombles for the most awesome things in my Reviewing Through the Time Machine posts. The division between the former and the latter may at times seem arbitrary – why should a film that came out in 2009 count as a recent release, whilst a TV Show that ended in 2009 requires a time machine? It’ll always be a judgement call, and the judgement will [usually] have been made on a case-by-case basis at the time of reviewing. Sometimes I use a time machine for my reviews because I want to review something that came out in 1939, sometimes because I want to review something more recent that’s out of print, or because it’s a TV show that’s been cancelled… At the end of the day, these are not the Oscars, they’re the highlights from a blog, and are therefore subject to my whim.

Exciting stuff, eh? Let’s get started!

The Serene Womble for Best Film: Dredd 3D
Dredd 3D posterEligible Films: Dredd 3D, Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games

The competition was basically between Dredd 3D, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Hunger Games. If this category were about which film I’m most likely to rewatch… well, I’d probably rewatch all of those three, but I’d want to watch The Amazing Spider-Man first and most often. But this isn’t just about which film I found most fun. Each of these was well put together and entertaining, and The Amazing Spider-Man was also visually stunning and thematically well-conceived, but Dredd 3D was just in a league of its own – beautiful and thoughtful in equal amounts. It really felt like Dredd 3D was taking sci-fi back – giving us a real vision of the future, beautiful and provocative as well as dark. Breathtaking, is the word.

I doubt this film will sweep the Real and Proper awards in the way it deserves, but here in Womblevonia I’m doing my bit to recognise originality, inspiration, and artistic genius where I see it. Congratulations, Dredd 3D! Well deserved.

The Serene Womble for Best TV Show Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones Season 2 Promo 'The Clash of Kings has begun'Elligible TV shows: Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Misfits, The Fades, The Hollow Crown: Part I, Richard II

Tough crowd. I mean, we have The Fades, one of the most strikingly original and well-executed British fantasy TV shows in a good many years – a real tragedy that it was not renewed for a second series. Then there’s The Hollow Crown‘s adaptation of Richard II, which contains some of the very best Shakespeare I have ever seen performed, and for one of my least favourite plays, at that, including a truly spectacular performance from Ben Whishaw, as Richard II, and a simply wonderful portrayal of John of Gaunt by Patrick Stewart. And although Doctor Who has been highly questionable over the last year, I can’t deny that ‘A Town Called Mercy’ was excellent. Yet Game of Thrones is still hands down the winner, for me. It feels unfair to some of the competition to give it the Serene Womble for Best TV Show two years in a row, but given that it was even better this year than last year, I don’t feel that I can really deny it. Performances by Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, and Maisie Williams were stand outs, but everybody was bringing their A-game. The special effects were incredible – I now believe that dragons exist and that they are both very cute and very dangerous. Pretty much every element of music, direction, and writing was outstanding, and it stands out in my memory as the best thing I have seen all year.

As they say on these here Internets: All of The Awards.

The Serene Womble for Best Web Series The Guild
The Guild PromoEligible Web Series: The Guild, Dragon Age: Redmption

Well, maybe not all of the awards. This is a new category introduced to include the burgeoning genre of web series. I was tempted to roll it into the TV shows Womble, but, upon reflection, I must concede that web series are their own medium. They are usually shorter and are often much lower budget. It’s neither fair nor practical to try and compare them to much longer, much higher budget shows. Moreover, they are developing their own tropes and styles and on the whole exhibit a different character to their televisual brethrin.

That said, there wasn’t a lot of competition in this category. Both these shows are Felicia Day creations, and whilst I did watch other web series over the course of the year, I can’t deny that Felicia is the mistress of this genre – she has not only talent but the extra experience of being one of the founders of this artform. It means that she’s been at it for longer, but also that she’s better known. Nevertheless, it is notable that The Guild greatly outstripped Dragon Age: Redemption. I suspect this is in part due to the fact that Felicia will have had much less control in the latter, but I also didn’t find her own performance as convincing. In all honesty, The Guild is just in a league of its own. It has the geek-following to bring in stars for the extensive cameos that were a feature of this series, and it’s starting to get the money that allows it to do more things. It’s also excellently and knowingly written for the audience that powers the Internet: geeks. Not to mention the spot on performances of the other cast members: Vincent Caso, Jeff Lewis, Amy Okuda, Sandeep Parikh, and Robin Thorsen.

It’s a deserved win, but with more and more people finding it natural to watch their visual content online, more TV stars using short videos as a way to get a bit more exposure and make a bit more cash on the side (see, for example, David Mitchell’s Soapbox), there’s a blooming new arm of the media that I’m thinking I need to investigate further in the coming year. I’m interested to see how things develop.

The Serene Womble for Best Actor Ben Whishaw
Ben Whishaw as Richard IIElligible Actors: This category is open to any actor in any recent production that I’ve reviewed in the past year – film, TV, radio, podcast, whatever. I do not discriminate by gender. It’s a fight to the melodramatic death and the best actor wins, regardless of what’s between their legs or how they identify.

This was a tough one. I feel bad for stinting Peter Dinklage for the second year running after praising him so highly, but it was a strong field, and he did contribute to the overall Game of Thrones win – keep it up, Peter, there’s always next year. Lena Headey was also giving all the players a run for their money with her outstanding performance as Ma-Ma in Dredd 3D – a real performance of a lifetime. But I can’t deny the just deserts for Ben. He took a role I’d never especially liked or understood and made me see it from a completely different angle – an angle that was utterly compelling and heart-breaking. In all honesty I was far less impressed with Parts II and III of The Hollow Crown (and I somehow missed Part IV), and I’ll not deny that Tom Hiddleston did a good job, but Richard II blew me away, and Ben Whishaw was the lycnhpin of that production. Incandescent. Any actor that can ellucidate not just the character they are portraying but the themes of the play and have that render their performance more compelling rather than less, and to such a level… sheer genius.

Thank you, Ben, for showing me Richard II the way you see him. Have a Womble.

The Serene Womble for Best Novel Rome Burning, by Sophia McDougall
Rome Burning cover art Eligible Novels: A Dance With Dragons, Kraken Romanitas, and Rome Burning

This one was probably the hardest. Kraken is the most imaginative novel I’ve reviewed this year, and it was certainly a gripping as well as intelligent read. However, it did have some minor gender issues, the attempt at rendering London accents was unconvincing, and although I found the exploration of personal identity fun, it was inconsistent.

Rome Burning‘s alternate history setting was imaginative in a different way. For exploration of gender, race, and cultural issues it was outstanding. The characters were interesting and varied. The pace was fast and gripping. The politics, nuanced and intriguing. And, overall, the harder-to-define ‘squee’ quotiant was just higher than for anything (new) I’ve read in a long time.

Romanitas, the first book in the trilogy of which Rome Burning is the second, was also good, gripping, and squee-worthy, but the writing was not quite as strong and the world-building was more developed in the second volume.

A Dance with Dragons is what it is: a novel to which I have mysteriously devoted a surprisingly large chunk of my life in reviewing; part of a long series that has given me both great joy and great frustration. Perhaps it is unfair to put it up for assessment when the review is as yet incomplete, but I’ll give you a sneak preview and say that, for all its good points, A Dance with Dragons was not really competition for any of the above.

The Serene Womble for Best Comic Romatically Apocalyptic
A wallpaper made by Alexius from one panel of Romantically Apocalyptic

Eligible Comics: Real Life Fiction and Romantically Apocalyptic

Another new category, and only two in it, but I couldn’t leave them by the wayside. Both of these are excellent, and I thoroughly recommend them to all of you. Both are surreal, hilariously funny, and gender balanced. Romantically Apocalyptic has an edge for me by being, well, apocalyptic; but then again, Real Life Fiction has Manicorn. The real clincher is the artwork, which, as you can see, is stunning. I have never seen anything like it in a web comic. Or any comic. Or ever. And the creator, Vitaly S Alexius, hands this stuff out for free. There are no two ways about it: this comic wins.

The Time Traveling Wombles

The Time Traveling Womble for Best Film The Glass Slipper
The Glass Slipper promo imageEligible Films: Robocop, Soldier’s Girl, The Glass Slipper

That’s right, I’m giving the award to a film it’s virtually impossible to buy anymore. It’s not available on Amazon (there’s a Korean film called Glass Slipper, but it’s a different movie), it’s never been made into a DVD, the only videos I can find are US vids on eBay, the cheapest was going for about £16 (inc. P&P) at time of posting. I don’t know if it’d even play on a non-US machine. My copy was taped off the telly in the 1980s. But if you can get it, I urge you to make the effort. And this is really what reviewing via time machine is all about: drawing attention to classics and forgotten works of art. How can we get great films like this pressed for DVD if nobody speaks up to say that they are wanted?

The Glass Slipper is beautiful, sweet, and knowing. To me, it is the definitive cinderella story, and that’s not just the nostalgia talking. I feared it would be when I went to rewatch for this review, but it’s not. This was a feminist take on Cinderella in 1955, long before anyone even dreamt of Ever After. And it doesn’t sacrifice the romance for its message; it is a heart-breaking, life-affirming, challenging, witty, and beautiful work of art.

This is not to discredit its competition, however; both of the other films were clear contenders, although each is very different to the others, and it was hard to make the comparison. Robocop is a cleverly written and directed critique of capitalism. Its ultra-violence and gritty realism stand at stark odds to The Glass Slipper’s colourful fairytale punctuated with surrealist dance-interludes. Soldier’s Girl is a moving and powerful adaptation of the true story of a soldier who was beaten to death for loving a transgender woman. It perhaps didn’t have the artistry of the other two movies, but I don’t know that you want a lot of whistles and bells for such a movie – its task is to tell someone else’s tale and command the viewer to witness a crime and recognise an injustice. It would be wrong for a director to grandstand and steal the show. So, what do you do, when confronted with three such different films, ones that resist judgement on equal grounds?

I think you have to go with your gut. The Glass Slipper is the one that had the deepest personal influence on me, playing a pivotal role in shaping my psyche and helping me figure out what sort of a woman I wanted to grow up to be. Children’s or ‘family’ movies are often over-looked as less serious art objects than ‘adult’ films*, but they help to form the worldview a child is exposed to when they are trying to figure out what this existence, this life, is all about. Films like The Glass Slipper, which show a child a multiplicity of roles for women, are incredibly important, especially when they do so in the context of a story that is usually cast to define women as romantic creatures whose ‘happily ever after’ lies in marriage, and not in independant thought. Doing that whilst keeping the romantic centre of Cinderella’s tale intact is a masterful stroke. It deserves this award.

The Time Traveling Womble for Best Actor Lee Pace

Eligible actors: anyone who has acted in a film I had to time travel to watch.

It may not have garnered the illustrious Time Traveling Womble for Best film, but I can’t deny the Womble to Lee Pace – head and shoulders above the rest – there really wasn’t any competition. Lee Pace plays Calpernia, the transgendered woman that Barry Winchell fell in love with, and was brutally killed for loving. The gentle, understated approach to this sensitive role is spot on. I imagine a lot of reviews of this film will have said something to the effect of what a ‘convincing woman’ Lee Pace made – I’m not even sure what that means, but it’s the sort of thing people say when they discuss a man playing a transgendered role. I’ve known a number of transgendered women – they’re as varied as any other random woman would be from another; they’re as varied as people. Which is not the same as saying that they have nothing in common or don’t have shared experiences. I don’t want to make any sweeping characterisations of what it is to be a transgendered woman and then proclaim that I think Lee Pace matched that stereotype. What I’m saying is that he portrayed a well-rounded character – a person with loves and passions and heart-ache, with interests both important and trivial; a person whose story moved me and made me think about an important issue.

The point that moved me most – that stood out – was a moment in the above scene. It spoke to me powerfully even though it was speaking about an experience I’ve never had, and am never likely to have. Because it’s a scene in one sense about a man struggling with figuring out his own sexuality in the high-pressure environment of being a soldier in the context of the US Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy – only revoked just over a month before I reviewed this film; still in force when it was made. To a large extent, that’s what the film is about. But it’s also about a woman, struggling to be acknowledged as a woman, finding it almost impossible to date, even though she is beautiful and charismatic, because straight men won’t acknowledge her as a woman. And here she has found a man, a man she is falling in love with, and she must always be asking herself: is this just an experiement, for him? Am I his way of figuring himself out? And all this time she has been loving and supportive and understanding that this is hard, for him, but here she finaly shows her pain and anxiety. Yet, it’s still within the context of that loving, caring, understanding character. Once he has affirmed his love for her she subsumes her own pain to his need for support. It is done with so much subtlety and nuance. Lee Pace isn’t the one bawling his eyes out in this scene, but the emotion is nonetheless powerful.

That’s acting. Acting and sensitivity; just exactly what the role needed.

The Time Traveling Womble for Best Novel The Dark Tower, Vol. 2: The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King
Cover art: The Dark Tower, Vol. 2: The Drawing of the ThreeEligible Novels: The Blazing World, by Margaret Cavendish and The Dark Tower, Vol. 2: The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King.

I did think about including some of the works of Anne McCaffrey in this category, as I did talk about a number of them in her memorial post, but ultimately I decided that what I was really doing was celebrating a woman’s life’s work, rather than giving a review. Besides, I might want to review some of them properly somewhere down the line.

As for the two remaining novels… well, it was an unfair match. The Drawing of the Three is basically my most favourite book. The Blazing World is an important book that more people should read. It’s historically valuable and truly remarkable for its time. But it’s also the offspring of a genre (novel writing) in its infancy – the very first science fiction novel, in 1666. Don’t believe me? Go read the post.

As for The Dark Tower – ah… I suspect I shall spend my whole life trying to tease apart why it affects me so. My post, ‘Meditations on Death‘ explores just one aspect of my its power – the seductive power of the concept of death-as-release, what makes us resist its allure, and how this is expertly explored in The Drawing of the Three.

And, last of all:

The People’s Choice Award The Guild, Season 5
The Guild cast in the costumes of their avatarsPerhaps the most arbitrary of all the awards, this is the one you voted for with your feet. The selection for this award is based solely on the review post with the single largest number of hits. And this year it was a landslide, with 8,431 hits and counting, this post has had more hits than my home page. It’s had several thousand more hits than the total for all hits of my most popular month (July). The closest runners up are The Amazing Spider-man and The Hollow Crown (both around 1,000).

And it’s not even because it’s been on the blog since October last year – the hits suddenly started raining in in July. I don’t know what it was, but it seems like all of a sudden the Internet woke up to The Guild, and all I can say is that it couldn’t be more well deserved. Congrats, Felicia and friends: they like you, they really, really like you!

And that’s it! The awards have been awarded, and it’s time to start all over again, selecting novels and films and TV shows and comics and web series, and kittens only know what else, to review in a brand new Womblevonian year.

Stay serene and max for happiness, yo.

*Not that kind, dirty minds!

Save Romatically Apocalyptic!

Page 81 of Romantically ApocalypticOnly just over a week ago I discovered this most unusual and high-quality of comics.But – woe is all of us! – Romantically Apocalyptic is in real danger of disappearing for an unknown period of time. Basically, the computer of the awesome dude who creates this most impressive of comics has died. I don’t usually go in for the ‘please help pay for x of y complete stranger’ but this is a cause I want to support. I don’t have a lot of money to donate to supporting the arts, but I contributed a meagre amount. Because this work goes so far beyond just about anything else I can think of in terms of quality and labour-intensitivity for something given out for free.

Alas, although most of the fans seem aghast at the circumstance, most of them seem to be as skint as me, if not more so. If you liked my review, if it persuaded you to go read the comic and you liked that, please consider donating. I know times are hard believe me, but we need to support artists in the hard times if we want to live in a rich and entertaining culture. More info over at their site, under the faux-scream.

Review: Romantically Apocalyptic

It’s all got a bit comicsy in Womblevonia. I don’t think of myself as someone who reads a lot of webcomics, but these days, it seems I do, and slowly, by following links from one to another, I get introduced to more. In this case, Coelasquid, who writes the awesome Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, mentioned on her tumblr that she was up against Romantically Apocalyptic in ComicMix’s March Madness Webcomic Tournament. I poked my nose over, always happy to support those who give me pleasure, but I thought, ‘No, I will be a good girl and check out the competition, rather than just voting on bias’. So I clicked the link and went over to Romantically Apocalyptic, and…

Oh my goodness.

Wallpaper for Romatically Apocalyptic: The Captain and his mug, in front of a blasted landscape.

This is a wallpaper made by the creators for use in promotion, so I'm sure they won't mind me posting it here. Click through to view full size.

I’ve just never seen art this stunning in a comic before, and it happens to concern one of my very favourite things: apocalypse. I’d say they made it just for me, except that one of its few flaws is a certain lack of women. Not that I’m going to press that complaint too strongly. It’s doing a number of interesting things with gender, one of which is that the main* character’s gender is ambiguous. More on that later, first, let me tell you a little more of what it’s about.

The Captain and his (or her) two gas-masked companions, Pilot and Mr Snippy, are three of the last human beings left on Earth. The story unfolds slowly. At first we are introduced only to the Captain and his/her companions, who seem content to wander the wastelands, finding what enjoyment they can in the end of the world. The Captain doesn’t appear entirely sane, and Pilot seems even less so, but in the absence of other companionship, Snippy appears content to follow the Captain’s deranged but faultlessly optimistic lead. Slowly, though, the seemingly random and amusing events of their lives start to fit together and reveal elements of the past: how the world got to be this way, and how three such unlikely companions would come to spend what’s left of their lives in this way.

The revelation of back story is catalysed by the advent of an alien spaceship, which attempts to abduct Snippy and the Captain, but proves ultimately unable to face up to the force of nature the Captain comprises. In retaliation, the aliens send out Biomass 117, which the Captain takes to be Cancer, summoned by a handbag s/he found that supposedly contains cancer-causing chemicals. In an attempt to better understand the Captain, Biomass 117 captures Snippy and starts absorbing his memories, and through this, we learn, also, what has happened.

Not wanting to spoil too much, I shall merely say that what is revealed is fascinating and still incomplete. I can’t wait to see how the rest unfolds. The Captain is enigmatic and fabulous, whilst poor benighted Snippy manages to effectively garner one’s sympathy. The mixture of joy and desolation is quite compelling, and the slowly unfurling plot reveals a world that only becomes weirder and more interesting as time goes on.

And I really can’t praise the artwork enough. Photographs of models in real places are blended seamlessly with digital artwork in what has clearly been a labour of love that goes above and beyond what one would usually expect of a humble webcomic (although I know that even the humblest of these generally take much longer to produce than many people realise). Employing models whose identity is anonymised by the gas-masks they wear also adds an interesting twist. Gender remains ambiguous until confirmed by story elements. We see Mr Snippy in the past, and know him to be male, but even in the past the Captain’s features are hidden from us. We have only the reactions of those around him or her to go on. Most refer to the Captain as male, but s/he is also taken to be a girl in a flashback to his or her childhood. Moreover, the character is reputedly modeled by both men and women, and the main model is female. I quite like that this is ambiguous, and although part of me naturally wants to know, I rather hope that it remains so. It would be great to have a character like this – all excentric enigmatic charisma and easy command – that was female, but it would be equally wonderful to have a charismatic and commanding male character whose favourite object was a mug with a giant red heart on it and who is as happy to carry around a Hello Kitty handbag as a bomb.

Incidentally, if you’re not into romance, do not be put off by the title. There is some hint that the comic is romantic in the sense of taking a romanticising aesthetic on the apocalypse, more than anything else, although it is clear that Pilot has feelings of some description for the Captain, and the creepy super-computer, Annie, (which may have helped cause the destruction of everything) seems to feel some twisted kind of affection for the engineer, Alexander Gromov. It may be that romance is on the cards somewhere down the line, but what is clear for now is that things are only just getting going. I can’t wait to see where it goes next, and in the meantime, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And, in case I haven’t convinced you yet, one of my favourite sequences, for your delectation:

Page 7 of Romantically Apocalyptic.

The only trouble now is that I can’t decide on my vote for March Madness…

*Although, as time goes on I’m half convinced that Snippy is the true protagonist.

Review: Real Life Fiction

I know I’ve been very lax around here. I hate popping up and apologising for the delay all the time – it feels messy – but RL has been hitting me like an extended metaphor. I’ve been considering putting up an official notice of hiatus just so people would know where they were, but I don’t think I’ll do that quite yet. I can say that I do have stacks and stacks of things backed up that I want to review, as well as Read Along With Rhube, which I am determined to finish before the next George R R Martin book is out. It’s just a time issue.

Today I actually got some RL stuff done, though, so I’m allowing myself a little blog time. Co-incidentally, I spent most of my breaks today reading the archives of a new web-comic that I’d like to review for you: Real Life Fiction. The title seems apt.

Panel from Real Life Fiction 'Cup-A-Soup'

Real Life Fiction: Cup-A-Soup

The main character is a young woman with geeky interests who wanders through a surreal world where you can get Batman in your cup-a-soup, wi-fi on your giant duck, and off-load your accidentally created quantum-zombie cat at the Shelter for Graveless Zombies. She also walks around with a squirrel companion who seems to live on her head… most of the time. And apart from that, it just might be one of the most Wonderful Things Ever.

I like that it has a female protagonist, but doesn’t make a fuss about the fact that she’s female, nor is it embarrassed by this fact. I read a fair few web comics these days, but even the ones written by women tend to have more in the way of male characters in the lead roles than female ones. Which is not to say that there aren’t some great female characters out there – Judy, from Dr McNinja, is all kinds of awesome, as is Mitzi McNinja; and I enjoy laid-back, commitment-phobe, Jonesy, from Manly Guys Doing Manly Things – but it has to be admitted that these ladies aren’t prominent characters. Granted, other comics do better: NSFW comic, Oglaf, is pretty evenly spread, although the main character, in as much as there is such a thing, is male; and xkcd has a high frequency of female characters, who seem equally as likely to say or do any of the things their male counterparts would. Not to mention that there are a number of comics that I don’t read that make a specific point of having a female protag, Girl Genius being merely the most well-known. It’s still nice to see a buck in what is largely the trend, however, especially on International Women’s Day. And (although I know I sometimes give the impression otherwise) I quite like my equal treatment without any fuss. So I like not only that this is a female protagonist, and one who can hold her own in a geeky discussion, but also that this comic isn’t going out of its way to say anything about gender. It’s just presenting a fully rounded character, who happens to be female, and saying that she is worthy of our chief attention.

Zombie Starlite

Real Life Fiction: Childhood Dreams

Moreover, her integration with high levels of geekdom does not see her eschewing the sorts of things that would naturally have been a part of her life as a girl. I was particularly delighted by the comic that depicted her raising a zombie version of Starlite – Rainbow Brite’s rainbow-maned horse. I was cackling with glee at the girlhood dream I recognised mixed with slightly off-kilter adult interests that I share, too. The levels of insanity, geek-squee, and nostalgia-squee are just hitting all the right buttons for me, and I think they’re likely to hit a lot of buttons for other people, too (at least, people who are likely to be guided by my reviews).

Panel from Real Life Fiction: Mysterious Origins

Real Life Fiction: Mysterious Origins

But Real Life Fiction, like so many episodic webcomics, is not exclusively concerned with its main character’s story, and the tangents are themselves a delight. I am particularly, utterly taken with Manicorn: ‘Mild mannered jeans model and archeologist extradinaire’ by day, were-unicorn by night. This started as a one page gag satirising Twilight, but has progressed to have its own storyline (whether within the RLF universe, or as a story made up by the protagonist, is unclear – but perhaps that’s appropriate, given the title of the comic). Manicorn had me at his origin story. He dons an untested ‘Omega Cologne’ for a photo shoot, turns up the Glitter Machines unwisely high, and is transformed. Soon, Manicorn is off, slightly cack-handedly saving the day, in the company of a small girl who has decided to become his sidekick whether he wants one or not. Every. Single. Moment. Is. Priceless.

This comic is fantastic. Its creator has been away for the last month, with guest bloggers taking the helm in meantime, but it looks like business as usual should be resumed soon. Go! Read the archive – it hasn’t been going so long as to make that a burden, and you won’t regret it!

My First SFX Weekender

There were many things I loved about the weekend I spent in Prestatyn, flying the Angry Robot table at the SFX Weekender. There were also a couple of things that were mindlessly irritating, and one thing that was fairly disgusting. This is not how I wanted to begin my account of the weekend. How I was going to begin it until about 15mins before calling it a night on Saturday, was like this:

‘If you’ve not danced in the same room as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Captain Picard, Tron, and Bananaman, you haven’t lived.’

What changed that was really the last straw of something I’d been trying to grin and bear the whole weekend. I’m talking about the semi-naked women. No, not the slave-Leias – those ladies do that because they want to fulfil their own fantasies, and I respect that, especially when they’re braving the gold bikini on the coast of Wales in February – I’m talking about the women hired by SFX as entertainment, where the entertainment consisted of walking around in little but a thin film of silver spandex, on stilts, trailing men with cameras. I’d heard the complaints about them last year, and was appalled that nothing had been done to even out the score.

Let me be absolutely clear on this: I’m not appalled by the women – they’re doing a job and I imagine they’re extroverted types who are drawn to the work; neither am I appalled by the concept of employing people to dress up in risqué SF and fantasy costumes to entertain the punters. What I’m complaining about is the complete lack of equality. It sends a completely different message to employ only young women to walk around wearing very little with the deliberate purpose of titillating men in a purely objectifying fashion. (They may well have been titillating some of the women too, but I don’t think that was the aim.) It’s clear by such a decision that the organisers neither considered that heterosexual women might want a bit of harmless titillation, too, nor how discomforting it would be for the female attendees to have to endure the constant leering of their male companions without any similar outlet to balance it out.

It was deeply discomforting to have to listen to the constant comments whenever they were around; deeply disappointing that nothing similar had been laid on for me. But I tried to set it aside. I assumed it would be done after the trading room closed and the evening events began. Yet there I was, partying with the Lukes and the Leias, the Picards and the Uhuras, feeling like this was the closest I would ever get to a genuine alien disco, and there were superheroes there too, and I saw them: the same women from the daytime-posing, now dancing on stage wearing nothing but tiny black straps and lightbulbs over their crotches and breasts, reducing them to giant glowing versions of their sexual characteristics.

Instant buzz kill.

I wasn’t the only woman who felt this way. And the thing is this: no one would have minded if there were some semi-naked chaps strutting around for the het ladies and gay fellas to enjoy as well. It’s much less objectifying if the sexual desires of the other genders and sexual preferences are being recognised, too. It was a real shame that something so easy to rectify should sour what had been working out to be one of the best discos of my life.

So, yeah, there was that.

The other problems were fairly endurable. The accommodation was terrible. If buildings had personalities, Pontins would be a little old woman whose grandchildren never visit and who can’t really look after herself anymore, but refuses to have a carer in to help. Most of the windows in our ‘chalet’ didn’t close properly, and one was hanging off its hinges. There was no mirror. The heaters were ineffectual, and the beds were singularly uncomfortable. Oh, and we had no hot water for the first day, so I endured the coldest shower of my life.

But I didn’t come to Pontins for a luxury holiday experience; I came to hang out with awesome people dressed in awesome clothes talking about awesome geeky things. At the end of the day the poor accommodation instilled a sort of camaraderie: ‘Yours doesn’t have a mirror? Ours doesn’t have a microwave! And have you seen our sofa bed?!’ I can’t say I ever want to experience that sort of accommodation again, but for a weekend it was endurable.

My experience of the various panels was limited, due to my duties on the stall, but that’s OK, I come to conventions to socialise, for the most part, anyway. The panels I did get to see were fantastic. I especially enjoyed the Q & A with Eve Myles. Anyone who’s read my reviews of Torchwood: Miracle Day will know that I’m recently converted to Eve Myles fandom. I thought she was absolutely fantastic in TMD, both as an actor and as a realistic female action hero. It was wonderful, then, to discover that she was such a wonderful, open, entertaining speaker, as well. I enjoyed both her stories of Torchwood (including certain amusing and bizarre stories concerning John Barrowman’s ‘little Barrowman’) and her accounts of her own life. I admire a woman who is pleased by the concept of wine in pint glasses and endless buffets. She’s gained status as a sex symbol without ever being tempted to destroy her beauty by starving herself to abnormal thinness. Every moment of her Q & A was an absolute treat.

I also have to say how much I enjoyed the Kitschies, awards presented by the very fine people at Pornokitsch for ‘the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works of genre literature’. I can’t help but approve of an award ceremony where the winners receive handmade stuffed tentacles and Kraken rum as prizes, as well as monetary rewards. It’s great to see progressive and intelligent genre fiction rewarded, and I’ve noted several of the nominees and winners to chase down and sample myself. You can read more about them, and this year’s winners, at: . I kind of felt that A Monster Calls deserved the Inky Tentacle for its cover art, but as it won the Red Tentacle for most progressive, intelligent, and entertaining novel I suppose it’s only fair that the Inky went to someone else.

There was a special pleasure, too, to singing along to ‘Once More with Feeling’, the Buffy musical episode, with several hundred other people, at least 50% of whom knew all the words. There’s no doubt that this was a convention for fans, and as such it had a joy and exuberance not quite like any other I’ve been to. The costumes were fantastic. There were Daleks and Aliens and stilt-walking transformers. One of my favourites had to be the wookie, which I first saw being greeted by a tenth Doctor. The wookie called out to the Doctor in wookie, and the Doctor responded in kind (of course, the Doctor would speak wookie), and then they hugged. I also heard tell of a dalek saying to someone who held the door open for it ‘You will be the last to be exterminated’. All in all it was as warm and open and kind as you would hope a bunch of geeks would be when they’re all just enjoying the openness and company of others as prepared to celebrate geek culture as themselves.

My only regret is that I didn’t have anything resembling a true costume myself. I would have loved to join the ranks of the superheroes and aliens. All the same, until my buzz was killed, there was really nothing quite like the costumed disco. I’ve rarely enjoyed dancing quite so much.

And I can’t talk about the weekend without saying how great it was to catch up with people. Conventions are a great way to cross the Internet divide, and I’ve never known so many people coming to the same event. I met up with old buddies like Ros Dando and Natalie Burford, who I know from college; and Dave Moore, who I know from LARPing. I met people I’d previously talked to only on Twitter, like the fabulous Emma Newman and Jenni Hill, with whom I worked on Genre for Japan, but never actually met in the flesh until yesterday. And I caught up with people I’d had the good fortune to natter with at EasterCon last year, as well, such as Anne Lyle, Amanda Rutter, Andrew ‘MyGodItsRaining’ Reid, and Emma Jane Davies, to name but a few. I only wish I could have caught up with everyone I knew who was there, but without wifi to get in touch with people it was impossible to find everyone amongst the thousands of attendees.

Plus, it was a great weekend for the Angry Robot team as well. We sold out of nearly everything and did our best business ever at any con. Loads of authors did signings, including my Twitter mate Adam Christopher (author of Empire State) and my old writing group buddy Dave Tallerman, whose debut novel, Giant Theif, was launched on Thursday. We sold out every copy of each of their books from the stock we had with us, and you can’t ask much better than that.

Thanks again to the Angry Robot team for enabling my convention going. If I’m asked to fly the Angry Robot table again next year I shall definitely accept (although I hope we’re able to get different accommodation, and that the event’s organisers will join us in the 21st century regarding sex and gender).

And so I’m back, from outer space…

… you just walked in to find me here with that sad look upon my face…

Actually, no, that last bit is a lie. I am very happy, now, for I have THE INTERNET at home again.

Apologies for the extended radio silence, which was considerably longer than I hoped it would be, but was FINALLY sorted out this morning. Man, you guys, I have had SO MANY things to blog about, but with having to nab moments of Internet from work at lunch and at the end of the day, there was no opportunity to voice them. I am practically bursting at the seams.

Whilst I compose myself and work out which things to blog about first, you may wish to sample some of the other bits of me that have been going on on other parts of the Internet, which I totally meant to tell you about here, but did not have the time in my limited windows of Internet. The main thing is that I, and the other ladies from The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse, were interviewed by Pornokitsch! So exciting! Adele asked me to write a paragraph on ‘Why are apocalypse and post-apocalypse settings drawing so much attention from female writers and artists at the moment?’ and I, umm, wrote eight. You know me, never short of wind. So you can read the interview here (and please do! I get all forthright about stuff and things in a way I usually try to skim passed over here; I’m sort of chuffed with the results), and I also wrote a post about the interview over on my tumblr, in which I get all Virginia Woolf on its arse (by ‘its arse’ I am referring to the question, the premise of which I challenge, not Pornokitsch, which is awesome).

Oh! And I made a mini ‘So that was 2011, huh?’ post, also. I may or may not attempt a longer one here once I have my bearings again.

So, umm, yeah. Go poke those things. I’ll come back with some reviews later.


Because I’d like to post about something wonderful, now

Read this. It was described as a ‘rage’ comic on tumblr (I found it via It’s a Space Romance, which I went to to cheer myself up.) I don’t really know what a ‘rage’ comic is, but I thought it was beautiful and heart-rending and life-affirming. An 86 year old reflecting back on their life in comic form.

People seem to be saying a lot ‘I hope it’s real’. Me too. It never occurred to me that it wasnt when I was reading it.