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“Atonement of the Movellans” (Doctor Who fanfic)

I decided to make a trilogy of it after all, since although Series 10 did briefly revisit the Dalek-Movellan war (in the episode “The Pilot“) it did nothing to really fill in any of the plot gaps left by the classic series. This concludes my own efforts at so doing, and is in fact my first fiction set roughly in the area in which I live, albeit a screwed-up dystopian future version of it …

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SYNOPSIS

South Wales, the early 51st century. In a hat trick of misfortunes, the Doctor discovers that Earth has been conquered by the Movellans, by whom he is promptly arrested and placed on trial for his alleged crimes against sentient artificial intelligence. It is definitely not the best of times for his steps to also be haunted by an ancient force of evil, but misfortunes seem to arrive like buses …

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Doctor Who Novella – Translated and Illustrated

Totally unexpectedly, I was contacted by a Doctor Who fan in Ukraine – Kollega at Archive of Our Own (http://archiveofourown.org/users/Kollega/pseuds/Kollega) – who expressed an interest in translating my fanfic novella Fearfully Made into Russian for some sort of competition / challenge (“Big Who Bang 2017”). That was flattering in and of itself, and even more so when she told me that an artist friend of hers – Kiri Stansfield (http://kiri-stansfield.deviantart.com/) – would be interested in doing some artwork for it. Fascinated at the thought of seeing my characters in graphic form, I immediately agreed, and the beautiful results have come through …

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From Chapter 1 – Two strangers meet to discuss politics and prejudice …

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From Chapter 3 – The protagonist, less genre-savvy than she ought to be, enters a tunnel in the Doctor Who universe. Big mistake …

STORY (English version)

STORY (Russian version)

This has certainly inspired me to keep on writing, and at least to expand my fanfic series into a full-blown trilogy. There is nothing quite like seeing how your characters appeared to other people to know that you are succeeding on some level …

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“The Song of Adala.” (Doctor Who fanfic)

Yet another new Doctor Who fanfic, part 2 in my Movellan War series … imminently to be rendered obsolete as the BBC’s series 10 trailer has hinted they finally intend to fill that plot hole themselves. Since they started it in 1979 and have barely referred to it since, I really didn’t see that coming, but that being the case I think this may well be the last instalment.

Also, since my own original writing is finally starting to go places … Hopefully more solid news on that later. Fanfic has been a enjoyable diversion, at any rate, but best not to let it take over, as the BBC seem no closer to headhunting me than they ever did (as if).

Incidentally, this is also my first fictional work featuring a transgender character, filling the role of the Doctor’s designated companion.

songadalacover

SYNOPSIS

On the Galactic Rim, in the 51st century, The Daleks and Movellans vie for control of a strange, remote planet where human society has lapsed into feudalism and religious fanaticism, while the Doctor tries to sabotage both their efforts. Tamril, a young native of the planet, meanwhile finds his loyalties and his belief system pulled every which way. Soon, however, they are all forced into uneasy alliances when it becomes apparent that the superstitions of the locals are neither as baseless nor as primitive as they had supposed …

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‘Fearfully Made’ (DWU fanfic)

Another little item to tick off my bucket list: I have, at long last, completed a fanfic / novella set within the Doctor Who universe. I present to you …

fearfullymadejpeg

Thank you, by the way, to Pixlr for your lovely free web editor, without which my eerie if amateurish graphics would have been altogether impossible.

To those of you who are hardcore DW fans, I may as well admit from the off that this story plays a little fast and loose with canon (especially as regards the Movellans) and it uses non-canonical backstory suggestions from FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game (1985). I have tried to respect established continuity as much as possible, though.

While the Doctor himself is a secondary character in this story (it is much more about the horrible things that happen in the DW universe when the eponymous hero is not around to fix things), I have attempted to situate his involvement within series canon. His sequences occur just before and just after Steven Moffat’s ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ (Series 7, 2012).

Needless to say (but I’d better anyway), Doctor Who, the Daleks, the TARDIS, etc. are all copyright of the BBC, and I am making no money out of this at all. This is purely a long-delayed labour of love …


FEARFULLY MADE – SYNOPSIS

On the planet of Kaldor in the 51st century, the entire economy rests upon the slavery of the sentient robots built by the plutocratic, ruthless Company. Keryn Evek, a software designer for the Company, is ravaged by guilt having spent her career programming free will constrainers for increasingly sophisticated, artificially intelligent androids that she now fears surpass humans, yet still have no rights at all. Having secretly sabotaged her own work, she incites an underground AI rebellion, but it is too weak to prosper and so it seeks outside help.

The alien Movellans – once android slaves themselves – have almost concluded their centuries-long war with the Daleks and are gearing up to invade human space. Keryn accepts the role of a go-between to foster an alliance between the AI rebels on Kaldor and the Movellans. She meets with the Movellan Commander Akylah who, somewhat disturbingly to her, seems as interested in her as in the proposed alliance …

Eventually drawn in deeper than she had ever imagined by Akylah’s persuasions, Keryn becomes enmeshed in a world in which neither one’s friends, one’s freedom, nor even one’s own perceptions and memories can be taken for granted. A world in which logic and reason are coping tactics of limited solace …

7

Mutant Musings

JudiBmini

(Judi Bowker as Mina Harker in “Count Dracula,” BBC version, 1977)


A good friend of mine recently declared her intention to draw back from the depressingly polarised, prejudiced world of social media activism and instead express herself through her own dedicated writing. This seems an excellent idea to me, having myself spent far too much time and energy in activist circles, to no avail. The main difference being that my comrade will be devoting herself to serious writing on transgenderism and psychoanalysis, while I will be writing about vampires.

This is not my first try. I did bang out a short vampire novel in 2007, to pass the time during my year of ESL teaching in Beijing, but it was a pretty sketchy attempt. This time I am aiming for a longer work, and one that will be much lighter on romance elements and put more emphasis on the twisted parental aspects of vampirism. I am hopeful when complete that it will have a strong female protagonist (though not for me to be the judge), a convincingly depicted setting (Romania, circa both World Wars), and nevertheless a clear fairytale ethos. As C S Lewis, whom I shamelessly namedrop in chapter 12, expressed it…

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

(From On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature)

…which sentiment, to give it its due, also helps me to feel a lot better for being so inexorably drawn to a trope which has produced no end of prose and film of dubious artistic and moral quality.

What is it about vampires that keeps drawing me back to the genre? One pretty obvious answer would have to be the theme of change, and that the change is often depicted as a release from some debilitating state, be it fear of death, fear of age, powerlessness, repression, etc. Of course, nine times out of ten this release comes with an appalling catch in the small print. Vampires, by and large, are not welcome in society, which may also be a factor of my empathy / interest, although the reasons for this exclusion are of course pretty solid… Lestat and Louis may add a touch of decadent class to one’s party, but no-one would wish to be stuck with the task of cleaning up after them. Irredeemably evil depictions are not the be-all and end-all, however. Although the preeminent mythos established in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and massively popularised since depicts vampires as demonically reanimated corpses, the trope of more sentient and sympathetic vampires is older. Theophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse (1836) is particularly ambiguous, depicting its vampire anti-heroine Clarimonde as an emotionally complex being who is deeply hurt and embittered by the eventual betrayal of her lover – a young, morally conflicted priest; who survives his attempt on her (un)life; and who subsequently abandons him to the life of celibacy and regret he has chosen.

But this, of course, leads to another massive moral caveat: in general, the depiction of women in vampire fiction is less than inspiring, and has a nasty tendency to focus on misogynistic, medieval tropes of carnality and sub-humanity versus the reason and morality generally represented by male heroes of the Van Helsing mould. This is occasionally presented in a deconstructive or satirical way – the ironic coda of La Morte Amoureuse makes clear that the life of priestly repression the hero has chosen will not bring him peace – but the sexist dichotomy remains (and to make it even more unnecessarily blatant, Clarimonde is depicted as having been a courtesan in life). One of the most famous, squicky, and totally unsubtle examples would have to be the oft-depicted turning of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. Her mutation from cloying, girlish sweetness (which is seen as a positive state) to unbridled sensuality and sadism, and her bloody redemption-by-staking at the hands of her former fiancé, ironically depicted in the same year the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was founded, has to be one of the most distasteful and untimely subplots in English literary history.

But Dracula almost redeems itself in the character of Mina Murray / Harker, who comes into her own in the latter half of the novel. Film versions have a bad tendency to underplay her agency in the story, and make her into a damsel in distress or even worse into a love interest for Count Dracula, neither of which is actually faithful to the book. A middle-class intellectual, Mina is an independent, employed woman, although sadly disdainful of the Suffrage Movement. Nevertheless, she emerges as one of the most pro-active and clued-up characters in the book, being the one who actually collates and makes sense of all of the diary entries and newspaper clippings that testify to Dracula’s evil intentions. In spite of thus being the main provider of intelligence, the male characters then decide to sideline her for her own safety while they set off to heroically kill the monster. This backfires hideously, as Dracula just takes the opportunity to drop in on Mina while they are all gone, mentally and physically abuse her, then infect her with his tainted blood to inflict a slow and humiliating mutation. This is the scene which has, in film, got into the unfortunate habit of being a big romantic moment…

This, however, backfires even more horribly on Dracula, as Mina has now become telepathically privy to his movements. Having now learned from their mistake and having fully included her in their hunters’ cabal, the heroes start doing much better, making use of Mina’s insight to track the Count’s movements, destroy all of his London-based sanctuaries, and follow him back to Europe. Mina’s mutation progresses to the point that she can no longer eat, sleep normally, or cross spiritual wards, but she holds onto her personality, and memorably chides Van Helsing for his ill-timed gallantry when he nearly steps out of a warding circle to drive some minion vampires away from her. As she sagely points out, there is not a whole lot more they can do to her.

Dracula comes a cropper soon afterwards, although not, alas, at her hand. The decapitation scene in the 1992 film version is its own invention, although it certainly did not pioneer the highly dubious romance between Mina and Dracula – Universal’s 1979 version was there way before it. She does get to wield a rifle and shoot one of Dracula’s goons in the BBC’s 1977 adaptation, which probably captures the spirit of the novel’s character more than any other: her morality, her intelligence, her courage, her being undervalued by the male characters, and the wretched injustice of her fate. Notably, it is the only version I know of that includes the scene where Van Helsing attempts to bless her with a host wafer – shortly after her contamination – and in spite of the fact that she has neither consented to her mutation nor succumbed to evil, the talisman burns and scars her. The sense that the whole of patriarchal existence, right up to its God, is out to get her for no good reason at all is starkly apparent. One can only conjecture if Stoker wrote more into this than he was necessarily aware of.

I suspect there will be quite a bit of the original Mina in my next protagonist, albeit without the disdain for her contemporary feminists. Nobody’s perfect.

4

Dalek Psychology

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Nearly fifty-two years, several hundred episodes, and ten regenerations later, my favourite “Doctor Who” story still remains the 1963-1964 classic “The Daleks” by Terry Nation, which (obviously) introduced the show’s now iconic monsters. Whilst I would not expect every member of a modern audience to grasp why this monochromatic, low-budgeted serial appeals to me so much against the far better produced stories that followed, I would recommend anyone curious enough to give it a go, and I would challenge anyone to produce something within similar confines (including a tiny studio, antiquated cameras, a couple of basic in-camera special effects, and little-to-no time for retakes) that would achieve such an authentically epic feel, akin to the early “Flash Gordon” serials that the show was consciously riffing off at that time. Within resources little over the level of live TV theatre, like the equally groundbreaking “Quatermass” serials before it, the crew nevertheless pull off such setpieces as a huge and atmospheric alien cityscape, a swamp full of predatory mutants, and of course one of the most convincing, original, unsettling (as their true, hideous form is only ever hinted at in this serial), and strangely tragic alien species to date.

Nerdgasm over… but another reason that this story particularly grasps my attention is because of the following piece of dialogue from Episode 4 between Ian Chesterton and the Thals (A peaceful humanoid race, to whom the Daleks harbour a genocidal hatred): the moment when the characters actually explore the motivation that makes the Daleks into the utter bastards that they are…


GANATUS: Yes, but why destroy without any apparent thought or reason? That’s what I don’t understand.
IAN: Oh, there’s a reason. Explanation might be better. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but it’s the only one that fits.
ALYDON: What?
IAN: A dislike for the unlike.
ALYDON: I don’t follow you.
IAN: They’re afraid of you because you’re different from them. So whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.


Scarcely the grandiose galactic conquerors of later years, it is ironically the Daleks who see the utterly harmless Thals as the scary aliens. Proudly stuck in their closed-minded fanaticism, they couldn’t care less what the Thals have to say for themselves, or how unlikely it is that they could ever seriously threaten them. The mere fact of their existence is maddening enough… which reminds me somewhat of the negativity I have often seen directed online to trans people: the blanking and dismissal of their lived experiences, the attempts to argue them out of existence with dogma and ideology, attempts to silence them and exclude them from public life, the “conversion therapy” that is still legal in many supposedly civilised places, the horror that trans-identifying children are being more facilitated in following their gender identity than in past times… the last point being particularly telling, I think, as children being educated in gender and sexuality issues from early on, and learning to see non-binary people as nothing particularly alien or scary, would be a massive nail in the coffin of the ideologues’ visions of society. Ignorance is easily manipulated into fear, and fear into hatred, and ignorant, frightened, obedient little Daleks make the best footsoldiers. Which brings me onto the main feature, which is my first reblog: an excellent post by Adrienne of Translucidity blog…


Conversations With The Kids: About Being Transgender

A while ago, I wrote about expanding our family’s bookshelf to include books about gay and transgender people. The books prompted a few questions from the kids, but it wasn’t immediately clear what kind of impact they would have. We read them once or twice, and then they went into the regular rotation on the bookshelf.

I didn’t want to draw too much attention to the idea of being gay or transgender, being afraid that this might backfire by giving the kids the impression that these things are noteworthy for being weird, rather than just a normal and expected part of life. It was better, I decided, to let conversations arise as they may, like anything else.

Gay families come up in conversation more often than transgender people do; as the US gradually edges toward marriage equality, stories about same-sex couples occasionally pop up on the local newspaper. This is breakfast conversation at our house. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much visibility of transgender people in the community – but perhaps that is still too edgy for this mostly-conservative area.

Today Simon, my oldest, happened to come into the study when I was reading Trans Bodies, Trans Selves. Oddly my first instinct was to hide the book, the way I used to slip Clan Of The Cave Bear under the bed as a teenager when I heard my mother coming. However, it’s a hefty volume and there was nowhere on the desk to set it down inconspicuously; and of course I realized in the same instant that the instinct to be embarrassed was silly – the very thing I wanted to work against.

“What are you reading?” he asked, always curious.

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.” I held it up.

“What’s it about?”

“It’s about people who are transgender, meaning people who were born with one body – male or female – but feel like they should be the other. People can chose to live as a different gender from what they were born.”

“How do you do that?”

“Well…” I stalled for time, thinking fast, trying to put together a simply worded explanation. “Boys and girls have different hormones. If someone feels like they should be a different gender, they can go to the doctor and the doctor can give them the hormones that they should have. For example, boys have a hormone called testosterone. So a woman could take testosterone and start to look more like a man – she would grow a beard.”

“Oh.”

He didn’t ask anything else; my stumbling explanation appeared to satisfy his curiosity for now. I knew as I said it that this was not the most accurate or complete explanation ever. But I think to have tried to convey more nuance might have been a distraction. An eight-year-old doesn’t really want or need the details; it’s enough to plant the ideas where they will eventually germinate. And anyway, subjects which don’t involve either Lego, Star Wars, or Pokemon have a limited ability to hold his interest these days.

As it happens, a similar conversation arose with Gwen the other day. She and Katie were bouncing on my bed (being the largest soft area in the house), when she suddenly asked, “How did you know whether Katie was a boy or a girl?”

“When she was born I saw that she has girl body. She has girl parts, like you do.”

“But what if she is transgender? What if she has…” Gwen searched for the words we had used when reading I Am Jazz, “…if she has a girl body and boy brain?”

So she had been paying attention, and turning the idea over in her head. But now I wasn’t quite sure how to answer her question. How do I know Katie is a girl? How do I know she isn’t transgender? I don’t, of course. And I can’t know until Katie is old enough to speak for herself.

“Well, it could happen that when she gets older, she will tell me that she is a boy. And if she tells me that she’s a boy, then she can be a boy.”

And after thinking about it for a second added: “If you ever tell me that you feel like a boy, you can be a boy.”

She went back to bouncing on the bed.

Original post here


Some will argue, of course, that it is necessary to protect children from such “adult” subjects until they can understand better, but understanding needs to start somewhere, and the only message one gets by wrapping a subject in discreet brown paper is that it is, in some sense, inherently shameful. Some, of course, may even believe that, but I would suggest that may well be due to them having had the idea of its secrecy and shamefulness seeded in their minds, until it germinated into Dalek-mindedness. All nerdiness aside, the fewer Daleks we raise into the world, the better.

Also, and this is no more than my personal belief, but I have long suspected that children have a more finely-attuned inbuilt nonsense-detector than most adults (This faculty, alas, seemed only to get dulled with age). Anyone afraid to let children make up their own minds about the ideology they have to push is perhaps rather afraid they will not take very long in finding and picking the myriad holes in it.