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Sunday 17 April 2022

New Song, Same Old Lyrics

As part of a general online overhaul, this blog is moving. Whereas up to now it's been hosted by Blogger - many thanks, Blogger, for this accessible and user-friendly option for the technically challenged - from here on it will be integrated into the website at stephengallagher.com. At the time of writing the site's still a work in progress, with a lot of placeholders.

But the blog's up and running and the backlog of material has been ported across. To respect any old bookmarks or searches I'll leave this version up at this location to sail onward like a ghost ship, crewless and uncaptained but with its cargo intact.

Okay, so in such circumstances a cargo can get a bit mouldy, but let's not push the comparison too far.

Tuesday 22 March 2022

Comparative Anatomy: for preorder

With an introduction by Stephen Volk

“Magic always stops at midnight,” says the doomed narrator in the title story of Stephen Gallagher’s career-spanning collection, Comparative Anatomy, but while that may be true, the reader will find no end to the magic in these thirty astonishing tales by one of Britain’s most distinguished writers.

From the inimitable postwar melancholy of a forlorn ghost bound to the house in which it died in “Twisted Hazel,” and a common man’s misguided attempt to temper grief in “Shepherds’ Business,” to the unsettling demands of an overbearing family desperate to reap the rewards of vicarious fame in “Little Dead Girl Singing” and the collision of disparate personalities among wicked children and bizarre religion in “The Butterfly Garden,” Comparative Anatomy is as much a meditation on what it means to be alive as it is an exploration into what may await us when we die. 

Herein you’ll find stories that explore the very nature of ghosts and how often it is us, and not those we’ve lost, who do the haunting, as the lines blur between the paranormal and the pathological, and all manner of characters from time travelers to clairvoyants, priests to serial killers, and thieves to ventriloquists, find their souls laid bare by spectral encounters and the sinister desires of man’s own fractured psyche to know what comes next. 

Comparative Anatomy includes two original tales, a novelette, “The Backtrack,” and a short story, “Live from the Morgue,” written especially for a collection by an author at the height of his power as one of the premier dark fantasists of his generation. 

Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies. Available for preorder.

Special Offer: Those who preorder Comparative Anatomy from SubPress will receive an ebook of the original novelette, "Hounded," about which the author writes:

A big old house with a private forest; what better place for Charlie to play host to his godson, their partner, and two dogs in their time of need? But Charlie should beware. The rescued know that security, once found, is not to be given up lightly.

 To preorder from Subterranean Press, click here

Saturday 19 March 2022

Well, this looks rather fine

Thursday 17 March 2022

Everything But The Doc

My spot on the guest list at Gallifrey One came about through my association with Cutaway Comics, a sprung-from-lockdown publishing house featuring creator-owned material in a Doctor Who splinter universe; characters, monsters, villains and others all licensed from their individual rights holders or, in some cases, their estates. I was there with publisher Gareth Kavanagh, writer/editor Ian Winterton, and artist Martin Geraghty as part of the launch of Cutaway's Gods and Monsters megaproject.

Gods and Monsters comprises a set of one-shot comics based around individual characters followed by a six-part limited series. The series draws all of them together in a single narrative. It's been supported by a crowdfunding campaign that was launched at the convention and which met its target within twelve hours. By the time it ended, the Kickstarter was funded almost four times over with numerous stretch goals triggered.

(If you missed out, the one-shots and series will be available through the usual retail outlets.)

It's a vast project but the part I tend to bang on about is the first of the one-shots, Faustine, because that's the one I wrote. Faustine herself is a new character but the backdrop to this two-parter - if a one-shot can be a two-parter - is the human slave uprising that played a significant role in the Tom Baker Season 18 story Warriors' Gate.

The story's in the late stages of production now with art by Martin Geraghty, colours by Andrew Orton, design and lettering by Colin Brockhurst. I've watched it all coming together and it's looking great.

Meanwhile, at Gallifrey, the Cutaway stand sold out all of its stock of current titles. We managed to escape the hotel for a few hours either side of the weekend, first navigating the LA transport system for a visit to Santa Monica Pier and a walk down to Venice Beach, and later with a rental car for a whistlestop tour where I got to show some favourite spots of mine; the view from Mulholland Drive, the House of Secrets comic book store, the '60s TV Batcave in Bronson Canyon, the Music Box steps, the Bradbury Building as featured in Blade Runner and Harlan Ellison's Outer Limits episode Demon With A Glass Hand (closed to the public due to Covid restrictions, but I could offer a squint through the windows).

Faustine will be available soon and Gods and Monsters will follow. Watch this space for more.

Sunday 13 March 2022

Gallifrey One 2022

It's now more than two weeks since my return from the all-vaxxed, all-masked 32nd Gallifrey One, the big annual Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles. They had to skip last year because of Covid and capped this year's attendance at 2,600 to reduced crowding. After two transatlantic flights and a weekend spent mingling with more people than I've been close to in the past 2 years, I'm still testing negative. The Con itself was one of the most enjoyable I've attended, down mainly to the calm efficiency of the organisation and the relentless good spirits of the attendees.

There were no noticeable problems over mask compliance and the requirement for proof of vaccination or infection-and-recovery meant that dropping the masks for food and drink felt like a low-risk move, allowing for sociable evenings in the bar. Guests onstage could choose whether to remove masks, which most of us did. Microphones and seats were wiped down between panels. There was no masquerade but cosplay was in evidence throughout. I lost count of the Jodie Whittakers (of all ages) but it was the three identical David Tennants that messed with my head.

The general endorsement of the measures has to be qualified by the fact that those with objections stayed away, while the organisers could point to city ordinances to back up Convention rules. Despite that I understand that they took some online abuse. No one present considered this a 'new normal', but a transitional stage on the way back to it. Last year I was writer GoH at the all-online World Fantasy Convention, where the move online was one of the first, bold steps in keeping the flame alight. We didn't kid ourselves that we could replicate the presence and conviviality of the live event, but the Con committee pulled off a remarkable feat.

I will say that Zoom's brought a permanent new element into fandom. My local SF group, well into its fourth decade, moved entirely online in the first weeks of lockdown and we've been meeting virtually twice a week ever since. The big advantage; several of those who've moved away (and in a couple of cases left the country) get to join in again. When we go back to something more approaching normal we plan to have one live pub meet and one online, to keep everyone onboard.

Tuesday 1 March 2022

Auction for Ukraine: Warriors' Gate in rare hardcover

Johnny Mains is running an auction of books, scripts, and other genre-related goodies, many of them donated or signed by the creators, to raise funds for Red Cross humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

That's a screenshot but you can click here for the actual link.

 Among the lots on offer is this:

One of a short run of hardcovers produced for library issue, this copy's been in shrinkwrap for 30 years so condition's as good as it gets. You're unlikely ever to see an example that isn't ex-library. It's from my personal archive and I wasn't intending to part with it, but these are exceptional times.

Johnny's taking bids via the comments section of his blog, so without the involvement of eBay or any other auction house 100% of the money goes to the Red Cross. The winning bidder on March 12th makes the payment to Red Cross Ukraine and on proof of receipt the item's donor will send it directly to the winner.

Johnny originally specified UK bidders only, but is making exceptions for those willing to bear the cost of overseas postage. 

If you want to put in a bid on this lot, Lot 40, go for it. And look at the other lots as well, there's some great stuff in there. Otherwise please consider passing this information along, particularly to any Doctor Who fan, newsgroup, blog, website or other outlet you think may care to know about it. We have until March 12th. There was considerable interest when a clean copy was offered on eBay last April; without that platform we can't hope to achieve the same reach, but we can try.

UPDATE: A successful fundraiser. Thanks to Johnny, and to all who bid.

Thursday 27 January 2022

Stephen Couper and the Old Stuff

Stephen who, you may ask?

Well, there's a story.

This covers shot was posted on social media by novelist, games lead writer and tie-in king Steven Savile. Steve is a friend and, Gawd bless 'im, also a completist collector of my stuff. These pseudonymous '80s paperbacks filled a last gap on the shelf, he reckons. They're an example of a form I think I may have pioneered, the Two-Book Trilogy.

To explain. My first pro sale was a radio serial titled The Last Rose of Summer. Made for peanuts with love and joy, it was the spawn of a bunch of TV and radio colleagues and it played at strange hours on commercial radio stations throughout the land. Our timing was good. It was science fiction, and '77 was the summer of Star Wars. I was 23.

The first book sale came right after, a spinoff in the form of a novelisation of the serial scripts. The six half-hours offered a handy mass of foundation material for 70,000 or so words.  It wasn't just a matter of putting in the he said/she saids, although I've seen many a book-of-the-film that did little more. 

Instead it was a pretty steep learning curve. What I picked up in a short time was the essential difference between script and prose. In a drama we infer a character's inner life from all the externals; what they say, what they do, what we're shown. In prose fiction we automatically put ourselves inside a character's mind and experience the story world through their perceptions. Outside looking in, inside looking out. Which is why point of view matters.

The radio serial was followed by two more. The same was intended for the books but it emerged that, Hitchhiker's Guide notwithstanding, the radio novelisation was too niche a genre to be commercial. The second book was written and there was even a cover designed, but publication was cancelled and the contract was paid off.

Good SF never dates, but I fear this wasn't that. I'd channeled the central trope from 1984 along with a 1960s schoolboy understanding of computer science and I hadn't yet learned to write women. It did have something, though. If I dip into it now, alongside the wince-making stuff I like to think I can see some of the native aptitude that others sensed and were willing to back.

By then my agent had placed Chimera with Sphere, who sold on the hardback rights to Michael Joseph. Then Michael Joseph pulled out on the belated realisation that they'd get no share of the paperback revenue, so instead Sphere offered to reprint Last Rose and the unpublished SF titles... but on condition that I used a pseudonym, to avoid crossover with the campaign they were planning for Chimera. Which is how Stephen Couper came into the world.

Rather than reprint, I rewrote. Names, incidents, worldbuilding... I can't give you details, it's mists-of-time stuff now. So The Last Rose of Summer became Dying of Paradise and Hunters' Moon became The Ice Belt and The Babylon Run... well, with history repeating itself, The Babylon Run was written but didn't make it. 

Hence, the two-book trilogy.

I look back with mixed feelings. I meant to improve on my tyro efforts, but it feels more like I just mucked about with the material. And while Last Rose may be the purer version, The Ice Belt no longer connects to it.

People remember the original serials, which is nice. They're easy enough to find online. I'm sometimes asked if I'm thinking of reissuing the novels and I tend to dodge the question. It's... messy.

Also, with the exception of The Babylon Run I don't have the books in digital form. I could scan them, but Last Rose had some inept copy-edits that I was never given the chance to correct, and I can't say for certain whether the original manuscript is still intact or got chopped about to make Paradise. The papers are all in my old university's collection at the Hull City Archive. I make the trip every now and again if there's something I need to check... but is this really that kind of need? It's not like we're talking about a Shakespeare First Folio.

And if Steve Savile's example is anything to go buy, if you're really interested you can pick up nice old copies for around three quid a pop.

I said there was a story. I never said it was a great one.

Friday 14 January 2022

News, Unexpected

 So look what popped up in my Twitter timeline yesterday, and I'm grateful to Charles for passing it on; The Governess, a chapbook put together as a labour-of-love lockdown project, has received this recognition from the Arthur Conan Doyle Society. The announcement came in its inaugural Doylean Honours Awards ceremony, streamed live from Manhattan's Mysterious Bookshop.

The physical form of the book—the layout, the page settings, the font choices—is based on a first edition copy of The Poison Belt that I picked up for not much money just a week or so before Covid hit. 

The W S Stacey and F S King illustrations, long out of copyright, are photographed from old bound magazines on my shelves. With the story already written, I combed through their pages in search of images that worked with the text. They're all from different, unrelated pieces. To the spirit of the other artist whose name wasn't given, I can only offer appreciation and an apology.

Mention Conan Doyle to most people and their thoughts will go straight to Holmes, but for me it was always The Lost World that fired the imagination. I've written elsewhere of the part it played in my Murder Rooms TV movie (covering an episode in the life of the young Dr Doyle that would inspire the later fantasy) and how it shaped some of the thinking behind The Bedlam Detective, the second of my three novels about the Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy.

It was in The Bedlam Detective that I had something of a dry run for The Governess. It was in the form of a first-person chapter written in the Edwardian voice of Sir Owain Lancaster, leader and almost lone survivor of an Amazon expedition with a disastrous outcome.

The Challenger short story is narrated by The Lost World's Edward Malone, and features the Professor in his later role as a spiritual investigator. Doyle, as we know, was fully on board with the Spiritualist movement. I'm not, but here as in my earlier novella In Gethsemane I find it a potent source of metaphor and human drama.

Both of those pieces, I should add, will be included later this year in Comparative Anatomy: The Best of Stephen Gallagher, my mega short story colection from Subterranean Press. That will also include some new fiction.

But for now, you can pick up the chapbook here. Even if it's only for the pictures.

The Governess

The Bedlam Detective

Thursday 6 January 2022


New for 2022 from Cutaway Comics

 Kickstarter launching soon

UPDATE: Kickstarter now live ending Friday, March 11

Saturday 4 December 2021

Winter Tales

Look out of the window. It's lousy out there, right? Stay warm, stay safe, stay dry, and here's something to take you away. Now online and live: five stories, read by their authors, for those inhospitable winter evenings.

Winter Tales: Click Here


Tuesday 23 November 2021

No Time To Die: My Spoilerific Review

Retro Bond art by Sean Longmore

Me and Bond go way back, back to when I saw Dr No with my Dad in Monton's Princes Cinema on its first run. Then From Russia, and on. We went to each new movie until I got a girlfriend to go with (something with a generational resonance that passed over my head at the time). 

I'm not obsessive, but you can say I'm invested. I mean, I got into the press show for Star Wars, but the subsequent spinning-off and franchising have diluted my affection to a homeopathic level. Meanwhile each new Bond title, each new casting, has been a standalone event. I can more or less map my life against them, so I'm more aware than most of how each phase of the series reflects its era.

I can't remember when I last looked forward to a release with as much anticipation, and I wanted to go in with perceptions unclouded. If you feel the same but you're holding out for the streaming price to fall, or you've the Blu Ray on preorder, skip away and come back when you're done. I expect I'll still be around.

Craig's been terrific in the role, I think. I've written elsewhere of how he crossed my radar on an earlier, unmade project, so I was sold from the start of his run. The essence of Bond is that he's toxic masculinity weaponised for the common good. Team Craig's achievement is that his Bond is aware of the fact, and isn't at peace with it. The humane approach doesn't sit well with some, who are quick to call it 'woke'. But there was a time when a two-fisted lothario could be promoted as something admirable, and that time is not now.

So what did I think of this latest? And, for Craig, his last?


Let me say that I loved what they set out to do, and where that was aimed to take us. But not unconditionally. Not the way I loved Skyfall, where I could disregard its preposterous foundation for the joy it unlocked.

As a writer I guess I have to focus on the script to work out why. Many people, quite a few critics included, see script only in terms of dialogue. But scripts are nearly all structure. What happens, in what order, and where does it land. Structure first, then dialogue as necessary. 

Purvis and Wade have been the largely unsung heroes of the series since The World is Not Enough, often overshadowed by the addition of a more celebrated figure to work over their material. I've no inside line on how well that works out, but I do occasionally think it shows.

The issues I had with No Time To Die were less about intent, more about narrative clarity. I didn't buy Bond's go-to blaming of Madeleine when literally any of his enemies could have foreseen a visit to Vesper's tomb, yet his rejection is fundamental to everything that follows; the journey, the discovery, the regret, the redemption (it's a point that could have been so easily sorted with a misreading of some secretive behaviour that pays off later as the pregnancy reveal). Blofeld and Spectre made for a diversion that easily exceeded their story value. The actual villain's plan and the nature of his weapon were so unclear that I reckon a lot of people maybe didn't get why Bond had no choice beyond a selfless sacrifice at the end.

(and I felt I had a better chance than most at grasping the implications of a DNA-targeting disease, having used the same device in a TV episode in 1995. UPDATE: I've given NTTD a second viewing now and I'm still no wiser as to who are the millions that Malek's Lyutsifer Safin plans to kill, or why)

Don't want to say I didn't like it. I'm too onside for that. But kind of wish I'd liked it more. 

Japanese release fan poster by Sean Longmore
Where they'll go next I don't know, but I sat next to Barbara Broccoli at a screenwriters' lunch once and I know she's smart. Too smart to look me up again, apparently, but what can you do. If you stay around until the end of the credits the final card reads, as ever, JAMES BOND WILL RETURN. Some people are assuming this is an indication that he's somehow survived the blast, or that they're now committed to continuing with Lashana Lynch's redesignated 007.

What I'd say it points to is a franchise reboot. New deck, new game. So what if he died in this one? There's more than one film about Jesus. More than one staging where Hamlet always gets it at the end.

The Bond phenomenon involves an unusual pact between makers and audience. We all know there have been other Bonds and other movies. Both sides enjoy nods to them while accepting that this one's the present reality, a self-contained iteration of the character. Casino Royale started with Bond earning double-0 status with his very first sanctioned killing. So that was a debut, not a continuation. Yet in Skyfall we all lit up with delight on the reveal of the Goldfinger Aston Martin, machine guns at the ready.

I regret that they didn't put Moneypenny back in the field. Naomie Harris shone in Skyfall and I've been itching to see her used more in every outing since.

But it's too late for that now. New deck, new game. 

Retro Bond art by Sean Longmore

Thursday 30 September 2021

Kicking Off The Sixties

This posting from Network's Twitter feed didn't so much trigger a memory as confirm one. Somewhere in the back of my mind lurks the vivid image of a life-sized Supercar, complete with life-sized test pilot Mike Mercury, revealed at the centre of the revolve in the end credits of Sunday Night at the London Palladium. It's been in my head pretty much for ever.

Ok, some unpacking needed here for those who might be gazing at those words and wondering WTF is he even saying. Chances are that you've heard of Supercar because it's a part of the Gerry Anderson universe which, thanks to repeats and remakes but mainly by having made itself a permanent place in British culture, continues to have a life beyond the nostalgia market.

Supercar wasn't the first Anderson show and these days may not be one of the best-known; being shot on monochrome stock and with a more juvenile angle, it hasn't lent itself to revivals and reruns like brand leaders Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. But for me it was the one whose timing had the greatest impact.

Blew my tiny mind, as I declared in an online response.

There was a cast of characters - a test pilot, a couple of scientists, a boy, a monkey, and a couple of idiot villains - but the car was the star; taking the futuristic features of the American gas guzzler and streamlining them into something with a genuine aesthetic, it was the ultimate go-anywhere, do-anything toy.

(Though the boy was voiced by Sylvia Anderson, there was no regular female cast member. There's a dissertation waiting to be written on the evolution of female characters in children's TV from sole tomboy gang member to bill-topping protagonist... unless someone's already covered it, of course.) 

This ultimate toy with its puppet cast featured in a series of half-hour action stories. The first season was mostly written by brothers Hugh and Martin Woodhouse, squeezing in the odd nugget of real science trivia wherever they could; for my money, nerd culture as we know it started right there. Martin Woodhouse also contributed episodes for the Patrick MacNee/Honor Blackman Avengers and wrote a series of highly readable science-and-espionage thrillers for the adult market; I tracked them all down as part of the background research for Eleventh Hour, and wished I'd discovered them earlier.

Sunday Night at the London Palladium was a Variety show broadcast live from the eponymous venue in the West End. The bill featured singers, comedians, jugglers, 'speciality' acts, a mini-gameshow, and a regular troupe of dancers called The Tiller Girls ("I know why they're called The Tiller Girls," quipped guest host Roger Moore one week in 1966, "because when I went by their dressing room I could see their rudders.") 

The theatre's stage featured a large revolve. At the end of the show the curtain would rise to reveal all of the night's performers in an outward-facing circle, waving from behind waist-high letters that spelled out the name of the show as they went around.

And on this one night - 25th February, 1962, according to the impeccable research of Andrew Pixley - the centrepiece of the tableau was Supercar, large as life. And my wee heart soared in a way that left a permanent track.

My life was on a course already, though I didn't know it. Albert Camus wrote: 

"A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened"

Now, sometimes out of that you get a Mahler's Second or a Botticelli Venus. With me it's all the stuff you can see in the sidebar of this blog. Not quite the Resurrection Symphony, I'll grant you, but it's been a life spent in pursuit of authentic wonder with some unexpected connections along the way. Supercar episode director Alan Patillo was to be the editor on my Chimera miniseries. I got to conduct a Q&A with Gerry at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films - he'd brought along son Jamie, then not yet in his teens, now custodian of the Anderson legacy and a producer in his own right. Just a few weeks ago I did a podcast interview on that legacy with Richard James (below, right), who appeared both in my Oktober miniseries and as a regular in Anderson's Space Precinct

(And Charlotte Serpell, Richard's wife, was Oktober's Assistant Editor. Some day, Charlotte, I swear by Grabthar's hammer, we'll see that gorgeous never-broadcast widescreen version out there on Blu Ray.)

Speaking of Blu Ray, the Network Fun Facts were advance promotion for Supercar: The Complete Series limited edition. Box set doesn't really cover it... it comes with a comic, a repro of the Mike Mercury pilot's license, Stephen La Riviere's Full Boost Vertical documentary, and Andrew Pixley's comprehensive study of the production. When Andrew asked if I'd be interested in contributing a preface to the book, my first impulse was to say that, more than be interested, I'd even pay him to let me write it. This was something I decided to keep to myself, lest he take me up on it.

Now I don't know for sure that it was the prop from the ice show that's shown in the picture, but what were the chances of there being two? Not sure who the woman is, either, and Mike Mercury's looking a bit like an elderly school caretaker. 

Otherwise, memories.