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So this is me, publicly jumping on the Veronica Mars bandwagon. And if you find mindlessly fannish blather tiresome you should look away now, because this post is going to be full of it. I'm not nearly past the crush stage yet, and until I am I'm going to be short on analytical thinking.

The setup: welcome to Neptune High, school for the kids of the rich and famous. And everyone else, of course, but in this town they don't matter. Meet Veronica Mars, daughter of Keith Mars, local private eye and ex-town sheriff. The aforementioned rich and famous ran him out of office when he accused a local computer software billionaire of murdering his own daughter. Said daughter was also Veronica's best friend; the brother of the daughter was Veronica's boyfriend.

So Veronica had to make a choice, and she chose family, and that cost her dear. Now she's an outcast, more likely to be found helping her Dad out on a case than hanging with her former peers; and you should hear the things they say about her, behind her back. It really doesn't help that her Mum left town, either, for parts and reasons unknown. And though a murderer has been found, arrested and convicted, there's something about Laura Palmer Lilly Kane's death that doesn't quite add up ...

So far, so Buffy-meets-Beverly Hills? Wrong. Or right, but in the best possible way. Here are a half-dozen things I love about this show:

The town. The place feels real, and it's got fathoms under the surface; it's not named after the god of the sea for nothing. Veronica Mars gets to have its cake and eat it, because they can show us lifestyles of the glamorous and lucky, but in this show the fact that some people don't matter matters. There's a real dissection of race and class going on, and it can be uncompromising.

The metaphor. You remember the one-line pitch for Buffy, right? 'High school is hell'. Boom, you've got it, as David Hines once said. You can see the stories. What I only just realised is that Veronica Mars does the same thing--using a genre as a metaphor--but with crime instead of fantasy. The one-line pitch might be 'growing up is solving the mystery of who you are'. There are several ways in which Veronica literally does not know who she is; things in her past she doesn't have answers for. And where in a regular teen show they'd be played straight, here they're tied into cases she has to solve. And you can broaden it, too, if you like, because nobody in Neptune is quite what they seem; 'growing up is figuring people out', maybe. Personal development through sleuthing, is what it is; and I like it. A lot.

The style. There might be--ok, there are--all sorts of dubious things going on under the surface, but to look at it you'd never know. I've seen the description 'high school noir' bandied around, and it seems to be apt; there are the voiceovers, the sleuthing, the desperate ambiguity and moral murkiness. But for the most part the episodes are all bright colours and SoCal sunshine and sparkling wit, and that really works for the show, because when the bad things happen they hit your gut that much harder.

The plotting. Stuff happens. It's only when you see a show like Veronica Mars that you realise quite how much most American network TV messes around with nothing-stories, waiting for sweeps period. Of course there's an element of that, but from episode one there's always something that matters. Events build on each other, new things are revealed, people develop. And here's another impressive thing: they're all good. I've watched eight episodes now, and none of them have sucked. I haven't seen a first season this consistent since season one West Wing.

The relationships. Whether it's Veronica and her father having a functional relationship (and god that's refreshing after--much as I love those shows--umpteen years of the MEverse), or the friendship between Veronica and the new kid, Wallace, or the evolving animosity/respect/whatever the hell between Logan Echolls and Weevil, these are interesting dynamics, written with freshness and (overused word coming up, but it's true) honesty.

And lastly, of course, Veronica Mars. Oh, how I love Veronica Mars. She can be rash, and impulsive, and judgemental, and she walks eyes-open into some deeply grey areas, but she's sharp, and capable, and perceptive, and determined, and loyal, and I could go on all night about what a brilliant lead she is, but I should stop.

Beg, buy, borrow or steal this series. That's all there is to it.

(One thing I have been wondering: how exactly does Bechdel's Rule work for TV shows? Because Veronica certainly has conversations with other women about subjects other than men on a weekly basis, but I think I'm right in thinking that none of them are members of the regular cast. So does that count, or not?)

(And did I mention that when they show computer screens, they are recognisably computer screens? As in, running identifiable bits of OSX software? It's the little things that make me happy.)

(And the theme tune's ace, too.)
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TV: OK, so I caved and downloaded 'Dalek'. My need to be part of the consensus fandom experience is too strong. And, well, it was ok. Chris Ecclestone's performance was excellent, the story was tight (if a bit too obviously concerned with addressing all the common jokes about the Daleks: the pepperpot, the plunger, the stairs, etc), and the direction was lightyears more effective than in most of the previous episodes. My problems with the episode basically come down to the fact that I find Daleks inherently ludicrous, no matter how many people they kill; the fact that the setup was pure by-the-numbers; and the fact that the shape of the plot was strongly reminiscent of a particular episode of Angel. I mean, it wasn't quite an alley at the end, and you could argue that the Dalek possibly has a slightly less annoying voice, and it wasn't written by Tim Minear, but other than that ... you know where I'm going with this, right? Still: it was basically a decent piece of television. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but the point is that it shows potential; if they'd come out of the gate with episodes like this, I might have thought the hype had a point.

Film: The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was not, contrary to certain reports, crap. I quite enjoyed it, to be honest. If you're as over-familiar with the radio series as I am then it definitely takes a while to get used to the new cast, but by and large most of the performances are good, and the film's heart is in the right place. Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy in particular are excellent, and the only real weak link is Mos Def who never quite seems right (though I wasn't entirely convinced by Fry as the Guide, either). Narratively it's quite different to previous incarnations--as it would have to be, to work. I didn't mind the insertion of a more conventional emotional arc, though it does some damage to Trillian's characterisation in particular. In general, I do think they edited most of the dialogue a bit more than was necessary. Where I give the film big points is in the visuals. The Vogons are outstanding (and Vogsphere in particular has a very Gilliam-esque feel to it), the improbability drive is perfectly rendered (the knitting!), and the trip to Magrathea's factory floor is jaw-droppingly wonderful. Oh, and Neil Hannon is absolutely the perfect singer for the Dolphin Song.

Book: The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford, read for an OUSFG discussion this coming Wednesday. A curious book, this: the story of a painter in 1890s New York, commissioned to paint the portrait of a women he may never see. Instead, he has to discern her likeness from conversation alone; from the stories she tells. Ford's deceptively simple prose is used to good effect to tell an atmospheric tale about the relationship between creation and obsession. Much of the book has a surreal, slightly hallucinatory quality to it; echoes of Greek myth haunt this New York, and the fantastic lurks in Mrs Charbuque's speeches. There is a slight feeling of self-indulgence about the whole enterprise, though, and I haven't really decided what I think about the ending yet. Worth reading, however.

Music: I have fallen head over heels for the Eels' latest album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Yes, it's a double album so yes, it's baggy in places, and simply by virtue of its size it takes a long time to get to grips with; but I wouldn't begrudge a minute of it. The album picks up where Daisies of the Galaxy left off. Many of the best moments come from the slight cognitive dissonance induced by the contrast between Mark Everett's gruff vocals and the sparklingly beautiful melodies he crafts, from the delicate lament of 'If You See Natalie' to the shuffle of 'Railroad Man' and the bouncy pop of 'Old Shit/New Shit'. Lyrically the songs are as sharp and observant as ever, although it has to be said that some of the titles--'Theme For A Pretty Girl That Makes You Believe God Exists'--are a bit laboured. The surprise, though, is that in amongst the pessimism there are moments of genuine sincerity and hope; the final track finds Everett concluding that 'I have some regrets, but if I had to do it all again/Well, it's something I'd like to do.' It's almost enough to give you warm fuzzies inside. Try this: One of the tracks that's really got under my skin, 'Blinking Lights (For Me)'.

(Other albums getting a lot of play at the moment include: Ambulance Ltd by Ambulance Ltd (think Doves, but with a bit of New York swagger instead of Northern melancholy); Songs For Silverman by Ben Folds (good, and I'll probably write more about it after the gig at the end of the month); and Natalie Imbruglia's latest offering. Yeah, Counting Down The Days is pure Richard-Curtis-movie-soundtrack music but, be honest, who hasn't wanted to pretend they live in a Richard Curtis movie now and then?)
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Everyone knows what space opera is. Right? It's the public face of science fiction, for starters: spaceships and space battles, exotic planets and alien peoples. Star Wars and A Fire Upon The Deep. In short, it's one of the most traditional forms the genre can take. In the past couple of years, though, there has been some fuss about something called 'new space opera'.

definitions )

farscape: the peacekeeper war )

iron sunrise by charles stross )

exultant by stephen baxter )

the algebraist by iain m banks )

battlestar galactica: the mini-series )

conclusions )

Some people eat ice-cream as displacement activity, you know. Me, I write four and a half thousand words about space opera. Go figure.

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