Boxing Day Q&A


Happy Boxing Day to all. Hope your hangovers aren't too bad. I'll have the annual ebook sale up around noon. 

Andrew Morton: I very much enjoyed A Golden Thread. Is there any other superhero you think you could do a similar book for?

I’m sure there’s loads of superheroes you could do a survey history of. Anyone who’s been around for 50+ years ought to work at this point. But I don’t think I’d find much interest in ones who don’t have a sort of broken utopianism at their heart. And I’d probably want to do Marvel instead of DC if I were to ever do it again, just so I don’t have to retrace much.

The obvious place this all points is the X-Men, and there were moments when I considered that project, but I think it’s pretty clear at this point that the world does not actually need X-Men criticism above and beyond Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men. Which I haven’t actually listened to because I don’t really listen to podcasts, but which I just sort of assume is as awesome and comprehensive as everyone says. Which is fine - I’m pretty unlikely to take on a second big comics project while still writing Last War in Albion, and that’s clearly not ending any time soon.


Artur Nowrot: Reading TARDIS Eruditorum, I unexpectedly found out that we both studied abroad at the University of East Anglia, so: what did you think of Norwich? (and UEA’s brutalist campus?)

UEA was my first real experience to brutalism, entirely outside any sort of cultural context for why anyone would do that, so I remember finding the buildings very striking, and being intrigued by the way you could cross campus entirely on elevated cement walkways, but also finding something distinctly depressing about the entire place. Norwich wasn’t much better - I spent a lot of time going to the movies and generally resenting the difficulty of doing anything other than eating out when you had to take a mildly lengthy bus journey to and from the grocery store. Although I have fond memories of wandering out around the campus fields at night. There’s probably some early foundational experiences of my magical life in there.


Evan Forman: You tweeted recently that your leftism will be full of gothic horrors or it will be bullshit. Leftism and Weird horrors?

The weird and hauntological/gothic are, of course, if not interchangeable at least substitutable with effort, as China Mieville points out. So yes, leftist weird horrors are absolutely a thing. But I feel like the hauntological is more on point at the current moment. The weird apocalypse is self-evident, emerging naturally out of any serious thought about climate change. So I don’t think we need weird horrors per se. Whereas gothic horrors seem currently underserved. On a very basic level, one of the things Trumpism is about is repression. It seeks to repress specific, easily identified perspectives and narratives. As a matter of basic, inevitable reality, these perspectives are going to reassert themselves. The gothic seems the correct frame both for grappling with and accelerating this.

See also Build High for Happiness 7.


Jerry Snook: Will the Super Nintendo Project stuff ever get collected into some sort of book form?

Never say never, but definitely don’t say soon. More seriously, I don’t really see that book as a natural money-maker or as something that feels particularly essential right now. I’m pretty detached from video games at the moment - I think Gamergate exposed a really deep sense of creative bankruptcy in the industry that it’s going to take a while before something emerges out of, and I’m certainly not one of the people invested enough to watch closely and broadly enough to be an early adopter of that new direction. (It’s like being the kind of comics reader who actually bought “The Anatomy Lesson” the week it came out. Congrats, you bought the future, but holy shit you must have been buying a lot of really bad comics to have done that.) So without feeling much connection to the present of gaming, it’s hard to really know what I’d want to do with video game criticism. So we’ll see if that itch comes back, but right now I’m just not that interested in doing more work in that area.

David Faggiani: Did you watch the Netflix Black Mirror recently... and did you like any of them?

I haven’t yet. I vaguely mean to watch San Junipero and the one with Kelly Macdonald and Faye Marsay, but we’ll see how good a job I do of turning that vague desire into reality.


Artur Nowrot: What's the weirdest research rabbit hole you've been exploring recently?

It was hard not to feel a bit pleased with the strangeness when I was sitting in a library with a table full of Le Corbusier and J.G. Ballard books. But in terms of raw facts, learning what the Coventry Carol is actually about was pretty strange, if only because it really seems like the sort of thing I should have already known.


Eric Rosenfield: Not to be rude about your belief systems (which I respect), but do you really believe William Blake was talking during the seance in which you quoted him, or were you taking the piss? Or is it a case of that it doesn't matter if it's real or not because the quote spoke to something true?

This is a tricky question to answer without violating the aesthetic of mischievousness I trade on, but let’s see what we can do.

On a very basic level, it’s impossible to “really” talk to William Blake outside the years 1757-1827. Even the most literal spiritualism has to admit that death changes the equation somewhat. Equally, I wouldn’t want to say that I’m “taking the piss” or that “it doesn’t matter.” I mean, I obviously am taking the piss - you don’t write the phrase “Blake says in a 2014 seance” without at least a bit of chuckling at what that’s going to do to your readers. But the phrase certainly doesn’t exist entirely as a cynical prank or anything like that.

I think the most helpful way to approach this is to think about what the claim would seem like if I stripped away the trappings of quotation and seance. After all, when I assert that Alan Moore is a con man or that Grant Morrison needs someone to rebel against, these claims aren’t based on hearing Moore or Morrison really say exactly that, and yet readers treat them as relatively untroubled claims that don’t require particular scrutiny beyond whether they comport with other available evidence. I think all the claims I’ve made about Blake are of the same basic type - things that pretty obviously check out. And I don’t think of the Blake I interrogate in my head in particularly different terms from the Moore or the Morrison, or for that matter the Moffat or the Whitaker or any other writer I’ve got a decent handle on.

I do suspect, however, that if interviewed for a different project Blake would sound rather less like the grizzled and slightly burnt out old industry veteran he ends up sounding like when I interview hm for Last War in Albion.


Timothy Barnett: What are your thoughts on HBO's West World (assuming that you saw it, or even if you didn't)? What's you favourite sandwich?

I thought it was OK, but nowhere near as smart as it thought it was. It’s hard not to compare it to Mr. Robot, with which it shares a love of the ostentatiously big reveal, but which always plays its reveals with a self-aware grin instead of a triumphant “HAVEN’T WE JUST BLOWN YOUR MINDS?” In particular, I thought its use of multiple timelines was cheap and unearned - insufficiently set up, and insufficiently used. I’m glad I was spoiled on that plot point, as I’d have ragequit the show otherwise.

I like tuna melts a lot.


Max Braden: How long does it usually take for a project to go from a loose idea to a piece of writing-in-progress? Do you have any particular methods by which you reign in ideas and begin working pragmatically on them?

It depends on the scope of the project, but there’s usually a couple months of cooking that they go through before I start in on them. This is mostly useful and a thing I’d do anyway - I’m not a big notes/prewriting person, but I do spend a lot of time driving or walking and thinking about projects (it’s what I do instead of podcasts, or for that matter most music). But equally, it’s become something of a necessity, since I’m generally booked a couple months in advance at this point in terms of workload, so the lag between getting an idea and getting to where I can execute it is significant anyway. But this doesn’t always happen - Neoreaction a Basilisk was very much something that I just found myself 10,000 words into, for instance.

As for methods, I wouldn’t necessarily say I have any in a doctrinal sense, but there’s generally some things I return to in thinking an idea through. Coming up with rules for the scope of something is always a big step. Figuring out what the boundaries of the psychic space I’m exploring is crucial to getting anywhere in them. The other thing is what I think of as what the default form of movement is. For Last War in Albion, it’s going off on a tangent to explain the background of something. For Neoreaction a Basilisk, it’s an approach based on sweeping back and forth over the same ground in a way that steadily has the actual argument emerge. “The Blind All-Seeing Eye of Gamergate” tended to try to get caught in these little closed loops of lies stacked on lies, while “Theses on Trump” had its numerical structure and notion of applying psychogeography to its subject. There’s still lots that emerges during the writing, including often the biggest notions (the phrase “ruined modernism” didn’t come in until revisions, despite becoming the thesis statement), but figuring out what the exploration is going to look like and, generally, doing a few mental test runs to see what I’m likely to observe is pretty essential.


Max Braden: It sometimes seems like essays that you publish more-or-less off the cuff (your Moffat and feminism posts, for example) go viral, while some of your more labyrinthine projects (Last War in Albion, Build High for Happiness) have some trouble catching on. Would you agree with that statement? Do you think that fact indicates that some of your audience is "missing the point," as it were, of your writing? Have you ever tried  to "dumb down" a piece of writing to try to give it more broad appeal?

Well, I think a one-off is always more likely to go viral than Part 83 or whatever. I don’t think there’s too much sleep to be lost over why a project about modernist architecture and a somewhat obscure art film doesn’t get quite the same attention that a much more populist piece like a feminist defense of Moffat. I don’t think that’s a matter of missing the point, I think it’s a matter of the point being rather more niche in the first place.

I certainly have thought about writing something in part because it was more likely to have broad appeal. It was A Brief Treatise on the Rules of Thrones. Meanwhile, I was pretty sure Neoreaction a Basilisk was the single least sellable idea I’d ever had and figured I’d be lucky if I got $6k on the Kickstarter. So I’ve learned to just stop worrying and do whatever the fuck I feel like, trusting that it’ll work out a reasonable amount of the time.


Max Braden: Broadly speaking, you became as popular as you are in large part through writing about Doctor Who. In 2016, however, you wrote barely at all about Doctor Who, including going a year without releasing a volume of TARDIS Eruditorum. This is somewhat to be expected in a year with no Doctor Who, but is it a trend that we can expect to continue forward  into the Chibnall era? Have you felt at all tired of talking about Doctor Who? Do you feel like the Eruditorum Press brand can ever really move beyond Doctor Who?

The Eruditorum Press brand is pretty unlikely to move beyond the project it’s flagrantly named after, and I wouldn’t want it to. Volume 7 not coming out this year was down to chance and time - Neoreaction a Basilisk ate a lot of its time, and editing on Last War in Albion was at times very slow for a variety of reasons, some on my end, some not. I’m still invested in Doctor Who, and looking forward to doing Volume 7. And Season Ten.

As for the Chibnall era, I expect I’ll still be talking about Doctor Who. I don’t expect to like it very much, but I think, as the saying goes, a spell in opposition will do Eruditorum Press good.


Max Braden: In the last two years, Eruditorum Press has grown from a single blog to a linked network of writers and podcasters. How big do you want to see Eruditorum Press grow, and are there any other mediums you'd like it to break into?

Vastly large. So large you can no longer notice it, like liberal ideology. Which probably means I want to break into AI research or something, I dunno.


Max Braden: Finally, are there any projects of yours that you wish had gotten more attention than they did?

Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons never sold as well as I thought it deserved. Dunno what went wrong for it. Too nebulous a topic that doesn’t show up on Amazon searches, everyone being pretty burnt out on fascism, or just that I put too much of it online for free, but for a book that has what I think is some of my best work it did pretty disappointingly.


Luke Hobbs: Did you fill out a ballot in the EP Doctor Who poll, and if so, what were your Top 20 stories?

I did. I filled it out dead last, after looking at all the existing placings, and didn’t use my votes for anything they wouldn’t change the ranking for, so they didn’t reflect my actual top twenty, and I don’t remember what they were beyond, obviously, Kill the Moon in #1.


Samuel Farina: During your transition from Bush voter to Marxist anarchist occultist, did you ever become a liberal?

I’d argue that Bush voter in 2000 was, on the whole, a pretty classically liberal position, but I was pretty straightforwardly one around 2008.


Sean Dillon: What was your favorite chapter(s) of Jerusalem?

Eating Flowers, with Cornered and A Cold and Frosty Morning close behind.


Kyle Edwards: I've seen you defend Man of Steel and Sucker Punch, but dislike Watchmen. What did you think of Batman v Superman (if, that is, you bothered to see it)?

I actually haven’t gotten to it yet. I expect to like it a bit more than average, but as is presumably obvious, there’s no real excitement.


Alex Smith: Have you ever thought about what Doctor Who would look like if you were head writer / executive producer / emperor supreme? Are there any particular stories you'd want to tell using the show? Specific ideas you'd want to explore?

Surely every fan thinks about this. But in practice the answer would surely be that it looks cancelled because clearly I am in no way qualified for that job ad it would be a complete and utter disaster.

More (or perhaps less) seriously, my big two ideas are a celebrity historical with Blake and finally dealing with Susan.


AntonB: Are we still fucked?

You have to ask?


Mr Mond: Some time ago on Tumblr you mentioned researching cyberpunk - is there any particular reason cyberpunk spoke to you / you think it's relevant right now? And is the Blake annotations project something you're still interested in doing?

The Clinton campaign had me thinking about 90s nostalgia, and cyberpunk seemed like the most obvious angle there to talk about the things I’m interested in. And there was the phrase that kept cropping up as a grim joke that 2016 was “the cyberpunk dystopia nobody wanted.” Which seemed on point. On the one hand, you’ve got a very cyberpunk world where hacking and leaks are incredibly common. On the other, there’s something lackluster about it - cyberpunk tended to assume that information would in some fashion be powerful/able to change things. And instead it just turns out to be boring and strangely useless. So you’ve got, with cyberpunk, a weird situation where it’s almost very predictive, but also clearly not in some key ways. And that seems an interesting tension to pick at.

The Blake annotations are still something I really want to do. It’s a very close call on which one I want to do more, though cyberpunk is still edging it out.


bombasticus 4 years ago

Love it. Hate to say it, but until an X-Men critic can really explicate Chris and especially Bonnie Claremont's primal scene, the most interesting things about that cultural phenomenon will remain unsaid. Lycanthropism. The wild boys, simonomicon & the underbelly of creation. What Levitz really meant when he called Moore his biggest mistake. That person may be reading this now but is not running an X-cast even as we speak.

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bombasticus 4 years ago

...besides Morrison's ability to digest and emulate Claremont arguably becomes his finest weapon in the War once Britpop Is Dead.

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Sean Dillon 4 years ago

"Eating Flowers, with Cornered and A Cold and Frosty Morning close behind."

Oo, chapters I haven't reached yet. I look forward to reading them. (Right now, I'm at Forbidden Worlds, and so far it's pretty damn good, though not as good as Mirror of Love or From Hell. Damn sight better than Watchmen and perhaps a fitting end to the war (though I'd go with Klaus solely because it's blatantly Grant going "You know, I think Alan might have been right about me")).

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Kiki Basco 4 years ago

"San Junipero" is absolutely essential viewing for anyone even vaguely interested in science fiction, regardless of any misgivings you might have about Brooker as a writer and/or person. (The mere act of writing a story like "San Junipero" instantly dissipates most of the criticisms people lob at Charlie Brooker, imo.)

A quick rundown on the other five: "Nosedive" is incredibly resonant for women but came off as obvious for most of my male friends. "Playtest" is shit (though I'm sure there's a redemptive reading). "Shut Up and Dance" is the opposite of "Nosedive" in that the men I know loved it while I thought it was just ok. "Men Against Fire" is a very subtle take on fascism if you're willing to look beyond the most obvious twist ever. And "Hated in the Nation" is a really good crime procedural with a cool premise.

You'll probably get different opinions depending on who you ask.

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William Shaw 4 years ago

I had trouble with San Junipero - much as I want to like it, and genuinely like a lot of what it's trying to do, it's just... structurally borked.
It reminded me of, of all things, Sleep No More - an interesting if slow-paced bunch of setup, then a rushed-through climax which kicks up a bunch of new questions at the last minute and frustratingly refuses to answer any of them, and then an absolutely jaw0dropping finale which almost, but not quite, completely fails to justify the episode's shortcomings. So yeah. A nice departure for Brooker, but another sign that he badly needs an editor. Like, perhaps, Steven Moffat.

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