Does Yours Do This?

The Science Museum has a new pop culture art exhibit, called ‘Electroboutique’- Russian artists Shulgin and Chernyshev have given a fantastically tongue-in-cheek look at the symbols of modern marketing, plus a series of exhibits which respond to you in real time.

If you get the chance, do go and see it – it’s on the mezzanine to the left hand side of the front hall (right above the gift shop, suitably enough). I mean, where else would you get one of these?

The Doctor Who Experience

When I was a kid, Doctor Who teetered on a line, the one between fear and exhilaration. It’s the line between your fingers as you peep, thrilled, through them; it’s the line of excitement that has you poised on the edge of your seat..

…it’s line of the crack that runs down the screen as the Doctor Who Experience opens.

But it’s not a crack, it’s part of the event. As it parts to reveal the Experience itself, it has parents laughing and kids open-mouthed – it’s your very own space-time doorway, opening to a mini-story that has you racing to save the Universe, with none other than the Doctor himself as your guide.

The Experience is sensational to the point of being overwhelming, enhanced by Matt Smith’s relentless, almost slapstick dialogue. You’re surrounded by props, yet your eyes are on the main event – you race through the tale almost too fast. Here is the inside of the TARDIS, a wonder to adults and kids alike. Here are the Daleks, right over you and bloody terrifying. Here are the Weeping Angels, lurking the darkness at the edges of your vision. Here is the Pandorica, opening before your eyes.

Walking the Experience with my son, seven, made me remember the thrill of ‘Who’ when I was that age – perhaps one of the secrets to the new Who’s success. He was absolutely testing his limits; other than exclamations of wonder, his only comment was that it was all too fast. I found the same thing – I wanted to linger, and remember, and renew.

Yet as the experience itself races to its 3D ending, you emerge into a hall of props and beasties and costumes and you can wander, and wonder, to yours heart’s content. Here the generations are spanned, and my son can see Who though my eyes, as well as the other way around. The evolution of the Daleks was particularly fine – and made me view the most modern incarnation with new eyes. We have an old one in the lift at FP Southampton… and the new ones are huge!

Of all the things, though, that we saw during the Experience – from driving the TARDIS to watching the invading Dalek spaceships blowing the snot out of everything – one thing has made today magical.

And that’s the expression on the face of my son.

*Pictures in this post are courtesy of The Doctor Who Experience, used with permission and thanks to Susannah Martin.

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A Very Short – and Very Honest – Blog Post

I saw a wonder today.

I took my Mother to the Science Museum. She’s never been; she’s lived on the edge of the city for many years, yet such things are a mystery to her. She knows Harrod’s, Harvey Nick’s, Oxford Street… but after that, the map says ‘Here Be Dragons’.

In the 60s, my Mum was air hostess, flying BEA and Jersey Airlines out of the Channel Islands. There are pictures of her, exquisitely glamorous with her little hat perched on top of her swept blonde beehive… I’ve no idea how I manage to be her daughter and such an irredeemable scruff. I knew the Flight exhibit would be special, but I don’t think I was prepared for how much.

This afternoon, I’ve spent an hour watching my Mother walk through her past, seen the memories shadow her gaze and pass across her face like ghosts. I don’t know what they were – only pieces – but to see her youth suddenly shining like that brought a lump to my throat and I had to turn away.

It’s easy to think of our parents as through their lives began when ours did, to forget that they were young and foolish and reckless too. Seeing my Mum transformed like that, seeing the magic of her twenties and thirties, her life and hopes and dreams, seeing everything she loved and lived for…

Even typing it now brings tears to my eyes.

That was quite the most wondrous thing.

Hands-On at the Science Museum

If I ask my son where he wants to go for a day out, he always answers the same – the Science Museum. He never tires of it, there are so many things to look at and play with. And for as long as he wants to go, I’ll always take him. I’m proud of my mini-geek and encourage him to learn as much as I’m able.

But it got me thinking today – why is it such a win?

When I was a kid, the Science Museum was kind of static. There were cool things to look at, sure – but those dear old Massey model tractors in the agricultural display have now been ploughing that little dirty circle for forty years. Even the model trains on the balcony of the ground floor – yes, you can press a button and watch the steam-pistons, but they’ve long since dropped off the timetable.

As attention spans become shorter, so the Museum’s displays have adapted, they’ve become brighter and more interactive.

Isaac loves the space-age stuff – it’s shiny and out-of-this-world and larger-than-life. He particularly likes the movie of the thousands of satellites that orbit the Earth, and the new spherical-holo of the global climate. These things have vivid, compelling colour and movement; it makes them real. It’s much easier to explain global warming to a child when the globe is right there in front of him.

Downstairs in the basement lurks hell-on-earth – the ‘garden’ where the very little ones go to learn about basic sensory input. I fear the noise (particularly at half-term) but I’m very happy that the Cubs are hands-on from the ground up – literally.

As we explore the ‘Secret Life of the Home’, it occurs to me that learning, just like media, has become all about ‘interactive’; it’s about making things real and accessible. And that starts with shrieking noise of the smallest kids – and it goes all the way up.

Around us, as communication becomes faster, easier and worldwide, so learning becomes about sharing and experiencing – not about ‘being taught’. Chalk-dust has become just that. Now, Isaac gazes fascinated at the workings of cockpits and CDs and VCRs; we play classic ‘Pong’ from 1978. These things are history to him, but they’re a part of my life experience and we can share them and learn together.

It brings us closer. And it’s fun.

As the years of new layers have been added to the displays, yes, it has become a little chaotic. The old tractors are next to the modern plastics; classic 1970s Dan Dare looks out over a floor of games about modern energy and resource (though I daresay he’d approve).

Communication, both media and education, is changing – and it’s very good to see that our kids can be really involved in this from the youngest age.

Today, I’ve been asking Isaac to take pictures – hopefully, encouraging him to look at what’s around him and to enjoy the learning experience. Some of his pictures are on this post. You’ll find the rest on his very own Flickr page, here. 

Needless to say, he has help me download them and choose them and label them. I think it’s all part of the same experience.

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

An Anti-Vamp Rant


I used to like watching Buffy – I own it on… actually on VHS… and I’ve watched it to absolute Undeath.

But by every Mother of God am I sick of fucking vampires!

It was with a huge cheer, then, that I read Neil Gaiman’s comments in the Independent this morning – kicking back against genre and marketing saturation, and against the de-fanged and de-balled castrato-vamp that we’ve all learned to loathe. He’s right, they’re like cockroaches, they’re everywhere – and we’ve had enough.

And not only Gaiman, bless him. He’s backed up by Sam Stone and Graham Marks… and even Ms. Meyer herself has had enough. Could it be – finally – that the public backlash is finding its teeth?

I get marketing trends – hell, I’m supposed to, I have to follow and ride them for a living. But when does a trend become a dictation? When does it stop being something the audience want – and become something they’re told they must like? Working where I do, I’ve been on ground level with marketing a motherlode of Vampire merchandise… and you can guarantee that, for every Twilight-Sparkly-Box-Souvenir that we’ve promoted through our Social Media net, we’ll get a kick-back of customers who’ve all reached their own saturation limit.

And so I ask: have we now reached the point where our media consumption is being utterly dictated by its buying trends – and where those very trends are set by a nation of proto-teen consumers? Just who is in fucking charge here anyway?!

Please – enough with the ‘safe sales’, already, and enough with the sheep-herding; enough with the force-feeding of pulp and enough with having our consumption controlled.

Let’s give the Vampire back his teeth… while we open out, and embrace the full scope of our genre.


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Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

So why, for the love of whatever God you choose, is the science fiction community so reluctant to embrace new forms of expression?

While the comics industry surges off the page and onto the iphone, the science fiction profession has progressed as far as the Real Ale bar. Steeped in the traditional – novels, short stories, radio, television – they reluctantly protest that they like books, they like to have paper under their hands, something they can read without getting glare-ache from the screen.

And yes, I guess there’s a bit of that in all of us.

But.

It’s a strong time for Geek Chic – literary uber-agent John Jarrold quoted that sf and fantasy count for up to 11% of total UK book sales… and that figure would be impressive had I not walked past Zavvi this morning. The rise in new ways to access non-format literature, music and film is driving major labels out of business. Adapt or die. That ‘11%’ is a lot less convincing when the overall total starts to plummet.

Dave Hutchinson rather wisely said that it isn’t ‘a future of literature, more a future of delivery’. Writers need to move into new mediums, adapt their skills to different platforms. They’re at last appearing on twitter; they’re venturing into audiocasting or writing plots for major game releases. Maybe it’s time to add a new award to the Hugo and Nebula – one for innovation, for successfully breaking new ground.

And why stop with the professionals. From the letters page of the fanzine to today’s LiveJournal, fans won’t just be told what they can read. They like to take control of the characters they love and put them in new situations. Fan-fiction, both on the web and off, has become huge and very successful, writers gaining sizeable credibility in their own right. In the greater world of social media, the potential for author/reader collaboration is blown wide-open – why tell a story when you can create a world?

Who writer Paul Cornell stood to champion sf and new media. Arguing my beliefs for me, he talked about web visibility, versatility, mass appeal and the importance of viral marketing. He gets a round of applause for the immortal line, “There will always be the novel, but that novel may not always be a book.”

For the moment, then, the new and the old complement each other – a presence on the web will boost visibility of a book – and vice versa. But in ten years? When the CosPlayers, the X-Box generation, are in their thirties, are they going to be sitting in a corner with a pint of Theakstons and a paperback?

I don’t think so.

My thanks to the NewCon panel for the inspiration. Entitled ‘Does the Future of SF lie in Media other than Traditional Literature’, it featured Uma McCormack, John Jarrold, Steve Longworth, Dave Hutchinson and Paul Cornell.
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