Playmakers (2003)


Cast: Omar Gooding, Russell Hornsby, Jason Matthew Smith

Original Broadcaster: ESPN

Awards: American Film Institute (2003), GLAAD

For fans of: Friday Night Lights, Sports Night, Oz

For a single brilliant season, ESPN channeled their intimate knowledge of the sports world into a dramatic series about football. Playmakers followed the fictional Cougars - part of an unnamed football league that was in-no-way-the-NFL-wink-wink - through a particularly tumultuous season.

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Weirdness Rodeo: Heritage, Waterstones and Adaptations

Darwin and Plarchie, by Deadly KnitshadeWe often feel it is important to preserve what we have inherited, but unless we appreciate we would not even have such an inheritance unless others had been willing to tamper with what they in turn were bequeathed, we cannot understand what is really at stake and what matters. - Julian Baggini, "Razed to Life" (RSA Journal, 2015)

What I find particularly compelling about this statement is that it isn't necessarily espousing 'progress for the sake of progress'. Rather, this about - to be cold - the 'cost/benefit' analysis of change: 'understanding what is at stake and what matters'. 

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Review Round-up: Scruples, Sidekick, Outlaw Marshal

Sidekick latestAdeline Radloff's Sidekick (2010) is about, well, a sidekick. Katie Holmes (no, not that one - a joke that's just barely on acceptable side of annoying) is a teen adoptee, living with her foster mom and and Finn. Finn is Bruce Wayne. Mom is Alfred. Katie is Robin.

There's a little more complexity to it (there's a more Alfred-y Alfred, but he died somewhere in the past, for example), but that's the book in a nutshell. Finn, unlike Batman, has actual superpowers as well - he can fuss around with time, although there are various limitations and side effects that are introduced as the book goes on. Katie is remarkable because, besides Finn, she's the only person that isn't frozen solid when Finn does his time-travel mojo. Which means she can help Finn move stuff around, save lives, fight evil, remember to eat a sandwich, and, you know, be a sidekick.

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Friday Fifteen: 15 Great and Bookish Gifts for the Holidays

Crime WritersTis the season! What follows are fifteen bookish things that make lovely gifts. Books that are more than their (very good) text, but are also pleasing to the eye, charming on the shelf, and even have a wee bit of distinction about them. A signature, a slipcase - maybe even a bookplate or two: all help make excellent books into extraordinary presents.

(And, also, as always - we're not paid, we're not prompted and we don't take affiliate links, etc. etc. These recommendations are from the heart, not the wallet.)


For lovers of crime and the classics, Sarah Weinman has carefully edited the spectacular Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 1950s. This is an absolutely gorgeous boxed set from the Library of America, containing recognisable writers such as Patricia Highsmith and also lost (brilliant) authors such as Margaret Millar. 

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Fiction: "Mephisto the Unruly" by George Sandison

Mephisto - Emma CoshThe fever dreams of Mephisto the Unruly were potent. They worked slowly at first, dragging slow, bright streaks of colour across the stained walls, but once they started to take physical form they would not be restrained.

As Mephisto shivered under the blankets, his temperature achieving untold heights, he watched the drawers of his cabinet slide open and bunches of gaudy flowers blossom from the fresh beds. Swirling smoke dragons coiled around the lampshade in silence but the great white rabbit in the corner said nothing. Occasionally it would doff its hat in a semblance of respect.

Mephisto knew on some level he was sick, but there seemed little point in challenging it. His staff would bring him soup and hot water with chunks of lemon and ginger steeping and that satisfied what little appetite he had. The rabbit in the corner absolutely wasn’t real, he understood that, but it still kept him company.

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Announcing... Aleriel, A Voyage to Other Worlds by W.S. Lach-Szryma and Molly Tanzer

AlerielOur erratic and extremely particular publishing wing, Jurassic London, has a new (or very old) title on the horizon: Aleriel, A Voyage to Other Worlds.

First published in 1883, Aleriel is one of the early classics of science fiction. The titular hero explores the Solar System - from his homeworld of Venus to the 'inchoate horrors of Saturn', with lengthy stops to visit a Utopian society on Mars and, of course, Earth. Notable for the way the novel incorporated the latest scientific, political and religious thinking, Aleriel is also the first work of fiction to use the words 'Martian' or 'Venusian' to describe the residents of these planets.

This new edition of Aleriel contains the author's original prefaces and end-notes to the first and second editions, and comes with a lengthy introduction from the Richard Dunn (Head of Science and Technology, Royal Museums Greenwich) and Marek Kukula (Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich), discussing the role our celestial neighbours - especially Mars - have played in inspiring contemporary fiction. 

As a further bonus, Vermilion and The Pleasure Merchant's (and Pornokitsch's) Molly Tanzer has written a brand new sequel to Aleriel, "Civilisation and Its Discontented", which investigates the repercussions of Aleriel's visit to Mars.

The cover is by Jonathan Edwards, whose distinctive style can be found in the Guardian, Q and NME, as well as adorning album covers by, amongst others, The Black Eyed Peas.

Aleriel is out 24 November. Ebooks can be ordered now via Amazon and And the paperback is available here.


Slade House by David Mitchell

Slade HouseThrough a small, easy-to-miss door in the equally easy-to-miss Slade Alley, those who are invited, knowingly or unknowingly, can find the garden entrance to Slade House.

The house itself is large and imposing, perhaps past its prime, but always a surprise to find in the context of its surroundings. In fact, how does a house this big, with grounds this extensive, even fit in the apparently available space? Why is it impossible to find its front entrance? And why, on the last Saturday of October every nine years, is someone brought by circumstance to Slade House and never seen again?

I’ll confess that I’ve always found David Mitchell a difficult writer to get on with. Most of my past efforts to get through his books have foundered in the early stages, though for a variety of reasons, so it’s hard to make a definitive “I don’t like the way he writes X” statement. Slade House proved the exception, which it achieved largely by being pacy, intriguing, engaging and creepy in a way that draws in the reader - for the most part - pretty effectively.

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Review Round-up: Flamesong, Sledgehammer and The Gameshouse

Gameshouse - PK

Three recent reads - a vintage fantasy, a terrific new trilogy and a particularly heavy-handed crime thriller.

Claire North's Gameshouse trilogy (2015), with apologies, as I did my frothing fanboy thing on Twitter, but, these are simply brilliant. The trilogy is comprised of three novelettes (novellas? long shorts? maxistories? minibooks?), each with a different narrator, setting and - wonderfully - tense. All three feature players in the enigmatic Gameshouse - a location/organisation for those that gamble, and gamble to win. The outer room is for the games we all know and love. The inner room is for the real players, the ones that manipulate lives and nations. 

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Radio Drama: "The Thing from the Darkness" (1942)

Thing from the Darkness"The Thing from the Darkness"

Original air date: April 3, 1942, from the series Dark Fantasy.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Thoughts Before Listening

I am excited to hear this because the words ‘thing’ and ‘darkness’ are very promising. Things in darkness are often menacing except maybe things like bananas but I am confident this will not be about a banana in the darkness because they didn’t fuck around in 1942, this is probably going to be about something with teeth that eats people. Also, Dark Fantasy is the name of a chocolate biscuit in India and it’s really gross but I will not allow that to ruin my listening experience.

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Weirdness Rodeo: Reboots, Adaptations and Neko Atsume

Gilmore Girls

"Why are there so many cult TV reboots?!", via the Washington Post:

But in TV, a land where every meager success is formulized, the reboots are seen as cheap bets, with often low-risk premises, washed-up stars and built-in cores of superfans.

For networks struggling to hold onto cord-cutters, and streaming upstarts pushing to prove themselves, the ‘90s reboots offer another prize: The viewers who grew up on these shows are now, a few decades later, making the decisions on cable budgets of their own.

The article notes that there are 400 original scripted series set to air this year. Any reboot - even a cult one - starts with an audience of greater than zero. Which is already a slim lead in the race for survival. (Although for many, that still isn't enough.)

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Fiction: "The Choreography of Masks" by David Pomerico

Masks - Banner - Jeffrey Alan Love

The candles mix with the floodlights, and down the road she sees the reflections off the tinted masks and plexiglass shields. She knows that only eyes like hers, eyes that are actually here, can catch that fiery gaze of the faceless men – there’s been a media blackout for days, cutting off the world from what is happening tonight. It was standard now, to deny real-time access to events as they unfolded, controlling the story and keeping it theirs. Yet another mask.

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Stark Reviews: Westworld (1973)


Stark says: Boy have we got a vacation for you! Where nothing can possibly go worng!

Let’s see now, we’ve done cowboys and dinosaurs, cowboys and Joan Crawford, cowboys and foxes…. What’s missing? Oh yeah, COWBOYS vs ROBOTS, otherwise known as Westworld.

Now, because Hollywood can’t leave any damn thing alone ever,* Westworld is being currently being re-booted into a TV series, starring Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood. I’ll keep my pistol in my holster until I’ve actually seen it, but in the meantime, let’s cast a beady eye over the original.

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Class (Cum Laude) by Cecily von Ziegasar

ClassClass (originally published as Cum Laude*, 2010) is an 'adult' book by Gossip Girl creator Cecily von Ziegesar. It is no secret that the Gossip Girl series of books is one of my all time favourites, so I was delighted to find this slightly odd and out-of-print one off from the author.

Generally speaking: eh.

There's a lot of interesting things about Class, but mostly they come from contrasting it to other books, and I'll get to them in a paragraph or so. Class qua Class is a fairly substandard entry into the canon of university literature. It features five freshmen at 'Dexter', a private liberal arts college that's your generic New England not-quite-Ivy (a joke they make early on) establishment: complete with gender-ambiguous professors, terrible university theatre, campus druggies and irksome townies. The five weeble and wobble their way through a tumultuous first year, complete with sex, drugs, art, fire and some half-hearted attempts at reinvention.

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Friday Five: 5 superheroes I want on my football team


Right, my actual football team and my fantasy football team both suck this year, so I need some sort of distraction. Which means - naturally - trying to think of which superheroes would make the best football players. 

The rules, because what's the point of thinking about this unless you overthink it?

  • No weapons or external 'bits'. So surfboards, repulser beams, grenade launchers - out. Armor is ok, because that's on you, but you can't use it to shoot stuff from your hands or whatever. Natural defenses - claws and teeth - are fine.
  • No pulling in stuff from off the field. (Also known as the 'Magneto Rule'.) You can't use your powers to bring on bleachers or chairs or passing 747s or anything like that.
  • You have to fit on the field. So Galactus is out, and the all-Celestials defensive line is a no-go.
  • Flight is ok, but the rules of football apply. You have to land with feet inbounds, etc.
  • I think that's it. Further rules may apply when I think of them.

With no further ado, presenting five members of my imaginary team...

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