2022: A return to normal. Mostly…

2022: A return to normal. Mostly…

With the gradual lightening of Covid restrictions, 2022 was something of a return to normality, especially in regard to events making a welcome return.  Something that I learned from the lockdowns is that I enjoy in-person events far more than virtual events or online meetings.

November witnessed the welcome return of Sci-Fi Weekender, Europe’s largest science-fiction festival.  As well as covering the event for Geek Pride and writing an article about cosplay for Paste Magazine, I was also invited to interview authors and artists on stage.  Despite regularly interviewing guests on the Geek Pride podcast, it had been a few years since I had last hosted an interview in front of an audience: the energy of chatting on stage to someone in person is such a rush!

It was great to meet Level Up Leroy and John Robertson at Sci-Fi Weekender, having previously talked to them on the Geek Pride podcast. I also met Madam Misfit, after her amazing set on Friday night, and will be chatting to her further on the Geek Pride podcast in January.

I had an absolute blast meeting Gigi Edgley at Wales Comic Con in April.  I had interviewed her about Farscape the month before for The Companion.  I also had a lot of fun chatting with Julian Glover about portraying the imperial officer General Veers in Star Wars and how he always plays characters that are villains.  I also met James O’Barr, writer and artist of The Crow, at November’s Wales Comic Con during one of his rare UK appearances.

The UK Games Expo returned to form, following the previous year’s Covid restricted event.  After reviewing many of their roleplaying games, it was great to finally meet some of the Free League Publishing team, who signed my copy of Symbaroum.  As a fan of 2000AD and Rebellion Publishing, it was great to see them there, as they expanded into tabletop gaming with Rebellion Unplugged.

It wasn’t just events coverage this year, as I also continued writing for Computer Weekly.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine influenced much of my cyber security writing, which came to the fore in my article looking at how Anonymous’ Operation Russia has changed the thinking behind cyber security.  My favourite Computer Weekly article was about the realistic portrayal of hacking in Sneakers: a classic heist film that I adore.

I continued writing for BBC Future, with Will We Ever? articles, which examine the technical feasibility of science fiction tropes.  These always seem to strike a chord with readers, but this was especially so with my latest one.  My article on the future of cities and potential for arcologies (self-contained habitats within a single building) generated a lot of conversation.  This led to my first television appearance – New Zealand’s The AM Show – to talk about my arcologies article.

Earlier in the year, I was also invited onto BBC Radio Sheffield to share my thoughts on The Matrix: Resurrections (reviewed here).  The film has been divisive with both fans and critics, but I stood by my opinion that this was a film designed to appeal to those that had seen the original Matrix film at the cinemas in 1999.

Finally, I returned to my music journalism roots by writing for HRH Magazine.  I started out writing album reviews, but soon expanded into interviews, with features about Vlad in Tears and March Violets.

Life, the universe and something

Life has returned to relative normality for Clan Allison… or as normal as we get.  One consequence of the Covid pandemic has been that Caelia is now working from home, barring the occasional meeting in the office.  This means that we are seeing more of each other (without any serious disagreements!) and eating far healthier than ever before.

I continued learning Kung Fu with the East Midlands Wutan school and gained my green belt in the Summer.  I also have a new toy; a bokken (wooden practice sword).  I swear I do not make lightsaber sound effects all the time, but as my Sifu (teacher) once said to me, if she listens very carefully, she can hear that faint hum of one…

The start of the year saw me walking a neighbours dog, called Athena, whilst her owner had knee surgery. I have always wanted a dog, and Athena is incredibly well trained, so walking her was an absolute joy. However, it reminded us that a dog is a huge commitment and with already having three kiddies, it is just not viable for us.

Our holiday this year was on the east coast again for a relaxing week exploring Scarborough and the Yorkshire coast.  It was fantastic spending time together and treating the children after a horrendous two years. They even gave surf-boarding a try.  It was amazing weather, but we fortunately missed the previous week’s heatwave, which would have been unbearable in a caravan.

The summer was a scorcher and I am glad that we live in rural Derbyshire and could seek shade under the many trees.  Clear skies meant we were able to use Caelia’s telescope to see another galaxy – Andromeda – with our own (telescopically enhanced) eyes!

The Radical Horizons exhibition we visited during the Summer at Chatsworth House rekindled memories of the time I went to Burning Man festival with my friends Petey and Chris.  The sculptures were amazing and evoked the unbridled imagination of Burning Man.

As an end-of-summer treat for the kiddies, I took them to the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield.  It has a fantastic collection of retro games and consoles, as well as dozens of arcade games.  It may seem niche and whimsical, but the technological developments in video games highlight how much our culture has changed in forty years.

My second child started secondary school in September, which naturally meant they needed a phone of their own.  Much to their disappointment, and resignation, it was just a basic function phone.  As I explained, this is what happens when you have a paranoid cyber security journalist for a parent.

To help with the kiddies’ language lessons, we started using the Duolingo app.  Caelia and the kiddies continued to learn French, whilst I started learning Chinese.  I had tried a couple of times before, using language tapes and CDs, but never stuck with it.  However, the gamified nature of Duolingo’s structured learning has kept me engaged.

Read, watched and recommended

One of the television highlights of the year has to be the return of Stranger Things, with their penultimate fourth season.  This season took the horror references (which were only previously alluded to) and brought them to the forefront, for a fantastic story.

This season had an absolutely amazing portrayal of how quickly people can succumb to anti-gaming hysteria.  I was impressed by how they faithfully portrayed the fundamentalist rhetoric.  Gaten Matarazzo is amazing as Dustin and the writing by The Duffer Brothers was pitch perfect.

Our favourite show of the year was The Sandman.  Despite a couple of episodes feeling out of place, this was a phenomenal piece of television that adapted Neil Gaiman’s iconic comic series, which had been previously described as unfilmable.  The characters were faithfully written and excellently portrayed, blending comedy and drama, and the effects gloriously evoked the realm of dreams.

One show that pleasantly surprised me was Andor. Much like Rogue One, Andor presented a grounded portrayal of life in the Star Wars universe.  Here, there were limited space battles and no jedis or light sabres.  What we had was a gloriously gritty spy thriller in space.

Night Sky was another series that Caelia and I enjoyed, mostly because it was so different to other sci-fi shows.  The sense of mystery is there, but the principal characters are an elderly couple, who found a portal to another world in their garden.  Rather than seeking to unlock the secrets or go adventuring, they instead use it to enjoy the view together.

Having children means we rarely get to see films at the cinema, although my eldest is proving to be increasingly responsible to look after their siblings for short periods of time.  I was grateful to be able to attend the premiere of Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness, as the epic scale of the visuals meant that this was a film that could only be fully appreciated at the cinema. However, it felt more like a Wanda film and the film makers never committed to madness that the title promised.

One film that did commit to the madness of a multiverse was Everything Everywhere All at Once.  My brain almost exploded watching it, but in a good way. It took the multiverse idea, dialled it up to 11 and added Michelle Yeoh into the mix.  The underlying themes feel especially pertinent, given the state of the world. To quote Waymond; “Be kind, especially when you do not know what is going on.”

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Predator film Prey.  The impeccably detailed setting, rich cultural representation and tight run time made for a truly fantastic film. My only criticism is that it would have been better filmed in Comanche, rather than in English.

Two writers that always make me sit up and take notice are J Michael Straczynski and Bryan Talbot.  Straczynski’s Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer was a wonderful guide for writers, both new and grizzled veterans alike.  Fun and conversational, but filled with insight and hard truths, this was compulsive reading and stands alongside Stephen King’s On Writing.

Meanwhile, Bryan Talbot released The Legend of Luther Arkwright.  This is a graphic novel I have been wanting to read ever since it was teased many years ago, as the original Adventures of Luther Arkwright demonstrated to the power of the comic medium.  The story was gloriously multi-layered and I was especially pleased to see Talbot’s gorgeous black and white inkwork return.

Finally, V Castro’s Aliens: Vasquez was a fantastic story.  Rather than focusing on Jenette Vasquez, this book focuses on the Vasquez family, bringing their rich cultural heritage to the fore and using it to tell a fresh story within the Aliens setting.

Back to the future

2023 is already proving to be busy month, with two commissions from Computer Weekly to deliver in January, whilst BBC Future have asked me to pitch more sci-fi themed articles for them.

February will witness the launch of Deviant Leisure, an academic volume for which I wrote a peer-reviewed chapter about the psychological benefits of roleplaying games.  Also, that month will be the UK Ghost Story Festival in Derby, which I will naturally be attending – it would be rude not to go.

As well as being the month of my anniversary of meeting Caelia, March will also be the month of SFW, where I will once again be interviewing guests on stage.  Finally, April promises the return of Star Wars Celebration Europe to London.  Needless to say, that is an event I would love to cover!

For now, I will be enjoying the Christmas holidays and taking some much-needed chillout time with my family.

Peter Ray Allison
December 2022, somewhere in the vicinity of Derby.