2023 in review: London calling to the faraway towns

2023 in review: London calling to the faraway towns

2023 was a busy year for me, with lots of events to cover and subsequent articles to write about them.  As such, I was travelling much more, usually to London.  I continued to cover the latest in technology for Computer Weekly and IT Pro.   I also interviewed a variety of experts and technical specialists.

I always want to do something new each year, whether it is to write for a new client or explore a different medium – I never want to keep doing the same thing, as this can lead to stagnation.  This year witnessed the publication of Deviant Leisure and Events of Deviance, a peer-reviewed academic journal that included my chapter about the psychological benefits of roleplaying games.  This was a major ‘first’ for me and whilst the process of referencing everything was a frustrating experience, I am keen to contribute to similar projects.

I was amused to receive an email from the BBC in September asking if The Matrix was ‘my kind of thing’.  It most definitely is, and I had a great chat about the enduring appeal of the film and its adaptation as interpretative dance.

I wrote for the technology website WhyNow for the first time, with an article about the changing portrayal of war in video games.

In July I interviewed the head of the Defence and Security Media Advisory committee (AKA the D-Notice committee) about the role of the media in protecting national security.  It was a great interview and I hope my name has not made it onto any watch lists.

Throughout the year I found myself attending tech conferences in London.  It is a place I always like to visit, but I could never live there.  At the Chatbot Summit I was promoted at short notice from a journalist covering the event, to a guest on stage discussing the impact of generative AI on the media.

I was also a guest for TechnologyLive! events; roundtable discussions showcasing the latest in technology.  As they are day-long affairs, I usually need to stay overnight in London, so I take the opportunity to meet friends and business contacts, and visit Camden.

One time I was lucky enough to be in London to see the Forge live-action experience that was promoting the latest season of The Mandalorian.  Only a limited number of walk-in slots were available.  So naturally, as soon as I stepped off the train, I headed to Piccadilly Circus and waited in line.  I was the first in the queue, but it was more than worth the wait, as I was given a replica prop and saw the Blues Harvest band playing there.

A month later I chatted with Blues Harvest during the awards ceremony of Sci-Fi Weekender (SFW).  After seeing them play live several times, it was great to meet them in person.  SFW is always an amazing event to cover and it has become something of a working holiday for me as I regularly interview guests on stage.

This year I interviewed author and researcher Dacre Stoker about his sequels to Dracula and research on the influences of Bram Stoker.  I interviewed comedian and actor George Coppen about his work on The School of Good and Evil and the Willow TV series.  Despite interviewing as part of my job for over ten years, Coppen is the only person to have broken me on stage by making me laugh so hard.  It was great to also interview Victor Dorobantu, who played Thing in Wednesday.

The UK Games Expo is another fun event to cover.  I was especially honoured to be invited to write an article for this year’s programme based on my research into why we play roleplaying games.

I continued to be an editor for Geek Pride and co-host their podcast, for which we had some truly amazing guests.  Some of the highlights were electric-swing singer Madam Misfit, games designer Eddy Webb and the artist Johan Nohr.  I was especially excited to interview Satyros Phil Brucato about the thirtieth anniversary of Mage: The Ascension, one of my favourite RPGs.

For Geek Pride day I met my friend, and Geek Pride founder, Matt in Manchester for a night at Format.GG. Although it would be fair to say that Matt and I were not the target demographic – we were the oldest ones there – it was still a fun night.

Life, the universe and something

I took my family to Brit Sci-Fi, a family friendly sci-fi convention at the National Space Centre.  It had been five years (and a lot had happened) since I had interviewed Doug Naylor for a BBC article about stasis (a concept that he had used in Red Dwarf), but he still remembered chatting with me.

We went to Whitby for our summer holiday this year.  It had been over ten years since we had last been there.  Although it was not at the time of the goth weekend, there was still lots to do.  One of the highlights was taking my eldest to see a performance of Dracula at Whitby Abbey.  It was also one of the few holidays where we never got in the car, as there is so much to see and do in the town itself.

After collaborating with Rosie Garland on Deviant Leisure, it would have been rude not to see the March Violets on their tour (reviewed here).  The gig was fantastic, made even more so by meeting Rosie in person for the first time.

This year has not been all sunshine and rainbows.  My youngest’s cold in May turned into a nasty ear infection, then into a lymph gland infection. Unfortunately, he needed a stay in hospital for a few days, but thankfully no operations were required.  Caelia and I took turns staying by the hospital bed; me during the day and Caelia sleeping there at night.

We have been having a few issues with our car, whereby it will randomly lock itself.  Unfortunately, this happened when the keys were still inside the car and we could not find the spares.  A couple of hours later we managed to break into our car (without breaking a window).  This reminded me of the time we had to break into our own house (also without breaking a window).  It is always good to know that we have a career in crime to fall back on.

I am hurtling towards fifty with alarming alacrity, which means I do not bounce as well as I used to.  I am still doing Kung Fu (if Jackie Chan can still do all his own stunts, then I can do a session a week), but I have not been cycling since October, as I wait for physio on my knee.

Finally, my eldest and I went to see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny at the cinema.  Although it was not one of the greatest Indiana Jones films (these would have to be Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade), it was not the worst, and it was a fitting conclusion for an iconic character.

Read, watched and recommended

The Wednesday TV series was a lot of fun. Although based upon The Addams Family, I felt it added elements from Nightbreed and the Percy Jackson films. The dialogue was amazing and it was brilliantly cast.  Wednesday’s reaction to Morticia and Gomez smooching felt very on-point – Caelia and I have noticed similar reactions from our children.

When Caelia was in the mood for a murder mystery, we started watching Only Murders in the Building, and I enjoyed it far more than expected. The writing is fantastic; seamlessly blending comedy with mystery, and the first season has a twist that I did not see coming.  Whilst the second season did not feel as tightly plotted, the characters and dialogue continued to be amazing and I especially liked how background characters came to the fore, rather than introducing new characters.

The first season of For All Mankind was a fantastic alternative-history about the people behind the space race. It is easily one of the best SF shows on TV at the moment, as it posits what would have happened if Russia had been the first to land on the moon.  The characters are brilliantly written, but we would have liked to have seen Katherine Johnson portrayed in it.

The show that impressed me most this year is Gen V, mainly because I was not expecting that much from it.  I had watched The Boys and read the comics, but I had never engaged with them.  The comic tells an unsubtle story, as its creator Garth Ennis had wanted to out-do himself after creating Preacher.  However, Gen V is an original story within the setting and is all the better for it.  Using the premise of superheroes as celebrities, GenV explores contemporary themes with some fantastic writing and incredible acting.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Volume 3 was a surprisingly emotional film. James Gunn perfectly balanced comedy and tragedy, imbuing the characters with pathos and telling incredibly human stories, but with lots of goo. The soundtrack was incredibly good, from Rainbow to Radiohead, and dropping Faith No More’s We Care a Lot at just the right moment was perfection.

23 Seconds to Eternity was a glorious celebration of The KLF, compiling all of Bill Butt‘s short films and music videos for the band. Those hoping for further insight will be disappointed, as the only was speaking part was Martin Sheen’s narration during the Rites of Mu segment.

Totally Killer was a surprisingly fun slasher-thriller with a time-travel twist – it was basically Halloween meets Back to the Future.  The script has a wry tone, that played with the horror tropes and highlights the cultural differences between 1987 and 2023.

I have mostly been reading roleplaying game books this year, but I took time to read Quantum of Nightmares by Charles Stross.  It is an offshoot of the Laundry Files series and is best described as Mary Poppins meets the horrors of corporate efficiency. Although there were no references to the KLF this time, it was still an utterly gripping read.

Throughout the year I have been playing Cyberpunk 2077.  I finally finished it after fifty hours, and then played it some more with the Phantom Liberty expansion. Despite a rough launch, Cyberpunk 2077 has become one of the best video games I have played in a very long time. It is the perfect combination of writing, immersion, gameplay and atmosphere.

I also played Control, which combined storytelling and gameplay for a fantastic experience. It has an amazing aesthetic that subtly uses colour to direct the player. The ashtray maze was a perfect sequence in the game. Poets of the Fall composed a cracking theme song (Take Control) for the game, which was the perfect accompaniment to the maze sequence.

Back to the future

2024 is promising to be a busy year.  I have already been invited to write about emerging technologies for the popular science website Live Science, which I am looking to.

In February there will be the next TechnologyLive! in London and March will see Sci-Fi Weekender XV take place.

Meanwhile, we will be celebrating our eldest’s sixteenth birthday in the midst of her GCSE exams.  The fact that my eldest will be leaving school next year is disconcerting.

But, for now, I am relaxing with my family and catching up on some reading.

Peter Ray Allison
December 2023, somewhere in the vicinity of Derby.