Black Light Express (and ‘Railhead Three’)

Black Light Express, the second volume in the Railhead trilogy, is out now as a paperback in the UK, published by Oxford University Press, cover illustrations by Ian McQue, and available in all good bookshops…

…and it’s also available as a hardback from all good bookstores in the USA, published by Switch Press (who did the cover artwork in-house, as far as I know…).

I’m currently busy writing volume three, which will be published in the UK next spring. It was slightly delayed by trips to New Zealand, etc, but mainly by me taking my time because I wanted to get it right. The third book in a sequence always has a lot of back story to deal with, and a loose ends to tie up. But I think the current version does the former fairly efficiently, and I think it finds its way to the right ending, while visiting plenty of interesting new worlds on the way, so I’m hoping to get it off to the printers soon, and the great Ian McQue is already working on a cover. I’m looking forward to sharing that, and Railhead 3’s actual title, as soon as I can.

Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets

Off to the cinema last night to watch Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I wasn’t expecting much, as the reviews I’ve seen so far have mostly been so-so. But they are WRONG. Valerian is a better comic book movie than any Marvel film I’ve seen, and a better space opera than Star Wars (though less kid-friendly). There may be a movie which better catches the goofy, optimistic spirit of a certain type of grand manner retro-sci fi, but I can’t think of one. It captures the notion of humanity-taking-its-place-in-a-wider-galactic-civilisation more engagingly than fifty years of  Star Trek, and it does so in a two-minute pre-credits montage (in which astronauts of all nations and then increasingly weird and wonderful aliens are welcomed aboard the ever-expanding International Space Station). Then it whizzes a further 400 years into the future to casually blow Avatar out of the water with a sequence set on a beautiful beach planet where pearly-skinned noble savages live in giant seashells, before rushing us on to a world of white deserts and multi-coloured clouds where tourists amble about wearing clunky headsets, visiting an enormous, bustling market which exists only in a virtual dimension.

As all stories must it settles down a bit eventually, delivering its futuristic agents Valerian and Laureline to Alpha (the former ISS, still growing, crammed with aliens, and en-route for the Magellanic Clouds) to investigate a mystery there. But there are still elaborate detours to take in underwater monsters, man-eating alien fly-fishers, a colossal hat, and Rihanna.

It has its flaws, of course, but I was happy to ignore them. If you buy into it, the ramshackle, episodic structure is a feature, not a bug. The dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle with wit, but the visuals constantly do, (the aliens are funny, the costumes are funny, even some of the fabrics are funny). The only major problem was the central relationship: the bickery romantic attraction between Valerian and Laureline is lifeless, and would be a cliché even if there was enough of a spark between the actors to make it work. (From the few Valerian comics I’ve read I had the impression that the duo were more like Steed and Mrs Peel – they have great trust and affection for each other, but you can’t really tell if they’re a long-established happy couple or just good friends, it’s never mentioned.)

Anyway, if you want witty repartee and nuanced performances this probably isn’t the film for you, but if you want to be dazzled and entertained by crackpot day-glo visions of the distant future for a couple of hours it definitely is.

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