Thursday, 28 March 2013

Easter

As a pronounced and ethical agnostic - we can't really know, so why pretend there's a definite answer? - there are two holidays which really give me problems: Christmas and Easter. Separated from the Godly aspect, and celebrating some man who said nice things and inspired people, Christmas would be quite a nice holiday but somehow it's still troubling. It's probably because it's a national holiday, and is essentially an intertwinement of government and religion. As American constitution writers guessed well so long ago, Church and State are best served as separate entities. We should really be abashed at how mixed up things are. Going out on an unpopular limb, let's make our national holidays secular and universal. Fortunately the Winter Solstice is right next to Christmas so we can appease people by making the shortest day a holiday. And we could do summer solstice too, but what of the other national holidays? We have the fewest bank holidays of the EU countries, or did when last I checked, so when should these holidays be?

Some obvious and un-controversial National Holiday nominations, some of which are in jest:

Shakespeare Day: 23 April (died this day in 1616. Birth date unknown.)
May Day: Remains the same.
Henry VII Day: 28 June (born this day in 1491)
David Lloyd George Day: 17 January (born this day in 1863)
Burns Day: 25 January (born this day in 1759)
Science Day: Placed strategically in an empty period of time.
Faith Day: See Science Day

I'm sure there many other and better ideas, but it seems reasonable to allow people to believe what they believe and holiday when they want without being told they have to. Let's not mix religion and government,

Having said all that, I'm not sure why it all came into mind! Perhaps it's the emptiness of my department here today, everyone having sloped off early for Easter. Also, as Daylight Savings Time looms, I'm very conscious of the fact that we'll be on fake time for the next few interminable months. Daylight Saving Time is one of my least favourite things in life, along with slow transformations in monster movies, and interminable setup sections in movies. If I ever see another origin story in a superhero movie then there will be ructions!

O.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Story: 'Night Trials', XI

As my first serial, 'Night Trials' has been prey to planning problems and narrative blocks. On this occasion there was only one recourse, the ultimate recourse: Doodling on paper. If you're ever in trouble when writing, just doodle and summarise, and write down random things and you will eventually get through!

-----

'Night Trials', Part XI
(Part X, XII)

Lincoln Poon had been a landholder of little ambition but great luck and opportunism. While Stanford Colms was slowly developing the ranching hub and market at Wandering Yip, Poon was swiftly expanding Poon Hill on silver money. Lincoln Poon was long gone now but the lingering, faded opulence of the saloon still lingered on as Sheriff Bob stared intently out of the window at the aliens walking around the planned settlement. Poon had had a short-lived with Vienna so the town was build in circles.

Bob had stared for an hour and it seemed as if the aliens weren't coming for him. They hadn't seen him or were playing it calm. Maybe he was too small a problem to bother with? No, he was sure they hadn't seen him. The plan was set, even if it wasn't a particularly honourable plan. Striding out of the saloon he approached the nearest alien and roundly smashed it to the ground with a roundhouse punch to the head. The alien stayed down on the ground, while five - five! - others came zooming in slowly to take him down.  He ran to a house, which he'd selected very carefully as an uninhabited one, and watched again. The alien was lifted up and they looked toward his hideout.

Bob waited.

The aliens slowly approached the house. Now he was no longer in awe so much of the beings he realised that they seemed extraordinarily cautious. Thinking back, he realised that only one alien had actually made any kind of offensive act against him, and the people of this town had been terrorised en masse by the deaths of their strongest people. The six aliens approaching were going very slowly and holding devices of some kind which they waved about. By the time they decided to open fire on the building Bob was long gone. Back doors were such useful things, especially when they were so close to the saloon.

'How do you deal with a bunch of extremely cautious aliens invaders?', pondered Bob, 'And how do you do it before they build up the courage and nerve?'. Those questions and the worry that there might be a firebrand amongst the outsiders jostled around in Bob's head. Looking around the saloon he realised they were in danger because of him, and could even be used as leverage. He had to go. Grabbing a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of soda he made a break out of a side door in the owner's suite and ducked into the first empty building he found. The sun was still above the horizon, but he was distracted by a huge boom and the collapse of the house he'd been in into burnt rubble.

The aliens approached his new dwelling, clearly being guided somehow. Bob could face them or run until night time, seeing house after house collapsed behind him. What to do?

To be concluded...


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Snow in March

It snowed again yesterday. In late March that's a ridiculous experience. My legend as a snow god will get out of hand at this rate, and I'd rather people forgot about it completely. Soon people will notice the trail of incredibly improbable snowfalls in South Wales, Aberystwyth and Nottingham and the jig will be up and then... no more Quirky Muffin and snow storms conveniently coincident with Secret Service operations. Oh, I shudder at the thought. The snow was light, and didn't stay, but perhaps it is a premonition of things to come in this bleak arctic future that Britain faces. Or maybe it was just snow.

Snow aside, and it is much better left aside since it came to nothing, it's still really cold! Obviously I'm old, old, old but it's normally not this cold in March, is it? If so, then please accept my apologies for making a fuss. Brrrr...

Today was a double Film Bin day, with two parallel recording sessions for the first time. Expect commentaries for 'Due South' and its first regular episode and 'Short Circuit' sometime soon. What do we care though? The Quirky Muffin is not Film Bin, and Film Bin is not the Quirky Muffin. Here at the Muffin no-one knows what will emerge next. Even now dozens of reporters are scavenging throughout the world for appropriate news, something to equal this week's clam sightings or the giant toadstools currently storming Alberta. In other words there's just me making up total nonsense. Huzzah!

Nonsense is my prime defence against loneliness. Expect lots more silly stories and reviews. And talk about chocolate cakes, which I'm currently in an endless cycle of baking. This weekend had an almond chocolate cake. It's scrummy.

scrummy: tasting very nice
vicarious: experienced at secondhand

Oh, the world is full of scrummy things. Crunchy peanut butter. Marmite. Spaghetti bolognese. A nice crispy orange pepper. Energy saving lightbulbs. These things are all scrummy, well apart from the lightbulbs, Lightbulbs are obviously deadly to eat. Of course, the best way to beat being lonely is live vicariously through others where you can and build up hobbies and activities in your spare time.

I am also very vicarious. Nyahahahaha.

O.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Story: 'Triangles', II

(Part I , III )

Can you imagine being swung through the fifth dimension like a feather through an ice cube? Or swimming through a sea of yellow alphabets? Or the queasiness of seeing yourself stretch away into infinity like a rubber band at breaking point? All of these sensations, and none of them, smashed into Delores Grey's brain as she traversed the triangular rift and got sucked elsewhere. Finally, as reality became so tenuous that it hardly existed for her at all, everything condensed into one blue triangle of nothing, a microcosm of a world before she blacked out entirely.

Many hours passed. Many minutes then also passed. Then a few seconds trickled away too, like cheese on toast slowly melting.

Finally Delores began to rouse herself and looked around at the landscape she had suddenly found herself in. It was a twisted, savage version of Aberystwyth. The promenade was still there but deformed and twisted slightly askew. There was still a beach, and it was still as rocky as ever, but the water was a mass of overlapping whirlpools, spreading apparently chaotic patterns and waves. With so many drains for the water it made no sense that there was any left. No sense at all. A great red blazing triangle of a sun was low in the sky. A triangular sun.

Turning from the prom to look back at the town, she was barely impressed by the changes at all. So much strangeness had left her dazed. While the layout of buildings and streets was the same, the structures themselves were different, and there were no people out. The roads zigged and zagged and the buildings barely seemed to obey physics. Some where inverted pyramids while others curved where they should have pointed. The most apparent difference, though, was that there were many more triangular surfaces. Triangles were everywhere! In Delores's world there had been squares, or more properly 'quadrilaterals' everywhere; four-sided shapes dominated, but here there were triangular and even fairly common hexagonal designs.

It was overwhelmingly strange. Delores almost fainted again and swayed but pulled herself together. She couldn't understand what had happened at all. Nothing happened when you touched the triangles, everyone knew that. Why would she suddenly be transported to this strange place? Or had she been transported? Maybe the world had... changed... somehow. Suddenly troubling thoughts cascaded in on her and she gripped her rucksack straps tightly until her fingers went white. At least her fingers were normal, even if nothing else was. Her clothes looked normal too, as did the rest of her that she could see. She was still Delores.

No triangles were in sight, and no floating apertures of any kind could be seen in fact. Something was wrong. Her stomach made its presence felt and suddenly her path became clear. Food. There must be food soon, and water, or this experience would end before she made it home to that distinctly less pointed world she knew. To that world without ridiculous triangles everywhere, except the floating ones, and people and that bizarre murk that some people still hadn't been trained to not see.

She had to get home. Because somehow she knew that things were going to happen in this strange place. Dangerous things.


To be continued... indefinitely...

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Dead Ends

Write, people, write. Writing will get you to the other side! Once the juices have begun to flow, words will emerge fully developed, much like a cake from a well-heated oven. Once again, to write well you must first write, and I never get tired of saying that. Never let the chocolate monkeys of fate get in the way, but plough on in what you're doing and finish. You can't move on properly and open the next box until the old box is either empty or sealed up for dispatch. Interestingly, the chocolate monkey reference has just given me an idea...

The last few days have been interesting and not just because of the revelation of the Plain Chocolate Digestive Detective, which is my favourite one-off concept so far. Gosh, even if it is really inspired to a great extent by Jasper Fforde and Douglas Adams and even Mitchell and Webb a little, it is still mine. There will be more PCDD, even in the shadow of Night Trials seemingly having written itself into a dead end. There are methods for getting out of dead ends but they're either awkward or explosive. Ultimately, in story terms you can
1) Wait a really long time in-story so that things can build up again or fizzle out completely,
2) Bring an external power to bear, effectively hijacking the narrative and adding energy,
3) Reverse what you've just done and hope no-one minds too much.
Working out what to do with 'Night Trials' will be interesting as it was my first story and is the lease planned and most erratic in quality due to being the first. It will make a good assembled short story, though.

In my limited and small way I have now utmost admiration for the great Wilkie Collins and his serialised fictions. Even though I've only read the stories in their 'adapted to novel' forms, his power of prose and writing to the serialised rhythm is undeniable and outstrips even his friend and contemporary Charles Dickens. Dickens too wrote most of his works originally as serials but he lacks the showmanship of Collins and tries to write more about issues and the world of his time. Collins wrote to hook his reader and bring them back for instalment after instalment and with that method in mind wrote both 'The Moonstone' and 'The Woman In White'. They are both incredible novels to read for the first time, and some of his other novels are almost as good without being quite as natural.

So, as linux continues to plague me in my work computer travails and giant cheese beetles plague the gas giant Veronda, it becomes necessary to negotiate my way out of a dead end and somehow finish the story 'Night Trials' in an entertaining manner. Entertaining, not interesting, or provoking, but entertaining. That is the challenge! Also, the challenge is to get used to a KDE desktop on the work computer as I finally shot my Gnome and put him out of his misery. Oh, that brings to mind an excellent episode of 'Due South', which is a show I think everyone should watch at some point (but not the revival season, as that stunk.) In any case, it is time to hold up my finger, finish the pancakes and say 'I stand corrected'.

O.

PS 'Due South: The Man Who Knew Too Little', season one, excellent.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Story: The Disappearance (I)

(Part O, II )

It was three in the morning and I had been called out again, from sleep, for the third time this week. My line of work was no piece of cake. In fact my line of work had nothing to do with cake at all.

The call was way on the other side of town, and Agent Carter met me there. Carter was pretty but tried to hide it behind a career demeanour and a cool temper. At three thirty in the morning she was more frayed than usual but still could take a grisly sight and a shocking absence without reaction.

On the pavement there was a blackened patch, a chalk outline without the chalk. Houses loomed beyond the pavements and front gardens in this surburban district and a few silhouettes could be seen looking from lit bedrooms. Carter was waving the sensor and studying her display. I took a peek. Ambient temperature of the pavement shadow was ten to twenty degrees higher than the surrounding surface and cooling rapidly in the night air. I guessed it had been red hot a little while ago. The street was dead silent. No other unusual radiation traces.

Sergeant Mullins of the regular force approached, carrying bags of evidence found nearby. It all looked fairly routine. I asked the question, "Where is it?", and then Mullins produced the inevitable item, the reason we Agents were always called in to the scenes of mysterious incidents, ever since the Dada riots of 1932. Eighty-per-cent of rioteers back then had been injured seriously or killed and we didn't take these things lightly any more. Never again. Occasionally a police constable would joke and be taken to one side, never to be irreverant again.

Mullins handed it over, vacuum wrapped and boxed, and then wrapped again. The instigator of all those problems for more than fifty years and now this new disappearance and probable death. Light shone gently off the brown ridged surface. It was a plain chocolate digestive.

And the game was on.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

A long, long Saturday

As Indy wraps his foot in the bridge rope, and the world focusses down to a few crocodiles, the merits of 'Temple of Doom' become apparent. It's actually my favourite of the Indiana Jones movies, if only because all the Indian religious elements are far more interesting to me than the Judaeo-Christian elements of the other two original movies. It's also far more novel. Of course, that may all be my reactionary and counter-culture tendencies coming through.

Saturday has been and gone, and as Aberystwyth relaxes after some rugby game somewhere, I have been cooking and contemplating not only 'Temple of Doom' but also Scrabble. It's fascinating to think that before the year 1938 this game doesn't exist. There was a world without Scrabble only eighty years ago. It's mad isn't it? Boggles the mind! It's a wonderful game, loaded as it is with skill, luck and infinite replayability. I play a lot of Scrabble on the Pixie Pit website with distant friends. It's nice, and well worth the fee.

For every burst of cleaning, and Saturdays always have some cleaning, you can count on Film Bin for some new material. We posted commentaries for both 'Deadly Pursuit' and 'Return to Oz' today and tomorrow we'll record a discussion for 'Super Mario Brothers'. I have deliberately not written a review for SMB simply because it's a legendary bomb and doesn't need more criticism but also because I feel I would defend it on some levels. My deplorable tolerance means I can see good in anything, even the worst of movies, and I can see good things in SMB, although they are buried under ickiness, weirdness, dreadful casting, trashy dresses, and Dennis Hopper. Oh yikes, no more shall be said.

Ah, well done, Indy.

O.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Book: 'Red Harvest' by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

The Continental Op almost loses himself. That's the scary part of 'Red Harvest'. Amidst all the shootings and shambles of Personville (or Poisonville as everyone refers to it), he almost goes native. That's really rather scary. That's the power of 'Red Harvest'.

This was Hammett's first novel and is a fix-up, much like the following 'Dain Curse'. A fix-up is a selection of short stories that are hammered together, with a lot of necessary alterations and extra material, into a novel. They were fairly common in the transitional era from story magazines to novels as the primary source of fiction.

The Continental Op was an agency detective (think Pinkerton's) of unknown name who appeared as the protagonist in many of Hammett's stories, a hard-boiled detective with few scruples about doing what's necessary to find the truth and get the job done. That pragmatism almost defeats him when he accepts the task of cleaning up a whole corrupt town. How cam he possibly do that? Well, by setting the crooked cops and different groups of mobsters at each other's throats and then keeping stirring until they're all dead. It's the job from nightmares and he does it to spite his client, who began all the crookedness to begin with and is now trapped by it.

The narrative is clearly quite episodic, apart from the finale, and you can spot the seams between the component stories but the linking material really lifts the whole piece, especially the interlude where the Op fears for his own integrity and the chance that he may have caught the bloodlust that inhabits the crooked town. Hammett has such marvelous prose that the actual events are almost irrelevant, but here the stories do matter, and the relationships do build. There's one relationship in particular between the Op and an openly mercenary Dinah Brand which works, and the mystery over whether the Op killed her while under the influence is a rather dangerous one, especially after he confesses he fears for his integrity to her. The danger of the claustrophobic environment is clearly apparent, and when he beats out of town in the abrupt ending for fear of being arrested, it's clear that Personville isn't a place he'll be going to again soon, even if he is innocent of any legal crime.

This is really the way a crime story should be. Not at all romanticised, not removed from the violence but deep in it. There is no glamour and even success leaves a tarnish. Bizarrely, and I am a squeamish person, it is not at all a shocking story so much as engrossing. 'Red Harvest' is widely acclaimed and certainly builds further the foundations of noir, first set up by its shorter form forbears. Hammett could write, and that is why he is one of my favourite authors. The prose wins me over, as it does in so many of my other favourite novels, which I will touch on in the coming weeks and months.

If quality writing and prose is what appeals to you then read 'Red Harvest'. It's uncommonly good, even if you can see the seams between the source stories. As an added recommendation I even finished a whole collected edition of the short stories, and I hate reading shorter fiction.

O.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Melancholy Monster

I'm being stalked by a melancholy monster. It has big teeth and a tendency to tell drab stories about past events which bear only a tangential connection to what actually occurred. I have decided to name the Melancholy Monster Claude, in the hopes that Claude will get miffed by such a name and take off into the sticks. You never know; It could happen.

It's easy to acquire your own melancholy monster when the weather is so cold. It is exceptionally cold here in the UK right now and that means we all tend to huddle up and sleep through the dark, waiting for more hospitable times, and being ever so slightly lonely. It's cold, and maybe a melancholy monster is unhealthily warming.

You can also find your own melancholy monster if you keep trying to achieve something and are continually thwarted. As the current possessor of a long-ongoing boundary condition quandary I can certainly identify with that. Oh Claude, are you an avatar of boundary condition conflicts? You won't succeed in thwarting the final success.

Outside, through the giant windows, a cloud-studded blue sky is soaring up as far as one can see, obscuring the glorious starscape that lies beyond and framing a rather gorgeous blue-grey seascape that stretches, foam-flecked, to the distant horizon. It's impossible to be melancholy when you have such glorious places to go on the way home.

This has been rather a whimsical blog post. I blame Claude, and then smile as he's gone. Melancholy be blasted, there's dithering to be done!

O.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Movie: 'Deadly Pursuit' (1988)

In most movies there's a germ of a good idea, and it's the director's job to bring it out as much as possible. Does that happen in 'Deadly Pursuit'? Well, it's debatable.

'Deadly Pursuit' is known through most of the world by the far more generic and unimpressive title 'Shoot To Kill'. It was changed here in the UK in the aftermath of some headline-grabbing shootings and henceforth we knew it as 'Deadly Pursuit'. It's a funny, odd, bizarre mix of a movie which really would sink without the gravitas of its lead actor, the man himself, Sidney Poitier. Poitier is an enigma to me, being as he was for the longest time the living representative of the African race in movies. He was THE African American leading man, and he did it by being tough, straightforward and relentlessly honest on screen. Without him, Will Smith and Denzel Washington couldn't have become actors and progress would have taken decades longer. It's funny that it almost seems that with 'Deadly Pursuit' and 'Sneakers' (an awesome film), he finally let himself do a bit of comedy. Maybe he did lots of comedy that I missed but in his first flush of fame he did a lot of 'issue' movies and that's fatal for me.

In 'Deadly Pursuit', Poitier plays FBI agent Warren Stantin and has become embroiled in the manhunt for a kidnapper who has taken a fortune in diamonds for a ransom and then shot his victim anyway. Warren is almost stereotypically stubborn in his pursuit, a deadly pursuit. Finally, after being boxed in, the kidnapper takes off into the wilderness by replacing a tourist on a hiking trip. Warren recruits his own guide and the pursuit is on.

The core of the movie is in this wilderness pursuit, where the killer (Clancey Brown) has his own captured guide Sarah (Kirstie Alley) while Warren has Sarah's country hermit beau Knox (Tom Berenger) to help him and spark off of in a small scale clash of cultures. That's it, except for the humorous moments. There are some humorous animal incidents involving a horse, a moose and a bear and that's all I'll say. The funny bits are very funny, and really feel weird in this mixed up epic. We start off with murderous urban noir, then outback survivalism with some animal gags, then another set of urban noir and close. It feels very strange. This is a movie that is easily lost in the mass of 1980s cop films, and honestly the casting of Berenger doesn't help, but it does stand out as different. In many ways it pulls its punches and I wish it wouldn't. There's an abortive attempt to make us wonder which of the hikers is the killer, and they're all played by people with experience of playing bad guys, but then they reveal it rather too easily. We could have been tense well into the second hour wondering who the killer was, but that's blown. Also, the cops seem very easily impressed by the killer's smarts at avoiding being shot, but it seems like a duvet over him and his victim would be a common way to avoid sharpshooters.

The production values are good, but it does look cheap in the way that a lot of late 1980s movies looked cheap. The music is steady and does its job. The performances are solid, except maybe for Berenger, and Poiter pulls funny faces to great aplomb. The direction is okay but uninspired although a sense of height is conveyed very well throughout the mountainous scenes. Overall, if you don't mind a few gun deaths and a funny moose scene then you might like this. It's mainly to be watched for Poitier being goofy in a clich├ęd role.

O.

Friday, 8 March 2013

An Appeal

(Part I)

Amongst all the biscuits there is one that commands respect and wields fear like a sharpened weapon of war. Before it there can be no restraint and there is no defence, unless it's Morrisons own brand. This is a warning for you all to be cautious, and if you should still happen to see a packet of plain chocolate digestives move elsewhere as quickly as possible. This is no false warning.

The plain chocolate digestive is a deceptively simple object, being as it is the humble digestive biscuit with a topping of plain dark chocolate. You would think that it was harmless, unless taken excessively, and indeed it should be but it has powers that extend beyond the addictive food substances contained therein. For instance, there is the case of Randall Sponger, who was last seen in the environs of Milton Keynes town centre last May. Pleas for assistance from his family and the unresolved nature of the case brought it to BBC Crimewatch's attention and several witnesses claim to have seen him buying two packets of digestives and an orange before ambling out into the dark to be seen never thereafter. Or consider Wanda McGilivray, who vanished on a cross-channel ferry to Calais, and whose last words were 'No, never the milk chocolate.'

There are score of disappearances and deaths that go unsolved every month, all linked by plain chocolate digestives and digital wrist watches. Dozens of people are left in anguish and only the biscuit makers make any allowances for their welfare. As a result of this we would like to ask you, the humble biscuit buying public, to support us in our quest to solve the Mystery of the Plain Chocolate Digestive. If we act quickly enough we can stop people like James Crankle from appearing one day, stone cold knurd and amnesiac in Hyde Park wearing a plain chocolate digestive wrapper hat.

Thank you for any information you can provide. And be careful out there. Vigilance is the key.

The Plain Chocolate Digestive Detective.
 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

'Don't mention the war'

<Switches from maths mode to writing mode with difficulty>

Huzzah! Once again it is time to put on the top hat of fate and commit to this, the Quirky Muffin, some morsels of prose linked together by shreds of what remaining sanity lingers in the vicinity of my mind. Shreds of sanity that are slowly being eaten up by calculations, computations and long lingering looks out of the window at the scenic delights of Aberystwyth University. It's a pretty place.

I don't get to spend as much time as I would like wandering around Aber. Being Internet-less and running podcasts late nights at the office are the norm, and that's not so much fun as I would like, especially with the total hour of commuting each day to get there and back. It would be nice to be able to walk hills a bit more, trundle up and down the prom and not be brain-tired all the time.

The real danger of being heavily mathematical is in the introversion required to be able to do the job. It's hard to shift out of without some effort and that is the principal purpose for this fine, educational and nonsensical publication. Without it there would be a numerically obsessed cabbage sitting at a computer and not remembering how to string coherent sentences together. Some would argue that that's happened already, and those people I respond with 'How appropriate, you fight like a cow'.

So, what's coming up? There are big plans afoot, which will only be marginally affected by events in the coming weeks. Hopefully there'll be a movie review for 'Mr Smith Goes To Washington', a book review for Dashiell Hammett's 'Red Harvest', more stories, and some self-worship of the worst kind as I introduce 'Film Bin' to anyone who doesn't already know what we do over there. It seems like it will all be fun. I'm also going to jump headfirst into Jon Pertwee's tenure as Doctor Who, which will certainly be fun, as that is an incredibly interesting era of the show and possibly the only one I'm interested in.

Good luck, people. I hope you don't suffer through any more poetry!

O.


PS Two Film Bin shows this week so far. We just posted a commentary for the 'A-Team' pilot episode and a discussion of 1993's 'The Secret Garden'. Lots of Film Bin goodness!
PPS If you like Scrabble, try out the Pixie Pit website. It's not free but the service is excellent.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Ah, 'tis surely to the good

Fly to the skies in shock, and leave your banana skins behind, as it is Tuesday! Tuesday, the jester of the week, is with us once again and even now is mixing together a cunning bag of tricks to trick us and mystify us unto the realms of total confusion. Tuesday! Tuesday!

As the revolving bar stool of fate spins us into the week once again it seems proper to commemorate the event with a poem. Ahem.

---

I used to like Tuesday as a day of the week           
But its liking for jokes one day caused me pique.       
So I renounced that second day and its ways           
And embraced the dullness of all other days.          

Now, the pain of that Tuesday that provoked me           
Was no match for time and duly met its ennui.           
I began to miss those old jollies and japes           
And reviewed in my mind those shadowy tapes.           

I chose to repent and now redeem myself true           
To begin to rebuild what once inside me grew           
To find the jokes and funnies that made life worthwhile      
And rework myself into someone who could smile.           

The next week on that day I awoke and did beam           
And felt as if joy shone out like light from a seam.       
It was back, that energy, that innermost grace           
And was suddenly hit by a pie in the face.           

---

Yes, Tuesday takes no prisoners, so beware when it next rolls around. Ask not on whom the Tuesday falls, for it may be you!

O.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Book: 'Mostly Harmless' by Douglas Adams (1992)

I had a problem when approaching this fifth and last 'Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' book: I had fallen very much in love with the previous entry in the series and considered it to be the best possible ending. Why come back and write another? Why? Chronologically this is Adams last completed novel, and comes after the disappointing and dark second Dirk Gently novel, 'The Long Dark Tea Time Of The Soul', and after a long hiatus from the rest of this series and as it turns out I was right to be wary.

Each of the Guide books has, to an extent, wiped out or ditched what came before in order to make scope for its own narrative. This is quite common in cases where the story is being mostly improvised as I'm sure it was. 'Mostly Harmless' does this too but in abundance, with an apparently preordained ending in sight, and thoroughly robs its predecessor of any significance at all. It also rubs out Arthur's soulmate, saddles him with a sudden genetic daughter and returns Trillian into the mix. In addition to all that, it is soaked in doom-laden melancholy and weariness which rub the comedic elements into frictional abandon.

Despite my pervasive negativity there are comedic elements to 'Mostly Harmless'. It has rather a lot in common with 'Tea Time' actually; a mass of interesting ideas that are trapped in a homogenous fudge of melancholy. My favourite aspect of 'Mostly Harmless' is Arthur Dent's role on the primitive planet his passenger ship crashes into: 'The Sandwichmaker'. He thinks he only has one useful skill and makes himself useful with it, even becoming a master and taking on an apprentice in this incredible art. Essentially, as long as Arthur is in view the story becomes bearable, but when he's not there it's far less bearable.

Now, perhaps the foreboding layered into this narrative is a function of the ending, the second and final destruction of the planet Earth and destruction of humanity, Arthur and Trillian included. Isn't that cheerful? No, you're right, it's miserable. After four books of Earth being gone, possibly being rebuilt, the universe being saved from Krikit, and finally a shadow backup Earth being plucked out of storage somewhere, it all ends in destruction. I just don't like that.

'Mostly Harmless' and 'Tea Time' both seem to suffer from similar malaises, lacking the spontaneity of preceding works, and clearly suffering for having preset endings. It's a spectacular comedown from the brilliance of the two novels that preceded these last two. In all fairness however, it is possible I'm projecting misery on to the text, but there does seem to be ample material to project onto here. In honesty I can't recommend this one. As mentioned previously, there are two Douglas Adams novels I recommend highly: 'So Long And Thanks For All The Fish' and 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency'. Everything before these two is fine and readable and everything after... not so much.

O.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Story: 'Night Trials', X

Night Trials is nearing its conclusion, and I am actually starting to get the ideas behind the finale put together. It should be much more readable once it's all assembled into a full story. The previous shlocky chapter is here.


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'Night Trials', Part X
(Part IX , XI)

In the end it was very simple. The aliens had overplayed their hand and taken over too many towns too quickly. The Federal Government was moving already to crush the invaders but the troops were still a week away from Sheriff Bob, and semaphore hadn't reached Poon Hill yet.

Looking down from the last hilltop before descending to Poon Hill, Tom realised he had run out of options and mentally surrendered. He led his tired and thirsty horse down the hill in the moonlight, fully intending to surrender and take the consequences. The aliens stood motionlessly at the perimeter as he approached, never moving a jot. He became ever more curious at their staticness. He crossed the city line and still nothing happened. He'd never tried this at Wandering Yip and now he wondered if he'd made a mistake in his shyness. Reversing course he stepped out of the city lines again. Nothing.

There wasn't much night time left so Bob re-entered and went straight to the sheriff's station. It was full of goo. Then he went to the house of a retired US Marshall he was on speaking terms with and found it flattened to the ground as if blown down and then crushed underfoot by some monstrous force. Involuntarily he looked up at the sky and wondered at what could have caused such crushing and chaos. Then, dusting off some debris from his boots he hurried to the stables and left his horse before bolting for the saloon just as the sun touched the horizon.

Within the saloon people were shocked at a stranger with a badge but he paid them no attention and hustled to a window to see the reaction of the aliens he'd walked in by. They were just visible down the end of the street and already in motion, albeit leisurely motion. The two who had flanked him simply floated down the road into the town hall and then nothing happened. It seemed as if most of this experience involved nothing happening. Somebody plucked at his sleeve and he turned to see a little girl.

"Can you help us? We're really scared." The little girl was scooped up by a woman, presumably her mother, who then looked him in the eyes. "Yes, Sheriff, can you help us?"

"Maybe. Why didn't they do anything when I just came into town under their noses?"

"Every time one of us tried to leave or someone from outside enter, they were burnt to ash or slimed. They left you alone?"

"Yes. It's almost as if they're statues by night." Bob was a little mesmerised by the woman's stare. "Why don't you all leave or clobber them?"

The eyes deadened. "Would you, mister, if you'd seen your husband ashed before your eyes? Would you take the risk?"

Bob knew his answer, he just didn't say it out loud.

"We have to go to work. Stay here, Mister. They won't notice you now unless they use their machines to count us, and they don't do that without reason. They seem to be short of steam or whatever." The woman carried her daughter away, but said over her shoulder. "Welcome to Poon Hill."

Welcome to Poon Hill indeed. Would the welcome stay so warm?

To be continued...

Friday, 1 March 2013

In the aftermath of 'Lincoln'

Please don't misunderstand. This is not going to be a post exclusively about 'Lincoln', which I saw on Wednesday night. I don't feel even remotely passionate enough to write at length. I did find it to be very interesting, entertaining and successful but it's not a masterpiece. The ending fell a little flat, and I just didn't think they needed to show the dead Lincoln when they had already ended the movie perfectly in the previous sequence. Sometimes I wish Spielberg would make more movies like this, instead of going all out serious or trying too hard on things people don't really want to watch. He built his career on 'Jaws' and then seemed to turn at some point and try to be a director who wouldn't brush his teeth with something like 'Jaws'.

Gosh, 'Jaws' is awesome, and may be the movie of the night.

One of the good things about 'Lincoln', and the shark movie, is that they start with the story already in progress, 'en media res'. I really would like more stories to begin and end 'en media res' instead of in often unnecessarily contrived setups and resolutions. It's a far better way to tell stories and even have much better structured mid-sections. Sometimes a setup for a beginning and a perfect resolution to end is perfect but more often it's not. It's nicer to drop in to a narrative and work it out as we go.

<Note: I know nothing about writing.>

Writing a blog has been worthwhile, and continues to be worthwhile in many many ways. The power of revision, for example, is now clearly apparent. Even today, I have just restructured the whole post to read more naturally and it has improved dramatically. Write the way you would like people to speak. If someone sounds hokey reading something out loud then that writing is probably bad. There is a good bit in 'Lincoln' where the Secretary of War... no, no, just watch it. It's a good movie. He says something that we were all thinking. It's funny. Good show, Bruce McGill.

Aberystwyth has been dry for weeks now. It's worrying. All the moisture is dropping away from me and people could start reasonably confusing my appearance with that of a crumb of Ryvita. It has to rain soon, surely? It's not as bad as when I was in Hungary but still, where is all the water? Clouds roll over from time to time in a haunting teasing manner but it's not the same. I need rain! We all need rain - let's not be selfish - for very important reasons! And not just to make variety in the long walk into university each day, although I have an alternative route now, that is fifty-per-cent longer and more visually pleasing. There are sheep and if you stop paying attention you end up in a field in the middle of nowhere or playing golf and never going to work at all.

<Stops to think>

There shall be golf.
O.