Saturday, 30 September 2017

A Mix Of Themes

It's time to once again tap away on the keys, putting together these words in patterns and structures which are acceptably coherent and not at all reminiscent of train timetables or songs about Quarks and Boojums. Or was it Boojums and Snarks? Or even a third and entirely different option? It has been far too long since I took a peek at 'Alice In Wonderland'! That would be a far betting thing to do than squandering money on board games on Kickstarter, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? These spending habits are very hard to break!

What did I back on Kickstarter? Well, it's embarrassing, but with the first package actually arriving it might be a good idea to self-shame and hope it ends the binge. 'Card City XL' has already arrived, while the following were funded and will turn up sooner of later: 'The Little Flower Shop', 'Powerships', 'Hardback', 'Ink Monsters', 'Minerva' and the third edition of 'Wok Star'. 'Spy Club' and 'Dice Hospital' will reach their targets too, causing a small earthquake of purchases. The only good part is that all these things will at least make great gifts. Yes, if you can't stop yourself, at least use the proceeds to make other people happier.

The Old Time Radio boom is continuing, here at the home of the Quirky Muffin, with 'Dimension X' also jumping into consideration. It's hard to believe that all these old series are so forgotten now, and absolutely free to check out. Yes, there is a lot of hokiness out there, but there is also a lot of incredible originality from one of the most creative periods in human history. It's pure inventiveness, from back before we began to substitute money in its place. Maybe a similar era can happen again, though? Not identically, as only a fool tries to bring the past back to life as it was, but as a new evolution of how things happen? It seems as if the madness of overwhelming money worship is falling to the side, a little at a time. Of course, it might just be wishful thinking. We'll have to wait and see. It's going to be very difficult to dig a tunnel across to the other trouser leg of history.

Moving on, it's funny to think that the hours of chiselling and banging are all over now, and that primary work on the wood project is all done. Yes, all done. All that remain now are minor adjustment, treating, assembly and painting. Then, it will all be over until it's time to make a bed next year. Yes, a whole bed! What wonders will ensue! Or calamities!


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Book: 'The Conan Chronicles: Volume 2' by Robert E Howard (originally 1932-1934)

It's hard to not feel a little disappointed, which is a little unfair to the stories in volume two. The standard is still very high, but the final story is so oddly unrepresentative of the rest that it makes the whole experience just a little bit... unsettled.

This collection is dominated by the final story, which gives the collection its name, 'The Hour Of The Dragon'. This story dwarfs every over Conan story in length and scope, and could either be considered the worst or the best of the canon. It's really up to you. In many ways, it functions as a perfect sendoff to the now barbarian king, and in others it's a bizarrely long episodic novella. It's difficult to categorize.

It feels very strange to be favouring the shorter stories in a collection over the one longer example, but here the other stories are much much better. There aren't many, as a lot of space is taken up by the title story, and so volume one has far more diversity than this one. However, the short stories that are here are very nice. The two that stand out are 'Red Nails' and 'Jewels of Gwahlur', both of which are radically different. A lost city inhabited by warring imprisoned clans? A hunt for gems in a temple stuffed full of subhuman creatures and a stalking goddess? The scope and variety of settings found herein is fascinating, and the genius of inventing a lost age of civilization is brilliant, an age that is lost to all but hazy mythology thanks to a natural disaster. That is brilliance.

Most of the really good stuff is in volume one, but this is still worth the experience. Very, very good, apart from the final story?


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

For Almost Every End, We Have A Beginning

The end is in sight for the 2017 woodwork project. Thank goodness! The sheer amount of work involved in making four little bookcases has been mad! Mad! Even with the shaping almost completely done, there will still be the fixing of backs, treating, painting, assembly (not in that order) and all kinds of odd little adjustments. Is it worth it? Is it? It probably is. Today, bookcases. Tomorrow, the world! Mwahahahahahhaha! Mwahahahah--- Enough of that. There's no telling who might get the wrong idea about diabolical cackling.

Ah, the joy of writing on the spur of the moment. It could turn out wonderfully, or it could be total gibberish. It could even be both! That would be a turn-up for the books. Sadly, it's not the right time to write about the conclusion of the 'Conan' stories, which was oddly disappointing and unrepresentative of the whole. That will be for tomorrow, or the following day.

The next year of Open University study is just a day or two away. It's very scary. It's time to get down into the language pit once again, but this time with gusto and determination. Seasonal depression will have to be shunted to one side, so that the beginning of the year goes much more smoothly, or it will all go very oddly indeed. Very oddly. It might set a record.

Oh, in radio news, two new series are added into the Old Time Radio rotation, as the plan to get sucked back into the 1950s by osmosis continues. In addition to 'Richard Diamond', 'The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show', 'The Jack Benny Program' and 'The Shadow', there are now also 'Suspense' and 'Escape!'. That's quite a powerhouse lineup, all things considered. Oh, oh, we should add the BBC contingent to that list: 'Sherlock Holmes', 'The Navy Lark' and 'Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy'! What else should go on there? We'll have to see.


Sunday, 24 September 2017

Story: 'The Cave' (Idea)

This was a very strange cave. The markings were extraordinary, but there was no other evidence of anyone having actually lived here. Why would that be? It didn't fit with local prehistoric peoples at all. Perhaps there was a clue in the line images. What exactly did they depict, anyway? If you looked at it in a certain way, you could almost interpret them all as pictures of someone making cave paintings, couldn't you? Wouldn't that be very recursive?

Actually, they did look a lot like crude images of someone making cave art. How odd. That was rather subtle an image for such primitive times. Looking around at the opposite wall, there was nothing to be seen at all, just a blank face. Maybe it was the cooking side of the cave. The cooking side of the cave that had no evidence of being inhabited? What was this? I stumbled outside and looked at the entrance and the surrounds once again. This was an isolated site, without any doubt.

Frank came up to me with some results from his analysis. The carbon dating on the pigments on the painting were what really interested us. He looked very confused. "What's up, Frank?"

"These results don't make any sense. They're modern pigments, state of the art in fact." He grimaced pre-emptively. It was obvious what I would have to ask next.

"So? Some New Age types came around and did some cave painting, then."

"The pigments are modern types, but..."

"Oh, out with it!"

"They date to three thousand years ago. They're three thousand year old modern twenty-first century paints."

"Oh, for the love of--!" I stopped myself, and went back for another peep. Frank joined me at the cave entrance. "How are we ever going to work this one out?"

"Don't look at me, Buckaroo."

"I wish we had biscuits."

"Don't we all..."

To be continued?

Friday, 22 September 2017

Take A Walk In The Rain

If you're feeling in need of solitude, there's really no better course of action than to take a walk in the rain. It's something that no-one else does. In fact, just by revealing this, I'm jeopardising my own sanctuary from the peoples of the world. However, if you think about it, then it's an unarguable proposition. No-one walks in the rain, with or without their weatherproofs. It's considered to be madness!

It's lovely to wander around in a wholly different medium, listening to the pitter patter of drops on your hood, or indeed the heavy thuds if you happen to be of braver stock. Usually, the time to consider running for shelter is when thunder or lightning begin, or if the impacts that you're hearing are more like crashes than thuds. Crashes, thunder, and lightning are all the things to avoid... Although it is sometimes very dangerously fun to be on the brink. (If you happen to be in a city, you can watch amusedly as people run for shelter at the mere picture of a raindrop, but that's another story, and possibly one about my own prejudice instead of reality.)

The fascinating thing about rainy days, to me, is how much variety there is to be found. Blue skies are very uniform in comparison, barring the time of the year or day. On a rainy day, every factor becomes far more significant. The wind affects the vectors of the rays of water across the landscape. The trees shelter you, except for when the load becomes too large and then they drown you. The temperature and humidity affect the mistiness. The time of year changes the smell and taste of the water in the air. Occasional bursts of sunlight can cause rainbows and brilliants contrasts. Ambience changes the nature of what's around you, and mood becomes embodied in the precipitation and then transformed. It's... magical. You can feel yourself walking through the medium, instead of just ambling through a void. Oh, and you can become different varieties of wet.

The other thing you can do on a country walk in the rain, and this is unique to the activity, is to quite happily talk to yourself. No, we're not discussing active and delusional conversations with imaginary people here, but speeches more in the nature of soliloquies; the verbal form of brainstorming or extemporising a blog post out of the events of a day. You can just let yourself ramble on in a stream of consciousness for a while, secure in the knowledge that no-one else will be along to overhear you. If necessary, you can talk to a horse in a nearby field, if you feel like you need the excuse of a real audience. Note: It's pretty obvious that if we could interview notable horses throughout history, then we could learn more about history than by poring through the accumulated literature of the world. Especially if we added camels too. Oh, all the secrets of the world under one hump, or maybe two.

That's a great place to stop, isn't it? Feeling bored? Need a place to go to be in solitude? Get out your waterproofs, and go for a walk in the rain.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

On The Book Piles VIII

What's kicking around on the book piles right now? It's a good question. This feature will become far less frequent once the new year of studies commences in a few weeks, but for now we will have a brief post and try to get it through some very erratic Internet availability. 

'Journey To The West v2' by Wu Cheng'En

Finally, the end of volume two is approaching, and with it the halfway point of the epic. Is it really all about Monkey, or is there going to be a shift toward rehabilitating the other three main characters, who have so far been pretty useless bystanders amidst all the manic events? It's a classic episodic epic, but I have no idea how it's all going to resolve over the last two volumes. Many things can happen in well over a thousand tightly packed pages...

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

Lots of progress with the Beagle, and it's becoming more and more enjoyable to read, presumably as a result of Darwin becoming more practiced in his prose? The action is still in South America, with revolutions and unrest in the air, but we'll be moving on soon enough. It's nice to read about flora, fauna, and the environment. And changes in the environment due to generational human interventions. It's all still going on now, if only we could be aware of it.

'The Conan Chronicles v2: The Hour Of The Dragon' by Robert E Howard

It's time for the last story, 'The Hour Of The Dragon', and in a few days it will all be over. There will be no more new Conan stories by Robert E Howard. No more unexpected twists or fusions of mythology into this 'lost age' of human history. Yes, the dark magic is extremely dark and horror-infused, but it's all very enjoyable nonetheless. Once it's all over, these Conan stories will go into the incredibly small subset of short stories that will actually be reread. That's a rare thing indeed.

'Enterprise: The First Adventure' by Vonda N McIntyre

I'm just a few pages into the re-read for this classic 'Star Trek' novel, and it's already a very lovely experience. There are many different versions of the earliest adventures of the famous Enterprise crew, but this one does the best job of fitting as many things together as possible while still being a decent story. In fact, it probably goes too far, as a lot of the continuity disconnect in the earliest episodes could just be written off as typical teething problems. Vonda N McIntyre was one of the classier early authors in the series. Well done so far!

'Galileo's Daughter' by Dava Sobel

No progress since last time, but it will get going once the Beagle's voyage is finished. Well, this and Herodotus. Weighty times ahead.

'The Goddess And The Thief' by Essie Fox

No progress so far. It's just sitting there. Will it be good? I have no idea.


Monday, 18 September 2017

State Of The Project

It's a long project. Making four little bookcases requires so many steps as to be ridiculous, but it's nice nonetheless. If it were easy, then it wouldn't be such a good idea to try. In fact, we could make some analogies between building projects, and building confidence in ourselves and others, but it would become pretty forced, pretty quickly.

Right, how exactly does it work? Pay attention, class, as there won't be questions later. In fact, there may not be a later, if the rumours of the potato alien invaders are to be credited. To make one of these little three space cases, the following must take place.

One, and most obviously, you need a plan, which you can then use to know how much wood you need. Then, you need the lumber and the tools. This is all the preparatory work. Oh, and some furniture board to go on the back.

Two, you do your research and work out how to make the joints you're going to use in putting all the pieces together, and assess if you need any bits of equipment. In this case, there have to be four finger joints at the corners of the case, and four dado joints where the shelves meet the frames. Three, you get your nerve together, watch videos of how other people do these joints and use the saws and chisels, and then get down to actual manual work. Yes, manual work! No power tools exist in this world!

Four, we have the sequence of crafting steps. First, you measure and roughly cut the six pieces you need for the piece of furniture, leaving the back until much later in the process. Second, you plane the ends of each piece down to the measured lines as exactly as possible. Third, you mark the portions that need to be cut away for the finger joints and for the dado groove, and make saw incisions where necessary to reduce the amount of chisel work. Fourth, you go crazy with a hammer and chisel, while not hurting yourself too much in the process. Fifth, you treat your pieces. Sixth, you get the backing board, cut it to the required size, and then assemble all the pieces together using screws and good luck. You might have to make adjustments and do more work on the pieces here. If you don't have a work space inside, you may have to wait for weeks between spells of activity here, as rain pours down and all you can do is think idly about how you got all these scrapes, abrasions, back aches and delusions that it's all worthwhile.

Five, you assess what you've done and then... do more work! At this point, you still have to paint and finish, before finally wandering off into the limbo land of not having a woodwork project any more. This is, at the moment, only a fabled Nirvana. It may or may not happen. Oh, and you have to clean all the brushes after the treatments and the paint.

Was that all clear? Essays in the morning, please.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Television: 'The Goodies' (1970-1982)

This is too big to talk about in any kind of simple way. The Goodies - otherwise known as Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden - were a phenomenon. For ten series, over twelve television seasons, they delighted, perplexed and amused in a thousand different ways. There were festival awards, hit singles, albums, books and appearances overseas, and yet paradoxially less than half of the series is available to watch now. The BBC didn't repeat them, and we can only reach a partial conclusion on just what they meant.

Having recently finished the last few available episodes, it's pretty safe to say that the Goodies deserved the attention they got. They changed television, along with 'The Muppet Show', and then television flipped back and they were forgetten. There are unprecedented things here. Can you think of any other long-running comedy shows written by AND starring the same people? Bill Oddie even helped out with the music for the whole run, adding a third level to the participation.

Episodes of the Goodies were typically made up a filmed 'silent movie' style segment, often described as physical comedy, with an original backing song, and a studio set situational comedy portion recorded on video. Sometimes it would be entirely one or the other, but the creativity was astounding. The show would often be mis-categorised as 'family entertainment', which defies the occasionally racy (relative speaking, for the BBC) content, and lead to much confusion. The underlying darkness of Garden and Oddie's writing could never really be completely called family friendly. However, the things that people remember the most are. This is the series which had the giant Dougal (from 'The Magic Roundabout') running riot at Chequers, the fantastic movie melange from 'The Movies' episode, the deep derangement of the ancient Lancastrian martial art of Ecky Thump, and Tim going crazy and doing an impression of a teapot when fully stressed.

While Garden and Oddie take the writing laurels, Tim Brooke-Taylor was definitely the star performer of the three. The man was fearless, and it seems such a shame that the rest of his career seems to have been spend in a series of conventional stage farces and guest appearances in utterly domestic sitcoms. I say this, with no real idea if it's completely true. There's a sequence in the episode 'Saturday Night Grease' when you wonder just why he's not better well known now, and of course then you remember it's because 'The Goodies' weren't repeated and were put in the dustbin of history. To be fair, that's true of a lot of shows from the 1970s, but here it somehow seems more vindictive.

Was 'The Goodies' good for its entire run? It's hard to say, on the limited evidence, but the defection to ITV for their final season definitely saw a confusion in what they were trying to do, and it can't really be considered on a par with the rest of what's available. You'll have to make up your own minds.

No, it really is too big a thing to talk about easily. Seventy-six episodes of completely diverse content can't be condensed down. There was slapstick, there was high verbal comedy, there was low-brow innuendo, and everything in between. Most of all, there was a boffin (Garden), a working-class hairy oik (Oddie), and the patriotic prig (Brooke-Taylor). They took turns in going barking mad to be the villain or idiot of the week, and it was all rather good. That was the show.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

A Bunkum Sandwich? Yummy!

One long day ends, as hopefully does a long long string of mistakes, accidents and ridiculous bad luck. Sometimes, a day starts out rocky and capsizes even before breakfast, and then all you can do is keep on going and hope it all works out for the best, before that waterfall gets too close to avoid... Ah, such wonderful days of September! It's no wonder that this is peak DVD season. Nothing hits the Autumn Blues with such ferocity as 'Get Smart', 'Gilligan's Island' or 'Police Squad'. Ooh, 'Police Squad', now there's an idea... It's the exact thing! Bring me Frank Drebin, now.

Thinking about recent times, the most striking thing from the last week is how much easier swimming and learning in the water is becoming. It's as if some crucial level of comfort and awareness has been reached, and now experimentation is a practical activity. Yes, you can learn to tread water. Yes, you can work out how to get off your back just by turning your head. Why now have a go at submerging by lifting your arms, legs and head? Why not? Swimming a length is now a very definite possibility. Who would have thought it would take so long, but happen in such a natural way?

Learning can be a very difficult thing, especially in a school/lesson context. Often, the drive to get to the winning post can be very damaging. Some people respond to pressure in very adverse ways, and really do prefer to play in the sandbox and learn subjects holistically and thoroughly. As a tutor, there's a real contradiction in how to proceed. Parents want results, but students need to learn, and sometimes the teacher wants to be able to see progress a little too quickly. It's more about supplying the fundamental interconnectedness of all things! Or is it? It's getting late, and this could all be very akin to twaddle.

Twaddle? Twaddle?! Twaddle is supplied in a similar way to pens, in that both grow on trees. The standard ballpoint pen was actually discovered on an arboreal specimen in Madagascar, and ink is harvested by squeezing immature pen-fruit. Sadly, this fact has been suppressed by a world bent on forcing people into accepting pens as manufactured items! Fiends, I say, fiends! Twaddle is actually made from the leaves of the Twaddla Bush, and is most addictive when consumed with bunkum. Ooh, a bunkum sandwich would be nice right now. With extra lettuce leaves.


Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Books: Books To Be Saved In An Emergency

Blast. I'm completely stumped with 'Wordspace'. It's going to need some serious pen, diagram, rambling and sketching to make some sense of it all. In the meantime, in the event of disaster, which books would make it onto the horse drawn wagon to sanctuary? It's a good question. There are so many which are almost good enough to be saved no matter what the circumstance, but only a few which make the golden standard. What an oddly eclectic gang of novels they would surely be. Hopefully they won't be too psychologically revealing, and lead to a lengthy stay in a rubber room. Not that there's anything wrong with a rubber room, but I doubt that they would let me finish season six of 'The Avengers'. Yes, that's a fifty year old cultural reference. Hoorah! Finally becoming contemporary!

What would be saved? The obvious thing to say first is 'Sherlock Holmes', even though I've not read a story in what seems like forever. It's good to have him up there on the shelf though, in those two nostalgic illustrated collections. Next, in a much more recent reading discovery, Robert E Howard's 'Conan' stories would be indispensable. Yes, they have made an instant impression. It's ridiculous that they're not mentioned with some of the other iconic genre tales.

What else? What else? John Dickson Carr's 'The Hollow Man' springs to mind, although it is then immediately dwarfed by Douglas Adams's 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' and 'So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish'. Those are excellent novels, and totally unexpected if you have read his other works. The second is such a lovely romance, but it is best to not digress too much. Romances are deeply underrated. 'To Say Nothing Of The Dog' (Connie Willis) would definitely make the pile, and for some reason 'Manalive' (GK Chesterton) has that feeling about it too, after only minimal exposure. It might be uplifting in the middle of an emergency or when stuck on a desert island?

Oh! Oh! Of course, 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution'! What was I thinking?! And what about the collected prose of Woody Allen? That's essential! Things are popping into mind now. 'Three Men In A Boat' would have to pushed into the now beginning to bulge book bag. 'A Tale Of Two Cities' would be good too, adding some classical depth to proceedings, as would Wilkie Collins' 'No Name', despite the very divisive ending. Also, of course, 'The Three Musketeers' should be in there too. It's madness to not have 'The Three Musketeers' at all, in any of its varying translations.

It's time to finish, but also going into the book bag would be: 'Three Hearts And Three Lions' (Poul Anderson), 'Gateway' (Frederik Pohl), 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth' (Jules Verne), 'Leave It To Psmith' (PG Wodehouse) and maybe 'The Master And Margarita' (Bulgakov). And non-fiction? 'One Hit Wonderland' and 'Yes Man', perhaps? And a few others...

It's a grandly mixed up set, isn't it? Why not throw in the Ron Goulart 'Groucho Marx' detective stories too, just to confuse it even further...


Sunday, 10 September 2017


There was a point to this, but it has eluded me. It was going to be about... No, I have no idea. Maybe it was about how different general attitudes can lead to radically different perceptions of things, but it would be rather redundant. No, that can wait for another day, framed around a movie or two perhaps. It's bizarre that people can watch or read something and come to totally opposite opinions of it. How is it possible? Perhaps there are (at least) two quantum universes superimposed on each other, and we are literally experiencing different things? Is that possible? But then, why don't the differing states collapse upon each other after being observed? Or is the following comparison the critical event? Ha ha! Now it all makes sense! Or doesn't! What is going on, anyway? Is this whole passage a symptom of being too preoccupied with the old 'Dirk Gently' show? Maybe it is. In fact, today has been much concerned with the BBC Radio 4 'Sherlock Holmes' dramatisations, which are as good as they ever were.

September continues to wend on, with the hours of daylight steadily reducing in number, both with the position of the Earth and the endless rain that has been plaguing us for what seems like months now. Rain is nice, really. A great equaliser. On this occasion, it is reinforcing one of the coldest Summers in memory. Maybe it's a good thing, though, with much more reading than usual as the water falls from the sky in torrential showers. It's actually very pretty out there, from the right point of view. That brings us back to where we began. Ah, September, the month when variant seasonal depression really begins to bite. The mist is coming down, and things are becoming difficult. Perhaps the reverse Samson Effect of a haircut will help.

It seems rather silly to be typing such nonsense, as Hurricane Irma wreaks havoc in the Caribbean and Florida, and endangers friends. Perhaps it is time to stop and relax down into the sleeping portion of the day, with a small prelude of 'Conan' stories. Ah, there aren't that many of those stories left. It has been a jolly good experience, and entertaining almost without interruption. Let's hope that it ends well, unlike author Robert E Howard. That can be a sad story for another day, alas. He was certainly someone who could have used a slightly different point of view at his climax.

Was there a point?


Friday, 8 September 2017

Film: 'A Shot In The Dark' (1964)

It's the second of the 'Pink Panther' movies, and reputedly the best. It probably is the best, since it establishes all of the formula they would return to in later movies, doesn't have 'Pink Panther' in the title, and reinvents the first movie by moving Inspector Clouseau to centre stage, establishing a supporting cast, and building on the foundation they laid for him in the first film. Yes, it's a great little movie, which is only marred by being slightly too long.

This is a very clever film. Do not be mistaken into thinking 'A Shot In The Dark' is just random silly nonsense, for it isn't. It's not smutty innuendo either, thankfully, popping up before that spread homogenously into all British comedies. 'A Shot In The Dark' is something entirely of its own design, a genre smash between physical, verbal and situation comedy, which occasionally jumps into a dramatic moment or two. There are quiet moments, where the film restrains itself from doing the most stupid thing, and it feels good. It wonderfully doesn't seem to know it's setting up a much later movie series, which maybe it wasn't intended to do.

This film is also a masterclass for using Peter Sellers in a disciplined and wonderful way. He is kept to his strengths, and the film benefits as a result, instead of being bogged down by superfluous schtick as Clouseau investigates a servant's murder in a millionaire's house, while his superior Dreyfuss swiftly unravels into a homicidal maniac due to pressures from all sides. It's a very disciplined film in practically every way, leaving great credit in its wake for writer/director Blake Edwards. Ah, Blake Edwards, the man behind radio's 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective'. Happy times.

'A Shot In The Dark' will probably land in the DVD collection pretty soon, and the unseen precursor movie 'The Pink Panther' too. The others will probably not. The good points of this movie are its discipline, a great Henry Mancini score, a top cast, originality, and a very well conceived and structured plot. Some people might find it a bit slow, which is partly a symptom of the difference between our times and 1964, and of it being a smidge too long. However, it's a very good and original comedy, which is a rare thing indeed.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Cosmic Foam

Once again, it's time to unreel a few words on the state of the universe, the world, and just what Catwoman is getting up to in this latest episode of 'Batman'. What is this scheme that involves university and burning up Batman and Robin in a giant percolator? What? Oh, never mind, it's a purely tangential concern, and nowhere near as important as the ongoing narrative in Connie Willis's novel 'To Say Nothing Of The Dog'. Oh, is that tangential again? Really? What isn't tangential, then?

It's curious to think that we're living in a universe which may not have anything outside it. After all, if the universe is defined as 'everything' then how can there be anything to be outside? Is the defintion wrong? Is it possible that it's really one universe amongst many, a bubble of reality living in a extra-cosmic foam of similar and dissimilar bubbles? Wouldn't that be amazing, and utterly confusing? What about alternative timelines, if they even exist? Would time travel change history inside a bubble, or shift us into another one? Or would it completely rewrite the whole foam?

It's nice to think about the larger things from time to time, the grander unanswerable questions. Are we just assemblages of randomly firing neurons, or are there souls flying around in the cosmos, flitting here and there from person to person, from death to life to death to life? What could possibly be facilitating such things? A reincarnational travel agent? Wouldn't that be ridiculous and fascinating?

Ah well, back to sleep, that grand healer of all ills, and releaser of the imagination. Or is it time to go and unwittingly tour the cosmos again?


Monday, 4 September 2017

The Literary Reflection VI

Once again, it's time to have a chatter about the books read since the last 'On The Book Piles', which didn't quite get to have posts of their own for various reasons. Lots of books were read on coaches this time round!

'Till Death Do Us Part' by John Dickson Carr (1944)

There is an idea that this could be the best John Dickson Carr mystery instead of 'The Hollow Man'. As a response, I will merely point out that 'The Hollow Man' got an entire post, and this just part of one. For a long time, you wonder if there's going to be any mystery at all, so gloomy is the prevailing mood against Lesley Grant, the accused bride-to-be of the book's protagonist, Richard Markham. It does, however all turn around satisfactorily when the deceased (supposedly due to suicide) accuser is debunked by much delayed arrival of the series's sleuth, Dr Gideon Fell, with an Important Fact. The shenanigans then commence properly. It's a well-paced, well-built, and nicely judged impossible crime, but what it gains in prose style over 'The Hollow Man', it loses in intricacy and impossibility. So, a good mystery, but not a puzzle box to be savoured. However, it does mean more John Dickson Carr will have to be sampled...

'Somebody Owes Me Money' by Donald E Westlake (1969)

A solid but middle of the pack crime story from super-writer Donald E Westlake. The prose is excellent, as it always is, showing just what has been lost over the history of written storytelling, but the plot is a bit scanty. Westlake pulls it off, though, in this story about a New York cab driver who goes to collect some winnings from his bookmaker friend, but discovers a body and ends up in a tug of war between two rival gangs of mobsters out to find out who did the crime. Not quite unremarkable, but also not quite recommendable. It's somewhere in the corridor of uncertainty. Nice writing, though. Westlake was one of the best.

'God Save The Mark' by Donald E Westlake (1967)

This is a brilliant novel, and much better than 'Somebody Owes Me Money'. Apparently this is one of the novels that launched the Westlake trajectory toward humour in his work, and also helped to set up his paradigm of using loser protagonists. It's just a bit too slight to get a post of its own, but is well worth reading, as we see the story of perpetual 'sucker' (magnet for confidence tricksters) Fred Fitch unfold after he inherits a large fortune from a long socially exiled uncle and becomes embroiled in a rather unusual thriller. There are corrupt cops, brassy broads, lovely ladies, more confidence tricks than you can count, and suspicions cast upon everyone in the narrative. It's a big, broad wonderful mess. Westlake is a brilliant writer of things which are almost substantial classics, but end up being merely fun reads. Very good con story. Will you spot the turn?

'Three Hearts And Three Lions' by Poul Anderson (1961)

This is a surprisingly short novel, which somehow manages to fit far more into its duration than many stories twice its size. It has some things in common with Twain's 'Connecticut Yankee', as a Danish resistance fighter vanished from a Second World War battle, only to appear in a different medieval fantasy world, which has a lot in common with his own. However, why does he keep remembering things from this new world, and why are forces gathering to stop him at all costs? It's a potent mix of fairy tales, Carolingian mythology, high romance and classy writing, which manages to condense down a number of very precise episodes into an overall narrative. Anderson also, to his credit, writes the whole thing as a prologue to a larger story that we never get to read, and forms parallels between the second world war and the novel's otherworldly conflict between Order and Chaos. It's a simple and wonderful little novel, and highly recommended. It's nice to have so many nicely formed characters in less than two hundred pages, and such veering fantasy and darker elements. It's a much better experience than that had with Anderson's 'The Broken Sword'.

'Kentucky Thriller' by Lauren St John (2012)

This, the third in the Laura Marlin mysteries, is well up to the standard of the first books in the series, as we jaunt through another thriller for younger readers. As an adult reader, there are sometimes events so signposted as to be frustrating, but it's a good read. Another one to go in the recommended pile for my students, I think. If you haven't guessed, this one is about horses and features a trip to Kentucky, just in time for their Derby. There is crookedness galore!


Saturday, 2 September 2017

That Poor Manfish

All is well with the world. A daft episode of 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' is running, it's not long until bedtime, and everything intended for the day has been done. There have even been a couple of games of 'Magic Maze', and 'To Say Nothing Of The Dog' awaits for some relaxing pre-sleep reading. What a grand thing to anticipate. How nice it will be to get back to Cyril, Ned, Verity and Terence, as incongruities threaten the space-time continuum during a leisure trip down the Thames. Is it still possible to boat down the Thames? That would be a nice trip to make.

September is here, and the Grand Wheel of the Seasons is turning once again. Autumn is upon us, and blackberries are spotting hedges everywhere we look. If it weren't for the boxes of berries from last year sitting in the freezer, it would be time to go out and risk all the brambles in fetching a new bounty of free fruit. Oh, such memories of rips, abrasions and stings are etched in the memory, ready to dispel any sudden ambitions at foraging and questing! The obsession will not return; that irrational urge to gather, gather, and gather even more. It will... be... resisted...

Life continues, even as the Seaview is manhandled by a giant Manfish, and these words spill out semi-randomly. It's nice to be relaxed. It makes the homework writing more creative, and eases the stresses of every day existence. Oh, the poor Manfish, does it deserve such punishment? I know those submarines look pretty tasty, but surely it could control itself somehow? Right? Blast, it took a missile. Curse you, puny humans!

Yes, Autumn is upon us, the bookcase project is running out of time, the next academic year is about to pounce, and all kinds of things are lurking in the calendars of the crazy people of the world. Will it be good? Will it be silly? Will certain people get toppled from their positions of power? Will yoghurt be found on Venus? None of these questions will be answered here on the Quirky Muffin!