Monday, 16 July 2018

Book: 'The Worm Ouroboros' (1922) by Eric Rucker Eddison

This is the very definition of epic, and not just because I read it over two periods separated by years! To be accurate, the second time was a complete restart, but let's not quibble. 'The Work Ouroboros' is a classical exercise in writing a one volume, self-contained, stand-alone fantasy. It was also apparently based on the childhood stories invented by Eric Rucker Eddison, an author now mostly buried in obscurity. In fact, my purchase was motivated almost entirely by a mention of this novel in relation to David Eddings, one of my early favourite fantasy authors, and not from any popular repute. 'Ouroboros' is more epic than most other fantasy or science fiction novels I've ever read, but at the cost of being horribly hard to get into due to a necessary acclimatization to the prose style. You're going to need some true reading skills and patience at the outset of this one, before it all snaps into place! (This was even harder in my case due to the awful optical character recognition and typesetting used in my copy. Diabolically bad. Must get a different edition.)

It's a marathon novel, covering the epic conflict over many years between the peoples known as the Witches and the Demons of the world Mercury. They aren't actually witches or demons, nor are the other people really ghouls, goblins or pixies. They're all just arbitrary names, as is Mercury, which bears no importance to the narrative. Yes, the demons are mentioned to have horns once, but it's quickly forgotten, as is the entire gimmick of the opening, where a man called Blessington is transported in spirit to a birthday celebration for the rulers of the Witches, our heroes, as part of an astral jaunt. One chapter for Blessington, and then gone. Perhaps he imagined the horns?

The conflict truly is a long and majestic one, with many twists and turns, and is mainly between the triumvirate (technically a tetrarchy, but one is missing for most of the novel) of Demon Lords, and the reincarnating dark king Gorice of the Witches. There be dark mystical arts at play, a grand quest, desperate contests between generals, a time-lost queen banished to the edge of the world, court intrigues and one of the most ambiguous and twisty protagonists in the world of adventures in the form of Lord Gro, the goblin of shifting loyalties. Gro is possibly the most interesting of everyone in the work, as his changes are extremely well motivated. He's just a thwarted romantic, really! We never really address the waste of lives inherent to all the battles and conflicts, but this is not that kind of novel to begin with, and our modern judgement of military conflict is not in tune with any other era's in any way.

This was extremely enjoyable, after the settling in period. The only aspects that I really dislike in retrospect are the prologue and the epilogue. The prologue establishes the previously mentioned novelty which is swiftly thrown away, while the epilogue effectively undoes the main thrust of the whole narrative in a bid to have the novel literally become repeating, instead of just having the evil King be the representation of recursion in fiction. However, these are small things to worry about in reality. 'Ouroboros' was a grand exercise, and it would be nice to go on to the Eddison trilogy that awaits in the future.

Wow. Completely out of the blue, a classic.


Sunday, 8 July 2018

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Fiddlesticks Affair' (1965) (Aired 1x16, Produced 1x18)

We're passing over 'The Terbuf Affair', which introduced some back story and an old flame for Napoleon, but was mostly unmemorable. Instead, it's time for a good old fashioned heist movie as Solo and Kuryakin aim to break into a THRUSH vault deep beneath a European casino and burn up a large portion of that villainous organisation's budget. Yes, it's time for our chaps to get proactive! What a lovely change of pace it is.

We have two variations on the 'innocent of the week' in this instance, one real and one counterfeit. The counterfeit innocent is a rascally bank robber (played by Dan O'Herlihy from 'The Last Starfighter') that Napoleon and Ilya coerce into helping them do the break-in, but who is really allied with THRUSH, while the true one is a bored American girl (Marlyn Mason) who Solo woos into acting as a diversion. Of course he wooed her. Ilya gets all the awful jobs, like any good sidekick, and Napoleon gets all the wooing and the the glamorous end of the heist. On the other hand, Solo does almost get gassed to death, so maybe the distribution isn't so unfair after all.

The real guest star to watch out for this time is Ken Murray, playing the casino owner, and THRUSH kingpin, Anton Korbel. Murray was a showman, and really took over any scene he was in to great effect just by waving his cigar around. It's a shame that he didn't get a bigger showdown with the UNCLE agents, but we can't have everything. The last few episodes have put a much darker edge on the characters of Solo and Kuryakin; they really are very ruthless and sometimes darkly manipulative. They really do push O'Herlihy's bank cracker onto their side by the most nefarious of extortions, and the thrill-seeking lady is soon trying to sell them on her own ideas for capers at the end. She really was pretty brave to go through with that tantrum. Oh, the corrupting influence, the diabolical tendencies! Is UNCLE really the bad organisation after all???

It's really a very enjoyable episode, although it lacks the lightness of touch of the very best ones. It's not exactly heavy-handed, by any means, but not the super-stylish caper we've seen in other instalments. It's probably inevitable, after such a strong (and presumably very expensive) start to the season, and with so many episodes still to come, that the strain would begin to tell. It's still a good episode, despite this nit-picking. What an elaborate vault setup that casino had!

Alas, we have only eleven episodes left. What a shame! What fun this is!


Thursday, 5 July 2018

The Literary Reflection, XII

It is once again time to break weblog silence and blabber a little about some of the things read recently, which won't be getting posts of their own. And, here we go, with lots and lots of 'Lovejoy' in the mix...

'The Judas Pair' (1977) (Lovejoy) by Jonathan Gash
The rogue-ish Lovejoy makes his debut here, with so many typos in the edition that I read that I almost went mad! Is there no proofreading in the world? Whole missing words or some needing to be entirely replaced is substandard indeed. However, it's still a brilliant little gem, although the attitude towards women is a little misleading at times. Yes, he's saying some pretty sexist things in the first person narrative, but his actions are actually saying something contrary. Or are they? He does bash that woman at the beginning, and shoves her in the bathroom. I've sort of lost track. Lovejoy is commonly described as 'rogueish' for a reason. I've already done it myself! 'The Judas Pair' is a great antiques-laden thriller, despite the typesetting woes, and the narrative is both compelling and funny. It is very short, though, and comparatively slight, prompting inclusion here, rather than in its own post. This could be a very good sequence of novels, although I don't know how Gash is going to continue any kind of status quo after such destruction and mayhem...

'Gold From Gemini' (1978) (Lovejoy) by Jonathan Gash
... but maybe he didn't even try. What happened to continuity? The cottage is back, the local population is changed, with many replacements? Lovejoy has a married lover called Janie, and a dimwit apprentice called Algernon? Only Tinker and a couple of supporting characters, one of whom is murdered, support this not being a restart. Perhaps it's from earlier in the life of Lovejoy? Maybe he's broke because he rebuilt his cottage? What is going on? He's not quite so violent this time around, and the mystery is very nice. An unknown master painter (and forger) supposedly knew where some ancient Roman gold was hidden on the Isle of Man, but was murdered. Lovejoy, followed by his unwanted allies Janie and Algernon, end up on the Isle, caught up in a confrontation with a murderer and some scenic wanderings. This one might be our closest approach to the television version of 'Lovejoy', with Janie and Algernon being reasonably close to the screen Janie and Eric. Tinker is still far too much a human wreckage though. The worry is that this second book has established a formula, being structured similarly to 'The Judas Pair'. Is every novel going to be essentially the same? Will he ever stop trashing women in his first person narrative? Is he being serious?

'The Vulcan Academy Murders' (1984) (Star Trek) by Jean Lorrah
This is a nice little 'Star Trek' novel, which paints in a lot of the Spock/Sarek/Amanda backstory and the events that transpired after 'Journey To Babel'. Of course, every trip to Vulcan includes a murder mystery, and experimental science, doesn't it? I think it's a rule. Sadly, the culprit is pretty well telegraphed here, but it all works well as a further exploration of Spock's wacky homeworld, which very much goes against the uniformly desert-ravaged screen version. One episode in a desert region does not mean the whole planet is a sandy hole, screen writers! It is nice to get Kirk, McCoy and Spock in a non-mission situation for once.

'The Grail Tree' (1979) (Lovejoy) by Jonathan Gash
And now, with the third 'Lovejoy' novel, we reach a crossroads. The formula is deeply ingrained at this point, as seen in the first two novels outlined above. Is anything going to change, or is going to be same thing but different details each time? Yes, it's different to have a supposed Holy Grail as the object this time, and a showdown in a local museum is unique, but the mysteriously rotating characters of the local antiques trade are becoming a bit vexing. What happened to X and Y, and how did T suddenly become a well established character? Putting all that aside, it's a very well executed book, and Lovejoy's new amorous apprentice Lydia is kind of interesting. Will she back next time, though, or is she just another phantom, due to mysteriously disappear next time? How could she? Her final bargain is rather pivotal! Only time will tell. Maybe one more novel in the series wouldn't be a big stretch, but if Lovejoy ends up pursuing vengeance for the death of someone he just met again, we may have to reassess...

'The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World' (1972) by Harry Harrison
In this, the second of the 'Stainless Steel Rat' books, we get time travel, continuity loops, pulpy thrills, piles of heists, and loads of laughs. It's a solid little mix, reminiscent of a cross between Dortmunder and Jasper Fforde. It's a shame that it's so slight, though, as it feels like there is a seed of something far more monumental in this series to date. In 'Saves The World', Slippery Jim is sent back in time from a disintegrating future to stop the meddlers who are changing history. Does he succeed in restoring the future and his wife and kids? Does it only take one jaunt through time? Just who is the mysterious villain known only as 'He'? Why are so many questions being asked? You might have to read to find out. This is better written than the first novel in the sequence, but not quite so novel. On the other hand, there are lots of things in 'Saves The World' that you just won't find in other sequences. The 'drugs as tools' aspect is a bit weirder now than it was in the early 1970s, though. Oh well, it is what it was. It's possible that is a setup for a really good third entry, so let's see what happens.