Wednesday, 30 October 2019

The Electoral Dice Are Rolling Once Again

And they're off! This is going to be one of the most unpredictable elections, in one of the most unusual situations, and during unprecedentedly volatile global and domestic events. Once again, everything is being returned to the province of dull pencils tied to walls, and that's fine.

As previously mentioned ad nauseum, there's something rather charming and quaint about wandering into your local polling station, being handed your badly cut voting sheet, and then concealing yourself in the little nook and marking a square with the old blunt pencil tied to the wall. It's just lovely. That pencil is connecting you to the future of your society, and for all you know that one vote might make the crucial difference, or it might be lost amongst a flood. You never really know. It always makes some kind of impact.

Another great thing about the dull pencils tied to the wall is that they make it much much harder to tamper with results. In this era of digital complexity, people are almost incapable of doing anything in the real world. Why on Earth would we want to computerise the voting system when there is so much hacking? If a system requires someone to have to do practically do something to cheat it, then that's an advantage in 2019. (That's also why sending paper letters is a great thing to do. Huzzah!)

We don't know what will happen in this election, nor what it will mean for the future, but some things remain the same. I will do my best to vote on the candidates once again, while keeping an eye on their party position. It's not enough to just look at the colour of the flower, as the quality of the person also matters. Let's hope the best candidates win, and that they have the wisdom to choose the best and fairest course available for everyone.


Sunday, 27 October 2019

Novel: 'Peter And The Starcatchers' (Starcatchers) (2004) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Now this is an interesting one. 'Peter And The Starcatchers' is the first in a series of vaguely Disney-related alternative Peter Pan stories, and is simultaneously very interesting and a bit disappointing. What would the target audience of later younger readers think, though? Perhaps it would be a bit of a hit?

In this book, Peter and some other orphans are being transported (sold) overseas to a mysterious tyrant when they are involved in a massive adventure involving a mysterious trunk hidden on their rundown ship. The trunk is full of an extraterrestrial substance called 'starstuff', which name I loathe, which is normally collected and safeguarded by a covert band of people called 'Starcatchers'. The starstuff confers powers on people, including flight, and has long been coveted throughout history by malevolent groups known only as the Others. The young Peter gets entangled with Molly, a young Starcatcher, while protecting the Starstuff from the master pirate Black 'Stache, an Other on the crew of the transport, and the various forces on a mysterious island they all get shipwrecked onto. Everything is there, and yet not in quite the ways you might expect.

The authors do manage to capture the implicit tragedy of Peter never growing old, while everyone else does, which is a consequence of various events and is the soul of the original story. It would be nice if the utter benevolence of the Starcatchers wasn't take so much on faith. I'm pretty sure that I would be dubious about such a bunch, who are apparently taking all the superpowered starstuff for themselves, keeping personal stores in lockets and claiming to 'return' the bulk, but then I'm a cynic. It sounds very shady indeed. How are they paying for their golden equipment, huh? The tone is also quite strange at times, especially with Black 'Stache's secret sail technology, which turns out to be a design based on a bustier. Very funny, but almost from a different book entirely.

So, overall, this is a thoroughly readable novel for later young readers. It's a bit eccentric at times, and there are touches of implicit and explicit horror in places. Sometimes, exposition pushes through, and sometimes the tone gets a bit mixed, but the second book is a definite must at this point. Oh, and the illustrations in my copy were very good. Well done, that person.


Thursday, 17 October 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XIX

Welcome back to 'The Literary Reflection', where we get the shorter reviews and comments about books that didn't quite merit a post of their own. It has been an awfully long time since a book got a post of its own, though. Nolhing is standing out as likely to break that trend, either. Still, you never know.

'Rumpole's Return' (Rumpole) (1980) by John Mortimer
We begin with a significant gap in continuity. Apparently, since we last saw Rumpole, when he was quite determinedly not retiring, he has been savaged by his judicial nemesis, the judge he calls 'The Mad Bull', lost to him ten times in succession, and finally given in to retirement and boredom with his son's family in Florida. So secure are people that this retirement is the genuine article that his room in Chambers is reallocated and the world has marched on. However, this is not to be...

Since 'Rumpole's Return' (both the book and the television special) comes so quickly after the previous story, in which Rumpole very definitively chooses not to retire, this is a bit confusing in the beginning, but then begins to make more sense. It is a very strange read, though, which definitely feels forced. Clearly, Rumpole was forced into retirement to make the television version double-length. It just doesn't flow at all. There's also a rather oddball subplot about Phylidda (formerly Trant) Erskine-Brown having an affair with Rumpole's replacement and an unlikely brief for Rumpole himself, in defending a seller of kinky literature.

I'm really not sure where to land on this one. It's strange. Is it all part of some grander plan?

'Triplanetary' (Lensman) (1948) by EE Smith
Oh, the killing, the killing! If it weren't for the killing, it would be an instant classic! 'Triplanetary' is the first (or at least it was retroactively adapted to be the first) entry in the 'Lensman' series. It's an epic concept for a series: Two ancient and powerful races, supporting and opposing civilization. The supporting alien race, the Arisians, conceal themselves from all and avoid a direct confrontation, instead seeding various civilizations that will develop over the eons to take on the domineering Eddorians. Of course, Earth is host to one of those species, and we get a fascinating glimpse at some portions of history that were influenced by the secret Arisian and Eddorian manipulations.

'Triplanetary' becomes much less interesting when it reaches it's own present day. There are space battles galore, mass killings on both sides when humans make a disastrous first contact with their first alien life outside the solar system. Oh, such massacres, complicated even further by an Eddorian masquerading as a murderous pirate known only as Roger. It's hard to feel good about your primary characters when they have a penchant for deadly gas attacks. Some of the speculative science is quite nice, though, and there is magnificent world-building.

'The Fourteen Carat Car' (1940, translated 2016) by Jenő Rejtő
A gift from a dear friend, I did not know anything about this (Hungarian) author. 'The Fourteen Carat Car' is a nonsensical comedy caper, an adventure and a crime story. Weaving together the consequences of a past diplomatic mission, a madman's quest to gain the hand of the woman he loves, a car laden down with gold finishings, an elderly circus lion, and quite a lot of very eccentric Continental villains, Rejtő does something pretty special. It's not quite as strong as 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency', or 'Bridge Of Birds', but the humour works consistently and it's a very good read. In fact, the only thing I didn't like was the mild hopping around in time in order to tell the stories of the different characters. It didn't always work, and was sometimes confusing. However, that was a minor quibble. Read this if you like funny nonsense with a hidden structure.

Paradoxical? YES! Sometimes very funny? Yes! Running gags? Yes. Monumental? No.

'Home Is The Hunter' (1990) by Dana Kramer-Rolls
Recently, I've been occasionally re-reading some of the vast dusty mountain of 'Star Trek' novels that looms in one part of the room, hoping to not have long-ago memories spoiled. Some of the time they're good, and some of the time they're lacking in one way or another. 'Home Is The Hunter' works, both in its simplicity and in its fidelity to the source material. There are four stories, all in parallel, following on from a planet's mysterious god figure sending Scotty, Sulu and Chekov into their cultures' pasts, as a punishment for a landing party's clash with a Klingon group. The three time travellers are thrust into seemingly hopeless positions fighting lost causes. The fourth story is Kirk's, as he deals with the fallout of the incident on his own conscience and on the crew of the opposing Klingon ship. This is overall a very fun and interesting novel, with some interesting historical details for historical Japan, World War II, and the Scottish Uprising of 1745. Characterisation is solid, and we get an intermediate version of the Klingons. Recommended if you like 'Star Trek'.


Sunday, 6 October 2019

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Odd Man Affair' (1965) (Aired 1x29, Produced 1x29)

And so this trip through the monochrome 'Man From UNCLE' episodes ends with this, 'The Odd Man Affair', and it is a bit odd. I've never really known what to think of this episode. In many ways, it functions as a backdoor pilot would, neglecting core characteristics of the series proper and boosting a guest star into lead character status, but in other ways it's very conventional. However, let's get back to this after chatting about the plot a little.

Mr Waverly is concerned about a ring of extremist cells in Europe, and decides someone should impersonate the noted (and now very dead) assassin Marcel Raymond. Turning to a former field agent unhappily turned file clerk for information, that clerk Sully (played by the always reliable Martin Balsam) pledges only to assist if he can be the one to enact the impersonation. Then, with Sully being tricky with his escorts Solo and Kuryakin along the way, we travel to Europe, pick up one of the newly revived agent's girlfriend assistants (Barbara Shelley), and get into some serious bluffing. Oh, I'm pretty sure we also get that London-style bus from 'The Gazebo In The Maze Affair' back again. How sweet! And the bad guy was in 'Get Smart' as Leadside in one notable appearance.

After the stylish and overly cool excesses of the first season, 'The Odd Man Affair' is a bit of a letdown. Balsam is nice, but Solo is sidelined in order to make space for Sully to shine and the episode suffers as a result. Less Solo means a duller story, always and inevitably. Barbara Shelley is good, though, and the final scene is very fitting. The episode just isn't as smart or different as those which have preceded it. And with that, we rest.

We stop here, because creator and showrunner Sam Rolfe leaves between seasons, and UNCLE then apparently gets caught in a creative tug of war, and a tonal seesaw ride under the contemporary 'Batman' influence and the subsequent backlash. There is bound to be some very good stuff in seasons two, three and four, but I know not what. We end with Barbara Shelley stating that Sully, Solo, Kuryakin and their ilk must all be mad and then move on.

Maybe we'll do 'Get Smart' in the future!


Saturday, 5 October 2019

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Gazebo In The Maze Affair' (1965) (Aired 1x27, Produced 1x28)

It has been a while since the last UNCLE post, but maybe it was a good thing, and now we can get to the last two episodes in a far less jaded manner. It has been a long season, and if I managed to get a bit tired from watching, then we can only imagine how tired they all got from making the show!

On this occasion, we have 'The Gazebo In The Maze Affair', henceforth to be referred to as 'Gazebo', with the inimitable George Sanders. Good old George, the most urbane of stock villains. Actually, he was recently seen here at the House Of Quirk in the movie 'Foreign Correspondent', which was made decades earlier, and he was the first (and best) of the iterations of the infamous Mister Freeze in the 'Batman' television series. Oh, and there's also John Orchard, who was Ugly John in the first year of 'M*A*S*H', as well as Jeanette Nolan, who always seems to be someone I should recognise. Hmmm. This is a pretty good one, based on style alone.

In 'Gazebo', the former South American dictator Emery Partridge abducts Ilya (the victim again!), in a bit to get his old enemy Napoleon's attention and ultimately exact revenge on him as well as UNCLE in general. There is a small pear tree involved in the message. Napoleon dashes over to Britain in pursuit, discovers a mostly innocent Innocent in Partridge's employ, a daffy and somewhat depraved Mrs Partridge, one of the cuddliest 'wolves' ever guarding the prison gazebo, gets captured, escapes, waves a sword around, and ultimately saves the day. Well done, Napoleon. Good show. Pip pip. Nice shot with that dart too, by the way, of expressive one.

There are some nice touches. The aforementioned dartboard scene is cool, as is Mrs Partridge's fascination for torture and flirting with the men from UNCLE, and Ilya's revenge on Solo at the end is cute. You devious Russian, Kuryakin! Extreme measures are required sometimes, to get the girl when Solo is around.

A solid, middle of the road UNCLE episode, and one of the two I watched on a VHS retail copy over and over, many years ago. Only one episode remains! It's definitely one to look forward to.


Friday, 20 September 2019

These Things Are Sent To Try Us

It has been about a year and a half since the Quirky Muffin was in full swing, and the time has probably come for another update. The interruption began due to a horrible consolidated chest infection, and has continued through bowel problems and only recently qualified asthma and lactose intolerance. Stress effects, perhaps? (Lactose tip: switch to almond milk, and guzzle lactobacillic probiotic yogurt. It feels like a spell in limbo.) As a result, it has been and continues to be a time of diminished energy and interest, which has been exacerbated by a Big Birthday. Maybe we'll get back to something close to that which came before, and maybe we won't, but there is hope. Maybe an upgrade in asthma inhaler is a step toward better things, instead of a slide toward stranger times.

So, all things being equal, what is to come soon (relatively speaking) here on the weblog? ('Blog' is an abbreviation, after all.) We should finally finish off the 'Man From UNCLE' series of posts sometime soon, push out a brace of book posts (really late and far too long after reading the texts), and blather on with some commentary on this, that and hopefully nothing about the Thing That Is Going On (Or Not) here in old Blighty.

In a side note, business is close to booming on the Oliver Scale Of Activity, and I'm also trying desperately to get back into writing stories. Not the serialised web stories, but real ones for publication one day. It's not the worst idea in the world, although time and commitment are limited at this point on the personal string of life. It would be lovely to finish writing 'The Misadventures Of Clomp' finally. The main problem with writing is that, for me, it works the best as a displacement activity from things I really should be doing instead. A lot of my main phase of excessive story writing took place during an extremely boring higher national diploma in something or other. Oh, that was fun.

Well, this wasn't too horrific an experience. Perhaps I'll do it again sometime soon. A lot of the vocabulary has vanished, but I can extemporise a little between students and whatever else pops up from time to time. Right? Maybe? Rhinoceros?

This Muffin is still Quirky.


Thursday, 15 August 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XVIII

And so the wheel turns once again, and another batch of books makes it into 'The Literary Reflection'. Perhaps, in days gone by or days still to come, some of these might get a post all their own, but for now they will get a snippet each. Reading four novels over fourteen hours of coach travel is a bit draining to the grey cells.

'The White Company' (1891) by Arthur Conan Doyle

Expectations were mixed when I decided to get 'The White Company', but it turned out to be a very good adventure novel, albeit it one with a slightly disappointing ending. Set during the Hundred Years War, and chronicling the adventures of a young nobleman called Alleyne upon his leaving monastery life, the novel is in many ways an epic. Alleyne becomes the squire of a gung ho knight called Sir Nigel Loring, who is asked to take over the command of a mercenary troop called the White Company and participate in the war against Spain, and the story is about the journey to find that command and about Alleyne's love for Loring's precocious daughter.

It really is an unexpectedly good read, which shouldn't be surprising at all for something written by Doyle, but it's also quite slight. It's probably best to consider it in the same bracket as 'Ivanhoe', which is a compliment, and class it as a adolescent adventure story. A good one. The supporting characters are good, and some of the episodes during the narrative are gripping, but there is a significant problem with the ending, wherein several heroic sacrifices were reversed in order to provide a happy ending. It seems rather strange for me, the advocate of not killing people in stories, to say that!

'Below Suspicion' (Gideon Fell) (1947) by John Dickson Carr

It's time for another story with Dr Gideon Fell, the almost supernaturally smart sleuth with no boundaries. On this occasion, Fell is tangentially connected with a string of poisonings, along with ace counsel for the defence Patrick Butler. In fact, Butler becomes far more involved than is wise, being interested in two consecutive suspects. Dr Fell doesn't appear heavily in the story, until near the end, and it would be deeply counter-productive to reveal the denouement of it all. His involvement is, however, a pivotal part of the story. Really, it's a Patrick Butler story, as he is confounded by his belief in his own infallibility, and the perils of falling in love. Overall, this is very good, with not much mystery except for one key misunderstanding. The final confrontation is a doozy, where suddenly that misunderstanding is overturned and all makes sense, and no more can safely be said.

'The Trials Of Rumpole' (Rumpole) (1979) by John Mortimer

This second set of Rumpole stories doesn't stick in the mind nearly so much as the first, which might be because it was read during a long and sleepy coach journey, in a bit of a determined rush. The one story of the six that definitely sticks out is the last one, 'Rumpole And The Age Of Retirement', wherein a family plot to make the loquacious barrister retire is twinned with another Timson family plot to force one of their venerable clan into retiring from fencing goods.

Actually, in retrospect, details of some more of the stories do come to mind. There is the unforgettable liaison between Guthrie Featherstone and a rebellious clerk, the doomed engagement of the perpetually wimpy George, and the inexplicable relationship between Erskine-Brown and the delightful Phylidda Trant. Oh, and a parallel between working as a barrister and working in the theatre! There is a lot here, after all.

Why, Miss Trant? Why was it Erskine-Brown? I sigh in confusion.

'The Stainless Steel Rat For President' (Stainless Steel Rat) (1982) by Harry Harrison

Jim DiGriz returns once again, in what might have been the chronological end of his adventures, as Harrison went back to fill in the beginning of his story after this episode. Filling in prehistory is a disgusting habit, isn't it? Perhaps they will be good books, anyway? In any case, in 'The Stainless Steel Rat For President', Jim is lured to the newly rediscovered planet of Nuevo Paraiso (New Paradise) by the discovery of a corpse with his name figuratively written all over it. Nuevo Paraiso isn't quite the paradise it claims to be, however, since it has been ruled by a democratically elected (and nefariously re-elected) presidential dictator for more than a century. Thus, taking this as a crooked challenge, Jim decides to out-rig the election and bring the (pun-laden) world to its honestly democratic fate. This is another decent episode in the solid Rat series, but on this occasion the DiGriz family unit really feels bolted on, and we miss the Special Corps background a little. Sometimes, you just want that rogue running alone and in great danger! Also, the Rat is clearly beginning to feel his age, which is a bit sad. Oh, horror, horror indeed.


Thursday, 8 August 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XVII

There's no way around it. There are three weblogs worth of book posts to write, and this first one has been gathering dust since April. Oh, the shame, the infamy, the dawdling while mildly sick...

'The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You' (Stainless Steel Rat) (1978) by Harry Harrison

On this occasion, Slippery Jim DiGriz and his now grown family have to save the known galaxy from an invasion of non-humanoid aliens. Yes, they do exist! However, there may be an even more nefarious threat behind the aliens, and even more special Corps than Jim's own Special Corps. This latest instalment in the series is as entertaining as the previous entries, and is a touch more substantial as we get to grips with the true story behind the sinister Grey Men. It's still funny, still some of the more fantastic science fiction that you might easily find, and still completely daft.

'Galileo's Daughter' (1999) by Dava Sobel

This is an interesting read. Apparently almost all of Galileo's correspondence was lost, but the letters from his daughter to him still exist, which are reproduced and translated here in relation to his story. The description and title of the book are rather deceptive, though, as this is almost entirely about Galileo at its heart. Yes, there is some information about Virginia, and life in her convent and local area, but there's no doubt who the star of the history is. Still, if you want a primer on Galileo without diving deep in a more serious account, then this is a good place to start. Superficially, Galileo was certainly a genius, but he definitely seems to have partly destroyed himself by playing games with his own religion in an era when that Church utterly dominated his land. He did poke the bear. Never poke a bear without a pressing need.

'Right Ho, Jeeves' (Jeeves And Wooster) (1934) by PG Wodehouse

Back in the Wodehousian lands, we reach 'Right Ho, Jeeves', in which Bertie first becomes entangled in the romantic web between Madeline Bassett, the bringer of insipid chaos, and Gussie Fink-Nottle, the king of newts. Oh the horror and confusion that ensues when Bertie decides that Jeeves has lost his touch, and opts to tackle the tangled webs himself! Tuppy Glossop and Cousin Angela torn asunder, Aunt Dahlia separated from her prized chef Anatole, the dreaded Basset turning to past (imagined) loves when Gussie stumbles, strange faces leering in through windows, and even more strife. This is not quite as good as 'The Code Of The Woosters', being a bit more forced in its contrivances, but the first appearances of the Bassett and the Fink-Nottle surely raises it to a higher level. Oh, the stars really are a bit like a god's daisychain, aren't they. I shall retire now, to wax poetic.

'Rumpole Of The Bailey' (Rumpole) (1978) by John Mortimer

This first set of short stories, adapted from the first series of the television series, is very interesting. Despite being rooted in a time long ago, the misadventures of John Mortimer's loquacious barrister are still shockingly prescient, and his ability to speak truths (and sometimes other things) without being hampered by what we now call political correctness can be shocking. Without having viewed the episodes in advance, it is impossible to write about the amount of adaptation necessary to get from screen to page, but you can still hear Leo McKern wandering around in his signature role. Good old Leo.

John Mortimer covers a lot of ground in these six stories, ranging from criminal dynasties and children being allowed to choose their own destinies, to alternative societies being allowed to flourish in their own little bubbles, via a quandary or two for Rumpole in rape cases and his own marital life. More words will be reserved for the television series, when it finally gets here. If it's even only comparable to this prose version, then it will be excellent. Come to us, McKern, come to us. Bring your quotations with you.

For now, you should definitely read this first set of stories, and see what you think.


Saturday, 22 June 2019

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Girls From Nazarone Affair' (1965) (Aired 1x28, Produced 1x27)

Some lovely moments conspire against an uninspired story to make an episode which is perfectly fine, but not particularly special. It's definitely almost the end of a long, long season. You can imagine writing rooms of dazed people, staring blankly at hideously bland walls...

In 'The Girls From Nazarone Affair', Napoleon and Ilya arrive in the French Riviera, seeking the truth behind the disappearance of a scientist who may have invented a magical healing serum. (Note: Nothing good ever comes of serums in television, films or comic books.) The men from UNCLE then get tangled up with a holidaying lady schoolteacher (we've had a few of those this season!) in trying to determine the truth, and how it affects a not-dead woman racing driver they saw murdered.

Ultimately, this is almost worth it for the very memorable pool scene where Napoleon tries to steal along unobserved by using a pool mattress as a disguise. He and the Innocent Of The Week almost get eliminated on similar mattresses later. It could almost have been entitled 'The Deadly Pool Mattress Affair'! Sadly, the nasty serum is finally found to burn up the users from the inside out, and gets successfully stolen by THRUSH. In fact, the best moments of the episode are the ending, where Ilya pranks a defeated Napoleon by not telling him about the serum's nasty side-effects, and only gets found out via the consolations of the Innocent, Miss Brown. What would that post-credits fight have looked like??? There's no Mr Waverley this week, sadly, but there is an evil THRUSH scientist and mistress of disguise. In trivial details, Ilya gets caught again and thrown down a well, and the duo do quite a lot of unlawful entries into Miss Brown's various holiday homes.

It should be nicer, but this episode seem a bit vacuous, despite some stylish moments. Oh well, we have two left, and then we're done. Fortunately, at least one of those two is a stone cold classic!


Saturday, 15 June 2019

Spinning Wheels

Today, in what might have been the event of the century for this tiny village of Pontyates, the Womens Tour of Cycling quickly ran through. Yes, an actual event came through. It was very unnerving, especially as it was on the road just in front of the shack that houses the Quirky Muffin.

Given the gravity of the moment, it felt essential to go and watch the ladies go by. They must have been absolutely exhausted from the hilly route, but they did make it here eventually. Cyclists must be classified as lunatics, mustn't they? It was a long wait for the maniacs to finally come through, and it was astounding to see so many police vehicles come through in advance and in following. There must have been dozens of police motorcycles. Dozens!

Sadly, after two highly concentrated lumps of cyclists came through, it all seemed to be over in an instant, and so I wandered off, but a few more did come through unobserved. Mutter mutter.

I hope they all made it to Pembrey. It would have been nice to finish by the sea.


Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Never-Never Affair' (1965) (Aired 1x25, Produced 1x26)

This could easily qualify for my favourite episode of 'The Man From UNCLE'. Not only do we have a very adorable Barbara Feldon, just prior to 'Get Smart' kicking off, but we also have Cesar Romero putting in a wonderfully charming performance and Napoleon being... nice! Oh, and Ilya almost gets burned alive.

In 'The Never-Never Affair', we get yet another inventive Innocent Of The Week, an UNCLE translator (Feldon) hungry for for some field work, whom Napoleon tries to calm down with a secretly harmless courier job for Mr Waverley. However, Mandy the translator crosses paths with a THRUSH squad out to obtain a vital microdot, led by the rogueish Victor Gervais (Romero). It all works very organically and very elegantly, partly due to the sheer accumulated charm of Robert Vaughn and Romero, and the utter coincidence that finally sees her trapped.

It's very nice to see the support staff at UNCLE be featured once again, and of course it helps to build the universe up a bit more. We may not have spent this much time with minor UNCLE staff since 'The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair', which is another favourite. 'The Never-Never Affair' is also extremely pretty in its black and white photography, in a return to the crisp cinematic quality so evident in other great episodes, and is subtly reminiscent of 'Alice In Wonderland' as Mandy falls down a figurative rabbit hole. Does that make Napoleon or Victor the White Rabbit, though? Or do they both function that way? There is some great fire work too, some nice physical stuff for David McCallum to work through, and impressive physical acting from Vaughn. He was woefully underrated, wasn't he?

Where do they find these ridiculously beautiful UNCLE ladies, though, and how did they go extinct? Why does Napoleon's kindness so often seem to backfire? What happened in that movie cinema after they all left? Mr Waverley just loves to get out into the field in New York, doesn't he?

As with all my favourite episodes of this season, this is definitely Napoleon Solo's episode, culminating in the amazing backwards, tied up in a chair gunshot. Accidentally or not, he does save the day. Stopping a very gallant villain is always more interesting than stopping a rampant loon. Oh, and Barbara Feldon more than pulls her weight in the acting stakes.

Excellent, although the Agent 99 bias may be pulling.


Sunday, 28 April 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XVI

Yes, it's time to dig through the recent readings and see what's what.

'The Killing Of Polly Carter' (Death In Paradise) (2015) by Robert Thorogood
This is a major improvement on the first novel in the series, 'A Meditation On Murder', with many more red herrings and less of the television series's gimmicks in evidence. I suspect that it would be fair to say this is more in line with the spirit of the series than the first, by adhering less to the letter of it all, but I've not seen it, so this is all speculation. In 'The Killing Of Polly Carter', Thorogood integrates all the major characters of the Richard Poole era of 'Death In Paradise' in a much better fashion, telegraphs the plotline far less, and incorporates the supremely awkward Poole in a much more natural way. The mystery, the apparent suicide of retired supermodel Polly Carter, leads to an awful lot of drug-related histories, and is quite awkward if you don't like that sort of thing, but is otherwise good. I liked it. Now it's time to wait for the hardback of the third book, as the first two were accidentally in hardback and now it's time to be hideously consistent...

'Unicorn Variations' (1983) by Roger Zelazny
Finally, another set of short stories and fragments over, and this one was nice. I was expecting endlessly gloomy endings, but it was mixed, and there were a few good to hilarious endings. In particular, the titular 'Unicorn Variations' and 'The George Business' are quite fun, and 'Home Is The Hangman' has a surprisingly optimistic ending in the context of a murder mystery. 'My Lady Of The Diodes' was a pretty good romp too. This set seemed more enjoyable than the collection 'The Last Defender Of Camelot', and still needs to be compared with the latter of the two collection titled 'The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth'. Good, veering toward very good.

'Battlestations!' (Star Trek) (1991) by Diane Carey
Yes, it's time for the sequel to 'Dreadnought!', and once again it's time to recuse myself from any sense of impartiality. I read this many, many times while growing up and it still has that connection. Yes, there's a tendency toward lengthy prose and intimations of long communication-filled stares, but it does have a certain something to it. There are some really nice science fiction ideas, a good dose of 'Star Trek' continuity mixed in, some great lines, and a much more interesting dynamic in play as Piper and her gang attempt to pull off their part in a larger operation to avoid a cosmic scramble when the incredible prototype for transwarp drive is stolen and put up for sale to the highest bidder. It's either good, or I'm reading through rose-tinted binoculars, and I don't know which.

I wonder what happened to Piper and her crew after the events pf 'Battlestations!'? It's a little bit of a pity that Carey never returned to this bunch, which manage to succeed despite being a bit of a clone of the main Enterprise crew. Is it okay to copycat like this? Aargh. I do now know what to think! That moment at the very end is priceless, though.

'The Case Of The Constant Suicides' (Gideon Fell) (1941) by John Dickson Carr
This story is quite highly regarded, but it ultimately came off as being a middle of the pack 'Gideon Fell' novel. The gimmick employed was ingenius, though, and one which I never saw coming. That's the magical thing about the Carr novels, that idea that catches you unawares even in the slighter narratives. Yes, the romance between the two historians is lovely, and the crazy Scottish aristocrats are funny, and there are some chilling moments... Oh, maybe it's better than my opinion. Perhaps the central mystery of why that castle owner jumped from the tower window is defused by the long period of time before the second supposed suicide, or perhaps the comedic nature of many of the scenes at the castle unconsciously clash with the life or death perils behind the scenes? Let's call it good. Why not? It is very insubstantial, though. I could go around in circles on this one all day.

'Mystery Mile' (Albert Campion) (1930) by Margery Allingham
This second 'Campion' novel is much better than the first, and finally makes the titular adventurer the protagonist of the story, as we get a partial follow-up to 'The Crime At Black Dudley', hidden in a stand-alone story. Campion is a very interesting character, and the revelations we get on his character, both directly and as revealed by his ex-criminal manservant Lugg, reveal a far more interesting person than you might expect of the time. The question of why exactly he was working for a bunch of crooks in 'Black Dudley' is never explained, though.

Does the book add anything that wasn't present in the television adaptation? The order of events may have been tampered with slightly in the dramatisation, but it's ultimately the exact same story. Campion still has to protect a retired judge, who claims to have the clue that will identify the mysterious man at the head of the Simister gang. He takes the judge and his family to the country house of some friends of his, and events unfold. It's very well written, very character-driven, and very well put together. Would it be as good without Peter Davison's and Brian Glover's shadows falling over proceedings? Probably, yes.

At the moment, after two entries in the series, this is above 'Lord Peter Wimsey', but we shall see.


Saturday, 6 April 2019

Books: 'The Elenium' by David Eddings (1989-1991)

'The Diamond Throne' (1989)

This is actually rather impressive. I've always been a little reluctant to re-read the Elenium due to the ticking timer at its core, and the more adult tone, but courage has been accumulated and the sense of wonder re-stoked. The 'Elenium' and the 'Belgariad' represent the peak of David Eddings, when he was constructing whole worlds with seeming ease, and not merely repeating the same patterns with a twist.

After the raging medievalism/barbarism/whatever-ism of 'The Belgariad', we get a totally different setup in 'The Diamond Throne'. Gone are the various races, each with its own stereotype or cliches, and the innocent naive hero with his soldierly companions and sorcerous mentors. Here we have a battered Knight of the Church, a continent-wide religion which crosses state lines and influences everything to some degree, with its own capital city and leader. However, Sir Sparhawk is also the Champion of his own Queen, and she has been poisoned. It's a very different scenario when your hero is returning from an exile, already knows the ropes and levers of government, and is as cynical as they come. The magic is different too, operating not by the Will and the Word, but by spells and incantations calling on the power of the mysterious Younger Gods of Styricum, a minority race on the continent.

Now, having read this at a formative age and reacting a little negatively at the time, I can't entirely pretend to be impartial about 'The Diamond Throne', but the writing is impressive. That is undeniable. It's not as driven a story as the first part of the 'Belgariad', with protagonists who don't have a clear path to follow, but the meanderings as they work out just what is going on around them are entertaining, and the characterizations are nice. The power is mainly in the world-building and the variations of the kingdoms of the conintent of Eosia, as well as in the complex shenanigans of a world with an overriding Church and occasional ghosts. Fiction wouldn't be fiction without a few ghosts wandering around with things on their minds.

That ticking clock still annoys me, though. It's integral to the whole thing and vexes considerably. Blast it all.

'The Ruby Throne' (1990)

'The Ruby Knight' has a very odd moment, where everything is supposed to turn around, but the effect is that of a handbrake turn toward where the story needs to go. As a consequence, it's a book which is definitely of two halves. To begin, we have the continuation of 'The Sapphire Throne', and then we segue fully into the proper and directed hunt for 'The Bhelliom' and the conclusion that will come in 'The Sapphire Rose'.

We get lots of character work, a segue into horror, some tussles with the hideous creature that is the Seeker, a bit of necromancy, some flirtation, and a lot of intrigue. Mainly, however, 'The Ruby Knight' sets us up for the final part of the story. What will happen once they release Ehlana from her sustaining crystal and heal her? And what has the hideous god Azash got to do with it all? The final book will reveal all. Or will it?

'The Sapphire Rose' (1991)

And so we come to the end of 'The Elenium', and wonder just what we have read. Sparhawk ends up married to his Queen in the opening of the book instead of the end, an emasculated god is killed, a protagonist dies, and we get one of those epic endings. Actually, we also get one of those post-script endings that I enjoy so much, after the main narrative has completed, and everyone settles down into an idyllic life of sorts. Well, it's not quite like that time, as we get a global grieving of sorts, followed by a monumental Spring, but it's still nice. Things do go on, and just as we enter the story 'en media res', so do we also leave it, at a new beginning.

'The Sapphire Rose' is much more cohesive than 'The Ruby Knight', with no need for authorial interventions to turn the story. It does feel oddly disconnected, though, with the absence of the Child Goddess Aphrael, the ever so brief honeymoon, mental manipulations by dark forces, and the confrontation with the twisted God Azash. In between, we have the election of a new Archprelate (Pope) and the siege of the Holy City, so there is a lot going on. The intricacies of papal elections and corrupt ancient democracy are quite nice.

Despite the implied gripes, it's an amazing world construction, and the idea of the Child Goddess is very impressive. It's a bit gruesome, though, and probably unnecessarily so.

Overall, 'The Elenium' is a grand trilogy, which hooks up oddly in the middle. There is a massive amount of dialogue, and sometimes the characters seem a bit interchangeable, but it's a worthwhile read if you liked 'The Belgariad', without really equalling or surpassing it. Oh, the joys of very lengthy narrative!


Sunday, 10 March 2019

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Hong Kong Shilling Affair' (1965) (Aired 1x24, Produced 1x25)

We're getting very close to the end of our journey through the black and white season of 'The Man From UNCLE', and we've had some duller times of late, but on this occasion we have a nice return to form in 'The Hong Kong Shilling Affair'. We still don't get enough Napoleon Solo, but the innocent of the week is the very interesting Glenn Corbett, an American student who falls in love with a femme fatale, and whom UNCLE recruits to help find an extremely valuable coin and a deeply black market auction house that is selling on international secrets.

After a few weeks of comparative blandness, we get a secret boss communicating with her stooges through some talking samurai armour, Ilya donning a ridiculous Mongolian warlord disguise, the brilliant name of 'Heavenly Cortelle' and... geese... Oh, and Ilya must have been getting bored because he did some duck impressions when warning Napoleon about the aforementioned guard geese. It was also nice to get out into the environs of the supposed Hong Kong, and have a piece of scenery become vital to the closure of the plot!

In this episode, Bernie the innocent really does get to steal the show to some extent, throwing in some laughs both during brawls with the fearsome Richard "Jaws' Kiel, and in his general behaviour. His love affair with the probably (but not certainly) Heavenly is pretty neat too, although it does remove any chance of Napoleon being the one who gets the girl this time. Oh, Napoleon, you have been a bit distant lately. What ails you, dear chap? At least he got to do some sneaking this week, that was something, although he also got captured and gagged with Bernie, so it was a mixed bag.

Ilya's duck impression really was an odd moment. It stuck in the mind as very incongruous. Perhaps it was McCallum that was bored? Or maybe he was feeling stifled by being under that all that latex and costume when he was playing the warlord?

This is a nice and stylish episode, with lots of sneakery, humour and humanity. Mr Waverley even makes a special phone call to remind Ilya and Napoleon that civilians are not expendable, which is odd as they've never really been considered that way, unless there have been a few stories in between episodes with horrific occurrences? Good grief, UNCLE, what have you done???

It's a recommended show.


Monday, 18 February 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XV

It has been a while, hasn't it? Have we finally accumulated enough fragments to make a 'Literary Reflection'? Yes! Huzzah!

'Star Trek: Dreadnought!' (1986) by Diane Carey
Is it good, or is it just because it's 'Star Trek' and I read it when I was growing up? I'm not sure I could ever really answer that question. It's right there in the box called labelled 'confusion', along with 'The Belgariad' and a few other things. However, for all that confusion, it's still an enjoyable romp with what might be called a 'Star Trek Junior' crew. Diane Carey is right up there on my list of important 'Star Trek' authors, and that means something. She seems to have a link into the maritime side of the show that serves her very well. On this occasion, captaincy candidate Lieutenant Piper is re-assigned to the legendary starship Enterprise, under her hero Captain Kirk, and quickly lands herself in hot water and a potential galactic crisis. Will she and her ragtag mini-crew manage to save the situation before Kirk does? Well, it's a close call...

'The Crime At Black Dudley' (Campion) (1929) by Margery Allingham
Having watched all of the television 'Campion' in a month very recently, it seemed a natural choice to take a look at the books. As can be found via a little research, the first 'Campion' novel is very atypical of the series that follows, in that he is a side character and possibly a stooge for a Moriarty-style villain somewhere in the outer world of the story. Possibly. Also, this isn't a mystery story at all, but a thriller, in which a weekending party group is held hostage in a mansion by some hoodlums, who are intent on finding a mysterious item stolen by one of their number. It does turn unexpectedly into a mystery near the end, but in reality it's a thriller, and there are secret passages and romances in play. There's nothing truly remarkable, except perhaps that it's remarkably fluent for a mystery/thriller written in the 1920s, and seems somehow atypical for its time. Half-recommended.

'The Girl On The Boat' (1922) by PG Wodehouse
Venturing away from the 'Blandings' and 'Jeeves And Wooster' stories seems a bit risky when it comes to Wodehouse. In this case, 'The Girl On The Boat' is a relative dud, and rehash (or prehash) of many other Wodehouse novels but with less success. It has good moments, of course, but the underhanded tactics of the protagonist make it a harder experience than would it have been best with someone who had our sympathy. The novel does have the comparative merit of not being the incredibly awkward and mis-cast movie adaptation, though, and we do get another of the Wodehousian butlers, without whom the world would be the poorer.

'A Meditation On Murder' (Death In Paradise) (2015) by Robert Thorogood

Interesting. This is interesting. Not having seen the television series (shock horror!), this mystery was approached more or less purely on its own merits. In some ways, it fits in perfectly with what I call the 'Christopher Nolan Principle': 'In a world of hacks, a competent workman might be viewed as a genius.', which is not intended to put anyone down but instead put things in their perspective. This is a good attempt at a contemporary locked room murder, and is written well, one or two steps above standard 'bestseller drab'. In what I assume is homage/devotion/slavery/servitude to the original television medium, Inspector Richard Poole does spend a lot of time staring at the very novel locked room and wondering what he's missing, and we have a scene at the end where the detective brings the small band of suspects together for the Big Reveal. Oh, and there is a stubborn reluctance to ever consider anyone outside the small bunch of Most Obvious Suspects. Despite all those quibbles, it's a nice read, and probably even moreso for fans of the series. The second book is bound to be better. I feel it in the bones...


Friday, 15 February 2019

Novel: 'Ivanhoe' (1819) by Sir Walter Scott

What a long journey for this novel. I first borrowed it from the school library many eons ago, forget to return it, and then it ended up unread on a shelf somewhere. Then, a small number of years ago, the conscience was finally pricked, and I ordered another copy, and started to read it. 'Ivanhoe' was a bit of a revelation. For some reason, I had the idea that it was going to be a very dry classic, but it ended up being a classic adventure yarn, somewhere on the epic side of things, and thoroughly inoffensive to all. It's strange to read all the historical emnity towards the Jewish people at that time, but it's important to remind people how things were, and learn from it.

It's hard to believe that 'Ivanhoe' was written two hundred years ago. Two hundred years. Two centuries. The language is quite dense, but otherwise it is very readable. My putting it down for an extended period and then having to restart is not a criticism of the book, but an indication of unstable times in the past year or two. Also, the classical mistake of reading the introduction was made, and in this case compounded by mis-reading the introduction. I was sure I read that one of the main characters would die, and that proved a deterrent, but in actuality no-one died. Well, people died, but none of the people we were following. It's actually strange, in that sense, to have zero relevant fatalities.

The fascinating part of 'Ivanhoe', apart from it being a swashbuckler that I never read, is the neat concision with which it incorporates what we now think of as 'The Robin Hood Story'. The tournement is in there, as are all his notable Merry Men except Maid Marian, and his encounter with King Richard. Prince John is in there, fomenting rebellion and trying to usurp the throne, and Friar Tuck proves a wonderful side character. It's not really clear why Wilfred of Ivanhoe gets to be the titular character though, as he's injured or sidelined for the vast majority of the story, and a bit wet the rest of the time.

There's a risk associated with long classical novels, that they might not support their own length, and just meander around for a few hundred pages in the mid-section, but 'Ivanhoe' seemed to maintain momentum. It helps that one of the major setpieces occurred in the middle, the besieging of a castle and the capture and kidnapping of the real central character, Rebecca the Jewess, the object of desire for the main antagonist, the very unsettled Knight Templar Brian de Bois-Gilbert.

Yes, this one is solidly recommended, but you may need reading stamina to successfully take it on. It's not for the sprinter.


Monday, 21 January 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XIV

This set covers a long period of time, but it's time to get it out there. Once again, these are the books which either didn't go well, or aren't quite substantial enough to warrant a post of their own. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be in 'The Literary Reflection'!

'The Thin Man' (1934) by Dashiell Hammett
Oh, 'The Thin Man', a novel that is equal in stature to its film adaptation, but which has very little going on beyond the obviously brilliant prose. Therein lies the problem: It's wonderful but slight. Some people wouldn't even call that a problem, but for me it hinders re-readability, especially when the film also exists. The book is superior in structure, lacking the horrific preamble tacked on to its screen equivalent, but it doesn't have William Powell or the possibly diving Myrna Loy. They both have the great dialogue, though. Oh, Hammett, you were a wonder!

'Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan' (1982) by Vonda N McIntyre
Ah, more 'Star Trek' and more novelizations. I've always been a bit shy of this novelization for some reason, preferring those for the other original cast movies, but that long string of illness (still ongoing, lingeringly) allowed plenty of opportunities and so it came into the rotation. 'Wrath Of Khan' tries to tread a tricky path, following the plot of one of the best movies made, while adding things which were wholly absent in that screen version. We get added background stories for Saavik and Peter Preston, motivation and character for Khan's chief henchman Joaquim, character arcs for some of the other Genesis scientists, and some other details which change the tone of the story markedly. This is definitely one of those instances where a well-written adaptation still doesn't live up to the original, as some of the subtext becomes explicit text and loses potency. It's good, but definitely alternative instead of complementary. Watch the movie instead.

'The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd' (1926) by Agatha Christie
This is one of the most famous Agatha Christie mysteries, and one of her Poirot stories. You see, every so often, Christie went off and employed what was then called a 'gimmick', and this is one of the finest, creating a legacy in all following mystery stories. As a result, this is both famous, for the high quality of writing, and infamous for the central trick. It's so good that I have given it as a gift on several occasions, and often consider throwing it at students as a reading practice! Unusually for a Christie, it can be reread without becoming tedious. Well done.

'The Vatican Rip' (Lovejoy) (1981) by Jonathan Gash
This is where we part company with the 'Lovejoy' series of novels, as this more gloomy and sweary than usual example finally pushes me over the edge. I suppose it's okay as an entry into the series, and has unique features, but it's just too much. In combination with the ongoing inconsistencies, it's just a stinky mess to wade through. Oh, for a ray of sunlight in that dreary world. Knocking off the Vatican? Ha! Not likely at all.

'Captain Cut-Throat' (1955) by John Dickson Carr
There is more exposition than you might expect in this Napoleonic-era thriller, but there are some thrilling moments too. Your liking for this will will on what you expect from such a story, and whether you can accept a non-mystery from the king of the intricate mysteries. My own inclination is to like it quite a lot, but to be a little annoyed at the long spells of explanatory dialogue. On the other hand, it was read pretty speedily, which is a recommendation in itself. Non-military stories in this era are pretty rare, and espionage tales are almost unheard of. The closest other book in the collection is probably 'A Tale Of Two Cities', which is set in pre-Napoleonic France and Britain, but is close enough for jazz.

A brief synopsis? A top British agent is captured in France, and blackmailed by the French secret service into trying to identify and capture the invisible assassin who is killing French sentries and causing panic. Mixed into this are the agent's estranged wife, a beautiful enemy femme fatale, and two cavalry troopers with possible secrets of their own. Hanging over them all is the shadow of the Emperor, and the French spymaster Fouche, who may know more than all of them. Is Captain Cut-Throat a real person, or just a trap? Does our hero have more cards up his sleeve than we're aware of? You will have to read it to find out. Recommended.


Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Book: 'Moon Shot' (2009?) by Dan Parry

Fifty years ago, three men strapped themselves to the top of a rocket, and were launched on a week long journey, to land on the Moon and return. Yes, the Moon. It was and is amazing, and it was the culmination of a massive amount of work, including two previous Apollo missions around the Moon, without landings. 'Moon Shot' tells a dual narrative, swapping between the story of the space program in general, and the preparations and proceedings of the Apollo 11 crew specifically.

You can't help but be impressed by the courage and careful planning involved in this ridiculous undertaking, and the pressures being felt as the Soviets played their own part in this grand race into space. It's really very disturbing that no human has left Low Earth Orbit since the last moon landing in 1972. That's forty-seven years, for those counting. Apparently the race meant more than the project, for the people paying the bills.

This is a nice book, with some gorgeous photos and deep biographical information on Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin. The information on the preceding Mercury missions and the general development of space flight was probably the more interesting part for me, however. The grand sweep of that process is fascinating. Completely fascinating. Parry is definitely a gifted writer, and he uses first hand accounts and excellent research to make an already dynamic story resonate on the page.

It's still very hard to believe that anyone could really launch themselves into space on top of a giant firework rocket and then land on the moon in a tin foil capsule, before returning in one piece. Yes, they may have been test pilots and drenched in the spirit of maddening courage, but it has that bizarre smell of unreality to it. It's no wonder that people disbelieved the veracity of the Moon landings for so long.

The human costs of the Space Program become clear as you read, culminating in the final cost for the Apollo 11 crew, that of becoming icons and losing their anonymity and to some extent their connection to the world as conventional human beings. All of the glamour of the Space Program was attached to them, while the other astronauts live in the shadow.

Yes, it really has been more than fifty years since we first sent people around the Moon. What a grand project it was, and how well it has been documented. As I get to more books about the Space Program, this one will be put into more perspective, but it is for now my first and the best.


Monday, 7 January 2019

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The See-Paris-And-Die Affair' (1965) (Aired 1x22, Produced 1x24)

And we're back! There aren't that many episodes of UNCLE left, but we will continue to the end of the season as previously promised, having missed out 'The Bow-Wow Affair' and 'The Four-Steps Affair. This time, on 'The Man From UNCLE', Napoleon enlists/kidnaps a singer in order to convince her to use her old relationship with a rich bar owner who has stolen some diamonds (with his cousin) to their advantage. So, the innocent here is clear from the outset, and Napoleon is a bit of a creep throughout. He even drops Ilya into hot water at the end, presumably from some sense of glee and mild vengeance for a mistake earlier in the episode, and for having to spend a story in Paris.

Okay, so Napoleon is being a bit mean, and we have some of the guest stars of the time in the forms of Lloyd Bochner (universal deep-voiced sympathetic villain), Aldred Ryder (The Swiss army knife of antagonistic character actors) and Gerald Mohr ('Maverick'! 'Maverick'! And tonnes of radio!). We also have Kathryn Hays ('Star Trek: The Empath'), being abstractly beautiful and just about pulling off the singing, and having a lot of fun with some of the supporting characters later in the episode. This episode does have some fun with the supporting French characters in general, in a loving way. Oh, and there is also Kevin Hagen, who I always remember as a pink-clad invading alien in 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea'. Oh, and in another episode he died an Ahab inspired death. What a cast!

The story is quite slight, but they do a lot with it, and strongly invest in some helicopter action towards the end, where Ilya has to land the requisitioned chopper on top of the moving van that is carrying the valuable furniture, which really contains the jewels. They must have read 'The Twelve Chairs', the adaptation of which I watched for the first time yesterday. There is some nice, if rather ruthless, business where Ilya and Napoleon turn the criminal brothers who have taken the diamonds against each other, and a nice gag where THRUSH blow up Ilya's surveilance gear with a tuning fork. A definite streak of 'Mission Impossible' manipulation has made it into the show at this point, despite predating that other series.

All in all, a rather good episode of UNCLE, which doesn't quite break into the top echelons of the season. Still, Kevin Hagen does make a very good THRUSH agent. Very nice.


Tuesday, 1 January 2019

It's A Whole New Year

Well, we made it through. There were a lot more Quirky Muffins in 2017 than there were in 2018, and that is because 2018 was what we call a Bad Year. There were multiple health scares (the complications of which still continue), lots of fatigue and exhaustion, some problems with concentration, a falling off in the tutoring business and a great leaning towards reading nice things away from the computer. However, 2018 is done! Oh yes! And we're into the good quarter of a new year, where the days are lengthening and we are still on Real Time. As a result, there are plans to get this blog onto a more even footing. Nothing can be guaranteed, but the book reviews and potted insights will hopefully continue, and there might be an extra bonus from time to time.

The major problem, however, is going to be boosting the work side of life and reconnecting with the wider world in person instead of through the virtual interface that is the Internet. Having to rest and convalesce is tiring in itself, and limits the extent to which you can interact with the outside world. That's the lighter side of being sick, and it's still no holiday. However, things can only get better!

The Quirky Muffin will return, presumably with book-related content, some chatter on bits of television and film, miscellaneous rambling, and whatever else comes to mind. The stories have probably halted, though. That mindset has been shocked into insensibility, and we will have to wait and see if it can be reclaimed. It might be better diverted into writing stories for planned publication instead, if that is even possible. What am I talking about? Everything is possible. Behold, for it is 2019, the new Time Of Opportunity, and the year that sees my fortieth birthday. Anything could happen!


PS Happy New Year!