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.