Saturday, 25 January 2020

Book: 'King Solomon's Mines' (1885) by H Rider Haggard

'King Solomon's Mines' represents one of the biggest flip-flops I've had from being disinterested or even a little put off to enjoying a story that I've experienced in a long time. In the beginning it's a sometimes unpleasant hunting tale (oh, those poor elephants!), which then transitions into a desert survival story, which then moves into a lost people adventure, and then a historical war tale, before we finally reach the cursed treasure chamber that motivated the whole thing.

The story is told from the point of view of the veteran hunter Allan Quartermaine, well versed in the lore and landscape of southern Africa, and reluctant to chance his fate without good reason. Quartermain didn't live to become a veteran without knowing when not to reach for the golden ring. In this case, in his most famous adventure, he is hired by a couple of English explorers who are setting out to find a long-lost relative, who disappeared after going on a quest to find the legendary King Solomon's diamond mine and treasure vault.

You almost have to rate each episode in the adventure separately, and park modern sensibilities selectively at the door. The trophy hunting near the beginning does leave a sour taste, as it should in 2020, but it's a very small part of the story in terms of the pages and if it has to serve a function then let's call that function 'seeing the past for what it actually was'. Quartermaine is a very interesting character and narrator. He's a blend of impulsive idiot and wisely balanced old head, being carried away by events, and stepping away from danger as the circumstance permits. Older protagonists are somewhat rare, aren't they? In this case, his two clients are more cliched British silly people, one of whom is reduced to trouserlessness as it impresses the natives of the lost tribe. This can't be the first instance of the European impressing the lost native with his paleness (and half a moustache and monocle), can it?

Overall, a solid and sometimes very well written adventure story indeed. Good to very good, depending on the part. The end sequence in the vault is still eerie, even after all this time.


Friday, 24 January 2020

Recovering: A Few More Memory Aids

1. D.I.F.N.O.L.: Decimals Into Fractions Needs Old Labels.

2. A poem.
A decimal into a fraction,
Is a most daunting proposition,
Consider the label notation,
Put the digits into position.

3. A poem.
A half, two quarters, three sixths, and so on,
Some of the masks of a number anon,
Each means the same but is used differently,
When adding, or taking, equivalently.

4. J.U.T.J.U.B.: Joining Up Tops, Joining Up Bottoms.

5. B.B.B.: Beware Bizarro-land Below.
(Sizes have opposite effects in the denominator on the answer)


Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Down Sick: Making Memory Aids

1. W.A.F.F.L.E. – When adding fractions make lowers equal.

2. A poem.
To divide fractions we do something silly
And flip the bottom to make it less frilly.
Then it becomes a very simple affair
To instead multiply the fractional pair.

3. A poem.
To multiply the decimal
We first forget the rigmarole,
Instead we do the number part
And then upon the tens we start.

4. A limerick.
There was an odd fraction called Clyde,
Who knew not that he had to divide,
The line that went right through his middle,
Sent his mind to a merry fiddle,
But now that old line is his guide.

5. A limerick.
Horatio the ratio was a fanciful beast,
Who was used to create the most unusual feast,
For on each of his parts a whole number was seen,
Which decided the shares of meat, veg and bean,
After those whole numbers had all together been pieced.

6. A couplet.
Percentage, percentage, why do you vex me so?
You’re only a fraction with a hundred below!

Saturday, 11 January 2020

The Electoral Dice, They Rolled And Boomed

A month has passed since that accursed general election, and a few weeks of time's balm have at least made it possible to not scream (or cry, as some people have) at what occurred.

It was a shameless travesty, the crooked media manipulated and perverted to their heart's content, and the country elected a government so cynical and vapid that they barely register on any scale. We can only hope they'll do something good accidentally, while selling something off to a low bidder in absolute stupidity. Here endeth the rant.

I think we need some kind of tool, so that we can get source documents and texts directly to the people. It would have to be some kind of master network, connecting as many computers as people want to plug into it. I also think we need to educate people to read for themselves and think about things. What a world it would be. The primary aim of education should be to educate people to the point where they can educate themselves, shouldn't it?

Education, the silver bullet for most social problems, how can we save you from chicanery and manipulation. Let's all think about it for a while. How to get around the people who definitely don't want a self-learning and aware population? Let's think.


Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Book: 'South Sea Adventure' (Adventure) (1952) by Willard Price

Now this is adventure for younger readers. 'South Sea Adventure' begins where 'Amazon Adventure' signs off, and improves in practically every way. Where 'Amazon' was a bit overstuffed with events, 'South Sea' is well balanced. 'South Sea' is also well rooted in its own present, with lots of evidence of the post-war situation in the South Pacific, which is nice and adds a lot of context.

In this entry in the 'Adventure' series, Hal and Roger Hunt are sent by their father to the South Seas to find some aquatic specimens and experience being at sea. They also agree to visit a secret and experimental pearl bed for a family friend, who is very worried about hostile intervention from some less than honest pearl buyers. We therefore get the introduction of the only recurring bad guy the series, good old loopy Kaggs. Kaggs, posing as a missionary reverend, hitches a ride with the Hunts on a small expedition to the pearl island, and maroons the brothers and their friend Omo, which instigates the major portion of the story.

The trio are marooned on a true desert island, with no obvious resources, food or water. It's only by freak occurrences that they manage to make a shelter, and there's only a temporary water supply thanks to a preceding typhoon's water draining through the rocks into an underwater current. It's all empty and ruined coconut shells and bamboo, and it's excellent. By focusing on this episode for half the book, it becomes a lot more thrilling.

Kaggs is a real creep of a villain, and sea journeys are always interesting. Once again, we get a cruel fate for the bad guy, and a good lead-in to the next episode. Oh, and there are also manta rays, octopi, squids, a sunfish, and more. What's next?


Sunday, 5 January 2020

Books: The Literary Reflection, XX

It has been a long hiatus here at the Quirky Muffin. There was a chest infection, and a state of deep shock and disappointment at the general election result in December, as well as deep exhaustion for reasons unknown (possibly a virus coincident with the infection). However, a massive pile of novels was read, and there's a decent amount of writing up to do. The rusty ramblings about 'Amazon Adventure' have just gone up, and now it's time for the latest 'Literary Reflection'. Enjoy! Watch out for polar bears...

'Rumpole For The Defence' (Rumpole) (1982) by John Mortimer

This fourth entry in the Rumpole series is the least memorable so far. I don't know if it was me, general fatigue, or that Mortimer had already told the stories he wanted to earlier in the run. This is the only set of stories that was based on a season of radio plays instead of television episodes, so perhaps that played a part. If I look at the list of stories, nothing springs out, so perhaps it is just forgettable. Let's hope the next volume strikes a more interesting chord.

'Look To The Lady' (Campion) (1931) by Margery Allingham

'Look To The Lady', as with the other early 'Campion' stories, is extremely close to the television adaptation, and so it's difficult to assess it individually. It does seem very well written, and works fantastically, but would it be as good without having seen the television version first? There's nothing additional in this original book version, but the characterisation is nice, and the theme or maguffin of the story is utterly unique. The story is roughly this: Albert Campion rescues an indigent young heir, reconciles him with his family, and helps them preserve the family heirloom from an organised and elite artefact thieving ring. The only things are that the heirloom is effectively a national treasure, which has a possibly paranormal protector, and that there are definite questions to answer on just who is employing Campion to help out in the affair...

'Death Knocks Twice' (Death In Paradise) (2017) by Robert Thorogood

We're back in the Caribbean, where DI Richard Poole is faced with another murder mystery, while being really, very, extremely annoyed with life in the tropics. Will he be tempted into loosening up and changing his style, or will the woolen suits persist beyond this installment? We will have to wait and see, while Poole, Camille, Fidel and Dwayne do their best to unravel the true story behind the death of an anonymous vagrant at the historic Beaumont coffee plantation. However, the Beaumont family are not revealing anything, and may be collectively and individually incapable of telling the truth about anything... This third entry in the literary version of 'Death In Paradise' is really rather good, with enough dragged out revelations and red herrings to drive less of a mystery reader go a little mad. I still prefer the first installment, 'A Meditation On Murder', but this is probably in second place, since the final revelation is slightly more palatable to this wonky brain.

'Crisis On Centaurus' (Star Trek) (1986) by Brad Ferguson

This is a fairly simple dramatic story for the Enterprise crew, but benefits from the streamlining. Fresh from an inexplicable and crippling event, the ship is dispatched on a critical super emergency mission to the planet Centaurus (the principal colony of Alpha Centauri), where Joanna McCoy lives, and where it seems an anti-matter annihilation device has been detonated at the capital city, causing mass destruction. The starship, despite being in a hideous mess, responds and investigates, leading to a planet-bound investigation, some character development for Chekov, and the return of an old friend. It's nice to get some small backstory on Kirk, who has land on Centaurus, and on McCoy's daughter, but it's the really the bookend story about the crippling of the Enterprise that is most curious, as well as the information about the structure of the Enterprise. A very solid 'Star Trek' novel.

Oh! Oh! I almost forgot! Uhura gets to be in command for the first time! What a nice thing to write in! She does very well, too. Thank you, Mr Ferguson.


Book: 'Amazon Adventure' (Adventure) (1949) by Willard Price

Conservation: Yes! Trapping: I think yes. Some killing: An unpalatable necessity? Adventure: Awesome! Snakes: Yikes! Putting the bad guy in with a sleeping anaconda: Harshness!
A long time ago, or not so long if we measure on the geological scale, I was an early reader. 'The Three Musketeers' was a ludicrously early read, as were 'The Magician's Nephew', 'The Speckled Band', and the 'Adventure' stories of Willard Price. At the time, Llanelli Library had a good set of Willard Price in hardback in the juvenile section, and they were awesome novels. There was exploration, peril, a laundry lists of animals to encounter in each book, and there all kinds of exotic exotic locales to encounter.

'Amazon Adventure' is a bit of a low key start to the series, where Price was clearly learning the ropes of his new construction, and the pacing is bit off what you would expect from reading the second entry, 'South Sea Adventure'. However, there is still a lot to enjoy. We get the first conservation trip, where series heroes Hal and Roger Hunt, a noted naturalist's sons, take a long boat ride down the Amazon with their dad, looking for animals to catch to supply to zoos and collections. Now, in 2019, this is not quite as accepted as it would have been back then, but it is a vital function to fulfil. We will need animals to help repopulate the natural world of some improved future, when the wild ones have long been extinct, in the most idealised version of this activity. Really, it's just a grand excuse to find out about boa constrictors, anacondas, tapirs, vampire bats, marmosets and more. There's also a head called Charlie, donated by a headhunter tribe. How cute! It does feel very upsetting when some animals die, though, and some of the trapping seems cruel despite it probably being necessary on our notional larger scale.

On this occasion, the villain is a stooge, a man called 'Croc', who is workin on behalf of the competing and less ethical animal collector 'Shark' Sands, who steals their boat and cargo at one point in the story, leaving Hal and Roger stranded on a small floating island, which is where we get the first part of the survival strand of the 'Adventure' books. This is a prelude to the main event of the next entry in the series, but his punishment is really harsh indeed. Croc is locked up with a sleeping anaconda, and probably goes completely crazy, not knowing that the vicious serpent wouldn't touch him for weeks, being full and digesting something else. Bad people can die in this series, they can go crazy, and endings can't be relied upon to compromise for the sake of being 'nice' to the antagonists.

Not the best of the run, but still very good. Great stuff.