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Showing posts from April, 2008

106 books

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Why 106? Why not 100, or 99? Anyway, some American chappie has produced a list of books most often marked 'unread' by LibraryThing's users. No, I don't know what LibraryThing is, but it sounds a bit like a monster, possibly the more erudite cousin of Swamp Thing. Anyway, here's the list and my 'score'. One I've read are marked *. N = Never heard of this book. C = Couldn't finish it. My tastes seem rather parochial. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Anna Karenina* Crime and Punishment* Catch-22* One hundred years of solitude Wuthering Heights* The Silmarillion Life of Pi : a novel The Name of the Rose* Don Quixote Moby Dick* Ulysses* Madame Bovary* The Odyssey Pride and Prejudice* Jane Eyre A Tale of Two Cities* The Brothers Karamazov Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies War and peace Vanity fair The time traveler’s wife The Iliad Emma* The Blind Assassin The kite runner Mrs. Dalloway Great expectations* American gods A heartbreak

The Day of the Chaffinch

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Pure, unalloyed evil, that's your basic chaffinch. Well, no, it isn't. Which is why Daphne du Maurier called her famous story 'The Birds', rather than 'Attack of the Chaffinches, Starlings, Redshanks , Black-Headed Gulls and Other Assorted Avians'. Listening to a reading of the story on BBC7 this evening made me realise for the first time how very odd the whole idea is. For a start, the first attack is by small birds of the chaffinchy sort. The point here is that, even if the birds are driven mad with hunger due to a hard winter (the official explanation), these small tweety jobs are not meat eaters. A bit of bacon rind, yes, but not meat. So the only explanation for the birds' behaviour is some weird, collective urge to attack humanity. This puts 'The Birds' firmly at the horror end of the sci- fi spectrum, with rational explanation sacrificed for effect. Still a good story, though. Anyway, here's some more info on our feathered 'frien

"He do the police in different voices"

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Extra points if you got the T.S. Eliot reference in the title. Having moderate amounts of fun at the moment, neglecting housework, recovering from Stupid Virus, and watching Our Mutual Friend . This is a 1976 BBC adaptation - far superior to the more recent one. It's one of the most Gothically dark versions of any Dickens tale, but then the story is rather grim. It's about money, love, money, snobbery, money, education, money, violence, money, death... you get the picture. This serial, in seven 50 minute episodes (!) has a wonderful starry cast. Jane Seymour as Bella Wilfer (wilful beauty, geddit?), Leo McKern as genial but wily Mr Boffin, Alfie Bass as leg-deficient Silas Wegg (who declines and falls off the Rooshian Empire), young Warren Clarke as Bradley Headstone, arguably the first stalker in English literature, and the superb David Troughton as Mr Sloppy, the mangling gangling orphan. Some unusual casting, too. Polly 'Liver Bird' James as Jenny Wren the crippled d

The One True God

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Yes, I have cast off the shackles of mere materialism and seen the light. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the answer. He touched me with his noodly appendage, but it's all right, I'm over 18. Of course,I could never be so crass as to be a fundamentalist Pastafarian. Not for me the persecution of non-believers. No air of smug, undeserved superiority will cross my homely features. Indeed, in many respects I might almost be deemed Spagnostic. But, when the chips are down, I will stand up for the FSM and be counted, for several minutes. If I'm not doing anything else, obviously. Mostly it's because I like pirates.

Noo magazine

Yes, with luck ST13 will be along soon, just like a British train - weeks late and with a slightly sticky, unpleasant feel to the upholstery. But I have managed to cut a deal with a much cheaper printer, and that's good. So good, in fact, that I think I might at least plan out a few more 'extra' volumes. One obvious title would be The Best of Supernatural Tales, or something to that effect. There are enough excellent stories in the first, say, nine volumes to put together a new limited edition job. It would be a shame to let such good writing disappear without trace. Well, we'll see. Perhaps I could also do an extra issue dedicated to unusually long stories i.e. up to novella size. Anything's possible - if the new printer does a good job. I am still awaiting the result. Trouble with printers is they each is a law unto him/herself and sometimes they are staggeringly unreasonable. My last firm decided to print an extra fifty copies of ST12 i.e. far more than I could

Why I am a failure

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For reasons I can't quite fathom, a colleague of mine was rather nasty to me. What she said amounted to a point-by-point condemnation of my character, concentrating on my lack of wealth. I was rather hurt at the time, but in retrospect I feel I got off rather lightly. She could have pointed out that I am deeply unattractive, about which I could not quibble. She might also have observed that I am at times pretentious and a bit boring. But no - my lack of money was the target to be carpet-bombed. (That's Axminster carpet-bombing, obviously.) Why don't I care about money? Why don't I have 'aspirations', as the wankers of Noo Labour call being greedy, wanting a big house etc? Well, firstly because the most contemptible people in our society are rich and famous. Secondly, we are all just one of two accidents away from penury, regardless of how clever we think we are. Thirdly, I honestly don't give a toss about money per se. I don't have a mortgage, or a car

Speaking as a feminist...

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No, really, I do have female heroes too. Honest. Here are a few. Joan Armatrading b.1950 Aha, that one surprised you! Yes, the soulful, melodic sounds of Ms A were very much a part of my musical youth. (As opposed to Musical Youth, who weren't.) Not sure why I became interested in Joan Armatrading. Her voice is fascinating and at times disconcerting. The fact that she genuinely loves her privacy makes her admirable - no 'My Booze Hell' nonsense from her. I can imagine some people being irritated by her vocal mannerisms. But compare a genuine singer-songwriter-musician to some of the 'stars' of today. Also, ten points for being the only person outside the Indian sub-continent ever to have a hit record containing the word 'mahout'. She is indeed the one I need, in a Platonic way. "> Alice Sheldon (1915-1987) Writing under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr, Alice Sheldon produced some of the most inspiring and moving science fiction of the Seventies.

Imaginary Heroes

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It occurs to me that all of my heroes, so far, have been dead people. Actually, Dead White European Males - spiffing! But what about those fictional characters who lightened my darkness, raised my spirits, and brought some useful bits of homespun philosophy into my plebby existence? Here goes... Major James Bigglesworth (1901-?) Yes, Biggles. He flew North, South, East and West. He also hit the trail, held his own, and defied the swastika. The latter story was a tad disappointing, consisting as it did of a middle-aged drunk brandishing his fist at an ancient solar good luck symbol drawn on a piece of cardboard. I also found Biggles' habit of 'ejaculating' his comments somewhat confusing as a lad. But, at his best, Biggles was rather brilliant. If you think Captain WE Johns was a mere chronicler of jingoistic twaddle, read Rescue Flight. This novel of WW1 aviation is superb in its depiction of air combat. And, yes, the Python parody of Biggles was deeply traumatic, but I

More Heroes

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Peter Edward Cook (1937-1995) From Beyond the Fringe through the Pete 'n' Dud years via E.L. Wisty, skewering the establishment in the Secret Policeman's Ball, and ending up with Chris Morris. He made some rubbish films because he wasn't an actor (Supergirl, anyone?), but he was a comic genius of the sketch and monologue. I'd rather be a judge than a miner, but I'm glad that I lived on the same planet as Peter Cook, comedy hero. One day, someone will invent the plib. Mervyn Laurence Peake (1911-1968) The exile from Gormenghast. Poet, artist, illustrator and novelist, he was never popular enough to get rich and his later life was blighted by illness. But his legacy will, I think, survive the current outpourings of sub-Tolkien fantasy, with its dog-eared spell books and rusty swords. True fantasy is a work of individual imagination, not formula, and Peake's work represents English fantasy at its best. Again, a writer I encountered during that 'difficult

My Heroes

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The recent death of Arthur C. Clarke led me to have a bit of a ponder. Many people have cited Clarke as a great influence, Space Age prophet and all that. He was/is a hero to millions. So, I thought I'd try to list my heroes, and try not to be a pompous self-indulgent arse. Sir Arthur Charles Clarke (1917-2008) The man who invented Sky telly, but not deliberately. Also weather satellites. HAL has finally opened the pod bay doors for this undeniable hero. I can still recall the cover of a paperback of Clarke's children's book Islands in the Sky. I read it in hospital. (I was a sick kid, always in and out of various specialist wards.) The book, if you don't know it, predates spaceflight but is still a very good account of a group of fairly likeable youngsters on a space station. After Islands I went on to read many of ACC's works. I think he excelled at the fairly light short story ('Trouble With the Natives' and all that), but some of his tales are rather d

Evil Test

Are you evil? The only cost-effective way to find out is to take Uncle Valdemar's simple test. 1. You are a brilliant science student. Your dissertation topic is: a. Preventing the spread of malaria in the developing world. b. Cobbling together a homicidal monster from bits of corpses stolen from a graveyard by your deformed assistant. c. Perfecting the ultimate cup of tea. 2. You are on holiday in Egypt. You spend your time: a. Riding on camels and being photographed in front of ancient monuments. And throwing up. b. Searching for ancient manuscripts that will grant you unimaginable power, and killing people in museums with various curved daggers if they get in your way. And throwing up, obviously. c. Ooh, I wouldn't go abroad for my holidays, we've always stayed at this little B&B in Frinton. Mind you, we do spend a lot of time throwing up. 3. You fall in love with someone but they cruelly spurn you. Your response is: a. A rueful smile, a resigned shrug, and a

Founder of the convent pontoon team

Wow, caught in a blizzard - twice. Cheered myself up on the Metro to Sunderland (don't ever go there if you don't really have to) by listening to Jake Thackray. I can just remember his appearances on Braden's Week and then (spits to one side) the early That's Life. He did, of course, do a one or two songs that fall into the category of spooky, notably the Castleford Ladies Magic Circle. And here's the man himself:

The Haunted Palace

Now here's a funny thing. Roger Corman made a series of low-budget but nonetheless spiffing movies based on stories by Poe. Then he suggested doing a Lovecraft-based story, and the studio gave the go-ahead. So Corman filmed Charles Beaumont's treatment of 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward', and cracking stuff it is. Not only Vincent Price, but Lon Chaney and the lovely Debra Paget (as lusted after by Pete 'n' Dud, I recall). So why did the studio decide to basically lie to the public and claim it was a Poe story? Doesn't really matter, it's great fun. Catch it if you can - it's only available as a Region 1 DVD, but you could just 'hack' your existing Region 2 to make it a multi-region player. I did it, so it can't be too taxing.