Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Just A Brief Interlude On Art, Promotion and Me Being Bad At Things

Welcome to Night of the Hats and also to Late Capitalism*.

There are so many things available out there that if I have something to sell, I have to give things away, or pay people to promote it, or engage in various other dark arts of PR that I am bad at, and, to a close approximation, so is everyone else. Meanwhile if someone gives something away there are people who will monetise it, so we occasionally find ourselves in the situation of giving things away to sell things and selling them to give things away.

This is on my mind because I have a book to sell, currently exclusively as an e-book at the Amazon Kindle Store, soon (hopefully), to be in other places and also in paperback. As might be expected statistically my PR is bad. I need to improve, probably by giving several something away.

I'm bringing this up as this morning I received an email from Artsy.net, a website funded by tech-tycoons and dedicated to putting images of artwork on line. Their unsolicited request was in response to my rather stupid joke about Jackson Pollock.

If I'm going to attempt to convince people to promote my book, I suppose I shall have to quid pro quo, and to indicate my openness to this here's some quo (or quid maybe, which way round is this?):

IF you want a fun crime novel about heists and plots set in the Edwardian period, buy my book The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman.

IF you feel like some abstract impressionism, powerful images that exist without telling you what they mean, then Artsy.net can assist. Knock yourself out.

I now return you to your regular programming.

* This may not be Late Capitalism, it might be High Capitalism, or Mid Capitalism, or everything between merchant guilds and satellite tax-haven trade-wars might later be bundled together into Early Capitalism. Come back in a thousand years and check it out.

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Four

(I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and this is Chapter Twenty Four.)

Petrie: "I have been asked many times since the days with which these records deal: Who WAS Dr. Fu-Manchu? Let me confess here that my final answer must be postponed." Foreshadowing!

He considers a few things including the overthrow of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty by 'Young China', who Fu-Manchu had disparaged to his face and 'assuming that the name were not an assumed one, he clearly can have been no anti-Manchu, no Republican.' Well maybe, but just because you're called Scott doesn't make you pro-Scottish Independence. After a brief discussion of Young China* he suggests that in times of turmoil there will often by a third party, and that Fu-Manchu is a leader of such a group**.

He goes on to discuss Fu-Manchu's bases of operations and eventually stops expositing and tells us about their raid on the East End riverside building. Karamaneh insists that Petrie and Smith enter first and get her brother Aziz to safety. They enter, along with Inspector Weymouth of Scotland Yard.

"From the time when Nayland Smith had come from Burma in pursuit of this advance-guard of a cogent Yellow Peril, the face of Dr. Fu-Manchu rarely had been absent from my dreams day or night. The millions might sleep in peace—the millions in whose cause we labored!—but we who knew the reality of the danger knew that a veritable octopus had fastened upon England—a yellow octopus whose head was that of Dr. Fu-Manchu, whose tentacles were dacoity, thuggee, modes of death, secret and swift, which in the darkness plucked men from life and left no clew behind." Petrie really building up the atmosphere there.

They revive Aziz, but Fu-Manchu's laboratory has been stripped of it's contents. Next door they discover him, yet  "the cunning mind was torpid—lost in a brutish world of dreams." He's been smoking opium. Karamaneh begs them not to enter. Weymouth pulls out his handcuffs and goes in.

"As though cast up by a volcano, the silken cushions, the inlaid table with its blue-shaded lamp, the garish walls, the sprawling figure with the ghastly light playing upon its features—quivered, and shot upward!" It's actually a trapdoor and Petrie passes out leaving us with a cliffhanger.

* "The Chinese Republican is of the mandarin class, but of a new generation which veneers its Confucianism with Western polish."

** Petrie enormously under-describes the complexity of the Xinhai Revolution.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Three

 (I'm reading The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu also known as The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Twenty Three. Three days after Henry Stradwick, Lord Southrey died very unsuspiciously Petrie and Smith are going to save him)

"YOUR extraordinary proposal fills me with horror, Mr. Smith!"

"The sleek little man in the dress suit, who looked like a head waiter (but was the trusted legal adviser of the house of Southery) puffed at his cigar indignantly. Nayland Smith, whose restless pacing had led him to the far end of the library, turned, a remote but virile figure, and looked back to where I stood by the open hearth with the solicitor."

Oo-er. So opens this chapter. Eventually Smith convinces Mr Henderson and they go to the tombs of the Stradwicks. Petrie explains: "For, under conditions which, in the event of failure and exposure, must have led to an unpleasant inquiry by the British Medical Association, I was about to attempt an experiment never before essayed by a physician of the white races." So, something medically unethical and only done by non-whites. Sounds a bit dodgy. He injects Lord Southery with the amber fluid that Fu-Manchu used to resurrect Aziz and he comes back to life. Mr Henderson faints.

Then Smith warns them all to be quiet. "HE is here." The HE in capital letters can only refer to Dr Fu-Manchu, obviously. "At last the cunning Chinaman was about to fall into a trap. It would require all his genius, I thought, to save him to-night. Unless his suspicions were aroused by the unlocked door, his capture was imminent."

There's a fight; Fu-Manchu brought a dacoit who stabs Smith and is shot in return. They escape in a car. Trying to chase them would be futile, but Smith thinks he knows where they are going. "Stradwick Hall is less than ten miles from the coast."* He points out the easiest way to get an unconscious man to either his base on the Thames or indeed to China would be in a boat, probably a yacht.

Lord Southery interrupts. "Gentlemen," he said, "it seems I am raised from the dead." Classy!

Smith acknowledges this and then says that, as he knows Fu-Manchu was in Germany three years ago when the great engineer Von Homber died or "died", he predicts that his group has him. "And the futurist group in China knows how to MAKE men work!" Ouch.

* Okay then, so L- is NOT Leicester. Could still be Lancaster or Liverpool. Still very puzzled as to why it's not a named place. Is THIS why the book is called The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu in the UK?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Two

(The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu/Chapter Twenty Two/Watcha gonna do/Rhymes coming out like woo)

Smith and Petrie are at an impasse. Petrie must keep his promise to Karamaneh to save her brother, but doesn't know what the drug that makes him appear dead is, nor the amber fluid that revives him. Smith, of course, wants to raid Fu-Manchu's house now they know where it is.

Petrie ponders on Fu-Manchu's abilities. "What perverted genius was his! If that treasury of obscure wisdom which he, perhaps alone of living men, had rifled, could but be thrown open to the sick and suffering, the name of Dr. Fu-Manchu would rank with the golden ones in the history of healing."

Smith comes to a decision; to catch the next train to L-.* They race off, comparing great engineers; Petrie admits that the recently deceased Lord Southery might not have been as good as Von Homber of Berlin, but he's been dead for three years. And was German.

Smith muffles himself "up to his eyes" to try and inspect the others on the train without being identified and has Petrie hide in a compartment. "At present I am hopelessly mystified," he says.

At Rugby Smith talks to the stationmaster and when they arrive at L-** a "high-power"*** car is waiting. It takes 20 minutes (so a few miles out of town) to arrive. "Stradwick Hall," said Smith. "The home of Lord Southery. We are first—but Dr. Fu-Manchu was on the train."

Maybe you should have arrested him Smith. Just saying.

*  "Look up the next train to L—!" he rapped.
"To L—? What—?"
What indeed! Is it obscene? Fictional? Is he going to libel, I don't know Liverpool or Leicester or Lee-on-sea?

** So, is L- Leicester, or did they go on to Leeds or Lancaster? Or Liverpool, although I'd have thought they'd need to change at Crewe on that line maybe? Why leave it ambiguous? Is Lord Southery based on someone? This is the greatest mystery of the book so far.

*** 1912 everyone. How high-powered was it? Maybe something like this:
a Vauxhall Prince Henry, state-of-the-art in 1911, sometimes considered the first sports car as it got it's speed from design and construction rather than jamming in the biggest engine possible. Or more likely as it's provincial England, it'll be one of those ones that gets speed from a big engine in a heavy chassis.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty One

(I'm reading  The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Twenty One; our heroes suspect an agent of the doctor has escaped on a liner with some secret plans and have alerted the authorities, but they themselves have stayed at home in London where it's nice and safe other than Fu-Manchu being there, obviously.)

The chapter opens like this "TIME wore on and seemingly brought us no nearer, or very little nearer, to our goal." I hear you Petrie. We're two thirds through and it's unconnected (if interesting) incident following unconnected incident. Episodic in fact; Petrie, Smith and Fu-Manchu unchanging, return to the status quo at the end of each section.

A pity it was written before television as it would make a cracking series.

Anyway, they receive a report from China that a curious event occurred off Shanghai on board the liner the Andaman, which probably had the plans for the West aero-torpedo and an agent of Fu-Manchu aboard. After a blue flare from a junk, someone jumped overboard. When the police checked James Edwards* was discovered to be missing.

Smith then asks Petrie who stands at the head of their list of people Fu-Manchu might consider a threat. It's Lord Southery, who the paper has just reported dead. Sir Frank Narcombe has pronounced the death to be unsuspicious**. Smith can't be bothered to investigate.  "Either a greater One than Fu-Manchu has taken Lord Southery, or the yellow doctor has done his work so well that no trace remains of his presence in the matter."

Then he changes his mind and they go round to look upon Henry Stradwick, Lord Southery, the greatest engineer of his day. "The mind that lay behind that splendid brow had planned the construction of the railway for which Russia had paid so great a price, had conceived the scheme for the canal which, in the near future, was to bring two great continents, a full week's journey nearer one to the other.***"

They question the doctor who explains his lordship's heart condition and during the discussion Smith declares "Neither Dr. Petrie nor myself are in any way connected with the police," which is something of a fib for a man who can send two detectives to China at an hours notice. They also question the valet who observed nothing out of the ordinary. My natural causes theory is looking good.

An evening a few days later Petrie has just discovered a book on Oriental Secret Societies**** in a second-hand book shop on New Oxford Street when he is accosted by a woman, and it's Karamaneh, because of course it is, "dressed in a perfectly fitting walking habit, and had much of her wonderful hair concealed beneath a fashionable hat."

She asks Petrie to come and see her brother. They go to the lower end of Commercial Road; Limehouse again. "Aliens of every shade of color were about us now, emerging from burrow-like alleys into the glare of the lamps upon the main road. In the short space of the drive we had passed from the bright world of the West into the dubious underworld of the East."

They head into the maze of back streets, and into a dilapidated building. Inside is a richly furnished rom with Fu-Manchu's marmoset. Beyond is the doctor's laboratory, and a boy who looks very like Karamaneh "save that the girl's coloring was more delicate." His name is Aziz and Petrie examines him, but finds he's dead.

Someone comes and they hide on the balcony. "Yellow-robed, immobile, the inhuman green eyes glittering catlike even, it seemed, before the light struck them, he threaded his way through the archipelago of cushions and bent over the couch of Aziz." He injects him with a mysterious amber liquid. Aziz comes back to life and a hideously scarred servant brings him some food.

They escape and Karamaneh hands over a sample of the liquid.

* "I think the name was assumed. The man was some sort of Oriental."

** Eventually they are bound to come across someone who wasn't killed by Fu-Manchu, I'm sure.

*** Rohmer gives credit for both the Trans-Siberian railway and the Panama canal to his fictional creation. In fact British involvement was minimal in Panama and although some equipment in Siberia was British most of it was to Russian design and specification.

**** He doesn't buy it which is a pity as undoubtedly it would have given us some entertainingly lurid details.

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Watch Films: The Final Programme

18th February 3102 BC. In the afternoon.

Imagine a trippy British drama, sci-fi/spy-fi, from the late 60s-early 70s, a bit of The Prisoner, a little of The Avengers. Now imagine the feature film version; bigger budget (helicopters!) although clearly still restricted, a longer but not actually more coherent story, some extremely groovy costumes. Then make it more adult in the drugs-sex-violence-nudity sense (it's still childish in many ways, and frighteningly adult in it's demands that you keep up with the tone and story shifts). Finally make it about 70-80% more bonkers than you thought it was.

We're now somewhere in the filmic region where The Final Programme sits.

The Third World War has been going on for years, but no one noticed because they're watching the bloody commercials.

The film opens at the funeral of Alexander Cornelius in Lapland. A scientist who worked for him asks his son Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch), dressed in full new romantic style, about a microfilm, probably in the family home back in England. Jerry intends to destroy the house and his brother Frank after rescuing his sister Catherine. He travels through a groovy-apocalyptic London (with the iconic view of piles of cars in Trafalgar Square) buying an F4 Phantom Jet and napalm (neither appear on screen).

He meets up with a trio of scientists, the mysterious Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre in a variety of unlikely outfits), and the equally mysterious Dimitri, who is left behind on their expedition to the house. The house is, obviously, a maze full of weird traps and defences. Jerry gets into a needle-gun fight with Frank (leather jacket, T-shirt, early beatles hair), is drugged by him and accidently kills Catherine. Frank then tricks the others and escapes with the microfilm.

After a brief interlude involving Jerry drinking industrial waste from a French wine district and Miss Brunner firstly introducing and secondly absorbing into herself an assistant, they fly to Turkey to track down Frank. He tries to sell the microfilm to Dr Baxter, but Jerry chases and finally kills him while Miss Brunner absorbs Baxter.

They return to Lapland where the nature of the final programme is explained in it's full grotesque technobabble glory; it involves brains in tanks, a computer with the entire knowledge of mankind, a room that has been absorbing uninterrupted sunlight for six weeks, and combining Miss Brunner with another person; it was going to be Dimitri but the microfilm reveals that it's Jerry. Miss Brunner tries and fails to kill Dimitri so he and Jerry fight; injured Jerry goes into the sun chamber with Miss Brunner and there is a crazy sequence that ends with them becoming the ultimate human.

I have it on very good authority the world is coming to an end so I thought I'd go home and watch it on television.

This is based on the novel The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock, in fact the only film made of  of his fiction. I haven't actually read it, although I've read some other Jerry Cornelius stories and I'm not going to make a comparison (which is probably a good thing). The film is not a satire, although it does satirise certain elements of the time, and some are still relevant. It comes out and says that the apocalypse is going on, and most of the time things are genuinely weird, strange and/or horrific yet there's a banal edge to it. People still go out to crazy-future pinball arenas or restaurants; Jerry's flat is full of empty bottles and his fridge is full of biscuits. It's this that grounds the film, while highlighting the more incongruous elements. Jerry lives partly in our world turned up to eleven and only partly in a freaky sci-fi universe.

People have drawn parallels between the story in The Final Programme and the Elric stories (which I am familiar with). This may have been diluted in the film; there's a hint of it with a violent incestuous love-triangle, and with Miss Brunner taking the role of the vampire sword Stormbringer, absorbing people's souls. On the other hand Moorcock has returned to these ideas several times in his enormous output so shoving them into his groovy-apocalypse is hardly surprising.

Now I hate long goodbyes, so piss off!

Watch This: For a slice of stylised slightly-crazy 70s British sci-fi that challenges you to keep up as it skips lightly over a set of silly, thoughtful and/or just flat out bizarre ideas
Don't Watch This: If you want a film that makes sense, or doesn't show it's age and a restricted budget.
Final Thought: It's a tasty world.

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty

 (Still reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu aka The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu because Fu-Manchu is so cunning even the novel has an alias. In Chapter Twenty, Smith and Petrie are on their way to Tilbury for not-yet-explained reasons)

Petrie is puzzled by Fu-Manchu's latest plot although he takes a moment to warn us that someone who takes hashish is "converted temporarily into a maniac". He asks Smith about it as they dash through London in a cab. Smith thinks the bird tracks on the window sill of the locked room mystery belong to Fu-Manchu's marmoset*. He suspects the marmoset carried up a cord and took it over the safety bar (for window cleaners) which was used to carry up a rope which was used to lift one of their silk and bamboo ladders. "To his giant will the drugged brain of West was a pliant instrument which he bent to his own ends." Ah the explanation to the locked room mystery is a monkey! Classic.

Smith has also decoded the message from Karamaneh "ANDAMAN - SECOND", explaining that "The ANDAMAN, of the Oriental Navigation Company's line, leaves Tilbury with the next tide for China ports. Our man is a second-class passenger. I am wiring to delay her departure, and the special should get us to the docks inside of forty minutes." That should wrap things up nicely!

Petrie is impressed by the organisation; a special train, several police, and a great liner delayed. "It was novel, and infinitely exciting." 1912, you had to make your own entertainment.

Smith has a problem; he does not know which of the second class passengers is his man. "I am instructing the authorities at all ports east of Suez to apprehend one of your second-class passengers, should he leave the ship. He is in possession of plans which practically belong to the British Government!**" They will search their luggage when they leave the ship; in the meantime he instructs the captain to have his crew "watch any passenger of Oriental nationality." Could be a few of them considering that the ship is heading east. And, yes, two men from Scotland Yard are being sent abroad at an hour's notice. I hope they haven't arranged to do anything for the next couple of months.

They watch the ship leave but then hear a voice say, "Another victory for China, Mr. Nayland Smith!" It is the voice of Dr Fu-Manchu***. " It is beyond my powers to convey the sense of the uncanny which the episode created," says Petrie.

Petrie admits that there is no explanation for the voice, just as there was none for his drugged fever dream that showed him Fu-Manchu's laboratory****.

"Perhaps that wisdom—the wisdom stored up by Fu-Manchu—is lost forever. There is, however, at least a bare possibility of its survival, in part; and I do not wholly despair of one day publishing a scientific sequel to this record of our dealings with the Chinese doctor." Well, that would be interesting.

* Which is, as he notes, a new world monkey. Are there no limits to Fu-Manchu's grasp? (no)

** Although not ACTUALLY as West has not yet made an agreement. Smith is stretching the truth here and also signalling it by his use of the word "practically". I'm shocked.

*** Or as Petrie puts it "But the voice was the voice of DOCTOR FU-MANCHU."

**** "Can it be that we were drugged on that occasion with Indian hemp? Cannabis indica is a treacherous narcotic, as every medical man knows full well; but Fu-Manchu's knowledge of the drug was far in advance of our slow science." Ah Petrie, I rather think you are more familiar with the hashish than you are letting on.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fu Manchu Chapter Nineteen

 (I'm reading The Invidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Nineteen. Our heroes have arrived to discover the American inventor Frank Norris West unconscious and his aero-torpedo plans missing)

To recap, West locked the plans for his aero-torpedo in the safe and told no one the combination; he locked and bolted his door so the police had to break it down to get in; "No human being could climb up or down to your windows." Yet some Chinese men came in, drugged West and now the plans are missing. It is a genuine locked room mystery.* So - inside job?

Petrie makes a deduction and West admits to taking two chloral tablets. West had a dream that there were horrible Chinamen in his rooms. At the climax he saw a sound coming from his mouth that Smith suggests was the combination. He also remembered the name "Bayard Taylor."

Smith thinks on this, on Petrie's suggestion of the Frenchman Moreau, and "ANDAMAN -SECOND"; puts together these gnomic clews and asks "when is the first train to Tilbury?" "Five twenty-two from Fenchurch Street," comes the answer. Smith is unimpressed.

"Too late! Jump in a taxi and pick up two good men to leave for China at once**! Then go and charter a special to Tilbury to leave in twenty-five minutes. Order another cab to wait outside for me." A special train! Sounds expensive.

Bayard Taylor's book The Land of the Saracen apparently contains a passage describing the sensation of being under the influence of hashish; West's unconscious mind has linked the his symptoms and so they assume that is what he was drugged with. "I have no doubt that now you experience a feeling of nausea and intense thirst, with aching in the muscles, particularly the deltoid," says Petrie, apparently familiar with it***. West had a visit from a foreign lady who they assume was Karamaneh, because who else would it be, and switched his chloral tablets for some containing hashish.

West admits that two European governments have attempted to get hold of his plans, but a Chinaman is a novelty; Smith describes Fu-Manchu as "the greatest novelty of his age," perhaps an understatement.

This is all very well, but they still don't know how Fu-Manchu entered the rooms and in any case Smith doesn't care; he wants to be at Tilbury within the hour.

* Smith asked West if anyone could have been hidden in his chambers; no because West looked. He invariably did. Sounds a bit paranoid to me.

** Does... does Scotland Yard really have two men standing by to go to the other side of the world? Just in case?

*** "Canabis indicia. Indian Hemp." Yes, yes Petrie. No need to show off.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Eighteen

 (Reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and in Chapter Eighteen we are shocked to discover there are foreigners in London)

Petrie ponders the story he has been told by Karamaneh, slightly discomfited by his feelings for her*.

"It is a fact, singular, but true, that few Londoners know London." Petrie and Smith go to a door two minutes from Leicester Square in disguise. "We both wore dark suits and fez caps with black silk tassels. My complexion had been artificially reduced** to a shade resembling the deep tan of my friend's." They are greeted by "a negro woman—gross, hideously ugly," who leads them to an elderly bearded man Smith converses with in Arabic. In the back room is "a motley company of Turks, Egyptians, Greeks, and others; and I noted two Chinese. Most of them smoked cigarettes, and some were drinking. A girl was performing a sinuous dance upon the square carpet occupying the center of the floor, accompanied by a young negro woman upon a guitar and by several members of the assembly who clapped their hands to the music or hummed a low, monotonous melody." So many foreigners! They must be up to no good. Smith agrees, certain that some of Fu-Manchu's group patronises the place.

"A woman in an elegant, flame-colored opera cloak," comes in and Petrie recognises her as Karamaneh by her perfume. They follow but lose track of her and the man she brought to the place for a meeting. Petrie worries. "To Smith and me, who knew something of the secret influences at work to overthrow the Indian Empire, to place, it might be, the whole of Europe and America beneath an Eastern rule, it seemed that a great yellow hand was stretched out over London. Doctor Fu-Manchu was a menace to the civilized world." How shocking that someone other than the British might take over the Indian Empire!

Smith is also worried. "Into what dark scheme have we had a glimpse? What State secret is to be filched? What faithful servant of the British Raj to be spirited away? Upon whom now has Fu-Manchu set his death seal?" At Piccadilly Circus, in a traffic jam they catch the whiff of perfume again and a whisper, "ANDAMAN—SECOND!"****

They devote "a whole hour" to trying to figure out what it means. There's a phone call; Frank Norris West, an American Inventor who has been offering the War Office the West aero-torpedo, has been attacked. They rush over to find him lying on his back, telephone receiver in hand. He had called to complain about some Chinamen in his rooms then had been drugged. The front door had been locked, and was forced open by the police. His safe, presumably containing the plans, is still locked. There appears no way to get in or out, until Smith notices some bird tracks on the window sill.

They find some chloral hydrate***** and order in an antidote to wake West. He opens the safe, claiming he is the only one who knows the combination, and discovers the plans are, of course, missing.

"In some way the knowledge came to me that the curtain was about to rise on a new and surprising act in the Fu-Manchu drama." Well spotted Petrie. Well spotted.

* "East and West may not intermingle. As a student of world-policies, as a physician, I admitted, could not deny, that truth. Again, if Karamaneh were to be credited, she had come to Fu-Manchu a slave; had fallen into the hands of the raiders; had crossed the desert with the slave-drivers; had known the house of the slave-dealer. Could it be? With the fading of the crescent of Islam I had thought such things to have passed." Just so Petrie, the fading of Islam. Although also, "At the mere thought of a girl so deliciously beautiful in the brutal power of slavers, I found myself grinding my teeth—closing my eyes in a futile attempt to blot out the pictures called up." Quite. Blot them out Petrie.

** I assume when he says his complexion had been reduced he means darkened, but on the face*** of it sounds as though he's been lightened. Maybe Petrie is worrying overmuch about the personal difficulties he might have if Fu-Manchu's assault on the White Race succeeds.

*** Heh

**** All Caps whisper in the original. Probably would have been better emphasised by italics.

***** Petrie identifies it with his tongue, perhaps not the safest way with master poisoner Fu-Manchu involved.