Thursday, April 26, 2018

I Read Books: Riders of the Purple Sage

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey is a 1912 western that is often considered seminal, which is why I find it interesting that there’s surprisingly little gunplay, quite a lot of romance and the major conflict is Jane Withersteen struggling to reconcile her Mormon beliefs with the evil actions taken by the Mormon leaders while restraining both Lassiter and Venters from taking revenge on them.

It is very atmospheric, and has several good scenes involving cattle and horses. There are a lot of hidden valleys and secret springs where people can hide out. Of course the major rustler is in league with the Mormon leaders so people are actively discouraged from looking for these places.

On the other hand it’s mostly about people finding reasons not to get into fights, which is cool the first couple of times but gets a little wearing. Though since the first time Venters shoots someone he falls in love with them I guess there’s a lesson to learn there. Another annoying thing is the over use of alternate spelling to indicate accent, or in one case cute baby-talk from a small child. Ugh.

Read This
: For a Western more interesting and complex than most
Don’t Read This: If you don't want a long novel full of descriptions and people failing to convince each other over the morality of violence.
Being Out of Copyright: You can read it for free online.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Mystery of Steve Trevor III

Wonder Woman, 1918 (Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman 2017)
( This post is something of a sequel to the 2008 post The Mystery of Steve Trevor Junior. Briefly: The first season of the 1970s Wonder Woman TV show was set in 1942 and co-starred Lyle Waggoner as Major Steve Trevor. The later seasons were set in the present day (1977-9) and co-starred Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor Junior. The linked post asks the question does this make any kind of sense? )
Steve Trevor, 1918 (Chris Pine, Wonder Woman, 2017)

Wonder Woman (2017) is not in continuity with Wonder Woman (TV series 1975-1979). But what if they were? Wonder Woman (2017) is set in Paris in 2017, though the vast majority of the action takes place in 1918. The first season of Wonder Woman (1975) is set in 1942, the later seasons in the present (1978-79). Both time periods have Lyle Waggoner as Major Steve Trevor (1942) and Steve Trevor Jr (1978).

Steve Trevor 1942 (Lyle Waggoner, Wonder Woman, 1976)
Chris Pine plays Captain Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman (2017). Pine was 37 in 2017; assuming Trevor is the same age in 1918, then it is quite plausible for him to have had a son in, say 1905, to grow up to be Steve Trevor in time to fight in World War 2. His ambiguous words about marriage in the film suggest a strained relationship; and clearly he did not ever speak to his family about his adventures with Wonder Woman.

More ridiculous attempts to fill out this irrelevant corner of the Wonder-verse from me if they bother to fill out her century of backstory, or if they reboot the character.

(As to Wonder Woman: I liked it; did we need another origin story?; perhaps too much slow motion in the action sequences; and hiding Trevor’s words to reveal later seemed unnecessary.)

Watch This: For a pretty cool Superhero adventure which foregrounds some ideas about love and sacrifice that these films usually ignore
Don’t Watch This: If Wonder Woman beating up a lot of people in 1918 sounds boring.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I Watch Films: Baby Driver

We’ve seen crime films with cool soundtracks. We’ve seen crime films about the getaway driver. We’ve seen people working unwillingly in crime, and doing one last job. We’ve seen the elements put together so smoothly that it just flows, and this film has all that.

It also has something to say about all this; characters commenting on the make up of the team, noting how cool they are, relying on metafictional knowledge to get things done. The second heist, in which Baby resets his soundtrack twice when things go wrong in order to match the action and get his driving to work encapsulates that.

Which is why it is a little sad that in the end, the film doesn’t have anything more to say about crime, or crime films, or driving. It does have a little to say about music though, so that’s good.

(Just to be clear, this is me, a semi-professional crime writer, five years into studying real and fictional crimes, criticising a strong example of the heist film that is also clearly in conversation with the genre and coming to the conclusion that they could have had a more in depth examination. Picky, me?)

Watch This: For an ultra cool crime film with a few things to say about crime films.
Don’t Watch This: For something that’s not a crime film or if you don’t want to watch Kevin Spacey being ambiguously crime-boss-mentor

Monday, April 23, 2018

Reruns 3: Amsterdam

I'm away on holiday, to Amsterdam as it happens, so here's an old post from 2012 about going to, um, Amsterdam:


We arrive in Amsterdam and it immediately starts to snow. We crowd onto the tram and ride across the city. Past the bodies, out the window I can see flurries of white. The darkened sky is reflected in the canals – the Prinsengracht, the Herengracht – that we cross.

We walk into town through a park. The wind whips snow across my face, making me glad I have a full beard. Snow fills the path, piles up on hedges, lies on top of the frozen water. I watch closely, making sure the path I’m on doesn’t suddenly become an icerink.

We go into a cafe, brushing snow from hats, scarves, coats, boots. There’s the smell of coffee, and frying. We order, mild coffee, rich lager and toasted sandwiches. The warm air alternates with freezing drafts as the door opens and closes and the damp air condenses on the windows hiding the weather in fog.

After a very long lunch we head back out. Three-quarter size snow plow trucks have begun clearing the city. They begin with the bike lanes, not so much to help cyclists, but because the emergency services use them to bypass blocked roads and reach places roads don’t go.

Dam square has become a white plain, surrounded by slate grey buildings. The bright lights and loud noises seem muted, compressed on the ground floor between the frozen ground and the dull upper stories. The trams and buses have vanished so we trudge back home in the twilight.

Overnight the Netherlands has become a nation of skating fanatics. The evening magazine chat show becomes a discussion on the Elfstedentocht, a 200km skating marathon that hasn’t been held since 1997. Some ice masters are letting people skate; others use pikes to demonstrate the ice isn’t thick enough. Excuses from the railway bosses are crammed in at the end of the program.

Looking out across the night shrouded city, it gleams orange; streetlamps reflecting off low clouds and snow covered roofs. It’s not the place I was expecting.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Reruns 2: Steampunk

I'm still on holiday so here's a very silly steampunk story from 2009 called:

Professor Lovebody's Differential Pressure Cleaner; a short steampunk story in which the protagonist loses his trousers

I present below the design for a Victorian steampunk Modern and Efficient Steam-Powered House of the Future, which, if memory serves is filled with clunky steam-powered versions of every day 21st century household gadgets.

However, I am compelled to note that I created this design as the result of a discussion of some disappointing steampunk, um, erotica, which is why it's Professor Lovebody's Modern and Efficient Steam-Powered House of the Future, and is also why it inevitably goes wrong leading the doors to lock, the steam engine overheats it requiring the loosening of cravats and corsets, and it also vibrates at a frequency that arouses the visitors. As might be expected it is riddled with spyholes. I never got around to finishing the story it's supposed to go with/be part of the notes for, which is just as well as I expect I'd be too embarrassed to put it up under my real name.

Anyway, it had gone the way of most of my writing projects, and most of my projects in general until an online conversation took a left turn leading me to write this pitch for a TV show:
Every week Professor Lovebody and his companion Miss Prudence McVenture discover wonders and fight evil in a 19th century that never was, but should have been, during the course of which the Professor inevitably loses his trousers.

Which inevitably lead to me writing this:
Professor Lovebody turned to his audience. "Ladies of the Croydon, Sutton, Belmont and Cheam Gentlewomens' Society For Science and Technology, I have a demonstration that, although modest, I feel will be of great interest to you. I present my Steam Powered Differential Pressure Cleaner For Carpets, Floors And Other Indoor Surfaces."

To a smattering of applause, the professor pulled several levers. An unearthly howl built around the room, as the professor lifted a tube of ridged canvas resembling nothing so much as an elephant's trunk. Suddenly a strange breeze began to move across the room, causing the ladies to grasp at their hats and skirts.

"There is nothing to be concerned about" shouted the professor, as he struggled with the unruly hose. The device is perfectly safe, while sucking up any loose dust, dirt or other household debris. In fact..." At this moment the tubing twisted in his grasp forcing him to wrestle with the tube, which now seemed more akin to a boa constrictor. An unexpected movement caused the end of the tube to point directly at the professor's ankle, catching hold of his trouser leg. In moments, the device had swallowed the garment, and was making a highly distressed choking noise until a loud metallic clang could be heard outside. The noise swiftly died away. Mrs Dingle, the chairwoman, stood.

"Well Professor" she said in tones of deep disapproval, "you promised a demonstration that was both interesting and modest. To whom it would be of interest I dare not say; however I shall say that while you may consider it modest, I certainly do not!"

A voice from the back spoke. "He's certainly got nothing to be modest about!"

At this moment Miss McVenture entered, a lock of hair escaped from her usual severe bun, an oil stain on her cheek, soot on her pinafore and an oversized monkey wrench in her left hand. "Oh, Professor, I had to hit the emergency stop... PROFESSOR! What on earth is going on here!"

"Miss McVenture! Mrs Dingle! Ladies! I can explain! Wait! Where are you going? This device, easily adapted to a household stove or steam engine will make household chores a thing of the past! Can't you forgive this minor problem for science? Miss McVenture! Can you at least bring me something to preserve my dignity?"

"Here Professor; your patented spring-loaded-ejecto-pants should prevent any further embarrassment. But I thought that science was a respectable field of work; you may consider this my resignation."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reruns 1: Pop Music

I'm away on holiday so here's an old post from 2008 (though I updated the links, no don't thank me) called:

Pop Lyric Pedantry

Every now and then I take issue with factual errors in pop songs. Here I have two for your education and amusement:

Was Not Was, Walk the Dinosaur. "It was a night like this 40,000,000 years ago...". Well, Dinosaurs became extinct 65,000,000 years ago except for some of the theropods in family Aves. Also some of those giant crocodiles and other megafauna associated with the Mesozoic period that popularly get lumped in with Dinosauria-proper probably had living descendants at the time. But. Nevertheless. I know they're suggesting that cavemen and dinosaurs coexisted, but could they at least pick a period with one or the other in rather than split the difference?

ABBA, Waterloo. "My, My. At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender....". No he didn't. He was beaten at Waterloo on 18 June, but didn't surrender until 15 July on board HMS Bellerophon. On the other hand the history of Sweden at that moment is pretty interesting, so maybe these events were skipped over a bit in Swedish History classes. But you'd hope that some of the Eurovision voters would have spotted this error and turned against them. It's not like there weren't some acceptable alternatives. (The Youtube search results for Eurovision 1974 linked here).  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I Read Books: The Hanging Tree

I have previously enthused about Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, about magic and policing in and around London. This is the sixth in the series and if it has a flaw then it is too crammed full of stuff. Too many returning problems, too many new players, too many cool magic action scenes (if such a thing is possible). This makes it a poor entry point for new readers.

Having said that, it’s cool to see all the balls being juggled, it’s nice to see them make progress on the Faceless Man case. The expansion of the universe and the steadily increasing difficulty in hiding the resurgence of magic is good. There’s a running joke in which every time something happens Peter Grant adds it to the list of things to consider in his stakeholder policy document.

A solid entry in the series that manages to make the point that the magic is strange and weird and diverse, but no more so than the real world.

Read This: For a fun magic adventure
Don’t Read This: Start with The Rivers of London