Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I Read Books: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a tragedy and a cautionary tale. Which is why it came as something of a surprise to me when I finally sat down and read it that it’s got quite a few rather good jokes. Here’s Lord Henry Wotton being cynical:
“You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing.”
Here he is being rude about his aunt:
“The audience probably thought it was a duet. When Aunt Agatha sits down to the piano, she makes quite enough noise for two people.”
Here’s how the book describes his uncle Lord Fernor:
“In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, whom he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said that the country was going to the dogs. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices.”
Lord Henry is not impressed with women.
“As for conversation, there are only five women in London worth talking to, and two of these can't be admitted into decent society.”
But he does like cigarettes.
“Basil, I can't allow you to smoke cigars. You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?”
(Dorian lights his with “a light from a fire-breathing silver dragon that the waiter had placed on the table.” (Sadly almost certainly a regular – or perhaps large and extravagant – lighter, and not an actual dragon)).

Perhaps most interesting of all are the descriptions of what Dorian gets up to in the years between the start of the novel (the painting of the picture), and the end when a lot of bad things happen. Wilde gives us close-ups of all kinds of strange and extravagant things – he spends a lot of time looking into perfumes, and music, and jewels*, and embroidery – but not actually into the debauchery that the book hints at. It talks about the rumours that surround him but does not give us the substance.

Read This: Because we know the story of Dorian Gray and his portrait, but the one we know has all the hard edges smoothed off to make a simple morality tale.
Don’t Read This: If languid Victorian prose is not your thing; or if you don’t like a large amount of cruelty with your jokes.
Also: The Mirror of Stanion Gray.
The Picture of Dorian Gray exists in a number of versions; I read the 1891 20-chapter book edition. It, like all the others, is out of copyright and can be found online in a number of places including Project Gutenberg.

(This review crossposted at GoodReads.)
* On one occasion he took up the study of jewels, and appeared at a costume ball as Anne de Joyeuse, Admiral of France, in a dress covered with five hundred and sixty pearls. This taste enthralled him for years, and, indeed, may be said never to have left him. He would often spend a whole day settling and resettling in their cases the various stones that he had collected, such as the olive-green chrysoberyl that turns red by lamplight, the cymophane with its wirelike line of silver, the pistachio-coloured peridot, rose-pink and wine-yellow topazes, carbuncles of fiery scarlet with tremulous, four-rayed stars, flame-red cinnamon-stones, orange and violet spinels, and amethysts with their alternate layers of ruby and sapphire. He loved the red gold of the sunstone, and the moonstone's pearly whiteness, and the broken rainbow of the milky opal. He procured from Amsterdam three emeralds of extraordinary size and richness of colour, and had a turquoise de la vieille roche that was the envy of all the connoisseurs.

He discovered wonderful stories, also, about jewels. In Alphonso's Clericalis Disciplina a serpent was mentioned with eyes of real jacinth, and in the romantic history of Alexander, the Conqueror of Emathia was said to have found in the vale of Jordan snakes "with collars of real emeralds growing on their backs." There was a gem in the brain of the dragon, Philostratus told us, and "by the exhibition of golden letters and a scarlet robe" the monster could be thrown into a magical sleep and slain. According to the great alchemist, Pierre de Boniface, the diamond rendered a man invisible, and the agate of India made him eloquent. The cornelian appeased anger, and the hyacinth provoked sleep, and the amethyst drove away the fumes of wine. The garnet cast out demons, and the hydropicus deprived the moon of her colour. The selenite waxed and waned with the moon, and the meloceus, that discovers thieves, could be affected only by the blood of kids. Leonardus Camillus had seen a white stone taken from the brain of a newly killed toad, that was a certain antidote against poison. The bezoar, that was found in the heart of the Arabian deer, was a charm that could cure the plague. In the nests of Arabian birds was the aspilates, that, according to Democritus, kept the wearer from any danger by fire.

The King of Ceilan rode through his city with a large ruby in his hand, as the ceremony of his coronation. The gates of the palace of John the Priest were "made of sardius, with the horn of the horned snake inwrought, so that no man might bring poison within." Over the gable were "two golden apples, in which were two carbuncles," so that the gold might shine by day and the carbuncles by night. In Lodge's strange romance 'A Margarite of America', it was stated that in the chamber of the queen one could behold "all the chaste ladies of the world, inchased out of silver, looking through fair mirrours of chrysolites, carbuncles, sapphires, and greene emeraults." Marco Polo had seen the inhabitants of Zipangu place rose-coloured pearls in the mouths of the dead. A sea-monster had been enamoured of the pearl that the diver brought to King Perozes, and had slain the thief, and mourned for seven moons over its loss. When the Huns lured the king into the great pit, he flung it away—Procopius tells the story—nor was it ever found again, though the Emperor Anastasius offered five hundred-weight of gold pieces for it. The King of Malabar had shown to a certain Venetian a rosary of three hundred and four pearls, one for every god that he worshipped.

When the Duke de Valentinois, son of Alexander VI, visited Louis XII of France, his horse was loaded with gold leaves, according to Brantome, and his cap had double rows of rubies that threw out a great light. Charles of England had ridden in stirrups hung with four hundred and twenty-one diamonds. Richard II had a coat, valued at thirty thousand marks, which was covered with balas rubies. Hall described Henry VIII, on his way to the Tower previous to his coronation, as wearing "a jacket of raised gold, the placard embroidered with diamonds and other rich stones, and a great bauderike about his neck of large balasses." The favourites of James I wore ear-rings of emeralds set in gold filigrane. Edward II gave to Piers Gaveston a suit of red-gold armour studded with jacinths, a collar of gold roses set with turquoise-stones, and a skull-cap parseme with pearls. Henry II wore jewelled gloves reaching to the elbow, and had a hawk-glove sewn with twelve rubies and fifty-two great orients. The ducal hat of Charles the Rash, the last Duke of Burgundy of his race, was hung with pear-shaped pearls and studded with sapphires.

How exquisite life had once been! How gorgeous in its pomp and decoration! Even to read of the luxury of the dead was wonderful.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I Watch Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge

New (to me) films of 2018: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge which apparently was released in the USA as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

After a turn to a new story in Stranger Tides the increasingly incoherent Pirates of the Caribbean series returns to having an interest in the Turner/Swann family. In this case we find ourselves keeping company with the next generation. Henry Turner wants to break the curse that keeps his father on the Flying Dutchman. Carina Smyth (not a witch) has the map that no man can read, that leads to Poseidon’s Trident, which can control anything at sea. Notorious and undead piratehunter Captain Salazar has been released from the Devil’s Triangle. And all of them need Captain Jack Sparrow, who is somewhat down on his luck (again).

The bank robbery is good. Most of the set pieces are okay if a bit over the top. I liked some of the jokes.

Watch This: If you want more Pirates
Don’t Watch This: If you’ve had enough Pirates, or were never interested in the first place.
Previously: I talked about Piracy and Beards on this very blog.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Bitter Gourd/ Bitter Melon

So my parents got some vegetables from the market and didn't know what they were.

A swift google of "knobbly green vegetable" followed by an image search got the answer: bitter gourd or bitter melon*.

That still left the question of what to do with them**. We hit the books and pieced together a variant on bitter gourd curry.

3 bitter gourds
1 chopped onion
several chopped tomatoes
a pinch of turmeric
1 chopped chili
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons oil

Cut the gourd into rounds. Heat the oil, add the mustard seeds and chili. When the mustard seeds pop add the onion and cook until it starts to go transparent.

Next add tomatoes, turmeric, and coriander and cook for a bit. Then add the bitter gourd and salt and saute for five minutes. Cover for maybe half an hour, then cook for the last five minutes with the lid off.

I may have got it wrong as I wasn't taking notes and Dad kind of mixed and matched from two recipes.

This was pretty good. The bitter gourd is VERY bitter, but has almost no aftertaste. You just get a hit of bitterness and it's gone if you then eat something else.

* Which we inevitably mis-said as "bitter lemon" a slightly out-of-fashion mixer drink.
** My initial suggestion was add eyes and legs to make a tiny dinosaur, but apparently no.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Liner Notes 3

Some background information on my story Post Historic Hunters (on the Patreon) and Plasma Pistols and Space Scooters (on the blog).

Liner Notes 3: Post Historic Hunters

Just in case it’s not clear by now, I’ll state here that the first six stories each have a different member of the crew as the protagonist. Having had Gunn in the first story, then Ella in the second (as the new recruit who needs things explained to her), now we get Gunn’s second in command, Rivers. (In fact we mostly just see Rivers and Ella. The team don’t really get to work together until story number five now I come to look at it, which is (perhaps) a flaw in the larger structure.) Here I attempt to answer the question – if the second in command is competent, why don’t they have a command of their own?

This also puts into place a bit of back story – Salamander Station – for later. What does the Deep Patrol do when it comes across a threat? How does it fight a war? Will there be threats other than the authorities refusing to talk to Gunn and his crew?

It was also time to see the carrier. Gunn’s ship and crew is small so we need somewhere to get a handle on the rest of the Deep Patrol. A base would be cool because it would be next to the most spectacular backdrop I could devise, but for continuing-plot reasons and also thematic reasons the Deep Patrol are nomads. (Though, like actual nomads, they do go and camp in places for months and even years at a time).

We get a little of the upper management style of the Deep Patrol, or at least this corner of it. Captain Angela Tiger doesn’t micromanage, but she will tell you exactly what you’ve done wrong after you screw up. The eating arse is supposed to be a threat by the way. She doesn’t do double entendres.

Gunn’s team are sometimes a bit dickish, so I put in Lord Richards and crew to be even bigger dicks and (more importantly) significantly worse at their jobs. Rocket Interceptor will be back.

Dinosaurs were always going to be in one or more stories. Why set up a space opera universe with scattered people and technologies, artificial ecosystems, biological constructs and cloning and not have dinosaurs? Give them some feathers because that’s the way they are these days. Intelligent? No, but make them fake it. Evolving fake intelligence to hunt actual intelligent beings is a dumb idea, but as a trap, or a leftover experiment from the Wavefront and the Unknown Powers behind it, now we’re getting somewhere. (This is, of course, my lazy way of dealing with the deep “whys” of the series. I’ll give you one or two or three whys, but eventually it comes down to “That’s what happened when the Wavefront came by,” or “The Unknown Powers did it and we don’t know why.”)

Liner Notes 3a: Plasma Pistols and Space Scooters

Every two-fisted* space ranger needs an iconic sidearm and the Plasma Pistol is the one the Deep Patrol uses. Which is a pity as at the same time as I wrote up the weapon, I turned the crew against it a bit in favour of nets and glue; non-lethal weaponry as a first choice in a fight. In theory the plasma pistol can be set on a low power, high dispersion setting, uncomfortable and stunning, but anything powerful enough to be useful will sometimes be permanently harmful. Trying to recast an energy weapon capable of cutting through spacehull alloy as a stunner is probably a step too far, even for this series.

Meanwhile the Space Scooter also gets short shrift in the series. I was intending to have them fly everywhere on them, but most of the stories are short enough that they go to a place and stay there and solve the problem of the episode. When I do make the team travel places on page, it’s usually another planet so they use the cutter. Still they get a flight or two out of the scooters later.

* Of course two-fisted usually means that they are able and willing to punch their way out of a situation rather than shoot; here I am using the vivid imagery of two-fisted space ranger to make my point more firmly than the still somewhat florid pulp-style space opera protagonist would do.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

I Watch TV: Delicious

Delicious (2 Seasons of 4 episodes each)

Leo Vincent (Iain Glen) is a chef and hotel owner in Cornwall who dies and leaves his affairs in a mess. He’s been sleeping with his ex-wife Gina (Dawn French) who is the inspiration for his cookery. His wife Sam (Emilia Fox) finds out just before he dies. The hotel, it turns out, is on the verge of bankruptcy and in Gina’s name. His son (with Sam) and his daughter (with Gina) are both kind of messed up.

It’s very funny when it tries to be. It aims for black comedy and doesn’t quite get there; I think it needs to be sharper. For example the money problem drives Gina and Sam to work together at the hotel. Then, in the last episode of Season ,1 it’s resolved relatively simply. Two characters can’t be together then rather than confront this problem the reasons why they can’t just go away, and then one of the characters does as well.

Season two is a bit sharper, or maybe just drives the knife home a little more; the major threat is resolved with everyone losing out through their own flaws.

Iain Glen’s voiceover from beyond the grave is extremely soothing. I would have liked to see more cooking, though lingering shots of food with glorious descriptions almost make up for it.

Watch This: For a darkly funny drama about family, death, sex and running a restaurant.
Don’t Watch This: If you aren’t really interested in the problems of a bunch of people trying to make a broken family and bankrupt hotel work.
You May Have Seen Iain Glen: In Game of Thrones in which he plays Jorah Mormont.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I Read Books: Orca

Books Read in 2018: Orca by Steven K Brust

This is the 7th Book in Brust’s Vlad Taltos series and I do not recommend starting here. In the previous book Savn saved Vlad from an undead wizard but had his mind damaged in the process. Vlad finds a witch who can help, but she needs help in return as the bank has foreclosed on her cottage. Vlad gets his friend Kiera the thief to dig into it and they discover a web of corruption and bankruptcy that goes to the top of the Empire.

A solid instalment of the series that highlights yet another aspect of the Empire with all the bad it does, often in an almost good cause. Also there’s a surprise reveal that I was underwhelmed with as I did not really care about the characters involved.

Read This: If you’re into Vlad Taltos
Don’t Read This: Start with Jhereg for a bit of low and gritty High Fantasy.
Linky Linky: Orca on GoodReads, Jhereg on GoodReads

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I Watch Films: Get Out

New (to me) Films I saw in 2018: Get Out
This is a horror film. It begins with a white woman in New York City bringing her black boyfriend to her parents’ house in upstate New York. Things are a little awkward; the parents go out of their way to show that an interracial relationship doesn’t bother them, their black groundskeeper and maid are weird, and they have a party with a lot of old white people which is uncomfortable.

The family’s plans for the boyfriend are stranger than might be expected. By making, and I hope not to spoil anything here, fear of death central to their motivation this is one of the things that lifts it to more than an exquisitely observed commentary on American society.

Some pretty good jokes for the comic relief buddy character too.

Watch This: For a really excellent horror film that creates a sense of unease in several directions at once.
Don’t Watch This: If horror is not your thing; it has a bit of gore and injury and violence towards the end, but mostly it’s about what’s in your head.
Also: If you like horror, why not check out some of the books my friend Steve is publishing.