Friday, March 30, 2018

Fasolka po bretońsku z kiełbasą

(I received this as a gift from some friends. In general I am not a food blogger but in this case I am making an exception for no very good reason. I reheated it in a pan and served it with potatoes and leeks. So far as I am aware I have no connection to Poland.)

It's beans and sliced sausage in a tomato sauce that has been touched with paprika. I think I might have liked a bit more paprika. It also seemed a bit over-processed, in the manner of stuff that not only has to last, but also stay homogenised in the jar or can for months.

I cleared my plate.

Eat This: For, I suppose, an authentic polish dinner in a jar?
Don't Eat This: If you have a better sausage and bean casserole recipe maybe?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Preview: Realm of Pure Thought

The 1st of April is a Sunday. also April Fools Day, also Easter Sunday but more important than any of those, it's the day I post the 5th installment of the Chronicles of the Deep Patrol, a story that delights in the title Realm of Pure Thought. What's in it you ask?
 
The crew make contact with the seven thousand year old theocratic state of Babylon. There is plotting, investigation and committee meetings. There is also something hidden in the depths of the Citadel, something strange and uncanny... 
 
Catch up on the previous four installments on my Patreon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I Read Books: Galactic Patrol

Galactic Patrol is the third in the Lensman series, though the second published, and the first to actually bear the Lensman name. Confused? See this post. Kimball Kinnison graduates from the academy, is given a Lens (see this post) and then is given the job of capturing one of the invincible pirate ships that are closing down all trade in the galaxy. He does so, discovering the secret of cosmic energy, but the pirates are on his tail.

The first half of the novel is Kinnison’s efforts to return with the data. This takes him to a variety of strange places where he meets enemies and allies. He also gets a lead on the mysterious “Helmuth, speaking for Boskone,” and comes to the conclusion that these are not so much “pirates” as an entire enemy civilisation. As might be expected the name for galactic society, represented by the galactic council and guarded by the galactic patrol, is “Civilisation” because there is no alternative.

With the patrol now able to defeat the pirates Kinnison is made an “Unattached” or “Grey” Lensman, meaning he can work on whatever he wants. He tries to infiltrate a pirate base and track down Helmuth but it goes wrong and he barely escapes, quite badly injured. He is not a good patient. His bosses make sure that the nurses are the most suitable women for him to marry including Clarissa MacDougall a red-headed gold-fleck-eyed descendant of Virgil Samms. He’s not interested in her because he’s hurt and also because she won’t feed him proper food (beefsteak).

He goes back to Arisia to learn more about the Lens and is trained in the science of the mind so he can do a variety of ridiculous psychic things, becoming a “Second Stage” Lensman. He then tries to infiltrate the pirates – now with ships the equal of the patrol – again, succeeding when they capture a hospital ship with, of course, MacDougall aboard. He rescues her and all the nurses, gets a lead on Helmuth, and infiltrates Helmuth’s base despite the thought screens. He then drugs everyone inside  and kills Helmuth just as the Patrol’s fleet arrives. THE END

Read This: For adventure fiction with good pacing and an always escalating sense of danger and scale.
Don’t Read This: If referring to an attractive woman as a knockout, a seven-sector callout, a thionite* dream is not your thing or if passages such as the following knock you out of the story:
But above all he wanted beefsteak. He thought about it days and dreamed about it nights. One night in particular he dreamed about it—an especially luscious porterhouse, fried in butter and smothered in mushrooms—only to wake up, mouth watering, literally starved, to face again the weak tea, dry toast, and, horror of horrors, this time a flabby, pallid, flaccid Poached egg! It was the last straw.**

* Thionite is the most addictive drug in the galaxy; purple and from the extremely cool and hallucinatory planet Trenco, which Kinnison visits in the course of the story. It is this compound that he uses to drug everyone in Helmuth's base.
** This actually feels pretty real; the experience of someone who works physically and eats a lot becoming ill, inactive, and having to eat invalid food.

(Crossposted on GoodReads)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I Read Books: Singularity Sky

Still on a space opera kick (for obvious reasons) I went back to Singularity Sky by Charles Stross, a quite large influence on my stuff. The Eschaton, a god-like artificial intelligence, scattered people across maybe a thousand light years, where they formed various wacky sci-fi polities, many of which make no sense. One of these is the New Republic, loosely based on Tsarist Russia and repudiating technology except for military.

One of their colony planets is attacked, or perhaps not, by a rain of telephones that offers to grant wishes in exchange for information, the arriving organisation known as the Festival. The New Republic send an expeditionary force, and attempt to cheat by cutting slightly back in time, which is forbidden by the Eschaton. Fortunately on board are engineer Martin Springfield here to upgrade the engines and diplomat Rachel Mansour to observe; both are trying to save the integrity of the timeline before the Eschaton does something drastic to preserve it.

Space opera often takes historical incidents and sci-fis them, especially battles; the expedition is of course based on the epic voyage of the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. The festival meanwhile is a satirical look at the month-long Edinburgh Festival that rearranges the city every August, crossed with post-scarcity economics and revolution, crossed (again) with east European fairy tales and tales of wishes gone wrong.

Read This: For some funny and clever SF thrills.
Don’t Read This: If you don’t want adventure fiction with satirical bite, or if you over analyse the background and figure out the flaws.
There Is A Sequel: Iron Sunrise, which I will get to, but unfortunately this breaks the universe and Stross abandoned it.

(Crossposted at GoodReads)

Monday, March 26, 2018

I Watch Films: Ninja 3: The Domination

Ninja 3: The Domination is a very silly film. A ninja kills a dude on a golf course, then fights his way out as bodyguards, the police, police cars, police helicopters and so on try to stop him. He succeeds but is mortally injured and found by Christie, a telephone lineswoman who moonlights as an aerobics instructor.

As might be expected she is possessed by the spirit of the ninja, does a bit of vigilantism on the pervs who hang around watching aerobics classes, and goes out at night to take revenge on the men who killed the ninja. The only way to stop this is, of course, by fighting another ninja, probably. I wasn’t paying too much attention.

Watch This: For crazy, wacky ninja fightin’ action
Don’t Watch This: If super 80s nonsensical action is not for you.

Don’t Worry: About watching Enter the Ninja or Revenge of the Ninja, the first two films in the trilogy, because there is no way they can make sense of this. It’s not like Death Race 2000 where you have to watch the first 1999 films to understand what’s going on.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Treacle Pudding

Treacle Pudding
I don't have a picture of the pudding

Serves Four

1½ oz suet (125g)
4½ oz self raising flour (375g)
salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
water
golden syrup (or treacle if you're daring)
fat for greasing
plain flour for rolling

Grease a pudding basin. Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder together into a mixing bowl. Stir in the suet. Add water, stirring as you go, until it makes a firm dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of perhaps a third of an inch. Put a good teaspoonful of golden syrup in the bottom of the pudding basin. Cut a piece of dough that will fill the bottom and lay it on top. Then add another spoon of golden syrup, then another piece of dough until you finish. The top layer should be dough.

Cover the pudding basin with greased greaseproof paper, and then with a pudding cloth or with foil. Put into a pan of water and steam for 2 and a half hours. Turn out onto a plate and serve.

****

This is adapted from a recipe for a jam layer pudding in the 1950s cookbook Cooking with Creda by Joan Whitgift. Do not stint on the syrup as the suet dough is heavy and unsweetened. In general substituting vegetable suet works perfectly well in recipes, but I have not actually tried it with this one.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I Read Stories: Boojum

Boojum is a Lovecraftian short story by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. It is about Black Alice Bradley*, a junior engineer on the living pirate spaceship Lavinia Whateley**. Things go... okay, until they capture a cargo that she won’t countenance selling which leads her inevitably towards betrayal and mutiny.
From The Hunting of the Snark, another influence on the story

It is full of strangeness, some of which is adapted and extrapolated from Lovecraft’s works, and has a surprisingly upbeat ending, assuming that mass death and failure and unimaginable destinies count as upbeat.

Read This: For cool Science Fiction.
Don’t Read This: If dark Lovecraftian stuff is not for you.
Read It Online: At Lightspeed magazine.

* Probably?
** Ha ha yes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Watch Films: The Fate of the Furious

After seven previous films do you really need to hear my thoughts on The Fate of the Furious, aka Fast and Furious 8, Fast 8 and (sigh) F8?

Well then. The auto-drive-hack-car-swarm is pretty good, if ridiculous. In fact that’s everything. Including the auto-drive submarine. It’s all ridiculous.

It’s about family. The villain tries to use that, spouts a few tired lines about fate, and a few better nihilistic ones, hints at an actually interesting motive. Some previous villains and allies come back and do a few things. Jason Statham is actually a fine comic actor, possibly the funniest in the cast (maybe Kurt Russell but his character is a bit too smug). Is the cast too bloated now? I feel that no one really gets a proper re-introduction.

Anyway, respect and honour beat murder and blackmail, plus explosions, car fights, fist fights, gun fights, a prison break, a twist that just about works and another meta-textual ending.

Watch This: If you watched and enjoyed the previous 7, though maybe not 2 Fast 2 Furious, or Tokyo Drift.
Don’t Watch This: If you're looking for witty exquisite sublime filmmaking.
The Timeline: Fury is a prequel; Fury Road a sequel, don’t @ me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I Read Books: First Lensman

(I'm reading E E "Doc" Smith's classic Lensman series, and you can read my review of the first book Triplanetary by clicking on that link. That post also explains (some of) the publication history and the conceit of the series).


The second prequel to the Lensman series, set a few years after Triplanetary. Virgil Samms, head of the newly formed Solarian Patrol, has a number of problems. The first is that the inertialess drive makes interstellar travel easy, so that criminals can commit crimes and then flee to strange planets where tracking them down is impossible. Other than that there’s dirty politics (Operation Maltese), illegal narcotics (Operation Zwilnik), piracy (Operation Boskone), and, um, odd signals coming out of space (Operation Zabriska).

Samms is able to solve one of the problems with the help of the mysterious Arisians (not mysterious if you’ve read Triplanetary or the introduction to this book). Going there he receives a Lens, which acts as a telepathic communicator, an unforgeable identification, and a guarantee of integrity, becoming First Lensman.

This has something of an ensemble cast, some coming back from Triplanetary, others being new characters, mostly from the younger generation. Most of them become lensmen; one major exception being the only major female character Jill* Samms, Virgil Samms' daughter. Women, it seems, can’t become lensmen although the Arisian mentor is very nice about it, telling her she doesn’t need a lens to do what she does. Turns out he’s right though that doesn’t stop her being kidnapped by Herkimer Herkimer III, the sadistic secretary of corrupt Senator Morgan, and having to be rescued.

The novel has, of course, big space battles (a sine qua non of the series), a variety of strange aliens that Samms meets while trying to expand the Solarian Patrol into the Galactic Patrol, and a bit of intrigue. I’m finding the most interesting parts are when the lensmen go undercover; Samms pretending to be his own cousin and Conway Costigan as a disgraced engineer who starts at the bottom of the uranium mines. When there’s a disaster down in the bottom level there’s quite a tense sequence where they dig themselves out using weirdo sounding machines that nevertheless depend on Costigan’s brute strength. Reading through I’m almost thinking I’d prefer a ground level series, in which the whole Civilisation vs Boskonia plot is in the background and we have a 1940s future of manly men solving industrial problems while all the secretaries admire them.

Read This: More over the top space opera, taking on real problems with slightly dubious solutions, though the climax being the newly formed Patrol enforcing a 99.999% fair election was pretty good.
Don’t Read This: If you want something other than old fashioned, somewhat ludicrous science fiction.

This post is supported by my Patreon, where you can find some of my own space opera stories for free.Also crossposted at GoodReads.

* “Virgillia”

Monday, March 19, 2018

I Watch Films: Baywatch

Films Watched in 2018: Baywatch

Purely as an action comedy about a bunch of lifeguards who solve crimes this is okay, though without anything particularly interesting to recommend it. As a remake of the TV series it tries too hard to have its cake and eat it; slow motion running by the beautiful cast members is commented on by the watchers, several times the fact that they should let the police handle it is brought up and dismissed etc.

Baywatch can’t carry this kind of deconstruction and still have me take seriously the corruption-land-deal-drug-smuggling-murder plot without causing mental whiplash. Also Mitch isn’t trying to juggle lifeguarding, international terrorist catching and being a single Dad, which gave, I don’t know, some texture, to let us appreciate the action and/or eye candy.

There are a couple of good knob jokes.

Watch This: For a couple of hours of unpretentious action comedy.
Don’t Watch This: For a modern attempt at Baywatch, or for a savage takedown of the show. Also if you don’t like seeing willies.
Also: Yes, both the Hoff and Pamela Anderson make an appearance.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Liner Notes 4

Some information of my story Negotiation Tactics and also the attendant piece Carriers.

Liner Notes 4

A quick thriller in which Robb, the security chief, gets killed. Later he gets better. I don’t have a lot to say here as it’s pretty straight forward. I poke a little at ideas used in stories about kidnapping and the economics of interstellar trade. But not too hard or it might undermine the foundations of the series. The key phrase to understand the Deep Patrol is probably Information Economy.

The hostage episode is a cliché, but I hope that escape by dying at least gives a little novelty to it. Death is a possibility here in the Deep Patrol, and it’s neither permanent nor inconsequential. Robb is shrugging it off but really, it’s quite serious.

The story brushes off the question – if we clone someone and then reinsert the original’s brainstate, are they the same person? This is a favourite of TV and especially comics, in which moral choices are often resolved by heroes fighting versions of themselves in a different colour palette. I’ll come back to the question, in later stories and (sorry) essays.

Liner Notes 4a

The Deep Patrol are nomads, as noted previously, organised around carrier groups. There’s a bit of Battlestar Galactica (both versions) in the lineage of this series, maybe even more than Star Trek. Unlike a TV show I don’t have to worry about budget (well, not in that way) so I don’t have to make frugal use the standing sets for the Carrier. But they’ll be back aboard it soon.

As should be obvious this piece is supported by my Patreon, which also hosts the Deep Patrol stories, of which there are currently four.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

I Read Books: Quantico

Quantico by Greg Bear is a near future bio-terror technothriller from an author perhaps better known for his hard science fiction. It is unrelated to the TV show of the same name, other than the fact the FBI academy is within the Marine Training base of Quantico.

It starts with some unlikely clues, and some FBI trainees, and some long hidden terrorists. It becomes about anthrax, and then something stranger, and an attack on the world’s major religions.

Bear’s plotting is sparse for a techno thriller, requiring you to pay attention to keep up; hints about the political situation in Washington and around the world come into sharp focus to frame the final confrontation.

Read This: For clever and interesting near future thrills.
Don’t Read This: If you prefer things clear rather than the murky, shades of grey, hidden clues and hints this book prefers.
While Writing This Review: I discovered that there is a sequel, Mariposa, that links to his not-near-future thriller Queen of Angels.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I Watch Films: CHiPs

Films new to me in 2018: CHIPS

Based very loosely on the TV show. It sort of doesn’t get the TV show, which had a surprisingly small amount of gun use for a cop show in an attempt to keep it family friendly, leading to kung fu fights with gangs of car part thieves and similar. Having said that, it would have big old car crashes and stuff, which this film has surprisingly little of.

So if it’s failing as an adaption of "CHiPs", how does it do as an action comedy? Pretty good to be honest. The thriller plot is a little overwrought, and the jokes are full of smut. There’s a lot of explosions. The characters are ridiculous but not so ridiculous as to be completely nonsensical.

Watch This: For a quiet evening of motorcycle chases, knob jokes and explosions.
Don’t Watch This: For clever witty comedy or serious action, or if you really love the old "CHiPs".
Also Starring: Larry Wilcox, no relation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

I Read Books: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Books read in 2018, though this was first published in 1886; The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R L Stevenson.

Well this is disappointing. Usually reading the original reveals some interesting parts of a story that have been smoothed away by time and popular taste. In this case going back to the source material has added little to my thoughts on this classic story of dual-personality. There’s a touch of religion that has subsequently been excised for our more heathen times. Hyde is a small man, rather than the giant that modern versions tend to prefer. The exact nature of his sins, which are Jekyll’s hidden desires*, is sort of concealed, though every time it is actually seen it expresses itself as violence, leading to the conclusion that he goes out at night to watch and take part in East End boxing matches.

Knowing the ending as we do, the pacing feels very languid. Stephenson’s 19th century prolixity is part of this. Nevertheless there’s a few good bits about the logistics of a double life, and Jekyll’s increasing desperation and, perhaps, addiction comes through. The survival of the documents that make up the final section is guaranteed by the fact that Hyde, being Jekyll’s dark side, does not have enough of the virtue of patience to find and destroy them, which is a nice touch.

Read This: For an authentically seminal piece of Victorian fiction.
Don’t Read This: If authentic Victorian Fiction is too slow and wordy for you.
Available Copyright Free: At various places; here is the Project Gutenberg link.


* Jekyll is a "large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty with something of a slyish cast," rather than the young nerdy scientist we more often see on the screen.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I Watch Films: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a film new to me in 2018

So King Arthur was a dark age warlord. A dark age warband can be considered, or perhaps translated into modern terms a gang. So why not King Arthur as a gangster movie?

Meanwhile, lets have lots of crazy magic, maybe giant snakes and elephants and a tentacle god that grants wishes and keeps the dead, and a fiery demon warrior.

I mean I like Arthur as the gangster who protects Londinium from the brothel he grew up in. (His attempt to tell a story to the guard captain-cop is an excellent piece of Guy Ritchie fast talking crime nonsense; meanwhile the time-passing, growing up montage is extremely effective). And I like giant elephants attacking the ridiculously high viaducts that lead to Camelot. I just don’t think that they work together well.

Also not so keen on the Arthur needs to get over his problems to learn how to use Excalibur* story. Seems a bit clichéd and non-Arthurian.

Watch This: For exciting action sequences and clever and witty fast-talking conversations. Also for a genuinely new and different take on King Arthur I guess.
Don’t Watch This: If you want something coherent, or want something that goes back to either the historical or the mythical sources.
Also: It has been 32 days since King Arthur was last mentioned on this blog.



* I don’t mind that Excalibur is again the sword in the stone AND the one that is given by the Lady in the Lake, but given a preference I’d rather have more magic swords floating around than less.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Carriers

Continuing the mini-descriptions of the Deep Patrol universe, here's a brief description of the what and how of the Patrol's major starship class, which are:

Carriers

A carrier is the standard independent field unit of the Deep Patrol. There are many designs, most of which have been modified or upgraded at various times so it is difficult to generalise accurately. What they all have in common is the ability to perform long range and long term missions, acting as a tender for cutters and cruisers that perform scouting sorties.

Essentially a Carrier is equipped and manned to be a mobile exploration base for the Patrol, sending cutters on short range scouting missions and the larger cruisers for longer or more complex follow up operations. In the event of an encounter requiring the full commitment of the Carrier’s complement it is usual to request back up from Carriers in adjoining exploration zones and from those refitting in the reserve.

Carrier captains have enormous discretion in their actions due to the vast distances between nodes and poor communications in uncharted space. For security reasons, one Carrier will have little information on the planned route of another, which in any case they are increasingly unlikely to have followed as time passes. Messages have to be sent to arranged rendezvous points and message drops and wait to be collected. A call for backup has no guarantee of being honoured in a timely fashion. As such it is doctrine for each Carrier to act as though it will not be relieved when under threat.

However the loss of a Carrier must not mean the loss of a war or failure in other, more threatening events. Carriers are constantly sending cutters and drones to the rendezvous and drops to pick up and send out information. In this way data, technology, and even supplies and personnel are spread throughout the Patrol.

This post is supported by my Patreon, where the main Deep Patrol stories are hosted.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

I Read Books: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin is an excellent novel about disasters; the fifth season of the title is the season of death, usually due to tectonic movements. There are people who can control earth movements; obviously they’re hated, feared and enslaved. It is grim as hell.

Read This: For state of the art Fantasy-that-maybe-is-actually-science-fiction.
Don’t Read This: If suffering and death repel you.
(This review crossposted to GoodReads where sadly I have given it a number of stars)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

I Watch Films: Moana

Watched in 2018, though previously seen with my four year old nephew.

I am #TangledForLife and Frozen has better songs. But Moana fits together perfectly, the story and music all building together to ask the questions that let Moana come to her answer.

This despite it being very episodic. Island, sailing, island, sailing, encounter island-sized ships, sailing, island etc. In fact it could almost be designed as a set of twenty minute episodes in a serial.

Speaking of which, neither Tangled nor Frozen were designed to have obvious sequels, though that hasn’t stopped them from starting work on Frozen 2. Moana however is set up exactly that way; take another Polynesian legend or two, put them in Moana’s path as she sails the sea, have Maui come back – it practically writes itself.

Watch This: If you have a small child to entertain or otherwise like all-ages animated musicals
Don’t Watch This: If you hate fun and adventure.
What's That Name Again?:

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

I Read Stories: Big Ancestor

Big Ancestor by F L Wallace

In this 1954 story humans of various sorts are scattered across the galaxy and their wide and varied family tree makes them the envy of other species. Now they think they’ve found the original source of man and the mystery of their ancestors. However they need an alien pilot and the exact nature of the ancestor will not be what they expect.

This classic Science Fiction tale has lots of clever bits that fit together well. Perhaps a little too well as it telegraphs the two reveals at the end fairly obviously. Of course this might be its influence on the sixty years of fiction that have followed, or perhaps even descended from it...

Read This: For an entertaining if slightly old fashioned SF story
Don’t Read This: If you don’t like old SF or if the slightly dubious spectrum of human development and how it interacts with the romantic inclinations of the characters are likely to throw you completely out.
Online Here: Big Ancestor at Project Gutenberg.

Friday, March 02, 2018

I Watch Films: Early Man

I’ve seen a few vanity football films, for example Sean Bean in When Saturday Comes, Dennis Waterman’s idiosyncratic The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale. I’d not paid attention to the promotion for Early Man, the Nick Park Aardman Animations stop-motion project, so until I went with a four year old co-reviewer I did not realise that it was a football film.

The cavemen live in an idyllic valley in the centre of the badlands. Unfortunately the bronze age arrives, and it turns out that there is bronze* under the valley. Due to an unlikely series of events, if the cavemen can defeat Real Bronzio at football they can get their valley back.

It’s cute and charming and has some good visual jokes, and a fair few actually funny gags. It is in love with football. Like most of the Aardman feature lengths, it just about manages to fill its running time without feeling padded, yet never quite seems to need the space and effects of the big screen.

The four year old enjoyed himself, occasionally shouting out when something funny happened on screen. He liked the pig.

Watch This: For an entertaining historically-inaccurate football related comedy plasticine film.
Don’t Watch This: If broad humour, Aardman’s visual style, football films or bad history put you off.
Just For Once: This is still in the cinema, rather than being months or years later like my regular reviews.


* It is beside the point to note that that is not how bronze works.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Negotiation Tactics

I have published another episode of my space opera serial and it can be found on my patreon page under the title Negotiation Tactics. Although it stands alone it is not the best jumping on point which is the first episode; all of them can be found on this page, where there are more details.

Meanwhile, Negotiation Tactics has a brief look at the idea of interstellar commerce before degenerating into a kidnap-ransom plot. Also someone dies.