Thursday, January 31, 2019

I Watch Films: The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro’s film about a secret government laboratory in Baltimore and the forbidden romance that grows there. Also about sixties spying, and a few good jokes.

A mute cleaner falls in love with the asset, a captured Amazonian humanoid fish-creature who may be a god. He certainly has healing powers. As might be expected the government wants to vivisect him to learn how his amphibiousness works, in an effort to get an advantage in the space race. The Soviets, inevitably, have an agent in the facility. Hijinks ensure.

Here are some of the things I like about it: The view of a secret government facility from the bottom up (two of the main characters are the cleaners and they spend time with the cooks). That the heroine is mute, and she works around her disability, making it part of her life and character without dominating either them or the plot. The ongoing use of water and various shades of green as colour motifs. That everything the villain attempts turns against him, and that although he is personally and institutionally powerful he cannot see his own or the institutions flaws, which is why everything goes poorly for him.

Also a woman fall in love with a fish monster and they have sex. What’s that about?

Watch This: For a clever, assured, science fiction romance film
Don’t Watch This: If romance with fish monsters sounds a bit much

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

I Read Books: Whipping Star

Whipping Star

A somewhat weird short novel by Frank Herbert (best known for writing Dune). In the Consentiency, a government of many strange aliens (and humans) Jorj X McKie is an agent of the Bureau of Sabotage, an organisation that exists to slow down excessive government activity. The Caleban, a race impossible to see and what can be seen all but impossible to describe, gifted jumpdoors, instant travel. Now they are vanishing, and every time this happens madness and chaos ensues.

The last Caleban is being whipped to death and McKie must stop it. Things get a bit strange after that. It’s a rich and interesting setting, sparely described and yet the story left me unsatisfied.

Read This: For an interesting if minor novel from a major SF author
Don’t Read This: If you want everything explained for you

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

I Read Books: The Winter Queen

The Winter Queen

Ah, a historical detective novel with some good jokes in it. Sadly not by me but by Russian author Boris Akunin. It begins with the investigation of a young man who kills himself playing a game of “American Roulette” with a revolver. From 1876 Moscow young, hot-headed investigator Erast Fandorin crosses Europe, discovering a wild and widespread conspiracy.

Read This: For a wacky, idealistic detective story set in the 19th century, interestingly inflected with a touch of dour Russian cynicism.
Don’t Read This: If you hate crime stories.

Monday, January 28, 2019

I Read Stories: My Struggle

My Struggle

Lavie Tidhar’s Hallowe’en story about a Hitler who fails to come to power and becomes a private detective in 1938 London. He gets involved with a complicated plot about finding the spear of destiny. It’s savagely tough on the protagonist because Tidhar has no mercy for him. The story walks a delicate line between revenge fantasy, noir crime and occult mystery, sometimes putting a toe a little out of place, though in forgivable ways.

The frame story is gutting.

Read This: For a Hallowe’en story whose horror is that it is less than the real horror
Don’t Read This: If Hitler as a private detective has no interest for you

Friday, January 25, 2019

February Preview

Next Month in Tapping The Admiral

Recovering from his injuries, John Toris receives a just reward – promotion. Unfortunately this requires him to be posted to a new ship, and one that is being sent north to the frozen Hyborian Ocean in the depths of winter. His duty will then send him further across the world, but no matter how far he sails he cannot outrun...

The Curse of the Ice Witch, 1 February 2019 at my Patreon.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

I Read Comics: His Face All Red

His Face All Red by Emily Carroll

A short horror webcomic. Two brothers go out to kill a beast. One returns... then later the other does.

Read This: For a creepy little cartoon story
Don’t Read This: If you don’t like weirdness and horrid protagonists

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I Read Stories: This Will Not Happen To You

This Will Not Happen To You by Marissa Lingen

This is a short, powerful look at disability and pain from a future perspective. A disease savagely attacks people and the initial treatments and prosthetics are not good.

But it’s okay now. This will not happen to you

Read This: Because I can’t give you the flavour of this absolutely gutting (in a good way) story as well as reading it will.
Don’t Read This: If you don’t want reminding of the terror of pain and helplessness.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

I Watch Films: The Curse Of Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein

Some classic Hammer Horror here; Peter Cushing as the Baron and Christopher Lee as the creature. The Baron is quite a nasty piece of work. Initially his only interest seems to be his medical experiments, the laudable if obsessive ability to bring people back to life. His tutor/assistant/collaborator Paul Krempe urges him to publish to let others benefit and offer suggestions, but instead Frankenstein goes further, wanting to create a creature. He journeys about the place after particularly good bits of anatomy.

Krempe decides to leave at the same time as Frankenstein’s cousin arrives to marry him. Unfortunately it seems Frankenstein has also got his maid into trouble, but he has a murderous undead creature so perhaps...

Anyway we know it goes wrong as the framing device of the film is that Frankenstein is in a cell, confessing before his execution.

Watch This: For old school horror, where it’s all about waiting for someone to make a terrible choice and uncover a dark secret
Don’t Watch This: If you want a good looking monster.
Film vs Book: No film of Frankenstein follows the book very closely and none capture the essence of the book, which came at a pivotal time for the novel etc. so I prefer to take the film as it is rather than compare.

Monday, January 21, 2019

I Read Books: Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers

Gertrude Morel is unhappily married to a miner, Walter Morel. They have a number of children, including several sons, about whom her life revolves. We follow her life, then that of Paul, the second son, until eventually she dies. It has very finely drawn sketches of family life, work, food and housing, and how death is dealt with at the start of the 20th century.

But that’s not a reason to read the book unless you’re a weirdo who writes stuff set in that period. (Sorry) Instead, the reason this book endures is that Lawrence so finely sketches the way that Gertrude, disappointed in her husband, transfers the full force of her love and expectations onto her sons. And they in return find themselves disappointed in love because it can not compare to that of their mother.

There’s a few good bits about the role of women at that time that still have resonance today.

Read This: For a classic D H Lawrence novel about family, life, and love
Don’t Read This: For the rude bits which don’t stand up (and from what I’ve seen of Victorian erotica, didn’t even then. Can’t believe people complained about obscenity in it.)
Out of Copyright: And available online for free.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Tapping The Admiral Liner Notes 2

 Notes on my story On The Rock.

Liner Notes 2

A prize court determines if a ship (“prize”) has been lawfully captured and if so to whom the proceeds of selling it go to. I have grossly misrepresented the actual division of monies in the Royal Navy. In a fleet action such as occurs off Cape Laurel the total prize money would have been divided amongst the companies of all the ships involved. And involved has a maximal interpretation in this case: any naval vessel within sight is included. (This provision, theoretically because any ship in sight effects the actions of the enemy, encourages ships to follow orders rather than hare off to capture prizes.)

I have made The Rock a haven of smugglers and also corrupt officials. If it were based on a real place I would have to apologise to the inhabitants of it, but fortunately it is completely fictional, and also based on actual events.

Though when I say actual events, the flying snakes and the magician are made up. There’s more to the fantasy elements than the ambiguous and mysterious effects of the brandy in this tale and the stakes will only rise.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I Read Books: Broken Homes

Broken Homes

More magic police action. A murder, a suicide and a stolen book all point to the actions of the Faceless Man, a black magician – ethically challenged magic practitioner. It’s just as well that Peter Grant’s attempts to diplomatically prevent conflict between the courts of the two deities of the river Thames are working out. But there are twists and turns and betrayals on the way as well.

There’s magical architecture, and some gruesome crimes and a big twist. This is the fourth in the series, and they may not be getting better, they are consistently good and always introducing new and interesting elements.

Read This: If you are into magic and police and urban fantasy stuff.
Don’t Read This: If you don’t care about any of that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

I Read Stories: The Standard of Ur

The Standard of Ur by Hassan Abdulrazzak

A curator from the British Museum visits a future Iraq to determine if the country is stable enough to return the Mesopotamian mosaic-decorated box, The Standard of Ur (a non-fictional artefact). Climate change has made water scarce and going outside unprotected in daylight impossible.

The solution to sectarian violence in Iraq is science fictional. The curator has an ulterior motive. There is a newly excavated temple that has been mysteriously closed up. And not everyone is who they seem, or rather they are exactly who they tell you they are, but you weren’t listening.

The result is a somewhat disjointed but interesting exploration of several ideas, none of which quite seem to get the attention they deserve.

Read This: For some speculation into future and past Mesopotamia and the politics of artefact repatriation.
Don’t Read This: If you want detailed discussion of any of the topics raised.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I Watch Films: Expresso Bongo

Expresso Bongo (1959)

A sleazy music agent (Johnny Jackson) discovers the musical talent of Bert Rudge (Cliff Richard) and through a combination of luck (the BBC are filming a documentary at the strip club his girlfriend works at), lies and brass-necked impudence, and some actual work (naming him Bongo Herbert) makes him a star. Of course he’s getting 50% of the money. Having hitched Bongo to the third comeback tour of the seven-times married American star Dixie Collins (Yolande Donlan), she takes him under her wing and gets him out of the contract.

In the meantime we’ve had a very cynical satire of 1950s music industry which is both timeless (everybody is trying to take advantage of everyone else) and very specific (when Johnny talks his way on to a BBC discussion panel about youth culture, the host is smoking all the time on screen; all the kids are in espresso bars etc.) It’s quite funny, and sometimes very funny. For the first forty minutes or so it forgets that it’s a musical as the song and dance sections are people performing songs and dances in film, so it’s a bit surprising when they start singing to each other in the street or their bedrooms.

Watch This: For a funny, silly, look at the 1950s music business.
Don’t Watch This: If light-hearted fun about people exploiting each other is not your cup of tea.

Monday, January 14, 2019

I Read Comics: Stag Town


This is a webcomic by M Alice LeGrow, and the site it’s on seems to be picking up a bunch of very good people. How about that? Maybe I should look into why that is. If I were a journalist rather than a guy who writes whatever rubbish I feel like I probably would.

Anyway it’s about Frankie who returns to her spooky town (Stagtown) after college to discover it’s still weird and spooky. In the first story cameras appear all over town. Her paranoid neighbour is badly effected by this and then it gets (by turns) deadly, weird and even creepier.

Apparently she drew the first storyline, Surveillance, in ten days, which explains a few awkwardly composed panels, and the protagonist’s face is a little... I don’t know, roundly blank? Stylised? For my taste. But if you want a free scary comic then go read this.

Read This:
Because you need a cool scary comic
Don’t Read This: If you think comics are for kids, unless you are a kid in which case it’s probably a bit too horrific.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Map for On The Rock

Map for my Age of Sail Fantasy story On The Rock. Yes, The Rock is based on Gibraltar.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Read Books: Kil'n People

Albert Morris is a private detective in a future in which people can copy themselves. The copies only last 24 hours, are made of clay, and tend to be specialised – green for basic menial work, ebony for concentration, silver for high quality copies needed for a meeting and so on. You can download the experiences of the copy, though not everyone does (or can).

He’s on the trail of Beta who is involved in copyright theft (making illegal copies). But things are more complicated than they look, and he gets caught up into murder, politics, war crimes and even stranger events, so new they may not be technically against the law.

Brin creates an enjoyable story, exploring reactions and extremes that feel like real outgrowths of his wacky and bizarre world-building. There’s a tremendous amount of golem references for example, and he draws links between this new technology and the most ancient – clay tablets from Mesopotamia, terracotta warriors from China. His use of different viewpoints – all Al Morris in different bodies, often seeing the same events from wildly divergent angles – is very clever. And then he pushes it still further in the finale, suggesting a new stage of evolution for intelligence.

Read This:
For a really imaginative future crime thriller that takes it’s bizarre but interesting set-up very seriously, and uses it not just in the writing but in the structure of the novel.
Don’t Read This: If all this golem stuff sounds nonsense.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

I Watch Films: Tangled

I’ve previously noted on this website that I am #TangledForLife. Having recently watched it again with my nephew perhaps I should explain what I mean.

Mother Gothel is a classic abusive parent and Rapunzel is a classic abused child who rebels. When she first leaves the tower her extreme mood swings between joy at freedom and intense guilt are something regularly observed amongst people who escape an abusive relationship.

When Will My life Begin is very clearly a song about depression.

And because Rapunzel can’t honestly claim her freedom and adulthood, she has to steal it, as she was stolen before. And because of this it has to be the thief Flynn Rider who can teach her to be herself.

Anyway, it’s a good fun adventure for the whole family. A couple of nice songs, the horse and an inspirational scene when Rapunzel goes to town and charms everybody that I for one keep wanting to re-write. Watch out for When The Princess Comes To Town, coming any decade now.

Watch This: For a kid-friendly Disney Rapunzel adventure
Don’t Watch This: If princesses charming animals and so on is not for you

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

I Read Stories: On The Occasion Of My Retirement

On The Occasion Of My Retirement by Nick Mamatas
A statue in bronze and in vantablack

The narrator of Mamatas’ tale, a former semiotics professor at Miskatonic university now finding himself out of work, tries to sell a mysterious artefact. It is a statue that appears to absorb all light, though on closer inspection moving parts can be seen. Thanks to a plot with his former lover and a rival professor he is sucked into the world of the artefact, a place where ants compete with and replace men, snipping off limbs as they try to ambush and escape one another.

From there it takes a turn into horror.

Explicitly referencing Kafka and Lovecraft, the story takes a phrase from the latter “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents,” and works through some implications, in both obvious ways, and the warped and terrible ways that might occur to a semiotician.

Structured as a very bizarre and rambling lecture, it’s also a tricky story, with details being placed in plain sight only to reveal themselves in their true, warped form later. And this, of course, is the reason why the story takes Theory so very seriously.

Read This: For horror that works on a number of levels, and challenges us to read more into the story.
Don’t Read This: For a straightforward or pleasant story.

Friday, January 04, 2019

I Read Books: Cold Comfort Farm

This comic novel is a parody of a (sub)-genre that’s out of fashion, in which a romanticised rural setting is inhabited by people doomed by love and/or birth (“loam and lovechild”). Flora Poste goes to visit her relatives the Starkadders on the eponymous farm. An unspecified wrongdoing makes them feel obligated to her, allowing her to attempt to solve their exaggerated emotional and/or practical problems.

It’s very funny. Also, for some reason, keeps flirting with science fiction (videophones, a character is a veteran of the ’46 Anglo-Nicaraguan War*)

Read This: For a funny story about the town cousin coming to the country and trying to make everything better
Don’t Read This: If obscurely yet broadly drawn characters aren’t amusing to you.

* The book was published in 1932

Thursday, January 03, 2019

I Read Stories: She Still Loves The Dragon

She Still Loves The Dragon by Elizabeth Bear

I do not have answers to this story. I only have questions.

She is a hero who has lived a full life and she goes to confront the dragon. Because she is a hero and the dragon is there. And she loves the dragon.

The dragon is a dragon. The dragon is immortal and does not feel like mortals do. The dragon hurts her because that is what dragons do. The pain transforms her, makes her over and new. She still loves the dragon.

Read This: For something about loving what will hurt you that is strange and terrible.
Don’t Read This: If you want answers as it only has questions.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

I Watch Films: Now You See Me 2

The sequel to the Robin-Hood-Magician-Heist film. Bored with nothing to do after the events of Now You See Me, the horsemen are all eager to start a new scam (except Henley as the actress left so her character was replaced; frankly she was the one doing best at the start of Now You See Me so it was unclear why she followed the clues to join the team in the first place). Of course it goes wrong; Daniel Radcliffe (who has faked his own death, like one of the horsemen) captures them and forces them to steal (back?) a chip that lets you spy on everyone’s phones and computers.

Anyway the set-pieces are superb, each team is inside the other’s heads at various times, and it’s a lot of fun. Someone feels the need to make this film bigger and better than the first and I’m not sure it works? The intimate tricks are cleverer and more interesting to me than the big ridiculous illusions. Still there is a whole arsenal of Chekov’s guns, almost every throwaway line is a foreshadowing. Too much emphasis on hypnotic nonsense, but why not, if you must go big, go ludicrously big.

Watch This: For clever, tricky heist stuff.
Don’t Watch This: If crime and magic do nothing for you.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

On The Rock

Happy New Year, despite all this my Age of Sail Fantasy serial progresses. This month's episode takes place a few days after the first, when the Triumph, damaged in battle, has limped back to the nearest friendly port. It's called On The Rock.