Thursday, September 20, 2018

I Watch Films: Geostorm

Geostorm is poorly named. Surely a geo-storm would be a big earthquake? Globalstorm or Worldstorm would be better names.

Anyway, after various weather related disasters two brothers build a space based weather control system. One of them is fired so they don’t talk any more. Then it goes wrong and one brother has to send the other brother into space to fix it, while staying on earth (“geo-“) and navigating an even more treacherous environment – politics. Because it’s a conspiracy.

This is not a good film, but it is fun, and when it gets moving there are some entertaining disasters. The orbital mechanics are bad though. I’m just saying.

Watch This: For a loud film in which Gerard Butler fights the weather.
Don’t Watch This: If you don’t want a silly loud film.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I Read Books: Strong Poison

Lord Peter Wimsey is the forty ninth person to propose marriage to Harriet Vane. The first was her former lover, Philip Boyes. The other forty seven have come since she was accused of poisoning Boyes.

The story opens with the judge summing up the case against Vane, but some of the jury aren’t convinced. Nor is Wimsey, who is convinced she’s innocent. Unable to get a verdict, the judge orders a re-trial, giving Wimsey a month to clear her name.

So the novel opens with a recitation of the facts, and the case that Wimsey has to break. The best way is to solve it; to prove that Boyes poisoned himself or that he was poisoned by someone other than Vane. Yet no one else seemed to have much of a motive, and absolutely no one else had the opportunity, according to the documented events of the evening.

This is great fun, especially as Wimsey really cares about the case for once, making his silly-ass fool facade even more of a mask than usual. It takes in his ‘cattery’ – a bureau of professional women who make enquiries for him in between their main work of answering and exposing fraudulent adverts – details of arsenic poisoning, the Bohemian lifestyle of the arty set* and spiritualism. Along the way Wimsey even has time to sort out his sister’s lovelife.

Read This: For a really first rate 1930s detective novel
Don’t Read This: If 1930s or detection sounds boring

* Involves a lot more kippers than might be expected.
This cover is great and also misleading

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

I Watch Films: Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla

A goofy looking giant lizard emerges from Tokyo Bay. It keeps changing as things happen to it, eventually becoming much less goofy and much more of a raging monster.

Meanwhile quite a lot of the film happens in meetings, as the Japanese government tries to get a handle on things. As it is subtitled, and they all speak quickly, and often their name and position appears (some of which use non-obvious acronyms) there’s quite a lot of words on the screen. This is fine, but means that a certain amount of concentration is needed.

Despite this there’s plenty of explosions and destruction, with a giant lizard fighting the Japanese Self Defence Forces (and Americans too) and revealing a new and more horrible way to wreck things every time they up the attack. It’s a film much more about disaster response management than the American versions of Godzilla. There’s a lot of senior ministers trying and failing to figure out what is even going on, so they can work out how to find out what the response will be. A meeting in the Prime Minister’s office becomes a formal cabinet meeting for some important reason, and when one character brings up his outlandish theory that it might be a big animal, he’s told off because his nonsense will be officially minuted.

Watch This: For a giant lizard wrecking Tokyo and a bunch of people in suits not knowing what to do about it.
Don’t Watch This: If giant lizards or machine gun fast subtitles don’t so anything for you.

Monday, September 17, 2018

I Read Books: The General's Envoy

The General’s Envoy

This sequel to The Viceroy’s Captain finds John Caspasian of the Ghurka Riles assigned to the consulate in Shanghai, 1927. Chiang Kai-Shek, notorious communist*, is on the march, his Northern Expedition will soon be arriving, threatening the International Settlement. Looking for a counter, they send Caspasian upcountry to make contact with up-and-coming warlord General Mok, known for his brutality (nothing particularly unusual there) and also his former Russian Armoured Train, called (sigh) ‘The Dragon’.

There’s adventures in warlord-era China, a better Warlord and his beautiful daughter, the Westerners have plots and plans and corrupt schemes, and Caspasian runs into an old wartime buddy and their meeting is not as heartwarming as might be hoped.

Read This: For scheming historical adventure
Don’t Read This: If heroic deeds in warlord era China are uninteresting to you.

* True story: Chiang Kai-Shek enjoyed the support of both Russian and Chinese communists until [SPOILERS] his 1927 purge of communists, leading directly to the Chinese Civil War.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Liner Notes 10

A very brief peek behind the scenes of my story A Robot Told Us To Do It and the attendant essay The Deep Patrol.

Liner Notes 10

This month concludes my explanation of the secret history of the Deep Patrol. I wanted a crazy space opera setting to be explored by rough and ready space ranger types who made up answers to their problems as they went along. Having done that, I then attempted to construct a reason for it; oracles that could see a doomed human race trapped in a dark universe that hates them. If the predictions show your fate is terrible then you have to go beyond the possibility space and become unpredictable.

I can only apologise if you don’t like this, and in this case feel free to believe that the Ironheart Entity is wrong. Or lying.

Liner Notes 10a

Having made the Deep Patrol wild and woolly and out of control, here’s how it’s controlled. It’s a decentralised organisation and should probably be considered paramilitary rather than strictly military. Having said that, they have gone to war and I’m fairly sure they will again. Soon.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

I Watch Films: John Carpenter's Vampires

John Carpenter’s Vampires

John Carpenter usually brings an energy and style to his films, along with a clever idea or two. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to have clever ideas, and this film, relatively late in his career, flags on the energy and style.

Still, James Woods is a vampire hunter for the Catholic Church and his team begins by clearing out a “nest” (large house) of “goons” (lesser vampires controlled by a master), mostly by harpooning them and pulling them out into the New Mexico sunshine*. That night, while celebrating with booze and hookers**, they are attacked by the master, who is tougher than every previous vampire they’ve encountered. There are two survivors, and also one of the women was bitten so they use her to hunt down the vampire.

There’s a twist or two on vampire lore (the master vampire was created by an exorcism*** gone wrong, but it’s really a Weird Western, the Catholic imagery and themes slotting neatly into place in the genre. Some good action scenes!

Watch This: For an action, horror, western that doesn’t quite manage to do anything unexpected with those genres.
Don’t Watch This: If a ridiculous Vampire movie is not for you.

* New Mexico is pretty green which is cool as usually it’s depicted in films as desert.
** With the full approval of the team priest
*** Or a reverse exorcism? Or a reverse excommunication? I didn’t really catch the details.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I Read Books: The Dictionary of the Khazars

Me: I think I’ll review every book I read this year.

Also Me: I think I’ll re-read The Dictionary of the Khazars

Also Also Me: Oh no.

Dictionary here is used in an old fashioned way; lexicon or encyclopedia would be the more modern term. Nevertheless, this book is fiction.

The Khazars were a real people who lived between the Caspian and Black Seas during the second half of the first millennium. The Dictionary claims to be a collection of documents relates to the Khazar Polemic, the event in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim representatives made their cases as to which religion the Khazars should convert to. This was a real event. Nevertheless this book is fiction.

You can look up the history. In the Dictionary, the question of which religion they converted to and what happened to the Khazars is not resolved; Hebrew sources suggest they converted to Judaism, Islamic sources that they made their Islam, Christian sources, well you get the idea. The book is more interested in the characters who tried to find out about the Khazars, and also dreams (the Khazars had priests who were dream hunters) and death, and time, and angels made up of dreams and death and time.

There’s a murder at the end.

Read This: For crazy weird semi-theological pseudo-historical fantasy.
Don’t Read This: If non-linear, non-standard non-narratives are not for you.