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Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Just Finished Reading…Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2021





Poppy McGowan works for the ABC as a researcher for a children’s TV program. She is renovating an old house she has just bought when bones turn up under the floorboards. Until it has been decided whether they are human or animal she can’t continue, and it’s not a good idea to call the police unless the bones are human, so she decides it’s time to call on the archaeologists from the museum to find out. 


Unfortunately, the only one available is Dr Julieanne Weaver, an old enemy, and though the bones are those of sheep, she wants to slap a heritage order on it, making it impossible for the renovations to go ahead. 


When Julieanne’s dead body is found in the house, there are several suspects, beginning with Poppy and Julieanne’s gorgeous boyfriend Dr Tol Lang. Is it Poppy’s own boyfriend Stuart who did the deed? What about members of the Radiant Joy Church which is behind the Australian Family Party, for which Julieanne had hoped to be preselected as a candidate? 


Will Poppy ever get her house back?


This cosy mystery is the first of a series by Pamela Hart(also known to her readers as  children’s author Pamela Freeman). It is great fun and the author certainly seems to know about how television programs work. The children’s show for which Poppy works is not unlike the ABC’s Behind The News, though with themes rather than news.


The regular characters of future novels in the series are introduced in this one, starting with Detective Chloe Prudhomme and her sidekick Steven Martin(and yes, he winces when he has to introduce himself). I think they will do well, though I’m hoping Chloe gets to do more than groan and sigh when phoned with new information. She does come through when needed, though, and possibly will trust Poppy more in the next adventure, when they know each other better.


Though the novel is humorous in style, Poppy herself is kind and decent; she finds herself pitying the victim, whom she disliked when she was alive, and finds sympathy to a badly treated teenage girl who is part of the family of one of the suspects.


Sydney, where the novel is set, is almost a character in its own right; the author makes it a part of the story without being just an exposition. 


Highly recommended if you enjoy a cosy mystery! 


As a recently published work, it should be easily available in all the usual places, including Amazon.

Friday, December 31, 2021

To My Followers - A Brief Info Post

Yesterday I got an email from a friend following this blog by email, asking me if my blog had been hacked as it arrived under “follow.it”. I did sign up with follow.it when Google removed its connection with Feedburner. I am a bit surprised as I thought this would show up earlier. But yes, you can safely click through. If you aren’t comfortable with this, just open my blog itself when you get an email. But there is another blog I follow, which also comes via follow.it and I haven’t had any problems opening that. Happy 2022!

Comics And Me!

 

Fair Use 


When I was a child, my mother wouldn’t let me have comics in the house. There was something ironic about that, because she told me that she had had comics as a child, till her brother-in-law threw out her collection, sneering, “Really, people going to the moon? What nonsense!” Well. It was the 1930s… and the other day, she remarked how wonderful it was to be still around in such an amazing era as ours.


I didn’t argue with Mum, I just read some Superman comics with my best friend, Denise, whose family owned a boarding house. The boarders placed their soft drink bottles in cases at the back of the house and we took them to the local milk bar, where we exchanged them for the deposit money you got in those days for empty bottles, and used it to buy ice cream, more soft drinks and Superman comics. We took it all home and curled up with our booty to eat, drink and read. 


Those comics were a treasure, and had some real information in them, apart from the stories. For example, I read in one comic the actual name of Roman Emperor Nero. In another, Superboy cheated on his school exam, by asking to go out for water and time travelling to ancient Egypt, where he saw the ancient Egyptian version of the Cinderella story(it’s in Herodotus’s Histories, in case you are curious. Her name was Rhodopis). Superboy used the information to pass his exam.


After those delightful years, I grew up without comics. It wasn’t that I had anything against them, but by the time I was an adult, comics were terribly expensive and graphic novels even more so, and my thought was that I could get a regular novel for the price of a graphic novel and have more bang for my buck.


It was different when I was buying for my library. I bought plenty of graphic novels. Admittedly they were graphic versions of actual  novels and even Shakespeare, so required good readers, something many schools don’t seem to realise when they sneer at them.

Now, here I am in middle age and finally catching up with the comics I missed out on as a teen and young adult. And I’m loving it! The comics are being reprinted with stories under single covers, so you don’t have to try hunting up the originals on eBay or ABEBooks.


Reading the bios of comic book creators(see previous posts) I have discovered some of the fascinating storylines of their creations and decided to look them up.


Right now, I’m enjoying Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, beginning from the very start, in which a crazy millionaire tries capturing Death for the power it will give him, and instead captures Morpheus, the god of sleep, Death’s younger brother. I believe this is going to be filmed for one of the streaming services. I do hope so, but must finish the stories. 


I’ve downloaded other comic books, such as Agent Of Asgard and Vote Loki, both of which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. The former I’ve been reading about in those bios, the latter I was curious about after the character known as President Loki turned up in an episode of the Loki TV series. The comic book character was a lot nicer than the one on TV, by the way. 


I’ve recently discovered the TV series of Hawkeye, which is wonderful, being about a superhero who has no super powers, no magic and only as much tech as he can create. In one scene, he gets stuck in a giant Christmas tree and has to be rescued. But he does it all anyway, something admired by young Kate Bishop, his new apprentice. 


Thing is, there are things I would have known if I had been a comics fan. Pretty much all the characters come from the comics, even the minor ones, as do most of the stories, though fiddled with. One character in this series is presented as a possible villain; if I’d read the comics, I’d have known they were not remotely villainous. 


There is also Hawkeye’s comic book costume which he refuses to wear in the TV version, at least till near the end, when it has been made for him by a bunch of people who are into costuming and fights. I have been looking up on YouTube some of the animated shows made by Marvel in the 60s and there he is, wearing that dreadful costume! 


Just before Christmas Eve I went out to buy some Jolabokaflod reading. I got that biography I mentioned in my last post, about King Oswald of Northumbria, at Dymock’s bookshop, then went to check out the newly reopened Minotaur Books, which specialises in comics, and bought two. One was a collection of short graphic stories about various Marvel characters, set during the various eras from the 1940s onwards. Captain America stuffs up, though well-meaning. Peter Parker, in the very long queue to see the original Star Wars, has to lose his place in the queue to be Spider-Man during a robbery, but gets in to see the movie after all.


Early Fantastic 4 cover. Fair use




The other book, which I haven’t started yet, is some of the early Fantastic 4 stories which I bought because they were by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.


By the way, I finally managed to finish Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Klay, his novel about two cousins in the 1940s who create a hugely popular comic book series. Highly recommended if you haven’t read it! 


Do you have some memories of comic books of your early years? Did you discover them early or late?





  


Friday, December 24, 2021

Jolabokaflod 2021!

couple of years ago, I did my compulsory pre-Christmas post on the subject of Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic custom of spending Christmas Eve reading new books. Here is a link to it.


https://suebursztynski.blogspot.com/2018/12/compulsory-pre-christmas-post-happy.html


It’s such a nice custom! You get a catalogue of all the new releases for that year, in time to do your Christmas shopping. You give - and receive - new books, and settle down on Christmas Eve to read your new goodies, maybe with Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band playing Christmas themed songs, as I did the other year. What could be more perfect? 


Thinking about it, it’s a great way to support the local publishing industry, though perhaps it might be a bit impractical in a country of around 26 million people - Australia - to be sending out a publisher catalogue to every household. Still, a nice idea. 


I’m afraid my Jolabokaflod read this year isn’t Australian, and last time I read Miranda Kaufman’s Black Tudors, a wonderful book, but not Australian. Next time, though… perhaps Peter FitzSimon’s next Australian history book? I do love reading history books.


Here is this year’s choice. I did visit my local SF bookshop, Minotaur, which has recently reopened in another venue after the last lockdown, and am looking forward to reading some Marvel Comics, but I’m cracking this one open tonight. 




For those who celebrate it, a happy Yuletide, with plenty of books!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Just Been To See…Dune!

Film poster. Fair use



 I have been to see the latest version of Dune, at my local cinema, and I have to say, I enjoyed it very much. The film only covered a small part of the novel and the next film won’t be out till 2023, but I had been warned and accepted it. It’s a long book, and you really can’t fit it all into a single film.


I read the book many years ago, and my copy is signed by the author, Frank Herbert, who came to Australia for a Perth SF convention and dropped into Melbourne, where I live, on his way home. There was a science fiction bookshop, Space Age, in the Melbourne CBD, and after 5.00 pm, when the shop closed, we got to meet Frank Herbert, who signed books and answered questions. He looked like Santa Claus at the time(later he shaved) and was just as jovial.


He was very much a plotter rather than a pantser, and said he had done a huge stack of research before he wrote a word. It really shows in his writing; the world building is brilliant. 


I confess I have never read any of the sequels, but this novel is a classic. If anything can be compared to Tolkien’s work, just for the world building, it’s Dune


It is thick as a brick, and if you want to read it, you need to focus. Dune is not something you can read in a sitting or two. If you haven’t read the book, you can just go and see the movie to get the flavour. Really. Don’t try reading it before the movie if you haven’t already.


It is about the adventures of a boy called Paul Atreides, son of a Duke, whose family are ordered to go and take over the planet Arrakis, aka Dune. Arrakis is a desert world where people wear stillsuits that recycle any water you sweat or pee out. On Arrakis, which has local tribes called the Fremen, if someone spits at you, it’s a compliment, because they are sharing their body’s water. That’s how dry it is! But it is also the only place in the universe that produces this stuff called the spice, which makes space navigation possible. Spice is produced by the giant sandworms. As you can imagine, anyone who runs this world is going to make a fortune, and the family leaving is not pleased. 


I won’t go any further, to avoid spoilers, especially because it ends about a third of the way through the novel, but it certainly, in my opinion, is true to the spirit of the book. The visuals are stunning, as is the music. The sandworm that shot up out of the desert sands was truly scary.


 The role of Paul is played by Timothee Chalamet, whom you have probably seen in other roles, such as Laurie in Little Women, and Henry V.  He is a bit old for the role(Paul is 15), but convinces, and I guess Paul really has to be played by someone older than 15; there is too much he has to do to give the role to a teenager.  On the other hand, his father, Duke Leto Atreides, is played by Oscar Isaac, whom you will have seen in Star Wars as Poe Dameron, the dashing rebel pilot. He is maybe a bit young for the role, but they did a good job of making him look somewhat older. 


There are some familiar faces here. Duncan Idaho, working for the Duke, was played by Jason Momoa, whom you may have seen in  Game Of Thrones as the Dothraki leader, or the title role in Aquaman. Another character, Gurney Halleck, was played by Josh Brolin(Thanos in the Avengers films), though without his musical instrument, the baliset. Dave Bautista, of Guardians Of The Galaxy fame, is Beast Raban, one of the baddies.


I have to admit, I had forgotten how much of the story was dominated by men until I watched this film. There are strong female characters, but not many women in general. There is the Reverend Mother of the order of the Bene Gesserit, who are a lot more than a bunch of space nuns. There is Paul’s mother Lady Jessica, trained by the Bene Gesserit, who is passing on her skills to her son. There is the (future) love interest, Chani(played by Zendaya), who is a tough Fremen fighter. (Liet Kynes, the scientist, was a male character in the book). Apart from these, I can’t think of any women who get more than a line or two. 


Still, whether you have read the novel or not, it’s well worth seeing. Get your ice cream and popcorn and settle down for a great ride! 




Thursday, December 02, 2021

Just Finished Reading…Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David And Colleen Doran

 



Stan Lee, born Stanley Leiber, started life in a very poor Jewish family in New York and ended it hugely famous, a major part of the comics and comic films industry. He did a cameo in every film, right to the end. He even made a brief appearance in an episode of Agent Carter, a TV show about Peggy Carter, a British- born agent working in the US after losing her beloved Steve Rogers (aka Captain America). Lee was in one scene where he was at a shoe shine stand and asked for a newspaper. 


I discovered this book at my local library and couldn’t resist. And very good it was, too, artwork by Colleen Doran and co-written with Peter David. Peter David started as a novelist, and I have read  two of his fantasy books. He went on to write an early episode of Babylon 5 and many comics. This is very suitable for the memoir of a comic book writer, and the book is, also appropriately, in the form of a graphic novel, and I have to say the artwork by Colleen Doreen is great, reflecting the humour of the story.


And what a delightful graphic novel it is! It’s presented as a talk by Stan Lee to a crowded auditorium, in which he shows his life as a sort of PowerPoint, from his childhood through his first job writing comics and the war years when his writing skills were used for army films warning about VD, his first meeting with his beloved wife(love at first site - he was supposed to go on a blind date with someone else!) and his career that followed. The book was written just about the time when The Avengers: Age Of Ultron was about to be released. 


At one point he visits his child self to inform him that he will never achieve his dream of becoming President…


My favourite scene was when his daughter and a friend are passing his study where he is dramatising a scene from a comic aloud. The friend asks what’s going on. The daughter says that’s her Daddy and he is working. The friend says her father is an accountant and much quieter! 


I’m guessing this is written for younger readers as he has written a regular memoir. That’s fine with me! 


It’s available, along with many of his other books and comics, in all the usual places. It’s even available in audiobook. 


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Happy Birthday Mark Twain!

 

Public Domain


Today, November 30, is the birthday of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known to us as Mark Twain. I have only read a few of his books so far, but they are well worth reading.


Tom Sawyer is his semi autobiographical novel - at least, it’s set in the small town where he lived, though the name was changed from  Hannibal to St Petersburg. 


Tom does make an appearance in Huckleberry Finn, a much more serious novel about Tom’s friend Huck. Huck runs away from it all, with Jim, a slave, and the rest of the novel is a road story, though the road is the river, the Mississippi. It was turned into a musical, Big River, which I saw some years ago. It was very enjoyable, though it seems to have vanished. The novel has been dramatised many times, but also banned due to its supposed racism, though I can’t see it. If anything, it was anti-racism. 


A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court is a hilarious tale of an American with a good knowledge of technology who travels in time and manages to take over Arthur’s England and introduce high tech, along with newspapers and baseball. I have a first British edition which my sister bought me many years ago because she knew I loved Arthurian fiction. She didn’t know it was a first edition! It’s illustrated. I treasure it. Incidentally, there is a novel, Arthur, King, in which Arthur has to travel forward in time to World War II, to retrieve Excalibur and Merlin’s journal, both stolen by Mordred. While posing as a pilot(he learns to fly, just not to land) he befriends an American volunteer who has joined the British war effort as the U.S is not yet in the war. His friend is from Connecticut…


This story, too, has been filmed many times. 


The one I reread most often is The Prince And The Pauper, in which the young boy who will become Edward VI finds himself out on the streets when he swaps places just for fun with a poor boy, Tom Canty, who looks exactly like him. This one has been filmed at least as many times as A Connecticut Yankee, and more recently, in a TV mini series. Disney did it, with Guy Williams as Miles Hendon, the man who protects the Prince, even though he doesn’t believe him. Errol Flynn played the role in the 1937 version - I’m rather fond of that one, which is charming. Oliver Reed did it too, with a teenage Mark Lester(Oliver!) as both boys and Charlton Heston as Henry VIII. It also, I think, was the template for all those stories with identical characters who swapped places. 


Mark Twain was very much someone who would be considered a leftist today. He makes his point in Prince, Huckleberry Finn and Connecticut Yankee, and he was certainly an abolitionist and a supporter of women’s rights. I can’t help suspecting that if he was alive today he would be on social media with millions of followers and his satire would have driven President 45 crazy.


He was enthusiastic about science and technology, though he went bankrupt over an invention he invested in, a typesetting machine that had problems. 


Over here in Australia, we remember that when he paid a visit to our country, he said of the Melbourne Cup that it had to be the only place where the nation stopped for a horse race.


Mark Twain was born during the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1835 and always said he would go out with the comet. He was right - he died in 1910, during the next visit of the comet.


He has been a character in fiction; I saw him once in in a TV film of Phillip Jose Farmer’s first Riverworld novel(I also read the book) and once in that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Time’s Arrow” in which the android Data finds himself in the 19th century, where he meets Guinan, later to become the ship’s bartender. Mark Twain helps the other crew find Data, and has a great time doing it. In Riverworld, he is in the afterlife and building a river boat. (The premise is that everyone who dies is awakened on another planet, beside a huge river, and, if killed, simply turns up elsewhere along the river, so you never know who you will run into.)


You should be able to find much of his work for free on  Project Gutenberg. Give it  a go if you have missed out.


Meanwhile, happy birthday Mark Twain!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

In Which I View The Green Knight And Think About The Poem

 I have just watched The Green Knight on Prime. I wasn’t going to watch it till I had had a good go at selling my Gawain novella, A Matter Of Honour, which I wrote some time ago, but hardly anyone is buying this length right now and those who are don’t want mediaeval fantasy.


So, I thought, the film is there, it has had some great reviews, what the heck. I watched it.


Did I like it? Hmm… 


In case you aren’t familiar with the Middle English poem, here goes. 





It’s the Christmas season - New Year - in Camelot. Everyone is having a great time. King Arthur won’t eat until something amazing has happened. As this is Camelot, of course, something amazing does happen. A huge green man rides into the hall on a green horse. The man is festively dressed in green and gold, carrying an axe, and challenges Arthur and his knights to a game. 


The game? One of them can give him a blow, but must then go to the Green Chapel in a year to receive one in his turn. 


After everyone’s startled silence, Arthur - a young man in this poem - grabs the axe impulsively, but his nephew Gawain asks for the honour instead. Gawain swipes the knight’s head off in one blow, but the story isn’t over: the Green Knight picks it up and rides from the hall, his head reminding Gawain that he must come to the Green Chapel now. 


The year goes by and Gawain sets off on his quest, pretty sure he won’t be returning. After all, he doesn’t have magic to stay alive after such a blow. He has many adventures along the way, not described, and asks everyone where to find the Green Chapel. 


Finally, he arrives at a castle called Hautdesert, where he is welcomed by a cheerful lord called Sir Bertilak and his beautiful wife. The Bertilaks really know how to party, and invite him to stay for the Christmas celebrations. 


“The Green Chapel?” says his host. “Oh, that’s just down the road! You can even sleep in on the day. Plenty of time !” 


Gladly, Gawain accepts, and also agrees to a fun game. Bertilak will be going hunting for the next three days. Each night he will hand over whatever he gains to Gawain, while Gawain will give him whatever he gets. You’d think after last time he would know better, but Bertilak is such a nice man, so what the heck…


Each of the next three mornings, Bertilak goes hunting and his wife walks into Gawain’s room. She gives him a kiss the first day, two the next. Much to Bertilak’s amusement, Gawain kisses him. The third morning, Lady Bertilak offers him, apart from three kisses, a green belt which will protect him from harm. 


Gawain is only human: he passes on the kisses, but not the belt. 


On the day, Gawain is guided on his way by a servant who urges him not to do it, and promises to keep his secret, but Gawain’s honour won’t let him. He proceeds. 


The Green Knight is waiting for him. The young man stands still to take his blow. The Knight swoops down, then complains that Gawain flinched. Gawain promises not to flinch again.


He starts again. Again he doesn’t take his blow. “Get ON with it, damn you!” yells Gawain. 


The third time he does cut Gawain’s neck, but not much. Our hero leaps aside and says, “Right! You’ve had your blow! That’s enough!”


But the Knight has no intention of doing more. Now, he explains: “I didn’t hit you the first two times because you kept your promise the first two days. The third day, you didn’t, when you accepted my wife’s gift without passing it on.”


Gawain is horrified! This scary creature is his jolly host? And yes, he broke his word…


But Bertilak tells him to keep the green belt and invites him back to the castle to enjoy the rest of the festival. 


Understandably, Gawain says no thanks, got to go home. 


He makes the decision to wear the belt permanently, to remind himself of the time he was weak. Back in Camelot, everyone wears a green belt in support of him. Incidentally, this is mentioned in Phyllis Ann Karr’s novel Idylls Of The Queen. It’s years later, but Gawain is still wearing the now-worn-out belt.


Basically, it’s a sweet story, and a lot of fun, with a young hero who learns about himself. 


And then there is the film… not sweet or fun. 


Spoilers ahead! 


It is so very serious and slow-paced. I should add, there are only two named characters, Gawain and his lover back home, Essel(the actress, Alicia Vikander, also played the Lady). Arthur and Guinevere are the King and Queen. Sir Bertilak is just the Lord, his wife the Lady.


Gawain’s horse is also named, though only once, when Gawain cries out his name, Gringolet. (A beautiful animal, though not dapple grey like Gringolet in the poem)


It’s visually beautiful and I can see why the producer director says he was thinking of Excalibur. Dev Patel is a lovely Gawain and our very own Joel Edgerton is a terrific Bertilak. 


He isn’t the Green Knight, though. I’d sort of hoped that after the not-very-good Sword Of The Valiant, they might change that back. In that film, Bertilak was a minor character and the Green Knight was played by Sean Connery, who admittedly was perfect for the role. He was a nature spirit, a vegetation god, and … melted into the soil. 


In this film, the Knight was created by Gawain’s mother, the king’s sorceress sister, for reasons never explained. Admittedly, in the poem, Morgan Le Fay sets up the whole business to scare Guinevere, no idea why. But Morgan Le Fay is Gawain’s aunt, not his mother.


Towards the end, there was a sequence that made me think of the last few scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I won’t say more, though I still have no idea what was going on in those scenes, and I saw it as a teenager. 


So, again, did I like it? I’m not sure. Would I like it better if I hadn’t read the poem? Perhaps. I would probably just say, “Well, that’s a different Arthurian film!” But I have to say, I prefer my sweet and funny poem.


Anyway, if you want to see the film, it is available on Amazon Prime. If you want to read the poem, I recommend J.R.R Tolkien’s translation, which is very readable, and the volume also contains his translations of Sir Orfeo and Pearl, with an introduction by his son, Christopher Tolkien, who edited it. I have read it in the original Middle English as well, but as translations go you can’t do better than Tolkien, can you? 


I got my copy on Apple Books, but you can buy it in print as well, and in Kindle, and I see that Audible has it too, read by Monty Python member Terry Jones.that alone would be enough for me to buy it!