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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finally Got Around To Seeing...Rogue 1!

I missed the first few sessions. I think these days I don't feel that I simply must see a film on the first day/night/midnight. I'd go, I suppose, if a friend wanted to go together. It is a good idea, though, to go soon, because very few films last more than a couple of weeks nowadays. And I'm on holiday now, so this morning I went off on time for the 11 am session.

I've been a Star Wars fan since I first walked into that cinema on Bourke St, Melbourne, and saw the word crawl and the spaceship zooming overhead. I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens, which was in the true spirit of the original trilogy. 

Now there is Rogue One, which is the buildup to the events of ANH. You see the various races mingling in the streets of the cities and on the Rebel Alliance Council. You see storm troopers in grubby armour because they're in charge of labour camps instead of on the villain's ship, where they would be expected to keep their gear clean. No cantina scenes, alas, except very briefly. And you find that even the good guys are willing to do unpleasant things to win.

I like the fact that this is the second Star Wars film in a row to have a female protagonist. And Jyn is a good, strong character, and brave. 

It was interesting to find out just why the Death Star had that weakness for the rebel fighters to exploit. There have been arguments about that over the years, with many people finding it just too convenient . But there's a reason! A very good reason. 

And thanks to CGI effects we can have Grand Moff Tarkin back, though Peter Cushing has been dead for some years. There's also a young Carrie Fisher's face in the last scene. I know some people have said that it was creepy or disrespectful to do this to actors who have passed away, but I have to say I was quite impressed. Well, with Tarkin, anyway; I thought Carrie Fisher's face looked a bit plastic. Really, if you didn't know Peter Cushing was dead, you wouldn't think "creepy". I hadn't heard about this, so I thought, "Hang on, he's dead! This must be CGI." The film makers said they thought Tarkin needed to be in the film and they had no intention of doing this regularly. 

There were some other characters who returned. Darth Vader, of course, with James Earl Jones's voice. No Dave Prowse, but it wasn't necessary and maybe he had another job. Anthony Daniels appeared very briefly as C3PO; he had one line. 

There was a droid who was more than just a sidekick, K2. He was a fascinating character in this own right and not a fussy butler like C3PO. 

My favourite characters were the two warrior-monks who accompanied our heroine on her quest. One of them was blind, but still Force-sensitive and an amazing martial artist(the actor is well known for his martial arts skills). The other looked like a samurai. But they were both Chinese, not Japanese, though the characters had a definite Japanese influence. 

It was definitely darker than the other Star Wars movies, though it was dark enough when Han Solo was killed in The Force Awakens(and not even a heroic death, just a murder!). Maybe a bit too dark for me and I wondered how the children who were viewing it felt. 

Still, I'm happy I went and will probably go again or get the DVD when it's out.

Happy Birthday, Rudyard Kipling!

Portrait by John Collier, 1891. Public domain.

I was looking for some important things that happened on December 30, but most were horrible. And nothing writing themed. I did unearth a feast day of a saint called Abraham the Writer, but even Wikipedia only told us his name and the church that celebrated him On This Day. Sorry, Abraham the Writer!

So then I looked up the writers born On This Day. I'd never heard of most of them, though it was nice to know it was the birthday of Sol Saks, scriptwriter for the TV series Bewitched, which I enjoyed as a child, though I wanted to thump Darren most of the time. 

However, there was one major birthday - Rudyard Kipling! 

I confess I haven't read all his works, not even some of the famous ones, but then he was a pretty prolific writer and traveller, I just can't read it all - yet. There's a story that he simply turned up on Mark Twain's doorstep and knocked on the door, before wondering whether this was a polite thing to do. However, the wonderful American writer kindly invited him in and had a long chat. 

My American readers will be pleased to know that he lived in the U.S. for a while, with his wife and kids.

I have read Puck Of Pook's Hill and its sequel, Rewards And Fairies, which were utterly magical, linked stories about England's history and folklore. I've been making my way through Just So Stories - and I remember reading "The Elephant's Child" to my nephew Max when he was little(he's about to turn 19 now and start university!). They are wonderful stories to read to a child and put on the voices for them. I've read a fair few of his short stories, including his horror fiction. Bet you didn't know he wrote horror fiction - I didn't either, till I found a collection at my favourite bookshop. 

And the poems - oh, those poems! Beautiful stuff which refers to the sea as "the old grey widow maker" - "Harp song of the Dane Women" and "Song of the Men's Side" which made great filk songs by Leslie Fish and the wonderful late Linda Small. 

And there's "Tommy", a poem about the ordinary British soldier. "Oh it's Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy go away, But it's thank you, Mr Atkins, when the band begins to play." A gorgeous poem, which has also had the filk song treatment, about how soldiers are treated well when they're needed to fight and like dirt when they're not. We had a student called Tommy Atkins at my first school and he must have wondered why I sang that line at him when he borrowed a book! He didn't ask, though. 

Apparently, Kipling had swastikas all over his book covers till the Nazis spoiled the old sun symbol for him and everyone else, when he stopped. He was no fan of the Nazis!  

I know he has been controversial both in India and elsewhere, but he did write some great stuff. 

Happy birthday, Rudyard! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

And... Kenny Baker!

From Wikimedia Commons, by Mean Mr Mustard

While we're all mourning Carrie Fisher, I thought I might mention another member of the Star Wars cast  who has left us, Kenny Baker, who was R2D2 in most of the films. I only learned about it a couple of days ago, though it happened in August. At least he made it to 82. Which doesn't make him less missed.

I had a chance to hear him speak at a science fiction convention here in Melbourne once. He was guest of honour, but at the last minute we also had Dave Prowse, who played the body of Darth Vader in the films(he didn't know about James Earl Jones doing the voice till after the first film was released!) So there they were, these two men, sitting side by side in the question and answer session, one very tall, the other very small, and I couldn't help thinking that they had both, over the years, been cast for size rather than acting. Dave Prowse was polite and mild-mannered; Kenny Baker was sharp in his comments about at least one fellow cast member. (I should add that the said cast member about whom he was rude came to Australia for another convention and, as well as his guest duties, he helped set up scenery for an event during the con and made sure that those of us who had volunteered were looked after afterwards.)

But he was straightforward about the matter of his height. "I know I'm never going to play Hamlet," he said. Which hadn't stopped him from getting plenty of work - and he had a cabaret partner, Jack Purvis, who was a Jawa in the first film. He mentioned another dwarf actor who hadn't been able to cope with his lack of major roles and committed suicide. That wasn't going to happen to him! 

In Return Of The Jedi, R2D2 was remote controlled, so he was going to play Wicket, the head Ewok, instead, but he got sick and the role went to a young boy in his early teens, called Warwick Davis. Heard the name? You should have. His career has gone very nicely, thank you, with roles from the title role in Willow to Reepicheep the Mouse in the TV version of The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader

However, this post is about Kenny Baker. You may think you haven't seen much of him, but just check out his filmography on Wikipedia and you'll find you have. 

Not at all bad for someone who knew he would never play Hamlet! 

***Update! Debbie Reynolds has died, only a day after he daughter, Carrie Fisher. Very sad, first to lose her child, then to follow her so soon! Especially sad for the family to lose two members in a row. Not a good time! ***

Too Many Losses To The World!

For me, at least, the latest round started with John Glenn, the Mercury Seven astronaut who swept around the world in Friendship Seven in 1962. That passing was December 8. My Mum says she remembers that flight, back when she was a young mother in Melbourne. One of the things that happened during his flight, as far as Australia was concerned, was that the people of Perth turned on their lights for him as he flew over.

There were a number of glitches both before and during the flight, including some worries about his heat shield, which could have ended with Friendship Seven returning as a ball of flame, but he got through it and came back to Earth a hero.  Which was, in some ways, bad luck for him, because being a hero made him a sort of living national treasure and that kept him out of space until 1998, when he went up in the space shuttle, to test the effects of space on an older body. Yeah, sure. That was the only reason! ;-) 

He also appeared as himself in an episode of the comedy series Frasier, in which, while the main characters are quarrelling in the back room of the radio studio, he is recording, telling the world he saw aliens out in space and hadn't been allowed to talk about it. He acted very well. Mostly, celebrities who appear as themselves are not that impressive. 

Vale, John! 

And because this is a book blog, after all, not only the blog of a science fiction fan who loves her sensawunda, there's Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, who managed to convince generations of children and adults that rabbits can be epic heroes. A novel based on stories he had told his children was rejected about seven times before a small press took a chance on it and the rest is history. A million copy sales, a movie, a hit song...

He lived in Hampshire and when I was visiting a friend there we had a cold drink at the Watership Down pub - which, incidentally, kept rabbits in the garden. I was told - not sure if it's true - that the book was named for the pub. Anyway, a classic! 

His passing was on Chrismas Eve. Vale Richard! 

But at least John and Richard lived long lives and died peacefully. 

Carrie Fisher was only sixty. That's not elderly these days. And while she had never been out of work, as a well-paid script doctor as well as an actor, she had been in the middle of a resurgence as a Star Wars actor. 

I am old enough to remember when the original movie came out. I left school and slipped into a five pm session in the city. I was swept away by the adventure, the power of it. There was the Hero's Journey thing, of course, with Luke Skywalker. There was the beautiful fairytale princess appealing for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi, her "only hope." 

And when you met the princess, she was not the helpless sweet young thing the message had led you to expect. Her first words to the hero were, "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" And then she took over in the escape. Even when, in the third film of the series, she was wearing a slave-girl bikini and a chain, she used the chain to throttle the villain. And she was there in the first place because she had been caught rescuing her lover. 

Then you saw her again, an older woman and leader of another rebellion. Okay, the actor didn't write the script, though she did turn out to be a very good writer, good enough to make a living fixing other people's scripts as well as writing bestsellers, but I don't think anyone else could have played this role. And it was only her second film! 

Vale Carrie! 

And yesterday, the 28th of December, was my Dad's Yahrtzeit. It was the seventh anniversary of his passing. With respect to the celebrities above, this was the passing that meant most to me. In any case, Dad would have sneered at Richard Adams and Carrie Fisher as writers and said they were nowhere near being in my league!  Dad was my biggest fan. He was so proud of his gifted family - on his deathbed, he was promoting my books and my nephew Mark's music to his doctors and nurses. But Dad had gifts of his own. He had a glorious baritone singing voice - his son and two of his grandsons have inherited his singing talent, though they're basses. He was the family handyman, something he had to teach himself since he was in a concentration camp in his teens, with nobody to teach him these things. And when he came to my place to fix things, he would leave delightful little cartoons with his notes to say he had been there. 

I have a silver ring which he made for me, because he taught himself silversmithing, and a silver pendant shaped like an open book which I got for graduating as a librarian. 

In his old age, he taught himself to use a computer and discovered the joys of the Internet. Unfortunately that diverted him from writing his autobiography, but he had a wonderful time! 

My sister, brother-in-law and I went to the cemetery to clean his tombstone and say hi to him. I wore my Wolfborn t-shirt as it was published after he was gone, and told him all about it. And I couldn't help feeling he was listening with that delighted chuckle he always gave. I told my sister his classic joke which, for some reason, she hadn't known about. 

Sleep well, Dad! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

An Arvo In The State Library

A 1962 newspaper - what was on!

This afternoon, I went into the city to do some research at the State Library. It's amazing how many people were there, considering the time of year and that it's just after Boxing Day. I would have thought most students, even uni students, would be having a short break, but all the computers were occupied. I'd meant to spend some time on the National Library's Trove, which has a lot of digitised newspapers, but I ended up simply sitting down with my iPad and using the free wifi to do my looking up, and decided I might be best to do it at home, on my laptop.

Meanwhile, I used the resource for which I'd gone to the library: the microfilm newspapers. The year I wanted was 1962, the month February. I do love looking at old newspapers, though these were very dark and hard to read. I saved several pages to my USB stick anyway, at the cost of 10c a page. The newspaper I used was the Sun, whose descendant, the Murdoch paper the Herald-Sun, I don't much like. But the thing is, as I discovered when researching the Beatles visit to Melbourne in 1964, it did human interest stories, while the  broadsheet Age simply reported what had happened. I needed the excitement of that event, the pictures of girls swooning over the mop-top lads from Liverpool, girls kissing a disgusted-looking Ringo,  the letters to the paper declaring that the  Beatles would be forgotten in about two years. That made for good fiction.

But 1962 was also fascinating. I made sure that as well as my topic, I also saved pages with advertising of the time, pages with what was on at the movies and the theatre, pages with what was on TV.

At that time, the teachers' union was negotiating for a new agreement on pay and conditions. Those were the days, mind you, when most teachers were in the union and pay and conditions were better than they are now. But those teachers hadn't had a chance to see what was in the distant future, so they were protesting outside Parliament about their low pay.

Kids were being invited to enter a competition in which they had to do a Vegemite superhero comic strip, with the prize a Malvern Star bicycle.

On TV were such shows as the Loretta Young Show and Sir Lancelot, a children's TV series with William Russell of Dr Who fame. You know - Ian, one of the first Doctor's first three companions, an utterly gorgeous man with a lovely speaking voice. I remember Sir Lancelot, which he must have done a bit before Dr Who.  And you know how I feel about men with lovely speaking voices! I've acquired some of the William Hartnell episodes and decided that yes, I had good taste back then.

There was some footage of John Glenn's flight on TV too.

A jar of Vegemite was advertised for 1 shilling, 11 pence ha'penny. That would have been about eighteen cents in today's currency, though it bought more than eighteen cents buys today, of course.

At the movies, you could see The Sundowners, with Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. Robert Mitchum did a very good Aussie accent, because he had lived here in his teens. Gidget Goes Hawaiian was on too, for the teen crowds. You could also see a documentary called Seven Wonders Of The World in a spectacular new thing called Cinerama, which was basically the Imax of its time. The very young Hayley Mills was in the touching Whistle Down The Wind with Alan Bates. If you wanted to go to the theatre instead of the movies, the National Theatre was performing Romberg's The Desert Song at the Palais theatre in St Kilda(still there, but now mostly only used for rock concerts) or you could see The Sentimental Bloke. And Victor Borge was in Melbourne!

If I hadn't been going cross-eyed with the darkness on the screen I would have looked up the letters column. Maybe next time.

This took up a large chunk of my day. I did go to find a pouch for my "new" iPhone(given to me by a friend, because I needed to replace my old  2G phone with a smart one), but the Apple shop didn't have any(it's a very old model) or even something else that might fit it. After I'd basically been told to piss off and stop bugging the man, who had told me they had nothing, for goodness' sake, I went browsing in souvenir shops, bought a pencil case, too big, but light and brightly-coloured enough not to get lost in my bag. And then I found some make-up cases at Woollies, one of them just the right size to protect my phone, and bright orange in colour. I have no idea what I'll do with the other two cases, but I have something I can use now!

Anyway, I feel as if I've had a productive day, writing-wise, even if it was just research. Well done, me!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Off To The Boxing Day Sales!

mum and I used to go together, back in the days when stocktake sales were just that: sales of leftover goods from the Christmas sales, before they started getting in rubbish especially for Boxing Day. Mum can't handle the crowds any more. Even I only went to town because I needed a kettle to replace the old plastic one which has served me well, but is now pitted and dangerous to use. I checked out some reviews and nothing had a majority of positive ones. How can you decide when one review raves and gives a five star review, saying how durable it is and another says the same item broke down after a few months? In a couple of cases that it blew up or caught fire! In the end, I bought a kettle which was smaller than I wanted, but had reasonable reviews.

Now time to go to JB Hifi and see if they can sell me a cover for my new toy, an iPhone, though I may need to visit the Apple store. I have a new gift voucher, a Yuletide gift, so might as well see if JB has it and at the same time, maybe buy a DVD or two. I bought two seasons of Dr Who on my last visit. Maybe one of the older DW stories will be on special?

No Boxing Day blockbusters for me this year - the Dr Who Christmas special is on!

This morning on Radio National there was a debate between Team Literary Fiction and Team Genre Fiction, about whether literary fiction was better for creating empathy in its readers. I'm pleased to say genre fiction won - lit fiction got only one vote out of three and that was only because the judge said she felt sorry for that team and wanted to give them at least one vote. And listeners texted questions - one was used, asking each team to give their favourite books of the opposite type! It was a fun session.

So that's my Boxing Day so far - I stopped at the Emporium food court for a late lunch, I'm there now.

What has your Bocing Day been like?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Appropriate Yuletide Reread: Hogfather

I love Terry Pratchett's books! It doesn't seem to matter what the occasion is, he wrote a book for it. This one, of course, is for Christmas. It has a lot of fun with Christmas issues, such as department store Santas and commercialism. It also does things with "Good King Wenceslas", showing him as an arrogant wealthy man trying to do "charity" for the peasant so he can get that wam, fuzzy feeling. This, of course, infuriates Death, who is filling in for the vanished Hogfather. 

In case you haven't read this, it's set at the Discworld's version of Christmas, Hogswatch. It's really connected with the agricultural year, the time when pigs are slaughtered for winter food. That's why the Hogfather  drives a sleigh  pulled by huge pigs instead of reindeer, and it's no glittery tinsel-covered contraption either and the hogs are real ones, apart from being able to fly. They do their business on the carpet of a department store. But for the Discworld people it's the time to go home, visit your parents, exchange gifts and cards and get into huge arguments with your family. Yep. Christmas all right. 

When the real Hogfather disappears. due to having a contract out on him by the Auditors of reality, Death takes over the round and it's up to his granddaughter Susan to find the real Hogfather.

This is the second Susan Sto Helit novel, the first being Soul Music, one of my favourite Discworld books, Pratchett's tribute to rock and roll. In that one she was a schoolgirl, who had to take over Death's round when he disappeared. In this one, she's a governess. The final Susan novel was Thief Of Time, in which she was a teacher, who got involved with the son of Time, the Auditors again, still trying to stop the world so they can get on with their filing, and the History Monks. 

I'm a fan of Susan. Because of her background, she's able to do things no normal governess could do, such as bashing up the monsters under the bed with a poker and stopping time. She gives her charges hard books to read, as a result of which the boy can now use words like "disembowelled" after reading a military history. 

It's a very funny book, with lots of laugh-out-loud, especially with Death trying to be Santa Claus, his companion Albert drinking all the sherry and eating all the pork pies left out for the Hogfather,  and there was one particular scene that poked fun at Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl. I wished that the original fairytale had ended that way.

I think it was the best of the TV adaptations too. The others were just not as good, even though Terry Pratchett made a cameo appearance in them all. 

Anyway, hope you've all had a great Hogswatch - I went to the beach but it's been 37' most of the day and is still hot!

Somehow it's just not been a traditional Christmas card scene in Melbourne. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

All I Want For Christmas Tag

Hours of the Duc de Berry. Public Domain image. 

I don't actually do Christmas, which is not my holy day, but this seemed like a fun thing to do on a book blog, and I've seen it on others, so here are my answers to the questions below. Enjoy! And feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

1. What fictional character do you want Santa to leave under your Christmas tree? 

Faramir from Lord Of The Rings, with the address of his favourite Gondorian restaurant and a way of getting there for dinner. He is such a nice man, and intelligent with it. And he loves history - we'd have a ball!  

2. What character do you want to kiss under the mistletoe ?

The trouble is, all my favourites are taken. Perhaps Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan, who wouldn't be that much shorter than me anyway, who likes and respects women, and who'd be fun to kiss. After all, he doesn't get married until quite late in the series...

3. You write your Christmas list for Santa, what are the top 5 books on it?

These will all be Aussie/Kiwi writers, but you will have heard of most of them, wherever you live. I don't have any titles in mind - just whatever these fabulous writers produce next! 

- the next book by Juliet Marillier
- the next book by Margo Lanagan
- the next book by Sophie Masson
- the next book by Kate Forsyth
- the next book by Dirk Flinthart, preferably a collection of his Red Priest stories

4. It’s Secret Santa/Kris Kringle at Hogwarts, what do you most want to receive?

A gift voucher to Honeyduke's sweet shop! 

5. You get to the spend the day with the characters and movie adaptation actors from one fandom, what do you pick?

Lord Of the Rings characters and cast, and the day would be the day and night of Bilbo's party. 

6. What fictional animal would you like to replace Rudolph and be able to meet on your roof?

Shadowfax from Lord Of The Rings. He's every little girl's dream horse. Or Binky from Discworld, as long as he came without his master, Death. (Unless it's in Hogfather, but Death was driving a sleigh pulled by huge pigs in that... Susan was riding Binky.)

7. You invite 10 fictional characters to your New Year's Eve party, who do you pick?

Okay, I'm going to cheat by allowing some of these characters to bring a minder or a date. 

i. Halt from The Ranger's Apprentice, if I can have Will and Horace to keep him from embarrassing himself. He'd be good value at a party.

ii. Aubrey Fitzwilliam from Michael Pryor's Laws Of Magic steampunk series - he'd be fun at a party and could defend us from any evil magic or resurrected dinosaurs.

iii. Aubrey's friend George, who can cook and loves doing it, to man the barbecue (hey, 
I live Down Under, it's summer here!)

iv. Aubrey's girlfriend Caroline, who can do any physical ass-kicking if Aubrey fails with the magic and would be interesting to talk to. 

v. Miles Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar novels. He'd be great at a party, but we'll need his wife Ekaterin to keep him from doing anything too crazy. He and Halt could entertain us all. 

vi. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride And Prejudice to be witty and make sure the guys don't get too smug about themselves. 

vii Jo March from Little Women, to put on a play for us and to discuss writing with. 

viii I'm thinking of inviting Phryne Fisher, who always brings great booze to parties and is entertaining, but book-Phryne SMOKES! Like a chimney!  And would object to being asked to smoke outside. Maybe invite TV Phryne? She can bring her boyfriend Lin Chung.

viii Corinna Chapman, the baker from the Chapman mystery novels by Kerry Greenwood, who always brings great food to parties and is fun to talk to; she's a lot like the author! And her gorgeous boyfriend Daniel as her date - she wouldn't come without him.

ix from the same series, Mrs Dawson, an elegant, intelligent woman who would bring champagne to the party and help run it - she's a retired society hostess. 

x. Finally, from the same series, Professor Dionysius Monk, a really interesting gentleman who knows a lot of stuff and would be fascinating to speak to. 

And because it's my party, dammit, I'll also invite Gandalf, who could do all the fireworks for us! 

8. What character would make a good Santa? (Doesn’t have to be appearance, personality counts too)

Again, Gandalf. He'd know exactly what you'd like as a gift, and if you had been naughty or nice. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vale Gareth Thomas 1945-2016

Creative Commons image 

So, what is it with me that I only hear about these things months after the event? Like Parke Godwin, the wonderful American novelist who did British heroes better than many British writers? I only heard about his passing because I was looking up stuff for a post about his Arthurian fiction.

In this case, I only heard about it because I was at a Christmas party where someone mentioned it. It happened in April. 

Still, never too late. Gareth Thomas was, most famously, in Blake's 7, playing the title role. If you're not as old as I am, you may not have heard of it, though it does still seem to have a fandom, including young fans who have made their own episodes, with original characters, appearing on YouTube. Blake's 7 was a British TV space opera which started, in the best British style, on a dystopian Earth, where everybody lived under domes because of a nuclear war centuries ago. The air outside has long cleared up, but it's convenient for the government to keep everyone together, where they can be controlled. There are secret police, drugged food and water, a caste system and stupid piped music playing in the streets! There are also rebels, and one of them, Roj Blake, played by Gareth Thomas, had been captured, tortured and had his memories wiped and replaced, then released. When a former comrade persuades him to attend a secret meeting, he's captured again, accused of child molesting, to put his fans off him, and sent off to a penal colony, from which he escapes with a sort of Dirty Dozen in space. After that, it's space opera for the rest of the series. 

Blake was never my favourite character - that was his comrade Kerr Avon, a smouldering gorgeous anti-hero. But that voice! I have always said I'd have dated Quasimodo if he had a beautiful speaking voice and Gareth Thomas was no Quasimodo. 

He was a RADA graduate, England's version of our own NIDA, and you have to be the best to get into that, and once you do, they train you very well. 

And he had an impressive resume, including some Shakespeare and stage, screen and TV, mostly TV. He was working well into the 2000s. Really, Blake's 7 was only two years in a long career, and not even the beginning of the career, but somewhere in the middle. There were two more seasons after he left and he returned only to be killed off in the last episode. 

I remember him in The Citadel, based on a novel by P.C Cronin(I've read the book, lovely story). The lead role of a young doctor in a Welsh mining town was played by Ben Cross, another fine actor who has done quite a lot of good roles and, in recent years, played Sarek in the first new Star Trek movie. Gareth Thomas played his mentor, an older doctor.

And that's the thing. He didn't have to play young heroes. Even in Blake's 7, when he was in his prime,  he wasn't a dashing romantic hero, despite his green and brown Robin Hood-style costume. He was a veteran rebel leader who could always control his anti-hero sidekick Avon, get him to do what he wanted, kicking and screaming, but doing it. In later years he played older characters and they were memorable. 

He seems to have done quite a bit of children's TV too, including stories based on novels, such as some of Jenny Nimmo's beautiful fantasy novels; of those, he was in Emlyn's Moon and The Chestnut Soldier.  In Knights Of God, which was a sort of Arthurian story set in a future dystopian England, he played a Welsh fisherman who had brought up a boy who was the long lost heir to the throne - the rest of the royal family had been wiped out and replaced with a sort of Knights Templar order who were ruling with fists of iron. Gareth's character was the leader of the Welsh resistance and, good heavens, he fell comfortably back into that role, didn't he! In one scene he was disguised in what was definitely a trooper costume from Blake's 7. That mini-series also featured Patrick Troughton as a sort of wizard-like character called Arthur whose son was embarrassing him by being the country's dictator. I think that may have been his last role before he died. 

I once got to see Gareth Thomas at a science fiction convention in England, where he had been brought in to replace another guest who was sick. He signed a postcard for me, which was all I had on me and we chatted briefly. In England in those days, actors really earned their pay at media conventions - in Australia we only ever had one guest and they were guests. They had to do a speech, perhaps be on a panel or two and help to judge the masquerade. For the rest, they were treated as guests. (Those were the days before the big events they have now) 

In England they performed. They practically ran the events. So I saw him and his then-wife, make-up artist Sheelagh, and Paul Darrow(Avon)and his actor wife Janet speaking, running the charity auction and generally clowning around. And then they mingled with the attendees. 

He did a fair number of historical roles, including a Puritan officer in By The Sword Divided, and a policeman in a miniseries whose title I can't recall, which was about an event bs k in the 1900s where they were sent from London to break a strike in Wales. 

You know, I always thought he could have played Aragorn; the description of Aragorn in the novel Lord Of The Rings sounded a lot more like him than fortyish, sexy Viggo Mortensen, who played him in the film. Aragorn looked a lot younger than his real age - he was actually older than elderly King Theoden, whose childhood he remembered - but he was a grizzled fiftyish Ranger who had seen a lot of action. Don't get me wrong, I think the casting of the film was excellent and Viggo Mortensen did the role beautifully. But when I was re-reading the novel, it was Gareth Thomas's voice I heard in my head. 

Ah, well, too many have left us and here's another part of my younger years gone. Vale, Gareth! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Random Re-Read: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows

If you've followed this blog for any length of time you'll know that I have this habit of picking up a book at random as I leave work for the day and reading it at home.

In this case, it was a re-read. This is the one I have read the fewest times and then only as part of a full re-read of the series. It has been some time since I last picked it up. It was a copy I bought recently, with the new cover, for the benefit of a student who was reading the series for the first time. Our old copy was missing and this poor girl has had other times when she got to the exciting bit of a series and the next book was missing. Oh, she loved it! She hadn't even seen the films, so the entire universe was new to her, or as new as it can be when people are always talking about it. Seeing her enjoy it was a pleasure for me. 

So, I took this one home, determined to finish it before the holidays. As it happened I didn't succeed. I finished last night, just before bedtime. 

It made me think about the series in general. What do I love about it? A lot of things. I love the references to folklore, the playing around with Latin for her spells, the humour, the mediaeval bestiary creatures(and those she has invented). J.K Rowling is a woman of some education and it shows, but never in an attempt to teach her readers. If they learn something and perhaps follow it up with a bit of research, that's great, but otherwise just enjoy, kids! 

And I love the way the characters develop. Who would have expected that Neville Longbottom, the comic relief of the first book, would be the one to lead the rebellion in the last book and stand up to the Dark Lord? Yet there were indications throughout the series that it was not for nothing he had gone into Gryffindor rather than the more obvious Hufflepuff. (By the way, I loved that Newt Scamander was a Hufflepuff). 

Harry is a decent young man, but not a saint. Yeesh, the author must have left his dialogue on caps lock in Order Of The Phoenix! And when he quarrels with his friends it's usually his fault. Hermione has to remind him, in Goblet Of Fire, that they are on his side. And he's a brilliant sportsman, but only average academically. However, things come back to him when he needs them. Interestingly, the most important ones are things he learned from Snape. In Half-Blood Prince he saves Ron's life with a bezoar, something Snape told his students in the first Potions lesson in the first novel. Harry's signature spell, "Expelliarmus" , was in that duelling scene in Chamber Of Secrets, when Snape used it to Disarm Lockhart. It saves Harry from Voldemort and enables him to defeat that Dark Lord in the last few scenes of Deathly Hallows

In this book, we really learn, as does Harry, that the Chosen One is not chosen to be a sort of rock star, but more like the sacrificial lamb, there to save his people but not himself. In a scene taken straight from C.S Lewis, he walks into the Death Eater camp, knowing he isn't going to walk out again. He does the task in front of him without complaint, just gets on with it. 

There are Tolkienesque elements in this book too. The locket Horcrux has definite elements of the Ring. It doesn't tempt you with power, but it does bring out all your negative thoughts and emotions in order to defend itself. And I think that, while Ron gets the worst of this particular version of the Ring, Harry is the Frodo of this novel. 

The Death Eaters in power are very much the Nazis. The whole "pure-blood" thing reeks of "blonde, blue-eyed Aryans" - even more so because, just as Hitler was hardly an example of the blonde, handsome Aryan, Voldemort is hardly a "pure-blood." And early in the series Ron says that if wizards hadn't married Muggles they would have died out long ago. Nobody is pure-blood! Well, maybe the Gaunts, but look at what inbreeding did to that family. Crazy, the lot of them. 

In this book, Dumbledore turns out to be a vulnerable human being like everyone else. There was certainly a build-up to this in the last novel, but here is where it's clearest. And the afterlife Dumbledore tells Harry that he is the better man, as is his brother Aberforth. He's not Gandalf after all, just a human being who got it terribly wrong once, in his teens, and has blamed himself ever since. 

It occurred to me while reading that epilogue that the Hermione in that scene is already Minister Of Magic, as is revealed in The Cursed Child. But then, you can change things. I don't think this was already in the author's mind; perhaps it was suggested by the author of the play script. And a black  Hermione is also new canon; in this novel she goes pink with embarrassment a few times. You might or might not see a blush on an African face - and I never have seen a blush on my African students - but they don't go pink. That's for us whities. 

Well, it's fine with me. I keep hearing JKR had planned this series out in elaborate detail from the start(though she did change her mind about a couple of characters who were originally going to die and didn't). It's nice to know even she can change her mind. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Compulsory Pre-Christmas Post...Book Christmases!

Public domain image

Okay, after finding about a million Christmas-themed posts on blogs I follow, I thought it might be time to do one of my own, even though it's not my holiday.  I have, in the past written about how I adore being alone on Christmas Day, packing a picnic lunch, with fresh summer fruit, home-baked bread or rolls, the mince tart or fruit cake someone at work invariably gives me, and going to the beach to read. I remember being a bit disappointed when my sister and brother-in-law decided to have a barbecue on that day. I had to be sociable!

So I'll write instead about Christmas in books that I can recall, and if you have something to add, feel free to comment. 

There's the obvious one, A Christmas Carol by Dickens, that Victorian Christmas card of a novella. I think I read somewhere that the Christmas tree was brought to England from Germany by Prince Albert, and, I suppose, quite a lot of other things we associate with this time of year and era. Anyway, it does tend to be the way we imagine a Victorian Christmas, doesn't it? And there's no doubt that Dickens manages to slip his social justice ideas into this one, not just in the Bob Cratchit thing, but that scene where Scrooge is confronted with two shivering children under the robes of Christmas Present. The Ghost says they represent Ignorance and Want.

Which brings me to The Last of The Spirits by modern writer Chris Priestley. This is sort of A Christmas Carol fan fiction. In it, the two children are real people, the main characters of the book. They have taken refuge in Scrooge's living room after he was whisked off for his lesson in How To Be A Better Person, having encountered first Scrooge himself, on the street, then the ghost of Jacob Marley, on his way to save his friend's soul. They are not at all pleased to be used as a moral lesson by the Ghost of Christmas Present. But eventually the boy, whose bitterness about their troubles was sending him along the same route as Scrooge, has his own soul saved and the two of them encounter the new Scrooge, now willing to help them. 

Who can forget the classic Christmas scene at the beginning of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott? The girls are regretting their(genteel) poverty and then deciding that they will unselfishly spend their small amount of money on buying something for their mother, which she will receive, birthday-style, next morning. And next morning they wake up to newly-covered copies of The Pilgrim's Progress, a favourite of their childhoods. Actually, I'm not sure it isn't the Bible, but I think it was Pilgrim's Progress, because following chapters have titles based on that book, eg "Jo Meets Apollyon."

And then they give up their breakfasts to a poor German migrant family living nearby and go home to bread and milk. Even Amy, the most selfish of the sisters, is okay with this. That night, they perform a play written by Jo, who thoroughly enjoys playing the villain. It isn't a nativity play, but one of her blood-and-thunder stories. The novel was semi-autobiographical, with Louisa as Jo, but though she was already an adult by the Civil War, even worked as a nurse, she did write a lot of melodramatic stories; I have a collection of her short fiction. 

There is a short story in the Phryne Fisher universe, "Overheard On A Balcony", in which Phryne and her maid Dot go to the Queenscliff Hotel in the Victorian coastal town of the same name, for a Christmas in July celebration organised by a friend of hers, an Englishman who loves everything about Australia except the summer Christmas. Of course, this being a Phryne Fisher mystery, the party is spoiled by a murder. I couldn't help thinking that this story was a sort of experiment for Urn Burial, her Agatha Christie tribute. It does have some elements of that novel.

Let's conclude with the Harry Potter novels, each with a Christmas chapter. Christmas in the Potterverse, let's face it, is never a delight for the characters.

I'm currently rereading the Christmas chapter in The Deathly Hallows, in which Harry and Hermione, who have been wandering the country to avoid the Death Eaters and seek the Horcruxes, suddenly realise it's Christmas Eve in the village of Godric's Hollow, where Harry was born, as the church is all lit up and people are heading there. Of course, having read this book before, I know that two of our heroes are about to have a nasty experience. 

Harry receives his first Christmas gifts in Philosopher's Stone, including the Invisibility Cloak, but he also discovers the Mirror of Erised and becomes hooked on it. 

In Chamber Of Secrets, he and Ron take the Polyjuice Potion to make them look like Crabbe and Goyle, but don't learn much from Malfoy and meanwhile, Hermione gets a cat's head due to a mistake in the hairs she stole. 

In Prisoner Of Azkaban, Harry receives the Firebolt broom, but immediately loses it because Hermione suspects it has been sent by Sirius Black and warns Professor McGonagall. Well, it has, but it wasn't cursed. And Ron blows up when he thinks her cat, Crookshanks, ate his rat Scabbers, who is actually doing something that worked when, as Peter Pettigrew, he betrayed Sirius and the Potters. 

Christmas in a Goblet Of Fire has the Yule Ball. Ron is jealous of Viktor Krum and has a fight with Hermione. Some unpleasant things are also going on around Hogwarts that night.

Christmas in Order Of The Phoenix is spent with the Weasleys, but Mr Weasley is in hospital after being attacked by the serpent Nagini. Lockhart appears at the hospital, still out of his head, we find out that Neville's parents are alive but mentally ill after having been tortured by the Death Eaters and a character is murdered by a bewitched pot plant.

On Christmas Day in Half-Blood Prince, Ron is poisoned and nearly dies; he only survives because Harry remembers something Snape taught them in their very first Potions class. Oh, and this is after he has been affected  by chocolates laced with love potion. Poor Ron...

No, Christmas is not a happy holiday for Harry and his friends!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Beethoven - again!

Today is Beethoven's birthday, but I posted about this last year, so here are links to all my posts with Beethoven in them. in which I mention fiction that has included Beethoven and talk about the Peanuts comics and that Beethoven fan, Schroeder. Schroeder inspired me to celebrate Beethoven's Birthday. in which I mention all the famous other people born on this day - go read it, there are some amazing ones, including Iane Austen and some SF authors. in which I comment that being a genius doesn't mean you're a pleasant person. Quite often the opposite - and Beethoven is a great example of that! 

Go read them!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Moon Chosen by P.C Cast. Reviewed by Taylor Barker

Today on the Great Raven, I would like to welcome Taylor Barker, who has just finished Year 9 and is one of my lunchtime book club members. Taylor was kind enough to read and review this novel because I was simply flat out with other review/interview responsibilities. Thank you, Taylor!

Mari is an Earth Walker, heir to the unique healing powers of her Clan; but she has cast her duties aside, until she is chosen by a special animal ally, altering her destiny forever. When a deadly attack tears her world apart, Mari reveals the strength of her powers and the forbidden secret of her dual nature as she embarks on a mission to save her people. It is not until Nik, the son of the leader from a rival, dominating clan strays across her path, that Mari experiences something she has never felt before…

 I really enjoyed the book Moon Chosen. The book was very enjoyable and had a good storyline.

 I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy novels.

 The characters were all interesting, though my favourite was the main character Mari, because of her bravery and determination.

 This is the first book I have tried of this genre.

 In my opinion this book would be suited for young adults/ teenagers.  The best thing about the book was how intriguing it was; it was able to keep me interested.

 This was one of the first P.C Cast books that I have tried and out of ten I would rate it an eight.