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Thursday, December 22, 2022

What I’m Reading Right Now

 I have done a lot of reading and listening this year. I just can’t stick to one book at a time.

Here are a few things I am reading or listening to right now! 

The Lost King: The Search For Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. This is the story of the archaeological dig in Leicester which found the remains of Richard III under a car park. Richard was buried in the church of St Francis,  part of one of the many monasteries that Henry VIII destroyed during the Dissolution. For quite some time it was believed that Richard’s remains were thrown into the river Soar at that time, but no. The church was buried and Richard with it. And eventually it was buried under that car park. He was examined and found to have scoliosis, which made one of his shoulders higher than the other, but not a hunchback. Then he was given a proper funeral, with a poem read by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is related to Richard through Richard’s mother, and buried again in a coffin built by a many times great grandnephew, Michael Ibsen. 

I’m going to see the film on Monday. It’s not a documentary, and looks like fun.

I have just downloaded The Lady With The Gun Asks The Questions by Kerry Greenwood. It’s a collection of Phryne Fisher short stories, originally published as A Question Of Death. I do have that book, but this one has four new stories in it, so I sighed and bought it. As they are all together at the end, I’m rereading the lot before I read the new material. 

I first read The Art Of Coarse Acting by Michael Green many years ago. It’s a hilarious book about the bizarre things that go on in amateur drama. You can’t get it in paperback any more, or even in ebook, but you can get the audiobook read by the author, and I bought it a few months ago. He read it when he was an old man, but that is fine; the humour shines through. I have listened to it a few times while doing housework and I’m still laughing, no matter how many times I listen. Interestingly, he seems to have updated it, mentioning things that happened later than the 1960s when the book was first published.  It’s very much comfort listening for me.

Another book you can’t buy in ebook and which seems to be out of print but which is available in audiobook is Barbara Hambly’s Bride Of The Rat God, narrated by Marguerite Gavin. I like the reader’s style. She does a good job of playing the different characters, whether it’s the English heroine Norah or the studio owner Frank. Norah Blackstone is a widow whose American soldier husband was killed in France during the Great War. His beautiful sister, Christine, a silent movie star, has brought Norah to live with her in Hollywood. There is this cursed necklace which Christine wears everywhere, which has a scary Manchu rat god trying to kill her. Fortunately she has three adorable Pekingese dogs protecting her.

Incidentally, if you would enjoy this story more as a murder mystery, Barbara Hambly has rewritten it as Scandal In Babylon. I bought that earlier this year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I see there will be a sequel early next year.

I’ve been downloading from Project Gutenberg recently. There are some Robert E.Howard swords and sorcery stories, including Queen Of The Black Coast, about Conan’s love for a pirate queen, Belit. I like Conan. He may be a raging, roaring mercenary, but he doesn’t do rape. Women may be drawn, panting, to his armoured breast, but they are there because they want to be - if they don’t want to be, he protects them from those nasty men who do have rape in mind. And he respects strong women; the love of his life is a fellow warrior. I have posted on this site about Conan as a next door neighbour

There are about seven Agatha Christie titles up on Gutenberg, increasing as they go out of copyright. I have recently downloaded The Secret Adversary, her first Tommy And Tuppence book.

Apple Books has a free comic book by Laurie Halse Anderson, better known for her very serious YA fiction, a Wonder Woman origin story. Who would have thought it? I downloaded it, of course!

The Children Of Ash And Elm by Neil Price is about the Vikings, written by the archaeologist who advised the production of film The Northman, which is inspired by Hamlet. I haven’t read very far yet, but I’m finding it fascinating so far. 

When I heard that SF author Greg Bear had died recently, I thought it might be time to finally read his work, so I bought The Complete Short Fiction Of Greg Bear. I like to discover new authors via their short fiction. If I like this, I will invest time in their novels. If not, at least I didn’t invest more time than I wanted.

My sister and I were talking about Neville Shute’s On The Beach, which I read years ago, and on impulse I bought the ebook. That is about the world gradually coming to an end after a nuclear explosion, and the last days of Australians; the poison is spreading from north to south, so Australia is the last place in the world where people are still alive. You may have seen the film, made in the 1950s, with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. Like other films of the time, of course, the cast was not Australian, but it was made here in Melbourne. One of my teachers was an extra in it.

I bought the hardcover Marvel’s Loki: Art Of The Series, which is filled with concept art and goes through each episode telling us what the artist had in mind and why. Originally, the plan was to end the show with Loki going off on adventures, so various possible costumes were painted, including one taken from the comic book Agent Of Asgard. Then they gave it a second season, so those costumes were no longer relevant.

 It is a stunningly beautiful book. I paid a lot for it, but don’t regret a cent of it. 

And, finally, I’ve been reading quite a lot of fan fiction, downloaded from the Archive Of Our Own website. Recently I have discovered masses of Blake’s 7 fan fiction. Some was written recently, but there are some classics I first read in fanzines, such as those by Lillian Shepherd, who is a very good writer and should be having a go at writing stuff she can sell. I don’t think she is interested. A pity - another former fan writer and editor, Janet Reedman, who used to do Robin Of Sherwood fanzines, is now writing and self publishing Richard III novels. She is doing well. I bought one of her novellas and it was excellent. 

There are also quite a few that were stored on Hermit. org, which was closed down and they have been moved to this site instead.

I have mostly been reading Loki-themed fiction, but it’s been nice to find Blake’s 7 stories as well. My favourite character, Kerr Avon, is an anti-hero. He did end up killing Blake, the titular character and leader of the group, though personally I thought Blake had it coming under the circumstances. But for most of the series he was talked into doing good deeds, much against his will. 

So there are quite a few Avon stories on this site, and I have had fun looking them up. 

I have recently been considering hunting up some of my old fan fiction and popping it up on Archive Of Our Own. Only a few stories, but hey, why not? 

What do you think? 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Just Been To See…The Nutcracker Ballet

 It’s Christmas. Among other things that means The Nutcracker ballet, which I saw tonight. This performance was by the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, a ballet school founded by former Australian Ballet dancer Christine Walsh, and oh, goodness, what a production it was! 

Most of the cast were members of the ballet school, with a scattering of adults in the character roles. The younger cast members played everything from the children at the Christmas party to the mice, and Clara, the little girl who gets a nutcracker for Christmas from her godfather Drosselmeyer and is taken to the kingdom of sweets, got to dance a lot more than in most productions. She was watching the divertissements in Act 2, yes, but kept jumping up and joining in. I think that kid is going to be a professional by the time she finishes school. 

I have downloaded the original E.T.A Hoffman story, The Nutcracker And The Mouse King from Apple Books and am reading it now. It was only 99 cents, and I had been intending to read it for some time. The original name for the girl was Maria, which is sometimes used in the ballet.

Public Domain

I have seen this ballet before, many times, though not recently on stage. There was a production done by the New York Ballet, which I saw on YouTube, but the most recent ballet I saw on stage was Spartacus, a few years ago. I just felt it was the right time of year to see The Nutcracker and booked on an impulse - an impulse I’m not regretting at all. 

If you want to see the ballet free, there are plenty of versions on YouTube. It’s a nice way to celebrate the lead up to Yuletide.


Monday, December 19, 2022

Just Been To See…Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever

 I haven’t posted in a while, I admit, due to family issues, such as my mother being in and out of hospital. But I’m back, briefly, and I’d like to share with you the film I have been to see most recently, Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever. 

Movie poster: Fair use

If you are at all familiar with the Marvel films or the comics, you will know that Wakanda is an African nation ruled by a king - or, as in this film, a Queen - who takes a potion that gives the new ruler super powers, though the last king, T’Challa, also had a scientific genius kid sister, Shuri, who made his suits. The new ruler takes the potion and sees an ancestor who gives wise advice. And Wakanda has a mineral, vibranium, which is found nowhere else in the world. Everyone wants it, including the US - and everyone is prepared to do whatever it takes to get it. Just as well Wakanda has an almost entirely female army, who can wipe out mercenaries! 

In this film, we learn that, actually, there is another place that has vibranium, and Namor, the ruler of this underwater realm, is not happy to have it raided by the above-water world. Quite understandable, though his way of dealing with it may be less understandable.

But the main theme of this film is grief and dealing with it. T’Challa dies offstage and his mother, Queen Ramonda, rules for the time being, presumably because her daughter is too young and inexperienced to do the job. This, of course, is because the actor, Chadwick Boseman, died of cancer, but it is worked very well into the film. Shuri, who was a supporting character in the first film, is now playing the lead role. She becomes the Black Panther when needed, and makes her own suit, as well as some more for other characters. 

I’ll try not to do spoilers here, but I personally think this film is even better than the first one, which I enjoyed very much. I liked the fact that most of the characters were black. In this film, I like the fact that most of the characters are also women - strong, intelligent women, including another brilliant young scientist, Riri Williams, who has built a vibranium detector - as a class project at university! I believe she is going to be Ironheart, the replacement for Iron Man, as Tony Stark is dead, and she wears her first suit in this film, fighting for Wakanda.

And there is a female villain…

Namor isn’t really a villain in the traditional sense. He wants to protect his kingdom, even if he is doing it wrongly - and when you see what happened to his people in flashbacks, you don’t blame him.

I confess I haven’t read the Black Panther or Namor the Submariner comics, except one very short piece in a comic featuring various Marvel characters over the decades. But as a viewer, I think the film makers have done a very fine job here, making us feel for the characters.

If you enjoy fantasy adventures, I do recommend this, but watch the first film, Black Panther, before you get into this one.