Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry.

Have to mention this amazing book I just finished by the authoress Gabrielle Zevin; The Storied Life Of A.J.Fikry. Simply a joy. A slim but perfectly formed novel where the main protagonist is a Bookseller! Yes, a Bookseller, the noblest yet most misunderstood of vocations. A champion of literature and all that is good in this world who may be slight of frame but who bears the burdens of Atlas. A widowed bookseller rises from the rubble of a shattered life to re-engage with the world, in order to raise a little girl abandoned in his failing book store. It is Silas Marner by way of As Good As It Gets( for anyone requiring a sound bite to identify the genre and content). Yet it is not prissy or tawdry ,sad but not tragic and it is also very very funny.
For instance the main character struggles to grasp the meaning or worth of so many aspects of the current cultural zeitgeist. At one point he attempts to impress a loved one with his knowledge of her hot telly show True Blood;GIVING JASON STACKHOUSE VAMPIRE BLOOD IS LIKE GIVING HO HOS TO A DIABETIC.Boom! A sexy Ryan Kwanten reference!Another character in the novel has a cat called Puddleglum(The Marsh Wiggle from Narnia Tom Baker played on television.Boom!A Genius tom Baker reference!) These are only two tiny wee aspects of a book that reference my own shallow passions but there is so much more than them between its rewarding covers.
                     It is a book set on an island where the local, and only, bookshop represents the head, heart and soul of a community. A notion not difficult at all to embrace. A community without a bookstore is a home without a soul.
                     A joyous read.
                     A one sitting read.
                     A book to be shared.
                     Which is what I am trying to do here.
                     And while I am at it here is a picture of Ryan Kwanten from the television series True Blood.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Good Craic Comics Gallery.

A Page From History.

OooH Saucy! first published art in America from way back in the day, fan art for an issue of The Betty Pages from Spring 1989. Back when the world had seasons.
                  Betty Page; a Page From History Worth Remembering.

The Back Of Love.


Saturday, 17 January 2015

Deadlier Than The Male.

Ho Boy just listened to this lovely boxed set of second Doctor adventures from Big Finish and what a lovely ride through the veil of years it was. it is one of a series of recordings by big Finish called The Lost Stories( stories scripted but never produced-as opposed to stories deliberately wiped.) using actual cast members and guest performers. The presence of some of the original teams lend the recordings a glowing authenticity. This boxed set was one I was particularly looking forward to. The amazing cover art on the slip case was enough to turn me into a drooling fool. With that lovely spot of science fiction green illuminating a Dalek highlighting an extra disc with a special recording of an unused Dalek pilot script by Terry Nation( Does this not sound like a Christmas wants list?)
              What a hoot Prison In Space turned out to be. With a truly sterling turn by Frazer Hines as the adorable Jamie and also a startlingly accurate turn as The Doctor himself. It was as though Patrick Troughton was there at the recording. I could see him standing in a darkened booth with a huge set of head phones atop his hair whilst he stood on tip toe to reach a mike and deliver with a sense of urgency and vigor. Wendy Padbury does a similar job with two versions of the science adventuress Zoe; her usual bubbly intelligent self and as a brain washed rubber clad zombie like prison warder(honestly, not kidding.) It is truly an odd script peppered with repressed saucy sixties kinkiness as the Tardis crew find themselves in a society where the female is deadlier than the male and men are mere servants and chattel. in all honesty it feels at times as though it were a lost script for an unmade Carry On film rather than a lost Who. Which is just fine by me as I love that genre of movies and know the format of Who is strong enough to survive this bizarre little diversion. It might even offend the sensibilities of the more serious minded listeners who collect Classic Who in all its many forms.
                Yes, there are some truly daft moments in this slice of groovy sixties science fantasy but they are performed with an innocent truth and joyful conviction by all concerned. In fact it sounds like a right old laugh was had by all which surely harkens back to happy times for the original cast members. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury must have been rolling about the recording booths at some of the carry on.
                And speaking off Carry On it reminded me in tone of one of my very favorite Carry On movies Carry On Spying. A spy drama where all the regulars are on the top of their game( it is my favorite spy movie next to Casino Royale!)There is even a character called Babs in both stories.
                Go on, give them both a go. If only to feel your ear lobes try to roll.
                Or even to watch Kenneth Williams wear a fez with an unequaled degree of casuality in a world that predates the use of the word "cool".
                For in truth "cool" is not cool.
                It never was.

Bear Faced Greek.

                                                           (From my sketch-book)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Handsome Devil.

Its like a photograph, really, it is.This sketch of me is from the unreasonably talented pen of one Scott Petrie of Belfast, Son Of The House Of Petrie. He has certainly nailed my crazy paving dental plan.
              A face out of time.
              You know I am reminded that just the other day I was pottering around in a charity store when another customer strolling past remarked how quiet the streets of Belfast seemed in January in comparison to the frenzied experience that is December. I explained I believed that this was just the coming down after the cloud dancing of the holidays, when quiet reigns and the streets seem suffused with ennui.
                At that moment a Catholic Priest who had been browsing the board game section looked up in surprise and said I HAVE WAITED A LIFETIME TO HEAR THE WORD ENNUI USED IN CONVERSATION AND YOU JUST DID. YOU USED IT BEAUTIFULLY TOO.WELL DONE.
                Flattery goes a long way with me. I respond the same way a gannet or a seagull does to a dropped chip.
                 The accompanying silence should have warned me to stop talking. I looked at the aghast faces of the stunned customer and the goodly priest.
                  YOU ARE NOT CALLED FANNY ARE YOU?I asked the customer with genuine surprise. CAUSE THE CHANCES OF THAT ARE JUST REMARKABLE.
                   Again there was that warning silence.
                   The priest rolled his eyes and went back to examining the second hand box of KERPLUNK.
                   One has to learn to absorb a compliment with a quiet dignity and not respond with oafish needy sycophancy.
                   Yet that is the closest thing I have to a super power.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Torn Curtain.

How about these two slices of almost perfectly formed murder only foiled by Hercule Poirot exercising his little grey cells. Although the two books share the same location for the scenes of the crimes and the two main characters remain the same they are as different as a life time telling such stories can make them. Agatha Christie wrote the first The Mysterious Affair At Styles in 1916 and it was published in 1920. The second Curtain, Poirot's last Case was published in 1975. Agatha Christie died a year later. One book is the first Poirot tale and the other is the final Poirot tale.
             I was struck by many differences in the style of writing by the author between the two books. As I said, the two main protagonists Hasting and Poirot are still the focus of the narrative yet everything about them and the world they inhabit has changed. In the first book Hasting is a young man who believed the best years of his life were behind him. Not suspecting they were just about to begin. Curtain is all it pertains to be, the shade is falling over two lives well lived but having run their course. Poirot is old, very old, his body is failing him yet his wits remain as sharp as ever. If anything his world view has become that more refined, as attuned to the instinctive aspects of crime solving as much as the evidence led features. One book is a clever conundrum of clues whilst the other is a swirling pool of agenda driven evil more common in modern times.
              My first Poirot novels. The first and the last.
              The lifetime of murder in between will be gravy.


He thinks big does Stephen Baxter. Toying with massive concepts like thought exercises, bench pressing the impossible and the implausible and pushing past previously recognisable full stops into virgin territory of thought. Ultima is the second part of a duology begun in the book Proxima. A multinarrative and ambitiously vast science fiction epic which is on one level thrillingly detailed enforced colonization of a distant world. On another it explored the discovery of mysterious alien built hatches whose use entails the straddling of vast distances and even space and time. Reality shifts, worlds and empires rise and fall, planets fairly rattle with their impact. The destiny of man is shaped and then reshaped by minds hugely superior to ours playing for agendas we can barely comprehend. If you ever had the feeling that there was some vast controlling intelligence out there with little empathy for our little struggles and corrupting our natural linear development you will understand where this is going.
             Proxima and Ultima are two planets seperated by more than just space and time, they are also two volumes separated by a year in publishing. Although little impetus is lost in this follow on. Feels much like one book split in two. Vast distances and stretches of time are covered in the story. With such ideas an author can run the risk of losing the humanity in the scientific expression. One without the other is like a maths problem that leads to one abandoning figures forever. Not so with Stephen Baxter. Millions of years may pass and whole worlds age and die but there is always an interesting witness to these events.
              He might well think big but when a planet reaches an extinction level event he makes sure there is someone there to be affected by it. After all, special effects are only special if there is someone to witness them and,affected by them.
              Really enjoyed these two books. Took me back to happy days of reading Dan Simmons and his Hyperion Cantos. I mean traveling through a universe created by a benign and brilliant  but terrifying mind.
              We might well all be living in such a universe...

A Gentle Companion.

This is not just any dog, you know. This is a dog in training to become a life companion to a blind or partially sighted person. This noble animal is a working dog and one day it will bring such quality of life to someone who needs it in a way that it is hard to underestimate. That kind and patient face(The dog's face and not the utter fop standing next to it) masks a noble nature, gentle yet strong enough to be supportive. It is no accident that Labradors make the best trainee guide-dogs, they are smart with a goodly temperament and they learn and they remember.
             Please, if you can, give generously any time you see one of the wee charity boxes, the little plastic dog on the store counter. Anything you can give is I am sure appreciated. It takes a long time and a lot of work to prepare a dog to become a life companion and I am proud to have met this one. As one who was raised by a partially sighted person I know how hard this world can be for some one to get about unaided.
              Ah to be the guiding eyes for some one who cannot see for themselves.
              No wonder they call them Man's Best Friend.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Timey Whimy Love.

My sister gave me a copy of this book at Christmas not so much as a present or anything more a failed read on her part. She had attempted to read it but abandoned it because it had "all that time travelly stuff" in it. She perhaps misunderstood the title which more than hints at the presence of "time travelly stuff". It is indeed a book about a woman married to a man who travels through time.
            Not unlike yer woman with the big hair.
            River Song.
            Although she has done quite a bit of time traveling herself. River Song not my sister. Within a capsule mostly. A Tardis to be exact. The lady in the novel does not however travel in time. Her husband does. She does not. Well, no more than all of us,which is to say in one direction one second at a time.
            I did not abandon it. I stuck with it right to the end. And enjoyed almost every page which I turned with some rapidity. Thought it was a fantastic read. Very emotionally engaging and even giving the little grey cells a run for their money.It was witty and insightful and although possessed of a lightness of touch it never shied from the notion that even the best we strive to be can fall short of the mark. Showing that time passes and takes its toll on even those who pass through time.
              No spoilers; to quote yer woman Song.
              Take a break from all yer worries and read it.
              I did notice in the Doctor Who episode Dark Waters that the Doctor had secreted one of his seven Tardis keys inside a copy of the book( When Clara went on her Tardis key destroying rampage at her grief over the death of Danny Pink.Speaking of that..
              Do you think it was The Mistress driving the car that ran him over?)
              Any book good enough to be in The Tardis library is surely worth a space on your bookshelf.