Friday, 31 August 2018

Spaceman; An Astronauts Unlikely Journey To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe.

Very enjoyable read One of those great books that makes me want to kick my heels together and set of to help continue the legacy of men like Carl Sagan and Mike Massimino. Men who worked hard and against the odds to take mankind to the stars. I have to admit I have off late spent too much time on Youtube listening to conspiracy theories about how the moon landing was faked, the culmination of a huge conspiracy to bankrupt Russia or some such nonsense.It can be very dispiriting. Some of these theories and the people who propose them present quite convincing cases, the breadth of their research and the confidence of their delivery. I found myself beginning to doubt my own beliefs that we made it to the Moon and back, on four occasions actually. So wide spread are these notions that I often find myself subject to ridicule and abuse for my perceived gullibility any time I talk about NASA and the history of the space race. As though belief in science, belief in the courage and fortitude of mankind is a silly thing, a frivolous childish delusion. Now although this book does not address that particular era in the history of the space race, it does reinforce my faith in the enlightenment that propels man forward to the heavens and beyond. A stop gap in the dyke damming the waves of negativity, reinforcing the protective wall surrounding the hard won assertions of our new age of wonders.
                Mike Massimino is an ex astronaut although I wonder if one can become an ex astronaut. When does an angel cease being an angel or a catholic stop being a catholic? Actually Mike Massimino is a catholic astronaut. That is not a contradiction or even a tautology. His dreams of walking in the stars were born in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and his crew went further than man ever has. He was born into a working class family in Long Island and it took a lifetime of studying and working hard to achieve his dream of following in Armstrong's example. The book details his many ups and downs and he writes with a simple honesty and a educated clarity, and a page turning enthusiasm. It also covers a turbulent and exciting period in the history of NASA, which in turn reflects the changing fortunes of America through the seventies to the present day.
                Mike Massimino is also a huge fan of the film The Right Stuff, the film more so than the book, and he talks at every opportunity about the profound influence it had on his life. Chapter after chapter he refers back to it, inspired by the friendships and shared courage of the astronauts in the film, attempting to recreate that aspirational quality in his own life with the men and women he works with in the space program. They are all hugely talented people , hard working, patriotic, all seeking to better the fortunes of mankind. There is a great photograph which sums up this idea, that stands testimony perhaps to the power of dreams and how they may shape our lives. There is the picture of young Mike Massimino the school boy in an astronaut costume his mother made for him standing outside his home in July 1969 and in his hand is a Snoopy Space man toy. It is side by side with a picture of Mike Massimino the astronaut at work in space and floating next to him is the very same Snoopy Space man toy he held onto since then( Not every moment of course. I am sure he put it down for important things like going to school then college then work then marriage and children know, the building blocks of his life.) I do hope he cleared with NASA bringing the Snoopy Space man toy on board his craft and that he did not jeopardise the mission by bringing a non safety cleared item into a zero G enviroment.
                 You know on the same date I was also a school boy who stood outside our family home looking up at the moon and wondering about the men who walked up there for the first time in human history. "Well Da, Theres men up there tonight," I said pointing up at the moon. My da stood at our front door with his hands in his pockets smoking a park drive " Nah, theres nobody up there, its not real." he said in that way of his, that any other possible observation than his is just nonsense.
                 What a thing to say to an innocent boy who's mind contains images of dark lunar landscapes and the brave men who risked everything to walk there. What an off puttingly negative thing to say to an impressionable dreamer. Who knows, if he had said something positive I might have been an astronaut by now.

Rejoice, A Knife To The Heart.

Enjoyed this new novel by Steven Erikson due for release this October. It is a well written and thought provoking novel about an old world ending and a possible new one rising from it non cindery ashes. Which is to say no familiar apocalyptic tropes drive this inventive exploration of a well worn groove. Reading it I pretty much felt the way I did when I learned that the death card in a tarot deck does not mean death but is the harbinger of change, be it great or small, the transition of one thing to another. A similar transition might take place in your own head as you read it.
            The copy I read off this book had the words "Is Humanity Worth Saving?" asserted across the top part of the cover. I am not sure if the author attempted to answer this proposition or if he had even intended to. The reader will have to answer that question to their own satisfaction. He does provide insightful glances into the lives of some very different examples of who we think to be human despite their actions probably best described as inhumane. It is not only "The Good" who will, or will not, be saved by this powerful cosmic intervention. Which is what the alien incursion actually is and like all interventions, even for the significant ones good, is not always welcome. The intervention takes the form of a series of force fields which push mankind out of any areas on Earth where our presence had led to enviromental damage. That is as you would expect is quite a radius of ground to cover. These force fields are also adaptable to other scenarios and prevent mankind from dealing any more harm to its fellow beings, mostly stopping bullies and greedy people from preying on others, showing evil on a grand scale is really petty on a grand scale. In no time at all the world changes as the threat of violence becomes nothing more than the empty promises of the impotent. 
             Rejoice is a book with dark beginnings that gradually builds towards an optimistic visions of mankind's potential. A Canadian science fiction writer is abducted and told she will become the designated go-between the intervening aliens and the human race. A spokes person to articulate the aliens intent, probably preferring not to come face to face with mankind, for reasons which may, or may not, become clear. You will have to read the book, to go on that journey to the undiscovered country, guided by your designated driver, Steve Erikson. In his company the journey is more World War ET than World War Z.

Palo Santo. Olly Alexander And Years And Years.

Have been really enjoying this beautiful addition to the shared cultural zeitgeist i.e. the world we all ive in and try to get by in despite ourselves.)by Olly Alexander and his amazing band Years and Years. Palo Santo ( Spanish for Holy Wood ), lovely serendipity for an MR James fan. The haunted carvings from classic ghost story The Stalls Of Barchester Cathedral were carved from wood grown in a location called Holy Wood. Felt a sympathetic shiver as this lovely coincidence (?) occurred to me. It is the title of Years And Years second album and also the name of a short film made to accompany the album. Its a sort of sexy musical Blade Runner where androids and AIs attempt to experience real emotions inspired by human performances in dystopian cabarets. It is a fantastically realised and emotionally engaging film that explores complex notions of sensuality and the fluidity of sexuality. Yes, it is as ambitious as that and manages to pull it off with the assurity of a group of artisans at the top of their game.
             Olly Alexander shines in this film, he resembles Prospero's sprite Ariel, a self made magical being, possessed of otherworldly abilities and a fey gentility that makes him as loveable as he is magical. He plucks metaphysical ideas from a bubbling cauldron of humane sexuality and makes you want to dance to the anthems he and his band conjure out of the ether. I do not think I have enjoyed a musical interpretation of a series of abstract but believable concepts as Palo Santo since I saw David Bowie's Blackstar. In fact if I could suggest David Bowie as The Sandman or Morpheus of our musical dreaming then I would surely nominate Olly Alexander as its Ariel.
             He is the stuff that dreams are made off.

Hero.The Life And Legend Of Lawrence Of Arabia.

Thoroughly enjoyed this great big book based on the lives, yes lives, and times of T E Lawrence. A very well written glimpse into the turbulent and complex mind of a man who continues to fascinate and intrigue..anyone who is fascinated and intrigued by him. I have no idea how other people come to be interested in these things. With myself it is allt all a bit random. "You have very catholic tastes" someone put it to me. As if I needed to explain myself to myself as to why I enjoy some things more than others. I do not believe that description covers it other than to suggest I spend a lot of time feeling guilty about things I cannot help and humming Ave Maria to myself.
             There have been a number of biographies about Lawrence the man, Lawrence the myth, Lawrence the mythy man.He seemed a complex fellow, almost larger than life, driven by forces and ambitions that were at times other worldly, certainly outside the motivations that drove many historic figures to make the impact their lives left on the world they in time left behind. Few of them outliving the legends foisted upon them by the worlds perceptions of their deeds.Despite the fact he led a full, active and colorful life from beginning to its unexpected close, it was the two/three years he spent uniting the desert tribes in Arabia that he is best remembered for. The visually appealing and iconic image of him in his flowing desert robes is the stuff of legend. Looking every inch the desert warrior or Ealing movie born Jedi knight( Peculiarly English in a remote desert setting.) is famous the world over in no small part an image generated by the David Lean bio pic with that amazing turn by the amazing Peter O Toole.
              TE Lawrence was born into an eccentric family situation. The mother and father of the five sons being unmarried. A terrible stigma in those far off class based days which would have affected the boys chances for good schooling and career prospects, had the details of their life been better known. To my uneducated ears it all sounded terribly bohemian, a mix of Tom Brown's School Days and Swallows And Amazons. Even as a school boy he seemed destined for a life less ordinary. A life he certainly went on to lead, recorded in fascinating and engaging juicy detail by Michael Korday. And some of those details were and remain almost pruriently unresolved. Arabia was the glittering prize in a deadly game of thrones played by the world's power players. In fairness Michael Korday does not play down the ruthlessness of England as an ambitious and greedy power player in that game.
             Hero is an intimate glimpse into the life and legend of Lawrence Of Arabia. It is a big book that covers many miles and minutes but does not outstay its welcome. Something the man himself would have appreciated.
             Here is a tiny gleam in the eye of TE Lawrence himself when he once explained to his mother his passion for reading and for beautiful books; " Father won't know all this-but if you get the right book for the right time you taste joy-not only bodily, physical, but spiritual also, which pass out above and beyond one's miserable self, as it were through a huge air, following the light of another man's thought. And you can never be quite the old self again."

The Skull Of The Marquis de Sade.

Had me another very enjoyable double hammy of the Robert Bloch book of short stories and the very enjoyable movie adapted from the short story in that collection. Watched one, read the other. As you do. Some great stories n that collection. Including another that Peter Cushing appeared in the movie adaption off; The Weird Tailor in the anthology movie Asylum. Actually there is another version of this story, a telly version from the sixties, one of the Boris Karloff presents stories. Its exceptionally well made. The scene where the mannequin comes to life is truly nightmarish. Its the disturbing body language of the dummy coming to life; watching a thing that is not supposed to move...move. I think you could probably find that version on Youtube. Well worth digging out for a sleepless night.
               The Peter Cushing movie version is amazing. Not just because of a fantastic performance from Peter Cushing. Lets face it, when he has ever delivered a stinker? Its mostly set in these darkened London posh streets and town houses, with a bunch of rich satanic British eccentrics, all totally selfish and laughably sleazy. Michael Gough is in there as is a cool Christopher Lee.But the real star turn is by a stunningly sleazy Patrick Wymark as the seller of arcane and mysterious objects,
like John Constantine's dirty old uncle. Hes great. He sleazes his way into rich swingers lives cause he knows they are even grubbier than him and he knows what pleases them. He exists in a night time world of deserted London streets and upper class decay and decadence, where eople wth mysterious lived in faces wander in sixties trench coats.
                In searching for a suitable picture to go with this boobie babble I came across a couple of reviews that referred to this movie as kitchy. I found nothing kitchy about the film or the novel. There is a bit of a knowing or even sneering quality about such a description. Hope I never start seeing things in this smug fashion. I think I would stop enjoying so many things if I thought of them like that.

Monday, 20 August 2018

And Another Thing.

What a mad folly it must have seemed to dare to continue with series of books whose every aspect, every expression of singularity, is totally inseparable from the man who wrote them. Douglas Adams  mad universe which proved to be prophetic in a completely inaccurate way. Like only a proper fortune teller could have done. Anyone can be wrong. It takes gradations of genius to get things so wrong they almost seem plausible.That is were people like Douglas Adams come in. This very notion made me wonder if Irish writer Eoin Colfer might be too good to jemmy himself into the arrow niche of scientific savant and humorous storyteller or does he take himself as seriously as say Philip Pullman who seems to treat humor like the last caravan park at the end of the universe. I am pleased to say he is not, which in this case is all he needs to slip into a pair of Zaphod's cast of  silver moon boots (Which almost no one can wear with the necessary degree of aplomb.)
              Most of the old familiar names and faces have come back for another extraordinary get together. Fate,destiny and bizarre experience has not taught them this is a situation best avoided if one longs for a quiet life. So hello once again to Arthur and Ford, Trillian and Zaphod Beedlebox once again. Writer Eoin Colfer is particularly good at tapping into the Zaphod in Zaphod. Oh yes, he puts the Beedle into Beedlebrox. There are also a number of unemployed Gods knocking around the edges of this story. One of the draw backs to being a God in this scenario being the fact they become diminished the moment they become an entry in that extraordinary book The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Universe.Certain professions require a degree of mystique and nothing diminishes mystique quite like flat notation for easy access.
                 Almost every adaption of Hitch Hikers Guide to The galaxy and its sequels have something in them that extends and cements Douglas Adams creations in the crowded jumble of the shared cultural zeitgeist. Now that notion extends to the work not written by the man himself although many probably, and quite reasonably, feel that the work should have come to an end with Douglas Adams departure from the stage. I think that while some people choose to believe that sacred cows must be left untouched I see no harm in taking them for a wee walk every now and then. If for no other reason than to prevent them becoming stiff and tired.
                  Some familiar aliens return also but then every one in a Hitch Hikers novel is an alien but there  is no need to panic (Ahem.) its nothing a well seasoned traveler cannot cope with. Just make sure you remember to bring your towel with you.

                                                    Neither of these iterations of Marvin
                                                            appear in Another Thing,
                                                              him being quite dead.
                                                     That is not a spoiler by the way, more
                                                         a fervent wish on Marvin's part.

Good Bye To Berlin.

Had a bit of a Christopher Isherwood double whammy ( oh er Vicar!). Read the book and watched the DVD of the BBC adaption. The book was no where near as eye brow raising or even provocative as I had been lead to believe ( a common enough experience for anyone raised an Irish Catholic I suppose.). I found it quite touching in a cranky sort of fashion and liked the Germanic kitchen sink decadence, An age of horrors was awakening all about the main characters but all seemed oblivious in their quest for their own personal slice of heaven, mostly to be found in the perfectly formed arms of German rent. It is beautifully realised in the BBC adaption of the novel, with the smoke filled shadowy beer cellars all lovingly homo erotically lit and filled with German beef cake in its prime, all sexily displaying their wares in tight white vests and snug braces...phew, I will have some of that, please.
           I almost did actually. They filmed this adaption of Isherwood's novel in Belfast. Transforming, very cleverly, Belfast city center streets into those of  early thirties Berlin. It was most impressive to see some of those run down back streets morph into another age, another locale with a bit of clever dressing and a few strategically placed flags and street furniture. I was on my way into work one sunday morning and was politely redirected down an alleyway as my normal route was straight through where they were shooting. As I dandered down this cobbly alley way I was stunned to see a group of extras in a parked German lorry all sitting around chatting and smoking. They were all Nazi brown shirts but they were also exceptionally handsome men. There was something undeniably homo erotic about the scene. They did not hire a bunch of knuckle draggers or obviously thuggish types, there was definately something more at play here and I decided they must have very cleverly picked a cast which showed the attraction of evil. How a beautiful male form could cloak a heart as black as smoldering Stygian coal. I think this movie was directed by the same person who directed the Paul McGann Doctor Who movie from the mid nineties. And his version of The Master was striking and cloaked in a majestic elegance. Evil is never more dangerous than when it comes  disguised as a thing to admire or aspire towards.
            That was quite a break through year for Matt Smith. He was about to dazzle us all with his turn as The Doctor in that magnificent first season of his. I did over hear two people discussing seeing it shortly after it was broadcast and one was expressing his shock at seeing "The Doctor"indulging in man on man action. Not just that he was indulging in the beastliness of human relations but the shock of his gender preference. As though that was not Christopher Isherwood but the eleventh incarnation of their favorite time-lord. More Goodbye To Galifrey than Good Bye to Berlin. This poor chap aside I do hope This adaption encouraged a few people to give the Christopher Isherwood story a view as its subject matter perhaps fell outside their usual comfort zone.
             Where nearly all the interesting things in this world are to be found.

Joseph Grimaldi. Loud, Mad, Hysterical To Know.

Talk about yer tears of a clown? Read this very detailed and engaging biography of Joseph Grimaldi, the father of modern clowning, or at the very least the pioneer of so many aspects of what we take to be the trappings of clowndom, te white face, the baggy pants etc. He was also one o he earliest examples of cross over celebrity. A man not only entertained the common masses with his act performed many times over the course of a working day and night but he also entertained the hoi poloi in a previously unthinkable social aspect, humor being a great leveller even among pretentious notions such as class distinctions. This was an entertainer who could count as a friend and admirer Lord Byron himself. No small thing thing in any era, never mind one with the iron clad social restraints of the Regency Era. You generally stayed what you were born til the day you died.
           Joseph Grimaldi performed on stage from a very early age, driven there by the pushiest of show biz parents. Beginning as Little Clown when he made his debut on the stage of Drury Lane in 1780 he went on to pursue a hard working life performing his act to rapturous acclaim, beloved by generations. The wear and tear of such a life left him riddled with ill health by the time he reached old age. During his final performance he was unable to even stand in order to bid his many fans good bye, doing it from a supporting chair. A sad end to a tough career. If it could even have been said to end there as he had another few years of penury and poverty to endure. He would be carried on a friends back to the local tavern where he would talk and amuse drinkers for more of the same. In the age of Mothers Ruin, gin could be the closest thing to a safety net, if not a sanity net, one could get entangled in, while drinking to oblivion, escaping the now and the then through inebriation. Life was hard all round in those far off days but as always especially so for those at the bottom of the ladder.
              After his death it was non other than a young Charles Dickens who was first to assemble a biography of Thomas Grimaldi which to the author's surprise sold quite well. Dickens had seen the great clown perform when he was a boy( Dickens that is, not Grimaldi.) and had this to say; To those who never saw him, description is fruitless, to those who have, no praise comes up to their appreciation of him. We therefore shake our heads and say "Ah,you should have seen Grimaldi."
              Hmmm that Charles Dickens. He certainly knew how to string a few words together in something close to a linear fashion and imbue them with meaning.
              All clowning not withstanding this is a great biography.


You just know its real when you see The Doctor and the first Radio Times cover proper. It calls out for that big word The Tardis struggled so heart-breakingly to find. And I believe the word was..