Friday, 9 February 2018

Daddy Issues

I was given the latest season of Arrow, season 5, for Christmas, so I've been slowly enjoying it, and got to the last episode last night.
And it struck me how many characters have problematic relationships with their fathers. I've noticed it before in American TV and film, though it seems to be quite a rare thing in British TV and film, but in Arrow, there's a whole tangled web of difficult father/son and father/daughter relationships.
It starts with Oliver, of course. He became a vigilante in the first place because of his father's notebook, and feels guilty because his father killed himself so that Oliver would survive after their boat went down.
The main bad guy of the fifth season, Prometheus, is totally obsessed with making Oliver suffer because Oliver killed his father.
Then there's Thea and her relationship with Malcolm Merlyn, Talia and Nyssa al Ghul and their father Ras al Ghul, Felicity and her dad, and the Lance family. And Oliver is a dad himself, keeping well away from young son William to keep him safe.

And then there's Star Wars, with "Luke, I am your father...."

And over in the Trek universe, Spock and Sarek have huge problems with their relationship.

And in the Marvel universe, there's Tony Stark and his dad.

It's even in Princess Bride: "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

When the Doctor Who TV movie was being made, one of the script ideas (that they thankfully rejected) had the Doctor going to find his father. I mean, he's hundreds of years old, and has never been interested in finding his father before....

It really does seem to be a thing that American writers have a particular interest in - and I'm sure there are lots more out there that I'm unaware of.

And yet, in Britain - nobody cared who James Bond's father was until Skyfall, the twenty-third film in the franchise!

Roj Blake's father is completely irrelevant to the action of Blake's Seven - and none of the other crew members have any problems with their fathers as far as I can remember either.

In the new Thunderbirds series, dad Jeff Tracy has disappeared, and there are a couple of half-hearted mentions of trying to find him, but then the brothers just get on with the rescue of the week.
The fathers of Captain Scarlet, Troy Tempest, Colonel Straker of UFO's SHADO, are likewise irrelevant to the plots of the various series.
And Arthur Dent's father was blown up with the rest of the Earth, and never even got a mention.

Saturday, 3 February 2018


I sold two books on Smashwords today!
Someone bought The Secret of Saynshand and The Ministry of Unladylike Behaviour at the same time!
I am now celebrating with a bottle of Adnams Ghost Ship pale ale.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Why Do The Good People Always Die?

I've just been reading a Lady Mechanika story called La Dama de la Muerte, in which our heroine heads off for a holiday after a difficult time in which she has lost someone she loved.
She turns up, almost at random, at an inn in a small village near Mexico City, where she is welcomed, and invited to join the Day of the Dead celebrations. The family is kind; the little kid is cute - and then the bad guys arrive, and Lady Mechanika steps up to defend the village.
So far, so good.
While Lady Mechanika is following the trail of the bad guys back to their base, they double back, burn the village, and kill everyone in it.

In the film Logan, Logan and Professor X are on the run when they are taken in by a good, wholesome family. Some time is spent showing what nice people they are, with hopes and dreams for the future. Then the bad guys arrive and slaughter them all.

It happened in the film of the Punisher, too - wonderful, happy beach party with hero's extended family, and then everyone is slaughtered.

The message to take away from this is surely - if you are a good, nice person, with a loving family and a superhero turns up on your doorstep, DON'T LET THEM IN!

The message is also, of course, if you identify with the superhero, you can never have a normal family life, but must live burdened with guilt because you couldn't save that nice ordinary family that helped you when you needed it.

I get that the hero is supposed to be motivated by the deaths to go out and kill all the bad guys - but in the Lady Mechanika case, she was already motivated by the kindness of her hosts to defend them. Also, they took refuge in the church when she went off after the bad guys, and churches are usually built solidly enough that they can survive a siege of more than half an hour, even if the rest of the village burned. They shouldn't all have died.

I don't know if this is happening more in stories, or whether I'm just noticing it more - but I wish writers would stop doing it - or at least, let some good, ordinary people survive!

Monday, 29 January 2018

Rudolf Valentino in The Sheik

A while ago I came across Blood and Sand and The Eagle, both starring Rudolf Valentino - I have to say I found The Eagle, about a Russian outlaw, much more enjoyable than the bullfighting tale, which I feel has dated badly.
Then I realised I'd never seen the film that made Valentino famous, which is, of course, The Sheik.
Oh, my!
I liked him - he looked good in Arab robes, and seemed to have a cheerful disposition. He spends a lot of time creeping into the heroine's bedroom and not quite having his wicked way with her, though I gather the audience is supposed to assume that they have, in fact, been to bed together. Apparently (according to the Wikipedia entry) the song The Sheik of Araby was written as a response to this film, with the line "At night when you're asleep, into your tent I'll creep".
And then there's the racism. The writers tied themselves in knots trying to make him not actually an Arab, - it's revealed at the end of the film that his parents were actually Spanish and English, and the old sheik brought him up as his own when they died in the desert. With this revelation that he is really white, our heroine is free to fling herself into his arms.
The heroine irritated me. One minute she's planning a trip into the desert and sneaking into the Casino in Arab dress to catch a glimpse of our hero, like a plucky adventuress - but as soon as she's captured she spends most of her time fainting or weeping. She also comes over all terrified when being guarded by a black man while a prisoner of Omair the bandit (who really does want to rape her - she struggles and Sheik Ahmed arrives to save her in the nick of time).
I don't really see why Sheik Ahmed had to kidnap her either - I assume they were following the plot of the novel the film was based on, but Ahmed had already had a word with the Arab who was going to guide her into the desert, so I don't see why he didn't just guide her straight to Ahmed's camp.
They obviously spent quite a bit of money on the film - there are lots of extras with horses, and some camels; it'd be interesting to find out where they filmed it, with all those sand dunes. The film was so successful that they made Son of the Sheik five years later, also starring Valentino as both father and son. I'm not sure I'll be going off in search of that, though. I can see why it was popular in 1921, and it's interesting as a period piece, but that's about it, I think.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Eagle of the Ninth

As a child, I adored the work of Rosemary Sutcliff, and one of my favourites was the Eagle of the Ninth, telling the story of the Ninth Hispana Legion as it marched north into the mists of Caledonia and into legend.
At the time, the early 1950s, Rosemary Sutcliff was working from current archaeological research, by which the Ninth really had marched north and disappeared. Since then, traces of the Legion have been found at a later date, elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but when she was writing it really did seem that they had vanished into the mists.
And the other inspiration for her story was archaeological work at Silchester, where a Roman eagle statue had been found hidden in the hypocaust of a villa there. You can still see the Silchester eagle, at the Museum of Reading, though now it seems that it may have been part of a statue in the town, and not a legionary eagle after all.

In 2011 a film was made of the book, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, and though Donald Sutherland was perfect as Uncle Aquila, the plot of the film left out about half the book, jettisoning Cottia (the girl next door), Cub (the wolf cub), and Marcus's disguise as the oculist Demetrius of Alexandria completely. And they changed the ending.

In 1977, though, BBC Scotland made the story into a series. I loved the series when it was first shown, starring Anthony Higgins as Marcus and Christian Rodska as Esca, so I was delighted when I learned that it was now available on DVD, from Simply Media - and a little apprehensive. Would it be as good as I remembered?
They obviously had a tiny budget, but they did have the advantage of the rolling Scottish hills to film in, which gave it that epic scope. The director also managed to film battle sequences quite cleverly using overlaying images and only about a dozen extras.
It's a difficult book to make a story of, with a lot of the action in flashback as the story of what happened to the Ninth is told by a Roman and a Caledonian tribesman, and towards the beginning of the book, Marcus spends months recuperating from his wound at his uncle's house with not a lot happening. They manage to fit the story into six episodes quite satisfactorily, though.
I was very happy. They got it right.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Memories of Ursula le Guin

There has been a lot of coverage of the death of Ursula le Guin over the last couple of days.
Here are my memories:

In 1973, I think it was, our school building was found to have asbestos in it, and was closed down until the asbestos could be removed. For a week or two, we were supposed to turn up at school at intervals to be given work to complete at home, but after a while it became clear that the work would take a long time to complete, and we were bussed to a redundant Victorian junior school at the other end of Salford - a rough area; we were warned not to linger on the pavement when crossing from the schoolyard to the bus in case we were beaten up by the local kids!
Because we didn't have access to our own school library, we got a temporary one, with books that did not appear in our own library. I read quite a few of these - and with three days to go before we moved back into our refurbished school building, I found The Wizard of Earthsea. It was this one:

Acutely aware of the deadline before I had to give it back, never to see it again, I read the book in every spare moment. I practically lived in Earthsea, only emerging to do whatever was essential before I plunged back in again. Even now I only have to close my eyes and see the old classroom where I was reading on my knee while eating my packed lunch - and feeling totally immersed in that magical world.

Pretty soon after that I found The Tombs of Atuan - and I could navigate the labyrinth perfectly, just like Arha, in the dark.

The Farthest Shore gave me nightmares of that low wall over which the dead pass - but also showed me the importance of living well, unlike the people Ged and Arren met on their journey, who had given up and were waiting to die.

A couple of years ago, the BBC adapted The Left Hand of Darkness and the first three Earthsea stories on radio, and I got that same thrill as when I first read them.
I haven't seen any of the film adaptations - I don't really want to....

As an adult, I discovered The Dispossessed and The Word For World is Forest and The Left Hand of Darkness, as well as the Hainish stories and some of the Orsinian Tales, and her additions to the Earthsea saga.

I have only been able to read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas once.

One birthday, my mum presented me with a thick book, saying that she knew I liked this author. It was Always Coming Home, and was possibly the best birthday present she ever gave me, considering that she thought my reading tastes were a bit weird.

More recently, I've read her blog posts in the Book View Café blog, so Ursula le Guin has been a part of my reading background for most of my life. I was very pleased to see her honoured by the literary establishment, as well as her many SF and Fantasy awards.

Most weeks, I go to an acoustic music session locally - there's singing, but also poetry reading and other readings. I often perform something when a famous person has died - if a TV star, I'll sing the theme of their TV show, for instance. For Ursula le Guin, I found a quotation which has been doing the rounds of Twitter and Facebook - the one that finishes: "I'm going to go unbuild walls."
It seemed to go down well.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Avengers - Warlock

Even the Avengers veered into Dennis Wheatley territory on occasion, though they dressed it up with a plot about physicists who had secret formulas which a foreign power was trying to get hold of via their interest in the occult.
Here Cathy Gale is seen working at the British Museum as an anthropologist, when Steed goes there to consult her about the possible use of black magic against the physicist he's interested in.
Interestingly, the black magician does seem to have real power over people, summoning first the physicist and later Cathy herself to the place where the magical rites are taking place - with lots of hooded robes in evidence so that Steed can mingle with the crowd secretly.