Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell

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“I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards. I only twice remember even being seriously angry with a Spaniard, and on each occasion, when I look back, I believe I was in the wrong myself.” – George Orwell.

I have been a long term reader and fan of Eric Blair (George Orwell) ever since I was a teenager.  Not the Orwell of 1984 or Animal Farm but rather the earlier man of essays and of books such as Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia (not to mention the sublime Down and Out in Paris and London).  Time permitted me to read Homage to Catalonia over the last week during a time of great joy and a friend’s wedding celebration.  It is a book well worth reading if you are interested in several different aspects of life, politics and writing.  It is auto-biography, it is a war memoir, it is a social account and it is a man’s take upon the Spanish Civil War.  Read Orwell and learn about the workings of the world.  Here are some thoughts and if you want to get a copy of this book it is very easy (not the first edition above!) it can be had for pennies from bookshops and elsewhere as it has been in many editions.   My own is in the bin now, water damaged and smelly it was due for composting.

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Orwell went to Barcelona in 1936 to report on the Spanish Civil War. He was so struck with the progress of the workers’ revolution there, the camaraderie and the hope, that he decided this state of affairs was worth defending, and enlisted with a militia unit. His unit soon went to the front, where it stood nearly idle for several months and did little fighting. The unit returned several months later to what seemed like a different city, in the throes of inter-party fighting as the Russian-backed communists attempted to take control of the war effort. Orwell’s unit returned briefly to the front, but while he was hospitalised (due to a bullet caught in the neck,) its members were declared illegal, and he was forced to flee the country.

Most of us are more familiar with the Spanish Civil War through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Unlike that novel, Homage to Catalonia paints an affectionate portrait of a brave, but naïve, effort that was doomed from the start by international intrigue. Orwell’s affable co-combatants are poorly equipped, crawling with lice, and little interested in fighting, which is lucky because they’re left on an immobile front where if the food isn’t great, the cigarette ration is at least adequate.

This book is indeed an homage, to a brief time in a small place where equality was real, but fleeting, and to the people who were there to live this hope. It also shows us the moments when Orwell became disillusioned with communism, leading to his best known works. (It may difficult for us to imagine, but we need to keep in mind that in the 1930’s, the violence and cynicism of the U.S.S.R. were still widely unknown, and there were many active communists all over the world.) Thus, this book, in addition to being highly enjoyable, is vital to understanding a mindset now remote and alien to us, and a time we mostly know nothing about.

The power of this book is in its indictment of the foreign press and the hypocrisy of international communism. Each did its part to muck up the war effort and betray the people it purported to defend, and Orwell explains as clearly as possible the complex international forces that wasted the war effort and opened the door to fascism in Spain.

Well worth reading and in case you wonder…the world is not so different now.  Be careful what second hand accounts you believe.

GBS

Review – Electronic Dreams How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer

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Having gotten myself an Audible account and some credits I took a gander at the vast number of audio books in the purchasable range carried on the website.  This one caught my eye.  Not just as it’s title is the same as one of my good lady’s favourite ever movies but also as I was a fan of Clive Sinclair in the 1980’s…not that I knew his face or name…but I did have a ‘Speccy 48k’ and boy did I love it!  So what is Tom Lean’s book about?

How did computers invade the homes and cultural life of 1980s Britain?

Remember the ZX Spectrum? Ever have a go at programming with its stretchy rubber keys? How about the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, or Commodore 64? Did you marvel at the immense galaxies of Elite, master digital kung-fu in Way of the Exploding Fist or lose yourself in the surreal caverns of Manic Miner?  For anyone who was a kid in the 1980s, these iconic computer brands are the stuff of legend. In Electronic Dreams, Tom Lean tells the story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their worries of electronic brains and Big Brother and embraced the wonder-technology of the 1980s.

This book charts the history of the rise and fall of the home computer, the family of futuristic and quirky machines that took computing from the realm of science and science fiction to being a user-friendly domestic technology. It is a tale of unexpected consequences, when the machines that parents bought to help their kids with homework ended up giving birth to the video games industry, and of unrealised ambitions, like the ahead-of-its-time Prestel network that first put the British home online but failed to change the world.

Ultimately, it’s the story of the people who made the boom happen, the inventors and entrepreneurs like Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar seeking new markets, bedroom programmers and computer hackers, and the millions of everyday folk who bought in to the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives.

I enjoyed the book and it expanded my knowledge greatly about the subject of micro computers but also of the social aspects of 1980’s Britain.  If you enjoyed Elite or Jet Set Willy or any of the other ground breaking computer titles of the era then you will enjoy this book.  Especially fascinating was the end of the book where the author lays out how the Raspberry Pi came into being and the Sinclair Vega too.  The world turns and turns again.  If anything Britain is more exciting now for computers and gaming in that manner than it was in the golden 1980’s.  Of course real gaming uses miniatures and books but every now and again I enjoy a game of Joust just like the next man in his late 30’s!

If you are at all interested in the subject I recommend this book and if you have some time also the excellent BBC documentary film of a few years back ‘Micromen’ which tells part of the story in a grand way.

GBS

All You Need is Kill or Live, Die, Repeat Review

I treated myself to a night at home not doing any work and rather spending time with my good lady and watching a science fiction film.  I know…how dare I!  Moving on from that the film we choose to buy (I tend to just buy DVD’s as renting them is now very difficult and downloading does not suit me) was Edge of Tomorrow or Live, Die, Repeat or All You Need is Kill.  Take your pick of the title.  Though the last title is the book the film is based upon.  So sitting in the dark with a beer or two how was it?

Well as an adaptation of the book it was quite a bit different which was sad really as the setting in All you need is Kill was to me better than a d-day recreation set in London and northern France.  As a movie though Live Die Repeat was very good with a nice look and a lot of action.  Here is the synopsis:

“The epic action of “Edge of Tomorrow” unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.”

It is well worth checking out when you have a chance if you are a science fiction film fan.  Also it was good to see Bill Paxton back in the army!

So the book.  I have owned the book since near its English language translation date in the VIS Media edition in 2005.  I always thought it would make an excellent Manga but never thought it would be a Hollywood A lister live action film.  Here is the synopsis of the book:

“The story is told from the perspective of Keiji Kiriya, a new recruit in the United Defense Force which fights against the mysterious ‘Mimics’ which have laid siege to Earth. Keiji is killed on his first sortie, but through some inexplicable phenomenon wakes up having returned to the day before the battle. This continues and he finds himself caught in a time loop as his death and resurrection repeats time and time again. Keiji’s skill as a soldier grows as he passes through each time loop in a desperate attempt to change his fate.  After several dozen loops, he realizes his fate is tied to that of Rita Vrataski. He uses his knowledge of the day to get close to her and her mechanic, from whom he gets a copy of her massive axe, a weapon he learns to use well given the boltgun normal troops use runs out of ammo and jams easily. Realizing he is a fellow looper, Rita confides in Keiji, telling him of the system the Mimics use. There is a central nexus that can loop the day, as well as several antennae, all of which signal the loop to reset. Contact with an antenna is what trapped Keiji in the loop. Only by first killing all the antennae and then the nexus can Keiji escape. The Mimics constantly adapt to Keiji’s attacks, but he and Rita manage to eliminate the nexus, only to have the loop reset. After telling Rita this, she acknowledges that they missed one antenna. On the last loop (#160) they proceed to eliminate the antennae again, and then Rita attacks Keiji, explaining that being trapped in the loop has modified their brains so both of them are similar to the antennae, meaning one of them has to die before killing the nexus, else the loop will continue indefinitely. Keiji manages to kill Rita and then the nexus, and is hailed as a new hero of the Unity Army.”

Its a very original novel and its story works very well as a text, better than as a film if not using a narrator.  Confusion and despair mixed with a foreboding of events that will happen, have happened and will happen again.  If you have the inclination to read the book then you should and do so before you see the American adaptation of the book.

A last mention needs to be made of the alien creatures ‘Mimics’ which are described in the book but the film brought to CGI life.  It is a shame that no ‘making of’ book exists to be bought since I would purchase it.  The work that went into the design of the aliens was large and done in tandem with the designs of the armoured suits worn by troopers in the movie.  I got this information from two short documentaries included on the DVD.

GBS

The Quatermass Experiment – 1st Edition Paperback

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While out and about I managed to get a little steal of a book.  Its an original 1st edition print penguin from 1959 in excellent condition of The Quatermass Experiment by Nigel Kneale.  Its a script not a novel as the Quatermass Experiment was a six part ground breaking television mini-series in the 1950’s broadcast by the BBC.  For those interested in science fiction and especially British science fiction this series was vitally important for the future creation of not only Doctor Who but also films such as Alien and series like the X-Files too.

The book itself is not very impressive by modern standards.  It is very much a product of its times much like the story is.  Drab, plain and poor the book gives off an air of a time when things were grim and tight and also grey.  But it will be great fun for me to write the scripts for its been many years since I saw Victor Carroon slowly change into a monster.   I saw it on TV as a child of some ten years old back in 1980’s and its fair to say it left as big a mark on a young me as Robocop did and Aliens too but in a different way.  A creeping horror of change and alienation too.  The final cathedral scene I know almost word for word.

If you have not heard of or seen Quatermass then I suggest you do.  The book might be hard to get but the TV serial is out there and BBC4 made a single new episode in 2005 which is also very good.

I could not find another of this book for sale online at the time of writing this post but an estimate of its value compared to others of the time would be eighteen to thirty pounds.  So I am very happy and the book is an excellent aesthetic object too.

GBS

Drama – Yes, 1980 – 100th on the List

In a previous post I said I was going to track down the top 100 albums in the Prog Rock magazine count down.  Well I began that journey by purchasing downloads of the one hundreth, ninety nineth and ninety eighth albums on the list.  I began at the top as it seems right to do so and work towards the top ten.  I don’t know how long this will take me and I doubt I will review every album on the list but I will refer to it and let you know as I go.  So….Drama by Yes.  How was it?

“Machine Messiah” and “Tempus Fugit” have rightfully gone down in history as two of the best songs on this album but as I listened to this album ten times over the last three days in the car and at home and by headphones and speakers I felt that the other tracks fell quite short of expectations.  I know its 100th on the list but this is my first experience of Yes as a band so that might have a lot to do with it.   There was a change of vocalist and line up for this album but I did not look this up until after writing down my thoughts.  It does show.  Until I encounter Yes again I will not know if the departing of Jon Anderson as singer made a difference to quality but it did seem to affect the album to my ear.   There are several very weak tracks there including “Does It Really Happen?” which is really, really boring and drawn out.

So purchase it or not?  Well I enjoyed it and if you can get it for under a fiver like I did and you like prog then go ahead.  Amazon link HERE.

GBS

Meeples and Miniatures 128 on Flintloque

A surprise for me this morning as I was made aware that some good lads in the podcast miniature broadcast business had taken the time to review one of the many systems I have authored or otherwise worked on.  In this case it was Flintloque and especially 3rd edition.  Here is the link.  The section on Flintloque begins at 1.04.50 hours into the broadcast (if you want to skip to it) and its very informative.  Have a listen.  I recommend headphones if you have a noisy room around you.

I might take some wee issues with some minor parts of it but then it is my ‘baby’ as it were but overall the fan of Flintloque who champions it in the interview Mike Hobbs fights his corner very well pointing out the adoration that many have for the game and its miniatures.  Along with the high quality and value of the books and rule system.  As he points out its been around for near twenty years now and its been bubbling away the whole time.   Actually just one wee issue…’a fundamental flaw’ with the system.  Sorry its not a fundamental flaw if you simply do not like Flintloque, that is not a flaw its only your choice.  After all WW2 wargaming makes me snore.

Enjoy!

GBS

The Lego Movie – Am I looking too far into it?


Am I not part of normal society now?  Now before you go thinking I have put on a mask and lurk in dark alleys tackling criminals or I have forgotten its the early 21st century and moved to another time zone I have not. What I mean is ‘am I the kind of guy that mainline movies are made for’.  What made me have this thought, well the LEGO movie did.  I had promised my eldest son that he and his brothers could go see it and that happened this weekend.

This film has had rave reviews.  I mean rave.  Aside from the review above which you can watch the film got a 96% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes which is no mean thing.  But I just don’t buy it and here is why.  Firstly I sat in an audience of three hundred most of whom were children and most of them were at times so bemused and bored that they cried, spoke and wandered around (that did not happen during the excellent Despicable Me 2) and secondly the film just made me sad.  Some have said that it pokes fun at the society that created it, the media obsessed, consumerist driven, you are never a failure despite your mediocrity society of the Western World in 2014.  It does but its a veneer that covers the following.

The main LEGO character called Emmett is a vacuum of a man who just wants to fit in with a generic ‘awesome’ template of being ideal in his environment.   The bad guy is called President Business (telling eh!) who does away with everyone who disagrees with him using a fascist police force.  Literally disassembled by the powers that be.   If you fail you get bailed out or soothed by the government if you are rich and important but if you try to be different and you are normal..you are killed.  Special privileges for those in control in manipulation of the masses.   President Business explains that ‘everything must stay the same’ and that building lego on your own is bad, that the elite must stay in control and society must confirm rigidly.  Those at the top want to freeze everything, nothing must change or fail if its important.   Business wants to literally ‘glue everything in place’.  In the film the creativity of builders is brutally repressed for conformity.   Emmett must believe he is special to become special and so he does and the film pokes fun at this but not enough.  Skills don’t come from simply thinking you have them.  Believe and it happens…leads to the dangerous core of this film.  Emmett is passive and vacant and then someone tells you to be in violent conflict with others, you don’t see your own goals and you do not make your own choices.  Its a bleak and a dangerous message.  ‘Believe you are special but only when we give you the power to attack and destroy’.   It is all troubling.  At the end of the movie there is a cop out of the core drive of the film that brings it to a sudden halt before the appearance of Duplo.

Its a veneer to me because it actually left me feeling cold inside.  This is not the times of my childhood with films like The Goonies, Karate Kid, Short Circuit.  Its a veneer that once pushed through covers the fact that actually we are all like the movie portrays us and perhaps our society now is really rather screwed.  Buy the lego kits, don’t create your own designs but you are awesome and you should create your own designs but don’t since you need to conform.  Some scenes actually put me in mind of adult rated war movies.  No hope in this fantasy world.

Did I look too far into it?  Well maybe but I thought I would put my considerations to virtual paper.

Its a fun movie, its fast and its bright and it pushes buttons.  Go see it.  I don’t want to see it again.

GBS

Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (Kindle) Review

Lines of Departure (Marko Kloos)

Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the Solar System…  Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is North American Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go. After surviving a disastrous space-borne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony—and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun. In this sequel to the best selling Terms of Enlistment, a weary soldier must fight to prevent the downfall of his species…or bear witness to humanity’s last, fleeting breaths.

Back in late December the first book I read with my new Kindle was Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos.  You can read my review of it on this blog here.   I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for the pre-order option to get the sequel and it downloaded into my device on cue two weeks ago.  Now I have been so busy that I have only just now got around to reading it and I did so in two halves over some three hours.  I had been looking forward to learning what had become of the NAC, of Andrew Grayson and the Lankies.  Was it worth the wait?

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As is normal for me with my lack of free time the short answer is YES.  I enjoyed this sequel a lot.  I read it fast and with joy.  I would say you need to read the first book for it to make total sense, but you could wing it.  I will not give the plot away but there is action a plenty and though the plot is not as novel as the first book its tighter and Mr Kloos seems to have more fun with it too.  Go and seek it out if you like military sci-fi like what I do (see that professional grammer eh!).  It alternates doom laden depression with souring optimism on the part of the characters and this gives them more depth.  The Lankies are very scary if impersonal foes.   Get it from Amazon here.

I think that the author will craft a third book in the series and after the way ‘Lines of Departure’ ended I have some thoughts as to what will feature in it.  A doomed humanity, back against the wall, confined to half a solar system with an unstoppable enemy.  Seems to me that a miracle weapon will appear to deal with the seed ships and that freedom will come with a realisation of the nature of man.  After all you can’t argue with brute physics.  I am loving this hopefully now series of books.

GBS

Terms of Enlistment – Marko Kloos (Kindle) review

It has been a dream of mine for a number of months to get a Kindle and be able to read all of the science fiction tales to be had through that device which are not availiable in paperback form.  Self Publishing, once the hated bastard offspring of the ‘proper publishing house’ is now in its own element.  It’s a digital age and the world has indeed changed.  I wanted to read of that change for myself and see if things ‘rejected’ by some would be good enough to entertain others.  I also know there will be a lot of let down and dross to wade through too but we can all enjoy that together.   This festive season my good lady surprised me with just such a device and once I had it set up my first port of call was to purchase the ebook Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos.  Having had two days off I managed to read the whole novel while attending to all the other madness of the holiday.  So aside from being my first non-paper reading experience in hand what was the book actually like?  Read on for my own review starting with a short web lifted synopsis.

The year is 2108, and the North American Commonwealth is bursting at the seams. For welfare rats like Andrew Grayson, there are only two ways out of the crime-ridden and filthy welfare tenements, where you’re restricted to 2,000 calories of badly flavored soy every day. You can hope to win the lottery and draw a ticket on a colony ship settling off-world, or you can join the service. With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price . . . and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.

I began by reading the ‘free sample’ offered on Amazon and this got my attention.  A few pages about Andrew Grayson, a street rat, a potential pointless hoodlum in waiting whose life is going nowhere.  His only chance to get out of the PRC is the army.  The book divides into three main parts and these are firstly the slums and military training, secondly military action on Earth and thirdly adventure among the colonies and a change of pace.  I don’t want to spoil the tale so I will keep it short and loose.  I thought I was reading one novel when I began and another when I finished and do you know what it was bloody good all the way through.  I could complain about typo’s and some editing (the gods know I get them too despite a lot of editing so sod that, it was not enough to spoil the story to any degree) and I could mention the boiler house dialogue in places (some reviewers did but to be honest it made me smile, I like this kind of character speak).  I will mention that the whole book is written in first person perspective and this is no mean feat believe me.  The author does this well and the character grows throughout the novel and you can tell by his mannerisms.   It is military science fiction and the combat scenes work well.  The technology is evident but not overpowering.  Infodumping is there but this is not a problem especially for first person narration.   Characters were well drawn and sparse where needed but rounded where required.  It kept me focused on it.   In short a novel that deserves success and will impress those who want action with a little social-economic thought too.

My opinions were actually mirrored in several of the reviews I read after typing this blog post and that made me laugh.  I will not hide the fact that I should and I could write a novel that would be good for fans of this genre but seriously folks take a dump or get off the can.  Snippy comments by those jade green with envy over another’s success (always success not talent remember that) on forums is just sad.  I tend to avoid comments and leave it with a blog review.

You can read an interview with Marko Kloos on Writers & Artists.  Well worth a read for me as it actually validated my thoughts on self publishing through Amazon to Kindle for the talented writers.  Lastly it also informed me of the authors new work Lines of Departure which is due out late January 2014; its been picked up by an Amazon inprint 47North so in  a way Mr Kloos is no longer self publishing!  Evident to this see below for the new (not designed by the author himself).  He has arrived!

If you like Military Science Fiction then give this a volley of shots.  Its a tungsten flechette of action packed fun that will lift you out of any crummy government apartment in the NAC for a few hours.  I have pre-ordered the sequel this afternoon.

GBS