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Friday, November 29, 2013

K9: Keep Away From The Water!

K-9: I don't understand: why can't I go near the water?
Rex: Don't you remember what happened the last time you came to Brighton?

"While the Doctor had a snooze on the beach, you and Romana took a walk off toward the West Pier.

"When Romana threw the ball, you couldn't help yourself.  You raced across the beach, and leapt into the water.  Unfortunately, as you're a robot dog, you blew your top.

"Thus, while the Doctor and Romana visited the Leisure Hive on Argolis, you waited in the TARDIS, until they could repair you."

K-9: But just because someone throws a ball doesn't mean I have to chase it.  As a robot dog, I'm ruled by logic, not by impulses.  I could resist, and remain on the shore.
Rex: Are you sure?  Do you really want to risk missing out on a single adventure during Master & Mistress' time in England?
K-9: Uh...

K-9: You know, I really hate it when a Dalek is right.

K-9 & Rex Dalek

To catch the Doctor and Romana's visit to Brighton, and their adventure on Argolis, watch "The Leisure Hive," available at all fine Doctor Who DVD retailers everywhere.  (Except, possibly, in E-space).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Boba Fett & Enlightenment: Part 2

BosskPrince Xizora droid, and Boba Fett
in Slave Ship

K.W. Jeter splits the action between two different time periods in the Star Wars Boba Fett trilogy, and a large portion of book 2, Slave Ship, is related to us by Dengar, a bounty hunter who doesn't like his job, but has helped nurse Boba Fett back to health after his near-death in the Sarlacc Pit on Tatooine.  In return, Boba Fett agrees to partner with him for as long as Dengar desires.  Dengar hopes for one big score, so he can retire and marry the woman he loves.  But first he has to survive his alliance with the galaxy's most effective bounty hunter.  

There's a lot of action in Slave Ship.  Boba Fett joins forces with Bossk, the Trandoshan bounty hunter who despises him.  Together, they capture an imperial officer who stole secret plans from the Emperor, and battle a Hutt who wears such extensive armor that he resembles a submarine.  Unfortunately, the way Jeter structured the novel didn't work for me.  Despite all the action, the plot felt weighed down with dialogue, and the overall pace seemed too slow for a Star Wars novel.  This was a real shame, as Jeter constructs schemes within schemes, and imbues the underlying technology of his world with incredible detail.  

If I wish I had enjoyed Slave Ship more, the same cannot be said of the third book, Hard Merchandise.  The plot zooms along like the Millennium Falcon in hyperdrive, and the action comes thick and fast.  Jeter kept me turning pages all the way through, and every time I set down the book, I couldn't wait to pick it up again and resume the story.  Nor could Dengar keep up with Boba Fett.  After surviving one near-death experience after another, he realizes that Fett has no fear.  The man is a primal force that will stop at nothing to complete his tasks.  Kud'ar Mub'at, the arachnoid assembler who resides at the heart of events in the trilogy, receives his comeuppance.  And Bossk realizes something important and life-changing about himself.  While Jeter threw nonstop action and space battles my way, what I most enjoyed about book 3 was the character resolutions.  How he made me care about some truly despicable people, and how some of them, as a result of their interactions with Boba Fett, emerged with a better understanding of themselves.

A Deleted Scene from "Dalek Training"
Bug: Who's this Boba Fett, & why is Master reading about him?
Pocket: Never mind.  He's more than you can assimilate right now.
Denim: Sir, you could explain how Boba Fett serves as a mirror,
enlightening people about aspects of themselves
they might otherwise never perceive.
Pocket: Really?  You want to get into that kind of a discussion

with a Dalek cadet, during a rudimentary training mission? 

With his three books, K. W. Jeter introduced me to some colorful characters, and allowed me to accompany Boba Fett on adventures even more exciting than those I had imagined.  Yet, while entertaining me, his story also reminded me that, regardless of what I've done (or failed to do) in the past, that I can change.  That I can be more than who I am.  That perhaps, with renewed focus, I can become the person I wish to be.  

That's a great realization to take away from a trilogy of action/adventure novels.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Dalek Training

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Boba Fett & Enlightenment: Part 1

In "The Empire Strikes Back," George Lucas introduced us to Boba Fett.  While many (including some of those who made the second Star Wars film) saw the bounty hunter as evil, he performed a useful and necessary job.  The smuggler Han Solo owed Jabba The Hutt a lot of money.  Han had defaulted on his loan, and even after Jabba granted him an extension, Han still didn't repay him.  So Jabba wrote up an arrest warrant.  Like U.S. Marshal Gerard in "The Fugitive," (a movie Harrison Ford would later star in, after bidding farewell to his character of Han Solo), it wasn't Boba Fett's job to weigh the pros and cons of the situation.  He wasn't a judge or jury.  He simply served as the arresting officer in a sector of the galaxy overlooked by the Empire, and hence run by the Hutts.

Oh, and he had really cool armor, with all kinds of interesting weapons. His striking appearance made me wonder what kind of adventures he might have had, aside from that in the movie.

Last year, in "Preparing For Santa's Arrival," I told you how much I enjoyed The Mandalorian Armor, the first novel in K. W. Jeter's Boba Fett trilogy.  Unlike his rivals, Boba Fett never captures his prey, and then tries to sell him to a higher bidder.  Neither will he ever free a captive if the person offers him more money than the bounty he contracted for.

While he has previously operated independently, a curious thing happens when he join the Bounty Hunters Guild.  Boba Fett becomes the fulcrum of all the discontent and envy between the group's members.  Because he's such a capable person, those who would overthrow the current leadership curry favor with him.  They propose alliances to him, each one suggesting that, after a coup, Fett can help him rule the guild.  Simply by being there, Boba Fett disrupts all the checks and balances that previously prevented the members from acting on their greed and hatred.  At the slightest suggestion of his potential support, each turns upon the other.  In the process, the bounty hunters end up destroying the guild that has helped them to survive.

It's an interesting reminder of how, when we look at others to complete us, we often overlook the glaring faults in our own character.  More on this thought--and the remaining books in the Boba Fett trilogy--tomorrow.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Preparing For Santa's Arrival

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Perfectionism & the Royal Suspension Chain Pier in Brighton

As an aspiring author, I think my biggest weakness is perfectionism. I tend to think that whatever I create should be perfect, that it should appeal to everyone, and that it should be so good that it will last forever. My seeming inability to adopt a more realistic approach has meant that I've finished and submitted few stories and novels.  

As a result, after years of writing, I have nothing to show for my efforts.

At the Brighton Museum, I learned that the city's first pier was called the Royal Suspension Chain Pier.  It was built in 1823, with the intention of helping cross-channel passengers board their ships.

It soon became a place for the fashionable to congregate, to see and be seen.  Or, as the British would say, to promenade.  Landscape painters such as Joseph Turner (an inspiration for Holmfirth-based Ashley Jackson) and John Constable immortalized it in their work.

While I'm sure the builders constructed it as best they could, the Royal Suspension Chain Pier failed the test of time.  By 1896, the pier had already been closed, and was scheduled to be dismantled when a storm struck Brighton.

The remains of the limestone blocks into which the oak piles were rooted can apparently be seen at extremely low tides.  Sadly, that's all that remains of what was a highly useful and impressive structure.  Still, the unexpected appeal of the Royal Suspension Chain Pier led to the construction of the West Pier, which became a popular venue for concerts, shows, and all sorts of entertainment.  It helped make Brighton a better port city, heightened its utility and appeal, and helped it grow.  Even if it wasn't perfect, even if it didn't last forever, it benefitted people in many ways, and was immortalized by two painters who would eventually number among England's greatest artists.

No matter how hard I work, it's likely I can never make my fiction perfect.  It's equally likely that any stories I manage to publish may go out of print.  But if they can entertain readers for a time, and inspire future authors, then that should be enough for me.  Now, to keep that thought before me each day as I sit down to write, and finish, and sell.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries

Related Internet Links

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Cow of Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier offers nearly as many different types of food as Brighton itself.  But when the sun goes down, some of the more serious vendors shut down.  So if you want your Cod & Chips, Prawn Cocktail, or Jellied Eel, make sure you get there during the daylight hours. 

Evening is the time to indulge your sweet tooth!

From such kid favorites as candy floss and rock candy, to more adult contenders such as crepes and donuts, Brighton Pier offers everything the fervent dessert-lover could desire.  In fact, speaking of donuts, they offer a selection that encompasses our entire solar system.

While I love candy and donuts, my favorite way to wind down each evening is with a bowl of ice cream.  So imagine my delight when I found this bovine friend of mine taking in the sunset.

Dragon Dave: Where can I get some ice cream, my friend?
The Cow of Brighton Pier: Right around the corner, Dragon Dave.  You can't miss it, and you're sure to love all the flavors they have on offer.

And what do you know?  My bovine friend was right.  Ice cream in all kinds of flavors and varieties awaited me, even on a cold, breezy night on Brighton Pier.  There was only one thing that detracted from an otherwise wonderful experience.

I've heard of "giving your all," but this is ridiculous!  I know that humans like me like our sundaes, shakes, and ice cream cones, but please--cows everywhere--pace yourself!  Practice moderation, and don't give us more milk each day than you can reasonably afford to!

Dragon Dave

Friday, November 22, 2013

Daleks Love Breakfasts in Brighton

Rex: Master & Mistress are sure enjoying these breakfasts in Brighton.
Artist: I think Master likes seeing all the authors as much as he does the food.
Rex: Yep, there's Peter Crowther off to his left, and K.W. Jeter at a table to our right.
Artist: Oh look, a waiter is leading Robin Hobb to a table just now.
Rex: You know that's not her real name, right?
Artist: Yeah, I heard her say that on a panel yesterday.  Her real name is Margaret Ogden, although she also uses the pen name Megan Lindholm.  I guess she's like Robert Jordan.  You know, the man who wrote the Wheel of Time series.  His real name was James Rigney, and he had three other pseudonyms, in addition to Robert Jordan.
Rex: And then there was Jane Johnson, who wrote The Secret Country, that novel Master & Mistress read earlier this year.  She's also published books under the pseudonyms of Jude Fisher and Gabriel King.  She's supposedly here too, but I haven't seen her yet.
Artist: She's an editor as well as a writer.  She's probably closeted away somewhere, meeting with her authors during the day.
Rex: What is it with authors and pseudonyms anyway?  Why don't they just publish under their real names?  
Artist: I don't know.  They write stories that aren't true, so I guess they sometimes feel like going all the way, and publishing them under fictitious names.

Rex: At least Master & Mistress are getting the full English breakfast at this hotel.  It's so much more interesting than the oatmeal and fruit they were eating at the other one.
Artist: Yes, my visual and olfactory sensors are on overload, surrounded by so much good food, and so many interesting people.  

Rex: Well, just like this chocolate pastry, you'd better enjoy it while it lasts.  Because before you know it, the World Fantasy Convention will be over, and we'll be back to just oatmeal and fruit for breakfast.

Artist: Hey, where'd it go?  I barely got a taste of that chocolate pastry!
Rex: Told ya.  The good times don't last forever.  You have to appreciate them while they're here.
Artist: No fair: I want a replay!  Bring back the chocolate pastry!  Daleks demand more chocolate pastries!

Rex & Artist Dalek

Related Dragon Cache entries
Jane Johnson's Wild Road

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Eating Out in Brighton

One day in Brighton, we headed out to find some lunch.

This restaurant was close to our hotel, and the menu looked pleasant enough.  But something about the name of the cafe--I'm not sure what--prompted us to continue our search for the perfect lunch venue.

This restaurant looked elegant and popular.  Unfortunately, we've seen the Hatter several times, in Lewis Carroll's novels and in movies.  While his food might be delicious, there's his riddles and poetry to contend with, and we find these perplexing at the best of times.  So, as we wanted a quiet, relaxing (and less mentally-taxing) lunch, we decided to move along.

We're always up for a bit of Mexican food, so we took a look at this restaurant's menu.

Things were looking promising, until we saw this entree:

Hmm.  Time to move along.

As we walked Brighton's busy streets, we realized that it was quite nice out.  Sure, it was cold, but the sun was shining, and the wind wasn't blowing anything like it had earlier in the week.  So we stopped by Morrison's, a popular English grocery store chain, picked up some British food favorites--such as Cornish Pasties, Sausage Rolls, and Quavers--and headed off to the park to enjoy our lunch together.

Sometimes, it's the simplest experiences that you end up enjoying the most.  Don't you agree?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Peter Crowther: Americanophile

“Somewhere on the windswept east coast of Yorkshire there’s a mind so steeped in the idioms and lore of American pop culture that it all but constitutes a 51st state.  The mind belongs to Peter Crowther, and at the heart of its multifarious, ever-churning swirl are the picket-fence stylings of Rockwell, the folksy profanity of King, the deadpan gravitas of Serling, and the madcap irreverence of Bunny (Bugs).”
--James Lovegrove

Remember that movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”?  We utilized all three during this year's trip to England.  All those trips proved enjoyable in their own way, but our ride on the tube from Heathrow Airport to Victoria Station proved particularly memorable.  For my wife and I fell into conversation with a English gentleman from London who, it seemed, was as fascinated by American culture as we are by his own.  He shared with us his experiences during his recent trip to New York, and expressed a desire to drive Route 66, see Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, and visit “Big Sewer.”  

After a few repetitions of the latter term, we finally realized that he meant “Big Sur," a scenic spot along the California coast, just a little south of Monterey and Carmel.  

We shared with him about our trip last year to Yorkshire, and when we mentioned Holmfirth, he didn’t recognize the town. But when we mentioned that it was where “Last of the Summer Wine” was filmed, he nodded in recognition.  Of course, he knew of the show, as it’s the longest-running comedy series in British TV history (if not the world).  But try as he might, he had just never gotten the humor of the show.  For him, the series employed a form of Northern humor which he simply didn’t understand, and he found it interesting that we, not being British, and much farther removed from Yorkshire, should understand it and enjoy it, when he himself could not.

At the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, I compared the membership list with the authors of the books we received at registration, and took the books that matched to the mass signing evening event.  For some reason, I missed Peter Crowther’s name on the list, or perhaps our copy of Darkness, Darkness hid somewhere in our room during the process.  But, along with the books I had for the attending authors to sign, we also took our convention book, which had an autographs page.  After waiting in line for several authors whose books we had read, I suddenly found myself standing near Peter Crowther.  

No one stood before him at that moment.  Peter Crowther looked at me. I looked at him.  Of course, I recognized his name.  Feeling somewhat guilty, as I had not read any of his stories to that point, I sheepishly asked if he would sign my book.  He did so.  Somehow, in that brief moment, I glimpsed a little of myself in him, or at least qualities I admire.  Quiet repose.  Satisfaction with his place in the world, without the need to trumpet his triumphs.  Generosity of spirit.  Kindness.  And, dare I say it?  He just seemed like a proper English gentleman. 

It’s dangerous to attribute qualities to a person you don’t know, but somehow, that brief moment in his company made me want to read something he had written.  I saw him several times over the course of the weekend, usually in the restaurant at breakfast, and each time, my observations only reinforced my initial assessment of his character.  So imagine my surprise when I later realized that I had received one of his books.  Imagine my delight at realizing that I possessed a book by someone who had impressed me.

Darkness, Darkness is worthy of the all the praise heaped upon it by other noteworthy authors at the beginning of the book.  Not only have readers found Peter Crowther's books enjoyable, but many of his stories have been adapted to TV.  He’s also noteworthy as a publisher, having started PS Publishing fifteen years ago, a firm which now publishes 30-40 books annually.  I’m glad I finally got around to reading one of his stories, and meeting a man who has become a driving force in the British Science Fiction and Fantasy genre.  It was also nice to meet someone, even briefly, who appears to be as fascinated by American culture as I am by his own. 

Darkness, Darkness is heaped with aspects of American culture that sucked me into the story, from the Marlboros the characters smoke, the Juicy Fruit gum they chew, the DeSoto trucks they drive and the Cameros that fly (Yes, fly!), to the names of the musicians the radio DJ Melanie plays, such as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams.  Now, if only Crowther had set his story along Route 66.  Or better yet, somewhere near “Big Sewer.”  (Or, if you prefer, “Big Sur”).   I can think of another English gentleman who might have enjoyed reading it, even if it was written by a Northerner.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Peter Crowther Lures Me Into Darkness

The World Fantasy Convention is typically held each year in late October or early November.  You know, when it’s cold outside.  This means, when it’s held in places higher up the globe from me like Canada or England, that it’s really cold outside.  (Or at least colder than I'm used to).  Yet one of the things I like about the World Fantasy Convention is that they give you free books.  When you arrive at registration, and pick up your convention badge, they also hand you a bag of free books.  That’s a bag of books that, most likely, you might never otherwise read.  That’s not to say that the authors aren’t noteworthy, or the prose isn’t well written.  It’s just a fact of life that one can never read all the books, or for that matter all the authors, that one would like to.  So when someone places a stack of books in your hands, books that the publishers feel deserve a wider audience, it’s an open invitation to discover new authors.  It's like the publishers are saying, "These stories are so great that you really need to read them." Sure, some of them may not be to your liking, but you never know.  Who’s to say you won’t discover a new favorite author?

The organizers of the 2013 World Fantasy Convention continued this great book-giving tradition, and one of the novels I took up the challenge of reading was Darkness, Darkness by Peter Crowther.  It’s a well-printed hardcover, with attractive cover art, and at 127 pages, promised to be an easy read.  It’s a horror novel set in Jesman’s Bend, “affectionately known locally as the one-horse town to end them all.”  There we meet Rick, a young man who, months ago, was involved in a fatal auto accident.  While it wasn’t his fault, he’s still haunted by the crash, and hasn’t been able to drive since.  Rick holds down the night shift at a local radio station, managed by his brother Geoff.  His sister-in-law Melanie is the DJ.   One day, around three a.m., Rick awakens from another nightmare involving the auto accident to discover that everyone else in the world seems to have disappeared.  Or at least, everyone outside the radio station. 

For a while, Melanie continues to play her music, an eclectic mix of easy listening.  But no one calls in for requests, or just to talk with her, as per usual.  Rick and Geoff make phone calls, but no one answers.  Eventually, they go into town to investigate.  They find crashed cars and half-eaten dinners, but no people.  That evening, they load up on canned goods and lock down their radio station.  They don’t know what’s happened, but they know it can’t be good.

Early the next morning, signs of life appear.  A crashed car drives away.  Those who disappeared are seen working on their cars.  And yet, everything is different too.  The vehicles drive without their lights on, even though it’s still pitch black outside.  People they know walk around with sunglasses on, and their movements are slow and wooden, as if they are no longer familiar with their bodies.  When the men go to town to investigate, their friends and neighbors attack them with slow, purposeful, and emotionless violence. 

These people may sound like zombies, but they’re not mindless.  As they pursue Rick and his brother, they gradually gain familiarity with how their limbs should move, and learn how to respond better to attack.  And some of the cars they’ve worked on are now able to fly.  When their dark glasses get knocked off, their eyes glow red, suggesting that they now see by infrared light.  However, like zombies, these people seem intent on killing the living, which means that the men must flee back to the radio station, where Melanie awaits.  Can they reach her alive, and before the townspeople arrive?  And will they be safe inside its walls?  These are the questions that drive the latter half of the novel.

Darkness, Darkness is a slim volume, and Crowther doesn’t answer all the questions he raises.  But he creates an imaginative world, and populates it with vivid characters and fantastic (if horrific) situations.  While it's too early to declare that I’ve found a new favorite author, I can say that I enjoyed reading his novel.  Crowther packs his story with such a terrific punch that I might just have to seek out the second book in the series to learn what happens next.  I’m glad I had a chance to read one of his stories.  That happy experience might never have happened had I not attended this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, and had the organizers not continued the practice of including books in the price of membership. 

Now, if only they could hold the convention earlier in the year.  You know, when it’s warmer.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Cows of Seven Sisters

As an aspiring author, I always try to exist in the moment.  To quiet my thoughts, and take in my surroundings.  When I'm able to do so, I often sense and hear things that otherwise would have escaped me.  

Such proved the case during our adventure at Seven Sisters.  We came across a herd in a meadow, and to our surprise, the cows seemed as interested in us as we were in them.  We enjoyed spending a few minutes of our day with them, and getting a sense of what they wished to communicate to us.  

"Excuse me, I'm afraid I've lost my hair brush.  
Can I borrow yours?"

"Agnes, look at the nice man with the camera.
Go on, he won't hurt you.
Show him your smile."

"I don't suppose you brought a Snickerdoodle along with you?
Or a custard tart?

While I prefer homemade, 
I also like the packaged treats they sell as Morrison's."

"Okay, go on, say it.  I'm used to it.  I know I'm brown.
I just wish I knew what the 'How now' part means."

What can I say?  I'm not sure why they really spoke to us, but I'm glad they did.

Dragon Dave