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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sitcoms Worth Rewatching - Fawlty Towers


I discovered Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the Seventies, when it was still a fairly obscure TV show that aired late on Sunday nights on a local PBS affiliate. I soon became one of those idiots who quote long excerpts from various skits. Fortunately I got over it.

It was a pretty strong ensemble, I thought, without any weak links. But it always seemed that one of the members stood out a bit – that being John Cleese. When the circus left town he went on to co-create, write and star in Fawlty Towers, a British sitcom that was closer to a mini-series in terms of length, airing just six episodes each in 1975 and 1979.

The premise of Fawlty Towers is a very simple one. It pits hotel owner Basil Fawlty against the people who irritate him. Which is pretty much everyone on Earth. Basil is clearly the star of the show but is aided by an able supporting cast who portray the hotel’s staff and guests and his wife Sybil , who is perhaps the biggest thorn in his side.

Some of the key facets of Basil’s personality are his intolerance of just about everyone, whom he feels are beneath him, and the need to ingratiate himself with those few members of the upper crust that he feels are deserving of his respect. Which serve as his motivations and drive most of the plots, which typically start out as calm as a lazy summer afternoon and steadily build to a hurricane of slapstick and silliness.

Most of the 12 episodes are worth a look, although there are a few lesser ones and some really great ones. If you’ve never had the pleasure then you might as well start with The Germans.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Nebula Award Stories 3, edited by Roger Zelazny

It looks like there were 16 works of shorter fiction nominated for the 1968 Nebula awards. Seven of them appear in this collection. Although the Ballard story included doesn’t appear on the ballots I found listed at various reference sites.

In any event, there are some holes in my reading history represented here. I’ve read lots of Ellison over the years and a fair amount of Ballard. As for Leiber, Moorcock, McCaffrey and Delany, not so much. But there’s some great stuff here, by my reckoning, and a few good ones and one that was not so much.

Read more at Black Gate.

Dune & Dune Messiah & Children of Dune

Dune
By Frank Herbert
1965

Dune Messiah
By Frank Herbert
1969

Children of Dune
By Frank Herbert
1976

Given that I've read the original Dune books, the ones by Frank Herbert, a number of times and also given that the first book is nearly fifty years old, I thought I'd forego doing full reviews of each of the three books. I don't recall when I least read the series but I was interested to see how they'd stack up after all these years. Especially after reading six of the sequel/prequel books by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, books that I became decidedly less impressed with as I made my way through each volume.

I'm happy to report that Dune held up quite well after so many years. I found myself zipping right through it and while I remembered quite a lot of what was coming I was surprised at how much had slipped my mind. I won't go into much in the way of describing the book, as well-known as it is by now, but rather will join those who praise Herbert for creating such an intricate and detailed world with a rather gripping plot playing out against this background.

Then there's Dune Messiah. I didn't remember much about this one either and after reading it again, I'd say I'm not surprised. It's a short volume and the story does actually have a plot with things happening throughout. But in spite of that it feels that not much is really happening, aside from a bunch of the characters moping and a bunch of the others plotting and conspiring and that's about all she wrote. If you've never read these books before I'd almost say you could get away without reading this one. But in the interests of completeness you might as well go ahead.

Children of Dune was just as hazy in my mind as the foregoing, but I was surprised to find that it's my favorite of the three. In my hazy memories I seem to recall that God Emperor of Dune was my favorite of all of the Frank Herbert Dune books so it remains to be seen if that's really the case. Children of Dune, as the name suggests, deals primarily with the preborn children of the emperor Paul Atreides and their preborn aunt Alia, who seems to have come off the rails a bit. As things proceed Leto, one of the twins, begins to make a major transformation that's dealt with more extensively in the fourth book.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Few Surefire Kickstarter Campaigns

Abscess: The Musical
Dan Rather action figures
Remake Lawrence of Arabia with less "desert stuff"
Research study on the word millinery
Slip-proof banana peel
Horse feather beds

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The History of the Other Necronomicon

(With sincerest apologies to H. P. Lovecraft)

Original title, Watdiz Rafaflafla — Rafaflafla being the word used by residents of the greater Pittsburgh area to designate that harrowing sound (made by insects and tiny flying horses) suppos’d to resemble the flatulence of daemons who have been tuned to the key of B flat.

Composed by Haminah Haminah H. Haminah, Esq., a sad clown and learned scholar of the Peoria, in the American caliphate of the Illinois, who is said to have flourished during the early period of the Flock of Seagulls and the A-ha, circa 1983 A.D. He visited the ruins of the Cleveland and he explored subterranean secrets of the Memphis and spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of...

Read more at Black Gate

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Accident Prone Hamlet

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
[steps in a paint bucket]
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
[tries to shake the paint bucket loose]
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
[still trying to shake the paint bucket loose - stumbles - catches himself - bangs his elbow on a chair]
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
[gives his foot a hard shake - the paint bucket flies high in the air - comes down and hits him in forehead]
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
[disoriented - eyes slightly glazed over]
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
[walks into the wall]
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
[very disoriented]
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
[slips on a banana peel - long pause while he gets up and composes himself]
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
[throws his arms wide for emphasis - knocks a vase off the table and smashes it]
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
[picks up the shards of the vase - sticks his finger into a mousetrap]
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
[tries to shake the mousetrap loose and whacks himself in the face]
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
[decides to take a breather - sits on a bear trap that his servant forgot to put away]
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
[leaps to his feet - runs around the room]
That makes calamity of so long life;
[still trying to extricate himself from the bear trap]
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
[finally gets the bear trap loose - steps on a rake - clocks himself in the face]
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
[extremely disoriented now - falls down the stairs]
[decides to call it a day - lies down with a cool rag on his face]

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Brief Guide to Space Race Documentaries

While I liked the space race movies I wrote about here recently, my preference is for documentaries. Fortunately, there are quite a few good examples of this breed. This isn’t a definitive listing, but rather a few of the better known space documentaries that are worth a look.

For All Mankind (1989)
It’s probably no accident that For All Mankind appeared in 1989, exactly two decades after humans first set foot on the moon. It focuses on the Apollo missions that culminated in several trips to the moon and features the usual array of archival footage, along with comments by Michael Collins (Apollo 11), Jim Lovell (Apollo 8/13), and 11 other Apollo astronauts. All of which is set to appropriately spacey music by ambient music pioneer, Brian Eno.

Read more at Black Gate