Friday 29 November 2013

Torn between love and hate

I was just over at io9, reading an article promoting the concept of a TV show which deals with a different story each week, like the Outer Limits, and it compared this to the idea of books which contain a lot of science fiction short stories. I know exactly how I would feel about someone filming something I had already read: conflicted. How about you? Chances are you have already experienced it. Before I was born, my mother was very into SF, and my first exposure to many stories from The Original Series of Star Trek was not on the television, but the printed page. Naturally, I imagined the appearance of characters and things, and they weren't necessarily the same as what I ended up seeing in the TV show. I don't remember finding this disappointing.

When I got older, however, I went through a phase when I would try to avoid seeing a film if I had already read it. Some folk, I guess, never escape this phase, given how much frustration can overcome people when they see not merely is the brunette being played by a blonde, but the reason the killer killed is now a quite different reason. Sometimes this still frustrates me. A few years ago ITV started adapting Miss Marple stories for the telly, and in one of these they introduced a lesbian love affair as part of the explanation for the killer's motivations. That annoyed my family, as it was an alteration to the original. I found it tiresome because it was a change that was done solely with the intent of getting some free publicity. It did nothing to change the story for the better or improve the characters. It was just change for attention's sake.

The show had me raising a supercilious eyebrow because it had been called Marple, not Miss Marple. That isn't cool, TV executives. It's a bad idea. The whole thing about Miss Marple is that she is seemingly a harmless little gossipy old lady. The fact that nobody says "Miss" these days means you should keep it as the title to reinforce that idea. Worse, the actress playing Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan, was wrong for the role. She's a good actress and I have enjoyed her in other parts. Her cackling crone in that divertingly silly Costner version of Robin Hood remains entertaining to this day. The lady they had as Miss Marple last time I watched, Julia McKenzie, is much more suitable, and even seems preferable to me than the sainted Joan Hickson, who had a wonderful run as Miss Marple, which I fondly remember from my childhood. The theme music from that era can make me nervous even today!

Returning to my original point, there are three responses I can have to an adaptation: enthusiastic, uncaring and downright annoyed. Of course, you don't need to have had any exposure to the original to have these responses. A friend dragged me along to see the first Lara Croft film when it came out. I had not played any of the games. After having to sit through that terrible, terrible film, I had no desire to. I resorted to rudeness to avoid having to watch the sequel, which I hear is even worse. That must have taken some work. Adaptations of beloved things are "taking an awful risk", as Grand Moff Tarkin might say. There was a baffling adaptation of an early Terry Pratchett book the other year. It had none of the wit and humour of the original, seeking to replace them with famous faces utterly unsuited to the roles. Even worse, one of the actors had previously played a different character in a previous adaptation of the same writer's work. I presume that anyone unfamiliar with the universe wondered how Death's cook ended up as a cowardly wizard.

Sometimes adaptations can work excellently. I was very taken with the film American Psycho on its release, despite never having read the book. Indeed, for several years I avoided it, having been told it was decidedly nastier in tone than the film. The film had some fairly nasty things in it, but when I read the book, it was indeed full of even more horrible things. It is a good book, mind you, and the film a good adaptation. So when the idea is not just one thing that might work, but a whole slew of stories, the number of possibilities for error rocket.

There's a TV show I have been watching lately called Sleepy Hollow, and it is really inadvisable to subject it to any serious critical thinking. Frankly, though, it works brilliantly. The fact that almost nothing in it makes any sense means that almost everything in it is funny. The lead character, for instance, Ichabod Crane, has a backstory that just doesn't add up at all. He explains that he joined the British Army to help put down the American Revolution. Fine. He names his regiment. Out of interest, I looked it up, and during the Revolutionary War it was in Gibraltar and Britain, having been formerly in Ireland. That's fine. Then in a subsequent episode he is at the Boston Tea Party, helping to steal some evil thing that the Hessians are guarding. Because the Hessian mercenaries are helping to bring about the end of the world, you see. It is glorious fun, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you with one proviso. My Dad is a big train buff, and gets peeved when a TV show set in the '30s uses one from the '40s. Since nothing in this show makes any sense, exercise caution if you find things similarly off-putting. Baddies using artefacts marked with Viking runes to do something that involves them talking in Ancient Greek to henchmen who speak German about some Egyptian hieroglyphs is too much fun - unless it isn't for you.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Terror on your Television!


So, y'know, exercise a spot of common sense.

For many folks these days Comic Book Guy has come to dominate their psyche. Our engorged hero declares, "Worst. Episode. Ever." Nowadays, folks often think this, and there's doubtless an argument in support of it. There is a lot of rubbish about these days, and there has been for a while. I have to confess two things now. First, I have just listened to this Cracked webcast about the terrible endings good shows have. Second, I've only watched part of one episode of Lost, so I cannot empathise with those who have suffered worst in recent years. My brother and I have a certain way of approaching TV shows. It relies on assuming a certain comedy. I have been guilty of taking it out of the house, and folk out there don't appreciate it so much.

I assume there's a great emotional connection going on in their cases. I've watched some of Friends. It was silly, but I do remember feeling a connection to Chandler. I watched some Buffy, and thought Xander the bee's knees. Then I went off to uni, and got older. Fundamentally, it's all entertainment, so if it fails to entertain, something has gone wrong. It doesn't have to be fun, necessarily. We can draw something enlightening and beneficial from sad experiences (cf. Lost in Translation). In recent years I became a fan of Dexter, the show about a loony who, driven mad by his mother's murder when he was but a toddler, goes about killing folks.

The TV show is distinct from the book. The literary Dexter is, let's be blunt, possessed by a demon. Or a Star Trek version thereof: an energy being That doesn't make the books bad. They're every bit as enjoyable as the TV show - so long as you don't staple your Serious Cap to your head. The TV version, mind you, is a lot more family-friendly. Dexter does love Rita; his adoptive children aren't also possessed by murderous demons; his adoptive sister and blood brother are not still waiting to kill one another. It's all hokum, and - let's reiterate - entertaining.

But TV shows can go spectacularly wrong. The penultimate season of Buffy saw the writers decide that the "Big Bad" of the season would be not some ancient monster, vampire, demon, crazy robot or goddess, itself. I can't think of a worse idea than that. You've got a TV show you're marketing at teenagers, and who is the baddie? Life. As if kids weren't depressed and moody enough! Inevitably, the season was a huge downer. Dexter made a similar mistake. Season Four had a sad ending. Distinctly sad. Season Five was dramatically effective. Future-Sherlock Holmes led a gang of murderous, misogynistic rapists whom Dexter had to kill. It finally cheered up six or eight episodes in. I'm not checking precisely where because it is too depressing to watch.

There's the rub. Don't make your entertainment too depressing to watch. A message the folks who wrote the last season of Dexter could have learned from their fifth season, even if they never saw that bit of Buffy. In some ways, the TV finale of Dexter was masterly. Personally, I watched it because I was interested in a bloke who doesn't understand interpersonal interaction working out how to do so. But a few weeks before the finale I read some thingy to the effect that there were two classes of viewers of Dexter (um). The one wants him to get away with his crimes, living happily ever after. The other wants that naughty boy to be captured, prosecuted and punished. In the finale they showed the writers managed to accomplish something truly special. They annoyed both of these divisions, since he wasn't captured and tried, nor did he live happily ever after. He just kept living in a very depressed fashion.

It is almost as though they sought to say that this is what the average TV viewer is spending his or her life doing. If you want me, I shall be filling a bucket with my tears.

Monday 25 November 2013


Rather my raison d'etre at the minute, foolishness. I habitually keep odd hours unless compelled otherwise. So last night I was tidying my room, and went outside to put some old White Dwarf magazines in the recycling bin. The house has a main part and an extension. When I came back into the extension and attempted to open the inner door, I found I mustn't have clicked the catch properly. After turning it a few times, hoping for a miracle, I gave up and went to ring the front doorbell. But everyone slept through my repeated ringing, and I had to retire defeated. It wasn't too bad, just cold. The washer and tumble dryer live back there, so I was able to pop on a couple more layers. An old thick coat of mine lives just inside the back door, and I nabbed a hat. We keep old sheets and towels to cover stuff when decorating, so I pulled a mess of those out, too, and swaddled myself in them like a mummy.

Through an odd quirk, we have an old computer in the back, hooked up to a camera system to film any invaders with nefarious intent, so I even had music courtesy of the internet. There a sink in the back, so hot and cold running water was also available. Anyway, I locked myself out about 03:30, and was released from my prison of foolishness about 09:00, an hour ago. So I suppose the lesson is not to use the back door, as it'll trickily pretend to be fine, then shut me out. Tut-tut! With that, I bid you all a good Monday morning, but from my perspective, good night! :-)

Friday 22 November 2013

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice-

Years ago I saw Starship Troopers in the cinema. It struck me as a very funny film, and it retains a lot of that comic gold today. Some time afterwards Mongoose got the rights to produce a game based sort of in that universe. I think it was to do with an animated TV show, but whatever the reason, there were now "Bugs" available for comic refights. I never did get round to playing the game itself, as folks at uni were generally a bit too into their 40K, and I never did get round to finishing painting them. But I still have the boxed set with its 20 Warrior Bugs, plus a Flame Bug I picked up as well. Some day I'll finish them all off, add a few grey Cadians, and have a laugh. So arguably I'm partly to blame for the fact that Mongoose dropped the game.

However, at the time I was less sympathetic to their position, and decided not to trust them in the future. They subsequently produced a game set 20 minutes into the future, with a variety of Modern factions, called Battlefield Evolution. I remember hearing it had died, but you can still buy four units from Mongoose, so it's still staggering on, half-dead, and without the models to produce even one faction's units. Two things put me off investing in that. First, Mongoose's history with Starship Troopers. Second, contemporary warfare is a bit too close to the bone for my tastes. We've all got our red lines when it comes to gaming, and that's one of mine.

So two games dead, and possibly more I hadn't heard about. Then the other year I discovered that Mongoose had allied with some American company (Amarillo Design Bureau - whom I'd never heard of in my life) to produce some Star Trek models. That turned out not to be quite the case, as the Star Fleet Universe isn't really in line with Star Trek as we know it. There are some serious divergences which I won't go into here. Suffice it to say that fans of TNG shouldn't expect to see Ferengi or Cardassians turn up. For me, however, the important thing was seeing the Enterprise in model form. A friend of mine got me a pair of squadron boxes (Klingon and Federation) and the rulebook as a present, and soon Phasers were firing, Disruptors lancing and Photon Torpedoes impacting. This time I didn't stop at the introductory set, and bought more and more. It's an addiction familiar to all of my 'gaming readers! So far I have ended up with slightly north of ninety hulls, in addition to those Star Destroyers I knocked up the other month.

The rules were pretty good, being a new iteration of a system in use for some time. Mongoose had once had the rights to a Babylon 5 game. There were a few problems and unclear elements in the rules, but nothing one couldn't work around in a friendly way. Since every game thus far has been with my brother we've been able to do that, and introduce the odd house rule to make things more to our liking. I noticed early on that the best tactic against the Klingons is to charge straight down their throats, while their best tactic is to maintain a distance and whittle their enemies' shields down from a distance. The wider gaming community, consisting of a lot of folk who have played games produced by ADB in the past, and who were fielding distinct empires which used different weapons, started reporting problems. The initial resin models - which were simplicity itself to trim and assemble - had too many flaws, and were replaced by metal ones.

There's a certain amount of book-keeping, and ship cards are very useful for this. Mongoose said they'd produce some for all the ships, never did, despite putting them on "pre-order", and eventually started releasing some for individual factions. That went down well. Some models were released without rules, but a promise that rules would appear in a little while: a month, next month, by Christmas. Deadlines fell by the wayside. Then there were problems with production, and the metal models started to dry up. The "Fleet" packs, which let one make a considerable saving on buying individual models, started to disappear. I wandered over to another supplier, Wayland Games, and ordered one through them back in September. They have very handsomely said that if they can't get the whole "Fleet" pack they will acquire the individual models from Mongoose, and send them on to me. That's good customer service.

Recently, there was a much-heralded announcement. The upshot can be summarised as follows. ADB are taking back control of the line of models, which will now only be available through them. The rules will remain broadly the same, but will be revised after much playtesting so as to eliminate some perceived problems. There will be a new rulebook, probably in PDF or black and white paper. The ships that should have been released in the first book, but weren't, should be with us soon. The relaunch is in six months or so.

Generally speaking, I'd say this is a good idea. I'm looking forward to a relaunch, albeit with a little trepidation about Drones. In the source games these were launched in such volleys as to slow things to a crawl, I understand, as they tracked targets over multiple turns. In the Mongoose variant they became direct-fire weapons. If one failed to shoot them down, one could be in serious danger. There's talk of making them more like the original. Alarming. That said, everything else looks promising. The chap revising the rules is making use of lots of play-testing. The American company seems more helpfully communicative than Mongoose. To be fair to Mongoose, joint ventures such as this can have serious problems: the time-zones aren't in sync, so conversations are troublesome; if something needs to be checked at one end, but that particular company is focused on another project, it can delay things a lot; and so on.

I'm not prone to making grandiose declarations, so I'm not going to angrily denounce Mongoose, damning them to fire and brimstone. They have had problems with materials, with the supply of models, with getting work done when they said it would be done, and with keeping both private customers and other businesses in the know. They have been disappointing, even before this recent mess. The only reason I decided to start buying stuff from them now was because I wanted an Enterprise. I was wary of engaging with them before. I am yet warier now. They'll probably have to acquire a Disney licence to sell a Star Wars game before I'd be sucked back into their orbit by insuperable desire. The sad thing is that these are some lovely models, and the rules haven't majorly disappointed me in any sense. I just cannot trust the company to see a product range through to the end. That is a shame.

Once upon a time a friend of mine was having some romantic troubles, and having observed them, I told him that the problems were largely rooted in his desire for a "Happy Ending". We don't get those, I said, because they are a storytelling convention. We have to find joy in what is, because if we reject everything that isn't perfect we just end up doing ourselves out of any joy at all. He's a lot happier now than he was then. In that vein, I am distinctly looking forward to whatever Amarillo Design Bureau do with A Call To Arms: Star Fleet. I'm also hungry for new models! Of course, the fly in that ointment is that I am flat broke!

Thursday 14 November 2013

Mushroom and Cashew Pâté

This is another recipe which went down well on Sunday. I wanted to cater for all sorts of tastes, so this pâté is gentle and soothing, unlike the spicy, garlic-rich one I shared the other day. As before, non-vegans may want to fiddle with the ingredients a bit.


1/2 small red onion (finely chopped)
Mushrooms: I used 125g of mixed exotic mushrooms from my local Sainsbury's (Shiitake and Oyster and a third were in there), and added one or two large Forestiere mushrooms and 50-100g of Chestnut mushrooms. Use whatever you have to hand, preferably using at least two kinds.
10ml (2 tsp) olive oil
Vegetable stock: I used 1 tsp of Vecon stock diluted (as recommended) in 250ml water.
100g cashews
50-100ml soya cream

1) Chop the onion, and fry for a few minutes.
2) Slice the mushrooms finely, and add them to the onion. Fry until they are cooked, and their liquid has evaporated. Grind some black pepper into the mixture, but not too much: this is supposed to be a mild counterpart to my previous spicy Courgette and Almond Pâté.
3) Add the stock to the onion and mushrooms, and place on a high heat until it has evaporated.
4) Put the cashews and half the soya cream in a suitable container, and add the onions and mushrooms once most of the liquid has evaporated. Whizz them all up, and add more soya cream if desire.
5) Pop the mixture in a container, leave to cool, and transfer to the fridge. Eat as desired.

As was the case the other day, I've never managed to get beyond three or four days without gobbling all of this down on crackers or toast, so I cannot say if it will last any longer than that!

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Courgette and Almond Pâté

I had some guests round on Sunday as a belated celebration of my birthday. This simple little dish went down particularly well, so I wanted to share it with a wider audience. Those of you not on the vegan side of the fence may want to make some substitutions.

10ml (2tsp) olive oil
1 medium courgette (sliced)
1/2 small red onion (finely chopped)
Fresh basil (they sell it in bags at my local supermarkets, and I used one of those, less a couple of leaves snagged by our rabbit, who also got all the stalks - spoiled little fella!)
1 bulb (not a misprint) of garlic (crushed and chopped)
Cayenne pepper
50-100ml (2-4 fl. oz) Soya cream
100g almonds

1) Slice the red onion finely, and fry in the oil for a few minutes, until it's softened, and the smell is making you dreamy.
2) Slice the courgette and add to the onion. Fry until the courgettes are cooked.
3) While the courgette is cooking, crush and chop the bulb of garlic.
4) Add salt and Cayenne pepper to the onion and courgette as desired. Tear the basil and add it, too.
5) Put all the ingredients (except half the soya cream) in a suitable container, and whizz them up with a food processor. Add as much of the remaining soya cream as desired until the mixture has a pleasing consistency.
6) Let the mixture cool, and chill it in the fridge until you fancy it.

This might last for more than three days, but I've never managed to avoid devouring it all within that span of time.

Sunday 10 November 2013


Let us remember.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Disguises are Jolly Effective!

Back in the first year of the current millennium, old John Simpson of the BBC crept carefully into Afghanistan, disguised in a burqa. A decade and a bit later sees that nice Mr Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed (I presume his parents got bored, hence their inability to spell Mohammed the same way twice in a short span of syllables) disappear in the UK in just such a fashion. I recall that back in '01 there was a certain amount of amusement that Afghanistan was so cowed by the concept that a man might not see a woman. While I certainly wouldn't be a Kilroy-Silk of a man in suggesting that every woman must be stripped nude and photographed for pornographic consumption (N.B. Kilroy-Silk surely didn't suggest this, no matter how bloody awful that massive twazzock is), it seems a bit weird that twelve years is all it takes to angle an element of Britain sufficiently as to provide a facsimile of Afghanistan, which is widely-regarded not to be quite up-to-date in . . . one or two ways.

Damnfool nonsense, eh? I shall be back in a few days with something less risible and acid. My Irish travels have been lovely, and I was very happy to see my friends wed!

Friday 1 November 2013

Delicious chocolate dessert!

I found a lovely recipe the other day, and one with an unexpected ingredient. It's a recipe for chocolate torte, but it contains avocado! Needless to say, I had to make it to see what would happen. The first time I got so distracted by trying to convert measurements from American that I forgot to put the avocado in. It's confusing enough in Britain with Imperial and Metric without having to try to work out what a "cup" means. I'd say we're a simple people, but maybe I'm just simple. Anyway, effort the second worked out wonderfully well. I've even tested it on volunteers, and they loved it. I followed a couple of the suggestions at the foot of the recipe, adding a layer of kirsch-infused cherries and vegan vanilla ice cream. The recipe's here if you fancy giving it a go. As ever there's a wee Guardsman to provide scale - he ain't getting any!

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