This week, I have been mostly…

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Working on the day job, eating birthday cake, and unleashing my inner computer geek -he’s been quiet since I mothballed my Amiga many years ago, but is now busy plotting things to do with a Raspberry Pi. But that’s another blog post. I have also been…

Editing.

The typo edit for Countless as the Stars is almost done! Thought I’d found a total blooper, but it turns out I’d just forgotten when one of the characters died. (Spoilers!) Now I just want to get to the end and get the ebook finished. Should probably have words with my cover artist soon then…
 

Planning.

Apparently the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo is next month. How the heck did that happen? Well, I’ve tentatively signed up, in the hope of getting the next bit of the Ambivalence Chronicles drafted (not that I’ve polished the last bit yet).
 

Website building.

Fixed a few broken pages here and there; added a Red Dwarf menu page as that series is getting rather long already.tweak them. Also taking the ‘recommended posts’ away again, because I didn’t like them.

Unfortunately, I seem to be having irreconcilable differences with my shop page; anybody wishing to acquire a copy of Countless as the Stars should email sales@stevetrower.com – still at giveaway prices until I fix the shop.
 

Coming soon…

Well, I’m planning to get back into a regular blogging routine – at least for the rest of this month – and then dive into Camp NaNo. You have been warned.

Tuesday Tunes: The Kink Kontroversy

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This is where our little Kinks retrospective starts to get more interesting. Although The Kink Kontroversy does open with a blues cover (Milk Cow Blues, sung by Dave Davies), the rest of the album is much more in the mould of later Kinks, with the emphasis on Ray Davies’ thoughtful and witty songwriting rather than the raw sound of earlier singles – although that is in evidence here too, on the aforementioned Milk Cow Blues and single Till The End Of The Day.

There is plenty of variety in the dozen tracks originally presented on the album, from slower numbers Ring The Bells and I Am Free to the calypso-rock I’m On An Island and B-side turned classic Where Have All The Good Times Gone all standing above some of the other tracks.

Kontroversy is in many ways the first proper Kinks album; this is where the sound really came into its own and Ray’s quirky songwriting talent is starting to really show.
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The bonus CD gives you the usual clutch of live recordings, rare tracks and singles, in this case including two versions each of I’m Not Like Everybody Else and the brilliant Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.

 
Stand-out tracks: I’m On An Island is probably the clearest hint of the direction the Kinks would take from here on and is a different sound from anything else on the album. Of the bonus tracks, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion is a classic, and the alternate take included is a nice, um, alternate take on a well known song. Both are Ray Davies songs of the sort we will become accustomed to over the next few albums…

Listen along

Get a copy



Linky goodness

The Kinks Official Website
Ray Davies’ website
Dave Davies’ website
KindaKinks.net

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes: Ten Realms Beyond

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This week the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring One Realm Beyond, the first book in the Realm Walkers series by dragon fancier Donita K Paul.

But, as I’m not sure how big a part the dragons actually play, and because I expect the wretched things will turn up again sometime soon, here instead are the Top Ten Musical Realms To Walk To:

10. Clannad – Atlantic Realm
I’m not the biggest fan of Clannad’s celtic pop tunery, but I’m sure there’s a place for relaxing instrumentals in every top ten.

9. Ravi Coltrane – Angular Realms
Who would have thought Hagrid was a jazz saxophonist on the quiet?

8. Voolfga – Different Realms
This week’s electronic instalment, included mainly because I like the weird voice at the beginning. It’s the simple pleasures, eh?

7. Priscilla Hernandez – The Realms of Twilight
You’re traveling to another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. There’s the signpost up ahead – next stop, the Realms of Twilight…

6. Belle & Sebastian – Women’s Realm
I’m pretty sure my mum used to read this magazine. This must be the musical equivalent of knitting patterns, short stories and coffee break puzzles.

5. Mad Professor – Beyond The Realms Of Dub
The search for eclecticism leads us – literally – into new realms with this dub reggae number.

4. Hopewell – Realms of Gold
A fairly pleasant piece of psychadelic rock fun from Hopewell Junction,New York. And in the best tradition of psychadelic rock, the band forget to stop playing until about 40 seconds after the end of the song.

3. Belladonna – Beyond The Realms Of Reason
A band so original they had to invent a sub-genre of their own (rock noir, fact fans). You wouldn’t catch writers behaving like that now, would you….?

2. Widowspeak – Harsh Realm
They lie, this is not harsh at all, but jangly indie pop of the most sublime order.

1. Madness – One Realm Beyond
I don’t even care that the song isn’t called that, it has just sprung instantly to mind every time I saw the title of this week’s book. Plus, it’s totally awesome.

As ever, the playlist is there for your aural pleasure while you visit the other bloggers on the tour. And don’t forget that all this jolliness is part of the CSFF Blog Tour for One Realm Beyond, which continues in the sidebar.

CSFF Blog Tour: One Realm Beyond by Donita K Paul

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Once again, regular posting has failed to be a feature of this blog, but we’ll try and put aside those bad habits for now, for the sake of Donita K Paul and One Realm Beyond, first book in the Realm Walkers series.

Annoyingly, I was going to (instead of, you know, actually reading the book in question) tell you all about the awesome stuff going on at the author’s website, but it seems most of the tour has thought of that and the thing seems to have just gone down.

So, um… the author does have a website. There are things on it, some of them about the book we are touring this week, some about writing in general, and some about dragons.

Tell you what, I’ll just skip to the blurb and hit Spotify. The rest of the tour (linkies to your right) can tell you more.

Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms. But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment—finding a dragon to assist him on his quest—has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone. With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies.

It’s at this point that I realise I should have done an Italian Job homage, with Mr Bridger as an inept dragon. Well, couldn’t be any worse than that Hollywood remake…

Join us here tomorrow for day two of the tour, when we continue to laugh in the face of relevance.

Tuesday Tunes: Kinda Kinks

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You Really Got Me made The Kinks stars. Following their first album they were bundled off onto a world tour and asked for a second album. Under the circumstances it may not be surprising that Kinda Kinks is not their finest work; what it is, however, is a big step up from their debut album.

The fact that ten of the twelve tracks were written by Ray Davies gives it a less erratic sound than its predecessor, and is an early sign that Ray Davies had a gift for songwriting.

Dave Davies, for his part, has moved on from the distorted hard rock guitar sound he all but invented, allowing the band to start to find its own sound other than that of a bunch of too-noisy teenagers with a broken amp.

And so it came to pass that after a couple of fairly forgettable tracks (one of which, Got My Feet On The Ground, was co-written by Dave Davies), the more refined sound and Ray’s storytelling style of songwriting combine to create Nothin’ In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl, a downbeat, acoustic number, almost as alien in context as You Really Got Me had been.

The distorted guitar sound does make a comeback though, albeit in a slightly more mellow form for Tired Of Waiting For You, which would go on to be the band’s second UK number one.

Annoyingly, on the CD version it is followed by a rubbish and pointless cover of Dancing In The Street, which served only to prove that The Kinks should not be recording other people’s songs.

A more melodic side to the Kinks’ sound and Ray’s writing is clearly evolving here; for the most part the original songs here could just as easily come from some other band of the era, but, as the final track on the original album promises, there is Something Better Beginning.

KindaKinksListen to a recent re-release on CD and as a bonus you will get a selection of singles from the immediate post-Kinda Kinks period, from the happy rock of Ev’rybody’s Gonna Be Happy to the more melancholy, almost psychadelic sounding See My Friends, along with other rarities and BBC recordings from the time.

Stand-out tracks: Without doubt Tired Of Waiting For You is the high point of the original album and classic Kinks, while Nothin’ In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl deserves to be better known. Of the CD bonus tracks, A Well Respected Man is a perfect example of Ray Davies’ storytelling – but we’ll hear more about that in coming weeks.

DVD Review: Minority Report

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I like Philip K Dick, but, oddly, have never read any of his stories that have been turned into movies, so I have no idea how faithful the movie is to PKD’s original vision.

Minority Report is set in the dystopic, Blade Runner-esque Washington DC of 2054, where murder has been eliminated by the use of three Precogs – genetically engineered humans with the ability to predict future murders.

On the surface, it’s a typical Spielberg/Cruise sci-fi action thriller about a cop who finds himself accused of committing murder in a couple of days time, and with all the cool futuristic gadgets on display, it is fun to watch on that level (especially now, some 12 years after its release, many of those gadgets actually exist or are in development). The future of personalised advertising and paranoia-driven security devices is nicely (if somewhat worryingly) extrapolated from the early 21st Century, too.

minority-report-uiBut, PKD was always an ideas man, and underlying all the action is a story about the genetic manipulation of humans, the treatment of those with ‘super-human’ abilities, and the concepts of free will versus determinism.

There is also a sense of moral ambiguity about the pre-emptive arrest system; it’s all well and good to start with, but then when our hero, detective John Anderton, finds the finger of predictive accusation pointed his way, suddenly it’s not such a clever system.

In reality, I suppose, the wisdom of such a system would really depend on the type of punishment handed out for a crime that was never committed; anger management or forced removal from a situation would seem somewhat fairer in general than putting an almost-criminal in an enforced coma, but a good story needs high stakes.

Confronting the bad guy towards the end of the film, Anderton says that once you know your future, you can change it if you want to. Yes, we’re back at the weird intersection of free will and predestination, always a fun topic for debate among Christians – although trying to reconcile Pre-Crime with either side of the debate is likely to result in brain-melting.

Theological debates about predestination aside, I found the different attitudes towards the Precogs interesting.

We don’t choose the things we believe in; they choose us.

To most, they were a tool, simply another way to catch criminals. Less than human, their ‘normal’ characteristics having been suppressed to ensure they were always able to perform their function.

Yet they were cared for in a room known affectionately as ‘the temple’, where few were allowed to enter, and almost worshipped as super-human entities by those responsible for their well-being.

Of course, our hero, detective John Anderton, comes to see them as equals – as three-dimensional human beings – and brings about a rather pointless Hollywood happy ending.

As a final thought, can anyone else relate to having been prevented from doing something really stupid by something outside your control? Has God ever stepped in like a Pre-Crime cop and pre-emptively arrested you?

On the other hand, have you ever made a decision that, had you known how it would play out, you would have made differently? Is God predictive or reactive when it comes to our mistakes?

Re-Dwarf: Polymorph

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Polymorph is my favourite episode from season 3 of Red Dwarf. It looks as if the effects budget for this episode was bigger than for the whole of the previous two seasons, with the shape-shifting emotion-eating Giger-esque monster, and suitably scary sounding bazookoids with which to see the thing off.

The polymorph – which isn’t an alien, it’s a genetic experiment gone wrong – pushes each crew member to the limit of his worst emotion and then sucks it right out of his forehead; even a mechanoid with no emotions and a hologram with no forehead, but we’re not here to go plot-holing.

Never tangle with anything that’s got more teeth than the entire Osmond family

That gives our heroes an opportunity to play different versions of themselves, just for a few minutes: Lister becomes fearless and just wants to rip out the monster’s windpipe and beat it to death with the tonsil end, while Rimmer turns into a goatee wearing hippy and sets himself up as some sort of peace envoy. Cat just gets finds a gutter somewhere and falls over drunk, and Kryten is quite happy to just hand the others over and do a runner while the monster is busy eating them alive.

On the one hand, Polymorph is an Alien homage with jokes. On the other, it’s a lesson in how the negative aspects of our personality – our fear, anger, guilt, vanity, *insert negative emotion here* – shape who we are, for better or worse.

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I’m sure there’s a better message to be pulled from this, but it’s getting late and I can’t do it justice if there is, so I’m going to leave you with this thought:

Maybe God makes us fearful so we won’t end up sacrificing our lives in some stupid pointless way. Maybe he allows us to be vain because the opposite – a complete lack of self-worth – would be more damaging. Maybe he lets us get angry because there are some things in life that can’t be reasoned with, and we just need to face them head on. Maybe He makes us feel guilt because, at some point in our lives, we put a bazookoid to his back and fed him to the mutant.

(Actually, that didn’t turn out bad in the end.)

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A whole bunch of stuff is updated, moved, shortened and improved in the remix, mostly to make the scenes in the cargo deck that bit more spooky and atmospheric.

Most noticeably though, the final scene, in which a second Lister follows the crew away from the cargo decks, was binned and replaced by a somewhat naff epilogue explaining what happened to the second polymorph. Obviously by the time the remastering was done, there had been no sign of it, so someone decided to tie up the loose end. It was better in the original version.

Watch this episode for peacenik Rimmer and an even more motley crew than usual .

 




Tuesday Tunes: Kinks

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There are many important anniversaries this year. Forty years since Jon Pertwee received his Doctorate, for instance. Sixty-five years since the Mini was launched. A century since the Great War started. But most importantly, fifty years ago this week, an insignificant group of teenagers from North London released their first single, a cover of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally.

The single sank without a trace, but that group of teenagers would go on to become one of the most significant British bands, well, ever.

Yes, fifty years ago this week, The Kinks arrived. And that seems like as good an excuse as any to forget about the usual themes of this blog and start a Kinks retrospective series; which we will start with the bands eponymous debut album.

For such an influential band, the most remarkable thing about The Kinks’ first album is that it was remarkably unremarkable: it opens with a Chuck Berry cover, and makes its way through a mixture of vaguely Mersey Beat-esque Ray Davies tracks and contemporary blues covers, finishing with another R&B standard of the day, Slim Harpo’s Got Love If You Want It.

It is, to say the least, a very mixed bag; there are hints of better things to come, with the instrumental Revenge mixing blues harmonica and Dave Davies’ guitar to good effect, and a nice cover of the Pretenders’ first single, Stop Your Sobbing. Unfortunately the weak points of the album are also Kinks originals – though not by Davies, but producer Shel Talmy, who somehow persuaded the band to perform the awful dreary tat that is Bald Headed Woman, and the nondescript I’ve Been Driving On Bald Mountain (yes, there is something of a theme going on).

So far, so any-sixties-beat-combo. This album could easily have disappeared and been nothing but a footnote in the story of 60s pop. But then, stuck right in the middle of all the covers and occasionally good crowd following – literally in the middle, back in the day it would have closed side one – and sounding like it is not only on the wrong album, but the wrong planet, is You Really Got Me.

And that is the thing I love about this album. Not just the track itself, which is so good it’s been covered by everyone from Mott the Hoople to Tom Baker, and performed live by the likes of Iggy Pop and Brian Eno; but hearing it like this, in context, juxtaposed with what the Simon Cowells of the day said the band should be making, you get a better idea of just how different the sound was. It really does sound like something from another planet, it’s just that out of place. The fact that it doesn’t sound out of place on a Van Halen LP or an Iggy Pop concert is testament to the proto-punk rock guitar genius of Dave Davies.

It’s Ray’s songwriting that made The Kinks the enduring and influential thing they became, but without doubt it was his little brother’s crazed guitar playing (and the little green amp) that got them their big break.

kinksRecent CD versions of the album contain, as well as both mono and stereo versions of the original album (the quality of the stereo mixes was variable, sometimes mono sounds better), a variety of bonus tracks, live recordings, interview snippets and other extras.

Notable inclusions are the first two singles, the aforementioned Little Richard cover and the Mersey Beat-ish You Still Want Me, neither of which were on the original album, and second hit single All Day And All Of The Night, one of the few other Kinks tracks to get close to the raw rock energy of You Really Got Me. Otherwise, it’s pretty much more of the same; not vintage Kinks, but interesting to see where they came from.

Stand-out tracks: Obviously, You Really Got Me, a stand-out track in every way; but also You Still Want Me, as the first song Ray wrote for The Kinks, has a historical value that is perhaps more interesting than the song itself.

Re-Dwarf: Marooned

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Red Dwarf has been ambushed by five black holes, and Holly, in her near infinite wisdom, has decided the crew would have a better chance of surviving if they take Starbug and Blue Midget while she tries to manouvre Red Dwarf around the black holes. So it is that we join Lister and Rimmer aboard Starbug, while Kryten and Cat take Blue Midget.

And you know how these things go, while avoiding a massive black hole, Starbug manages to hit a tiny meteor and Lister and Rimmer end up crash landed on blizzard world. As they wait, possibly in vain, for Kryten and Cat to find them in visibility of less than ten feet, Lister is reduced to eating gum ointment and forced to burn his guitar for warmth…

Awooga, awooga. Abandon ship…

It’s a very intimate episode, we learn things about Rimmer we would probably rather forget, and what happened with Michelle Fisher on the ninth hole of the Bootle Municipal golf course; we also learn that Rimmer, at some point, underwent past life regression therapy and now firmly believes that he was once Alexander the Great’s chief eunuch. Which is sort of interesting, that he believes this while elsewhere in the show’s run he mocks other religious or spiritual beliefs. Maybe it’s some sort of spiritual journey that Rimmer is on during the course of the show, or maybe it simply suited him to believe the Alexander the Great thing.

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Above all this, however, and we learn what makes real wealth: Decency. Self-sacrifice. And it is the sacrifices that Lister and Rimmer both (apparently) have to make which are the theme of the story; although Lister sacrifices nothing but what decency he actually did possess, and Rimmer’s sacrifice is just out of duty, to repay what he perceives to be a much greater sacrifice already made by Lister. Whatever ‘decency’ this might have afforded Rimmer is wiped out by his cry for vengeance at the end of the episode…

Elsewhere, there is gratuitous book burning – mostly books about Patton and Ceasar and various other gits, or books about food, but that’s just so we can laugh at things other than Lister getting so hungry he tucks into a tin of dog food (well, it was either that or a Pot Noodle).

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The ice-scapes are new and improved, and some dodgy jokes about Cliff Richard and a planet toupee are removed, otherwise, it’s very much business as usual.

Watch this episode to learn new things about Lister and Rimmer. And dog food.

 




Tuesday Tunes: MCMXC a.D.

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It must be time for something different in the writing music reviews… and it don’t come much differenter than this. With its weird combination of new agey instrumentals, Gregorian chants and thumping bassy beats, Enigma’s debut album is still unique in my music collection, even alongside the band’s later output.

MCMXC a.D. opens with what would later become Enigma’s signature sound, the Enigma horn, a relaxing opening that leads straight into the raving monk stylings that exploded the group to the top of the charts: Sadeness (Part I). It was a great track in 1990, and it is still a great track, especially on a bass-heavy stereo.

And while the beats come back for The Voice & The Snake and Hallelujah, there are plenty of more ambient sounds on the CD too, like the birdsong that opens Callas Went Away, the Close Encounters homage that is Rivers Of Belief, and those chanting monks again in Mea Culpa and The Voice & The Snake.

You may get the idea from some of the titles – not to mention those monks – that there is a bit of a religious theme going on here. And you would be right, of course; The Voice & The Snake and Rivers Of Belief both play with imagery from the book of Revelation (although I’ve never bothered to check whether there are any actual Biblical quotes – lazy reviewer!)

On the other hand, there are also tracks called Principles Of Lust and Knocking On Forbidden Doors, and I’m pretty sure Find Love isn’t just about romance. In fact, you only have to look at Sadeness, which juxtaposes the Marquis de Sade with the religious overtones of the Gregorian chant, to see the whole album encapsulated in four minutes and 21 seconds. (I can do it quicker: sex and religion.)

And in a weird way, that’s what makes it good writing music for me. Yes, it’s unobtrusive played on a laptop with no bass to speak of; yes it’s weird new age-y; and yes, what words it does have are mostly in foreign (and therefore also unobtrusive) – all good things when trying to concentrate on some writing. But some of my writing takes in themes of sex and religion; on those occasions, MCMXC a.D. is just about as perfect as it gets.

MCMXC aDStand-out tracks: Sadeness, of course; depending which issue of the CD you listen to, there are a few versions floating around, but the original version has just the right balance of monks and beats for me.

Sex and religion aside though, this is a classic album that thumbs its nose at the very idea of genre, and works just as well for background music while writing or for blasting down the lanes in a Mini.

Listen along

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Linky goodness

enigmaspace.com