Towel Day Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Quintessential Phase

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I’ve always had a strange fondness for Mostly Harmless, the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy. Much of that is because it arrived in 1992 – 8 years after the previous volume, but only a couple of years after I first read the series. Long enough for me to have anticipated it; and it being before the days of amazon pre-orders, it was the only time I went to a bookshop and bought a novel on the day of its release.

But I digress; the point, such as it is, is that the audio version, in stark contrast to its source material, was first broadcast straight after the Quandary Phase, and in many ways the two belong together. The Quintessential Phase continues that motif of bringing back former cast members – even to the point of highlighting the fact that the new guide has ‘the voice of those Lintilla chicks’. Bringing Sandra Dickinson in to play Tricia McMillan (a parallel version of Trillian who didn’t run off with Zaphod) was a nice nod back to the TV series – and even Douglas Adams makes a brief cameo.

In doing so, Dirk Maggs plays much more fast and loose with the source material than he does elsewhere; Zaphod is written back in out of nowhere, trying to complete the mission he had in the (apparently imagined) Secondary Phase of tracking down Zarniwoop – who is also written in, becoming a gestalt entity along with Vann Harl, the Guide boss from Mostly Harmless.

The basic plot remains the same; Arthur hitchhiking around space, time and probability in the hope that on one of his trips through the Plural sectors Fenchurch will suddenly reappear, Ford drinking a lot, and two Trillians leading very different, yet equally confusing, lives.

But what of all that retconning? I hear you ask. Didn’t that spoil the brilliance of Adams’ original vision? Well, no, actually. There are some necessary changes to get the pacing right for radio, and otherwise the retconning serves only to bring the whole sort of general mish-mash back into something resembling coherence, to link the different tangents the story has been on – and it does a pretty good job on the whole.

More importantly, where Mostly Harmless was a fairly dark story with an even darker ending, in the Quintessential Phase, the dolphins (indirectly) step in and save our heroes once again, and we get, not one, but three happy endings.

To sum up, in the words of a manically depressed robot: I think I feel good about it.

Towel Day Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Quandary Phase

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And we’re back from the mid-season break to continue our high speed hitchhike through the audio versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, arriving today at the Quandary Phase, where we find Arthur Dent rather unexpectedly in a rain soaked field in Somerset. I think we can all relate to that, at least.

It is interesting to note at this point that the truck driver/Rain God Arthur hitches a ride with sounds remarkaly similar to the Arcturan Megafreighter pilot Zaphod Beeblebrox hitched with way back at the start of the Secondary Phase. That is a motif which runs through the Quandary and Quintessential Phases, which brought together as many of the original radio and TV cast as possible, as a big geunion and celebration of Hitchhiker’s; Arthur’s conversation in the Friends of the Planet shop is another nice example (once you know who the actor is).

The Quandary Phase is based on the story from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, which is basically a love story between Arthur and the improbably named Fenchurch, brought to life here by Jane Horrocks. It is a change of pace from all the running around and saving the galaxy in the previous series, but Arthur deserves to be happy, so I find myself being happy with him as his lifestyle finally starts coming together.

Until, of course, Ford Prefect literally crashes the party, whereupon our heroes hitch a ride on a spaceship to God’s Final Message to His Creation, which is a good bit and has Marvin in it. There is also Christian Slater as Wonko the Sane, if big Hollywood names doing completely off the wall stuff is of any interest to you.

And that, in all important senses of the word, is that, except to say that the Quandary Phase ends more or less where Mostly Harmless, volume five in the trilogy, begins – and that is where we will pick it up tomorrow.

Towel Day Tunes

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It’s Towel Day! So, although I don’t make a habit of posting on weekends, here’s a special Top Ten Towel Tunes to help you celebrate Douglas Adams and all things Hitchhiker-esque.

10. The Kinks – Arthur
A song about a plain simple man called Arthur… seems an appropriate place to start.

9. Radiohead – Paranoid Android
Creep? Don’t talk to me about Creep…

8. Lemongrass – Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Lemongrass is made up of walking plantoid lifeforms, something like the Rangdo from The Adventure Game with a couple of keyboards.

7. Lida Husik – Hitchhiker
Psychadelic rock number by someone who almost sounds like she could have been a character in Hitchhikers.

6. Liquid Gold – Don’t Panic
Cheesy sub-Eurovision disco – perfect for your Towel Night party!

5. A Flock of Seagulls – D.N.A.
If you leave an infinite number of seagulls in a room with an infinite number of musical instruments, they will eventually create the entire history of New Wave music.

4. Nothing Personal – Forty Two
What song will be number four in the Towel Day Top Ten? No, that probably isn’t it.

3. Saturns Day – Who Needs A Towel?
Silly question on Towel Day, you would have thought…

2. Tanya Donelly – Heart of Gold
Her from Throwing Muses and Belly, doing a Neil Young cover. Her rendition of Bob Dylan’s Starship Bistromath wasn’t of the same quality.

1. Camaromance – Mostly Harmless
I have no idea what this is, but it’s weirdly awesome. Mostly.

The playlist is there ready for you to listen along courtesy of Spotify, and you’ll spot a couple of bonus tracks on the end – I didn’t want to be too obvious with the Top Ten, but let’s face it, Journey of the Sorcerer is Hitchhiker’s.

Listen along

Towel Day Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Tertiary Phase

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The Encyclopaedia Galactica has this to say on the subject of continuity: Continuity, it says, is an artificial construct of certain carbon-based life-forms to allow them to make some sense of the hugely complex, multi-dimensional universe in which they live.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also mentions continuity. The Guide calls continuity an artificial construct of certain carbon-based life-forms which frequently mucks up a good story and should be dispensed with entirely, or at least treated with flagrant disregard, as often as possible.

And so it is that we find Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, having previously escaped from the prehistoric planet Earth by hailing the Heart of Gold with a fossilised towel, back on prehistoric planet Earth, awaiting the more usual means of escape – namely, the next sofa to Lord’s cricket ground.

When the Tertiary Phase first aired on Radio Four back in 2004, there were those who thought them a poor relation of the original episodes. That’s not really a fair criticism; the Tertiary Phase stuck very closely to the source material – Life, the Universe and Everything – which, having been recycled from a rejected Doctor Who story, is the weakest of the five novels. Hearing some of the same characters with different voices (in this instance Slartibartfast, and of course The Book) took a bit of getting used to, but Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Marvin sounded just the way I remembered them. Even Trillian was back, having been missing for the Secondary Phase (which she helpfully explained away in passing as one of Zaphod’s psychotic episodes).

Simon Jones was especially good, I thought; Arthur sounded just as bemused at being back on Earth as he was at being snatched away from it all those years ago…

On the other hand, some bits didn’t work too well, like Arthur talking to himself in Agrajag’s Cathedral of Hate, although it could be argued that that would have been perfectly in character for someone who had spent five years on a prehistoric planet talking to trees.

It’s good, also, to have a posthumous cameo from Douglas, who many years ago when a radio adaptation of LTUAE was first discussed, insisted that he should play Agrajag.

All in all, a welcome addition to the multi-dimensional Hitchhiker’s canon.

Towel Day Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Secondary Phase

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In a manner befitting someone with limited time and even more limited time management skills, I have somewhat rashly decided to throw my Towel Day posts in with a Towel Day Blogfest which centres itself here. So, on with the second Towel Day run-up review: somewhat predictably, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Secondary Phase (Special Edition).

I was introduced to Hitchhiker’s through the TV series, and then the novels, but the first time I heard the original radio series (on a mid-90s repeat airing) I knew I was experiencing something special. Radio was the medium Hitchhikers was created for and, somehow, it shows. The Secondary Phase in particular remains my favourite part of the canon, largely due to the fact that it goes off at such a tangent from the storyline of the novels. (Of course, that could be said of the movie, but that had the opposite effect.)

Admittedly, some of the stuff that didn’t make it into the novels wasn’t that good; it seems as if Douglas Adams was a melting pot of ideas, some good, some rubbish, and he was notoriously bad with deadlines, so inevitably some rubbish ideas made it into those episodes that were written on the day of broadcast… However, Secondary Phase contains more than its share of staggering genious: most notably the Total Perspective Vortex, but also gave the world swear word too rude to blog legibly (Belgium), some rather ahead of its time commentary on human cloning, and introduces the actual Ruler of the Universe.

The differences between the Special Edition and my creaky old cassette version are largely unnoticable, or they were to me anyway, with the exception of the new intro and outro. According to the sleeve notes, however, the original recordings we all know and love have been running half a semitone sharp, which is technobabble for ‘Arthur Dent’s voice sounded too high and the remastered programs are up to a minute longer than they used to be’.

Bonus material is an interview with the author – interesting, but not as fun as the Primary Phase bonus disc – which previously appeared in the Collector’s Edition box set.

Anyone who enjoys Hitchhiker’s but hasn’t heard Secondary Phase should do so immediately. Anyone who already has a copy of Secondary Phase on CD just needs to decide how much they want another radio interview with DNA…

Towel Day Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Primary Phase

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It’s Towel Day on Saturday, when hoopy froods the galaxy over will be packing their towels and celebrating the most wholly remarkable of books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Never one to miss a bandwagon when it passes, that seems like a good excuse to post a review of Hitchhiker’s in one of its many and various forms. Specifically, the original version, digitally remastered: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase (Special Edition) to give it its full title.

Now, I know there are going to be people who heard the phrase ‘digitally remastered’ and fear some kind of pointless Lucas-esque tinkering. And indeed, the newly recorded introduction including the ‘Primary Phase’ bit does sound a bit New Hope-y. But in actual fact that, and the new version of the original theme tune as featured in the Tertiary Phase onwards, are the only changes to the original material. Some of the effects have been cleaned up and make the overall production sound better, but it remains basically the same as it was 30 years earlier. Which, as any Star Wars fan will tell you, is A Good Thing.

It’s still Hitchhiker’s just as it was originally conceived, and the extra jiggery-pokery didn’t distract from it at all – neither, to be honest, did it add much; had my copy of Primary Phase been on CD I would have given this a miss, and I wouldn’t be missing much.

Except, of course, the bonus material, Douglas Adams’s Guide to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was recorded for the 20th anniversary of the original broadcast and rather brilliantly riffs off the original scripts to tell the story of the book. Apparently it’s narrated by Peter Jones too, although it didn’t always sound like him. I guess 20 years could do that though. It’s well worth a listen if you’re interested in that sort of thing anyway, but has been previously available in the Collector’s Edition box set, so if you’ve got that, you’re really not missing much. If you don’t have the original Guide on CD though, don’t let the digitally remastered tag put you off getting this version.


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Linky Goodness

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Header pic by Travis Avery

Re-Dwarf: Waiting for God

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Episode four, Waiting For God, is where things get really philosophical for the crew of Red Dwarf. Lister is busy learning to read cat books – specifically the Holy Book which tells of Cloister the Stupid – when Holly detects an unidentified object crossing their path, which Rimmer believes will contain an advanced alien being able to give him back a physical body.

During the course of the story Rimmer questions the point of existence; Cat hangs out with an aging Cat priest; even Talkie Toaster goes from an ‘I toast, therefore I am’ view of life to believing there must be more to life. Lister, meanwhile, is coming to terms with what the Cat people have made him; yet his revelation:

I am your God!

meets with only mockery from Cat. This could easily have been a Cat story, but somehow wasn’t; Cat still comes across as quite childish, with his Food Detector, Shiny Thing and Investigating Feet.

We discover that the ultimate fate of the Cat people was sealed by a series of Holy Wars, between those who believed the cardboard hats at Lister’s Fijiian Doughnut Diner were supposed to be red, and those who believed they should be blue. Lister’s responses are, I imagine, similar to God’s as he looks down on our religious squabbles:

They were supposed to be green!

They’re just using religion as an excuse to be extremely crappy to each other.

This is followed by a further theological misunderstanding, as one of the factions sets off for Fuchal following what turns out to be Lister’s laundry list.

As Lister reflects on this – and discovers that he has broken four of the five Sacred Laws attributed to him – he feels the need to make amends for what he has inadvertantly done. As he later confides to Rimmer,

I’m not a god, I’ve just been misquoted.

Meanwhile, Lister also discovers that Cat is not the only, er, cat left on board, as he too meets the blind old priest who has lost his faith, and is able to bring some comfort to the old man at his deathbed.

Rimmer, on the other hand, claims the idea of God is preposterous, yet puts his faith in the Quagaars – an alien race he admits to having made up, as the logical explanation for everything from the Egyptian Pyramids to the unidentified pod they have recently retrieved. Unfortunately, Rimmer’s Quagaar theory turns out to be literally garbage…

Re-mastered

A lot of the dialogue about the Cat religion was cut from the remastered version, which does improve the pacing and overall quality of the episode, but some of the cuts – Lister talking to Rimmer about the rules of Cat religion, and some of the dialogue involving the Cat priest – leave some gaps which might be of interest to those interested in religion in sci-fi. Lister’s interaction with the old priest also looks a bit disjointed in the remastering, at least if you know some of it has been cut.

Admittedly some of the cut lines served no useful purpose, but more importantly the remastered version does include some new artwork for the Cat Holy Book, including a likeness of Lister as Cloister the Stupid on the Holy Land of Fuchal. The extra sound effects are also a nice addition to a number of scenes here, making it tough to choose a favourite version…

Watch this episode for the discussion of faith and religion in its many guises.

 



Tuesday Tunes: Oxygene

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As a rule I find lyrics distracting while I write, so a lot of my writing music is atmospheric electronica – and there is only one place to start when reviewing that particular sub-genre.

Oxygene is Jean Michel Jarre’s first ‘proper’ album, released in 1976, and pretty well defined electronic music. Kraftwerk may have already brought the world Autobahn, but Oxygene raised the bar in terms of sophistication and complexity.

The album starts, rather predictably, with Oxygene Part I (Jarre broke more ‘rules’ by not giving individual tracks titles) a low key yet strangely epic piece, which segues into the similarly relaxing Oxygene Part II, which has some brilliantly spacey synths.

Part III is much shorter, and brings the first, atmospheric half of Oxygene to a close before launching into the more poppy (can you guess?) Part IV – there’s a good chance you know Oxygene Part IV, even if you don’t know that you know it.

Part V is a ten minute epic in itself, starting out slow and relaxing, with a more upbeat tone coming in halfway through and building to nice melodic finish, which then fades back down to the sound of waves breaking, which leads is into the finale, which is mellow, atmospheric, and tuneful, pretty much the perfect way to end the album.

Stand out track: hard to pick one, really, as this works as a single, 40 minute piece. Part I is a contender by virtue of being on the soundtrack to my novel, Countless as the Stars, and Part IV is kind of infectious. However, I would have to opt for Part VI as the standout track, bringing together the best elements of the album as a whole.

Oxygene is one of those genre-defining pieces that only come along occasionally, an album that feels almost as fresh as it must have done in 1976. Coming right at the beginning of Jarre’s career it must have been a huge challenge for him to follow up.

If you have even a passing interest in music and haven’t heard this, you really should.

Listen along

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Re-Dwarf: Balance of Power

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Balance of Power is a change of pace from the gag-laden sci-fi of the first two episodes to more of a traditional sitcom set-up.

The story opens with Lister getting bored of counting irradiated haggis, which presumably he only does because Rimmer has confiscated his cigarettes. In order to relieve the tension slightly, Lister wants to go on a date – to bring Kochanski back, albeit in hologram form, for one evening.

This suggestion leads to some comedy with the swapping of hologram discs – three episodes in we already hated Rimmer enough to root for the ‘arm of a Danish moron’ when it starts to rebel – and ultimately to Lister deciding to become an officer, outrank Rimmer, and order him to hand over the holodiscs.

The is a slight nod towards philosophy, as Holly explains why he brought Rimmer back to keep Lister sane, as opposed to one of Dave’s drinking buddies:

Holly: Jean-Paul Sartre said Hell was being locked forever in a room with your friends.
Lister: Holly, all his mates were French!

Holly also tells us that Kochanski would have been utterly unsuitable as Lister only ever exchanged 173 words with her (remember that fact, there will be a quiz later!).

Also noticeable in hindsight is a throwaway comment in the 90s nostalgia night flashback, where Lister makes a remarkably prescient mention of brains in jars – specifically Lister’s uncle, who isnt dead.

And that’s pretty much all there is here. Snippets of backstory, lots of laughs, some Cat lines I still remember from years ago, and – weirdly for a sitcom – a cliffhanger ending, as we see Lister celebrating having qualified as a chef and therefore an officer – or is he just winding Rimmer up again?

Re-mastered

There are quite a few minor changes to dialogue in the re-mastered version here, but not much worthy of specific mention. They are noticably different, but not in any way that makes either far superior.

Watch this episode for the trading of some classic Dwarf insults, and Cat discovering how to use the vending machines.

 



This week, I have been mostly…

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Updating the website.

If you’ve dropped in much over the last week or so you might have noticed some strange goings on here and there as I have been tinkering backstage. Most of it shouldn’t be noticeable; getting the infrastructure ready for when the blog gets busier and I add more pages to the site as a whole.

I have been tweaking colours here and there, most noticeably so comments can be read now… and I’ve added a follow button for the blog, and social media share buttons now appear on individual blog posts (but not on the blog page, as yet). Feel free to start using these as soon as you like 🙂

 

Writing.

Not much to show for this so far, but I do have a couple of short story ideas to play with (for competition entry purposes) and I’ve got the prequel to DragonQuest in planning. So I guess this section is still more of a ‘planning’ than a ‘writing’ update.

 

Editing.

The Countless as the Stars refresh is on Chapter Nine now; I’m toying with the idea of putting the first section out as an ebook taster, but I’ll probably finish the final copy edit before I worry about fornatting any or all of it for ebook purposes.

 

Coming soon…

Those short stories, all being well; and maybe some actual writing on the Dragonquest prequel. And, more importantly, a shop page on the website 🙂