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Hangin' with the Cosmic Surfer

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Crisis? What Crisis?

1 December, 2017 (18:45) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

My TV watching is even more sporadic and random than usual since the end of The Deuce, which disappointed only by being so short at 8 episodes.

I watched the first half of Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix, which is good, if brutal. Beneath the melodramatic surface is quite a good and nuanced portrait of PTSD in veterans. I have the second half of the season still to watch, though. Likewise I watched the first episode of Godless, also on Netflix; I enjoyed it too but it was also brutal with the prospect of more brutality to come. I’m getting a bit worn out by fashionable brutality so it may be a while before I watch the rest. Michelle Dockery was very good though.

I wrote previously about a “CW Crossover” event featuring assorted DC superheroes. I didn’t like it, so it was with trepidation that I watched the first episode of their latest effort Crisis On Earth X which seems to demand to be emboldened. It had its moments, shown to their best advantage by fast-forwarding through a lot of other stuff. The question now is will I watch the other episodes, if only to see if they really can live down to the example of last year. I do need to catch up with season 3 of Supergirl though.

(added: I’ve now seen the rest of Crisis on Earth X and it is, indeed, shite, although I enjoyed Chyler Leigh going full John Wick on the bad guys’ asses.)

On Alpha Ralpha Boulevard

24 November, 2017 (16:17) | Books, Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

Someone asked me what originally attracted me to science fiction. This is by way of a partial answer for them.

My introduction to SF (yes, I’m going to use that abbreviation: bite me) in writing, as opposed to TV, was almost certainly when my school friend Peter recommended Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. I guess we were 11 or 12 at the time, maybe 13. I can’t remember the full detail of my other reading then (it was 45+ years ago), but I certainly remember SF supplanting Arthur Ransome, Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming in my affections.

Foundation Trilogy in Panther. Art by Chris Foss

I guess I also read the usual Alistair MacLean thrillers that were around the house, as well as Tolkein and then Dennis Wheatley. But I was an avid user of our local library, and they had a decent SF section, which I plundered more or less at random. Most of it was pulp space opera, but there was a lot of it, for the most part in yellow-jacketed Gollancz hardback editions. I think that was when I first read Colin Kapp’s The Patterns of Chaos (Gollancz 1972) though my tattered old copy is a Panther paperback with a cover by, of course, the great Chris Foss.

I also read quite a lot of James Blish: the Cities In Flight series was one I enjoyed, especially the closing section of A Clash of Cymbals.

A turning point was Walter M Miller’s classic A Canticle For Leibowitz, which was qualitatively different in ways I recognised but couldn’t express at the time; the writing had a residual pulp quality, but it was much more speculative and interesting than the usual alien-bashing fare I’d got used to. In my 5th or 6th year at High School I wrote a short story that my English teacher praised, heavily “influenced” by Canticle (which I assume she hadn’t read).

At some point in my teens I discovered Brian Aldiss (The Dark Light Years I think, and Space, Time and Nathaniel) and some other British SF writers who were forging a different path. Christopher Priest was one, who I still buy in hardback when a new novel comes out. An Aldiss story from the early seventies that really got under my skin was Sober Noises of Morning in a Marginal Land, a story that still lurks in my mind. A For Andromeda (and its sequel The Andromeda Breakthrough), based on a 1960s TV series, was an often-read favourite too. Likewise I read and reread a collection of Fritz Leiber short stories, and always there was John Wyndham–The Kraken Wakes was and remains a fantastic short novel, as is The Chrysalids.

The Patterns of Chaos. Cover art by Chris Foss

I was heavily involved with the church at the time and read a lot of CS Lewis, who wrote 3 interesting SF novels, of which Perelandra, or Voyage to Venus, was probably the best, even though, as a po-faced piece on Wikipedia informs me, Lewis’s description of Perelandra as a world capable of supporting a floating Garden of Eden is not consistent with current knowledge of conditions on Venus. You don’t say.

And of course there was lots of SF of greater or lesser quality on TV. According to my mum I watched the first episode of Dr. Who, though I was 4 at the time; and 60s and early 70s TV could be downright weird. I fondly remember Timeslip (incidental music by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, and Cheryl Burfield was an early TV crush of mine) and The Changes (theme and incidental music by Peter Howell of the Radiophonic Workshop) amongst others.

A lot of the SF I read in my teens hasn’t aged well; I loved Dune when I was 17, but rereading it in my 50s was a major disappointment, although it is an interesting reversal of the Hero’s Journey in that it is an anti-hero’s journey. Almost all of Heinlein I find unreadable now, though Starship Troopers remains a focused, tightly written novel that may, or may not, be intended as satire.

I still like pulpy space opera (EE “Doc” Smith is a reliable standby, reluctant genocides and all, if I’ve had flu and don’t have the energy to read anything else), but my preference is for the weirdly speculative. These days I don’t read in genre for its own sake, to the extent I ever did; my favourite of the novels I’ve read in the last couple of years, regardless of label, was Edna O’Brien’s A Pagan Place.

Whatever I read, a lot of it comes from writers who push the limits of narrative and craft in interesting and beguiling ways, some of whom get labelled as SF as a lazy shorthand. I’ve already mentioned Christopher Priest, but there’s also M John Harrison and Ian R MacLeod, amongst many others. But I see them on a continuum with other writers I like who are not above subtle weirdness, such as George Mackay Brown, probably my favourite author, and certainly my favourite Scottish author.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I think what appeals to me about all of the SF that stays with me, apart from the pulps, is either a certain obliqueness in literary form, or the use of scientific concepts as a core metaphor for something else, for explorations of uncertainty. I also tend to favour the notion of “speculative” or “slipstream” fiction over SF, because the latter is a much more tangled and baggage-laden label.

But in the end the label doesn’t matter too much, and I’d like to let my 11 or 12 year old self know that Asimov’s Foundation and Smith’s Skylark of Space, Chris Foss covers and all, were a gateway drug; that Hari Seldon and Richard Seaton were sprites who’d lead me along Alpha Ralpha Boulevard to uncertain inner worlds and a lifetime of reading.

Added: to correct gender balance in this reminiscence, I must add that two of my favourite writers of anything are Dorothy Dunnett and Muriel Spark. My teen self hadn’t discovered them yet, though. I did read Ursula LeGuin at the time, and Earthsea is something I come back to even now.

Silent Running

19 November, 2017 (22:20) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

After my last, I’ve taken some actions re Twitter. One is a 14% reduction in the accounts I follow (and I wasn’t following many). Another is muting several accounts I don’t want to unfollow or block, but need to tune out for a while. A third is to mute lots of specific words. I think this only works on my computer and doesn’t feed through to the settings on my phone. The words muted include Corbyn and Trump.

More generally, of the people I’ve been friends with longest, from school or elsewhere, I remembered I’m the only one who had a Facebook account and I’m the only one using Twitter. It’s easy to get drawn into the thing of seeing a microcosm of opinion as representative of the society as a whole.

One of the things I noticed on our first visit to China was that I kinda missed Facebook from the perspective of posting pictures from holiday, but didn’t miss Twitter at all. Now, just like Facebook, I don’t want to delete my Twitter account entirely, because there are times it has its uses; but the option of doing a wholesale cull of the accounts I follow is getting some traction in my thoughts.

In the meantime, I was heavily invested in reading Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series but got distracted. I’m re-engaging with that. Book 4, Scales of Gold, is straight in with subterfuge and manoeuvring, with two assassination attempts in the first 30 pages. There’s a writing lesson there. Also, you learn all you ever need to know about Renaissance banking and trade in the process, in a good way.

Faults in the Clouds of Delusion

17 November, 2017 (10:54) | Facebook | By: Ian Burdon

(added: since writing the post below, I’ve reduced the number of Twitter accounts I follow by around 70–about 14%–and muted several more.)

Tomorrow will mark a year since I deactivated my Facebook account.

I haven’t been away completely–I logged in a couple of times for family events and photographs, but on the few times I’ve gone back in recently, I’ve only stayed around 10 minutes max.

The process of deactivating is an interesting exercise in emotional blackmail, culminating in the display of several FB “friends” who’ll miss me if I go, which only goes to demonstrate the limited intelligence of algorithms. Optionally, you can also advise FB of the reasons why you’re deactivating the account. Sometimes I used quotes from Twin Peaks (This is the water, this is the well; drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and the darkness within). Most recently I went with the Grateful Dead (Dark Star crashes, pouring light into ashes. Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis. Starlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion…).

Anyway, I have no desire to reactivate the account, except for those family occasions when it has its uses.

My main social media interaction is on Twitter, which I also try and limit. I  think I’ll try and limit it even more. This morning, scrolling through the feed, I found myself experiencing the same build up of tension and irritation that led me to drop off Facebook.

The nature of the way Twitter is changing, letting me see everything that people I follow like or respond to, means that my timeline, which I tried to develop to be fun and informative, is increasingly full of toxicity, and I don’t see any need to subject myself to that. Another thinning of the numbers of people I follow is long overdue, but I don’t think that will solve matters in the long run: the medium is being gamed by poisonous people and I don’t need that in my life.

In the meantime, here’s Zeynep Tufekci to cheer you up.

A Review! A Review!

29 October, 2017 (22:05) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

The Estate of Edward Moorehouse gets a review?

This is a thoroughly modern story with Facebook ™ and SIM cards, but ancient evil has adapted to the new technology.

The full review of Respectable Horror, by SKJAM, is here:- http://www.skjam.com/2017/10/29/book-review-respectable-horror/

Couch potato update

24 October, 2017 (14:26) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

The Deuce continues to impress as it comes towards the end of its first season. Multiple story arcs all flowing naturally from character are developing, all the cast are tone perfect, the direction and cinematography inventive, and the music outstanding. I’m going to miss this until season 2 comes along. If I have a complaint it is that the short season means some truncation of storyline.

Late to the party as usual, I’ve started watching Season 1 of The Exorcist. I’m not normally one for horror TV or movies, but I’m quite enjoying this, albeit I’m not drawn to binge watch it. Alfonso Herrera, who stars, is very good, as he was as Hernando in Sense8.

Episode 3 of season 3 of Supergirl, Far From the Tree, seems to have been well received though I thought it clunked somewhat, the contrasting tales of reunions with fathers being just a bit too unsubtle, and the main story somewhat sketchily, if stylishly, told. Loved the retro spaceship though (below)

The chances of anything coming from Mars…

Write about what you know

23 October, 2017 (00:30) | Dead Water, Writing | By: Ian Burdon

I’m writing a novel. I tried doing this a while back but got nowhere and instead wrote a heap of short stories, two of which have found publishers. I would be happy to stick with the short stories but, at the risk of being precious, you go where the story takes you.

I’m not making any great claims about it; I write for fun not profit, but also write because in putting stories together I can sometimes find myself working out things that have sat unresolved in my subconscious for years.

Anyway, with this one I find myself working through issues I first grappled with in the late 70s when I was at Coates Hall, an Anglican theological college in Edinburgh. I was there two years before leaving to complete my degree without any thoughts of ordination. Although I left the church and have never gone back, nonetheless I remain close to thoughts about faith and belief and what might loosely be called spirituality, though that word drags baggage behind it.

Write about what you know, goes the old adage, but in this area I don’t know what I know or even what I think, in the sense of being able to crystalise it into a statement of belief. So there’s fertile ground for fiction exploring some of those issues in a somewhat fantastical setting. Fantastical or not, it’s remarkable what memory and the subconscious can throw back at you, either as half-memories or sudden flashbacks to things done or the embarrassments of being young and stupid.

When I was 19 or 20 I realised with abrupt clarity that, whatever else I might do with my life, ordination was not the right thing for me to seek. My protagonist made a different decision. However in the course of writing, I’ve become aware that I really have to make sure that I play fair by those called to ministry. I’m not interested in aggressive abuse of a life of faith; I am interested in some of the questions that still, nearly 40 years on, remain current for me.

I also, as part of my research, did something I don’t remember doing before, ever: I read the 4 gospels straight through, end to end. As far as I recall I’ve only ever read them in discrete passages before, not as complete documents. In any event I hadn’t looked at them for decades. Reading them now I am struck by two things: how very, very deeply they are concerned with Judaism, and also how all four are concerned to put Jesus firmly in the tradition of John the Baptist–all of gospel writers went out of their way to stress this, and I find myself wondering why.

When I was a student back then, one of the texts was Sartre’s Existentialism and Humanism. I don’t recall a great deal about it except that Sartre was inordinately concerned to stress the extent his thinking was compatible with Marxism. This puzzled me until I realised it was because Marxism was a keystone for his audience of Parisian intellectuals, something of primary importance for them. I’ve come to think something similar is true of the gospels and John the Baptist: for reasons not now remembered it was of great importance to the audience for whom the gospel writers wrote, to establish that Jesus was not only compatible with the Baptist’s thought, but also recognised by John as the Lord whose way he prepared. Tales of Mary and the Magic Baby ( (c) Francesca Stavrakopoulou ), raising the dead and healing the sick, and Jesus’s own resurrection weren’t enough, John’s blessing was important too. The most interesting thing about John the Baptist in the gospels is therefore that he is there at all.

I’m not sure if this will feature in the novel yet, though other aspects of early ‘Christian’ thought will, but it’s fun to get into this, and see what lurks unresolved somewhere deep inside me.



15 October, 2017 (13:34) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

What’s that Ian? You have another story being published?


Details to follow

Girl of Steel

11 October, 2017 (22:57) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

You Have Been Warned

Supergirl is back for season 3. I enjoyed the first episode, though, as ever with villains of the week, the bad guy was lame.

I detected a shift somewhere in it though, and I can’t put my finger on it. There was a focus on character that makes me suspect it was not only setting up the plot arc for the season, but also the development arc for our heroine too, and there was a tad more seriousness about it too. By that I don’t mean an overt shift to more adult concerns, but an intent to up its game.

From what I’ve seen of the other DC/CW series, Supergirl is the (only) one that could become something more than formulaic and has the cast to carry it off. Fingers crossed, although I suspect the generic fanbase for these shows is happy to accept the glossy mediocrity of super-hero TV.

Sounds of the Seventies

10 October, 2017 (21:06) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

My thoughts about music in the living room have been diverted by a gift from a relative of his 1975-vintage Spendor BC1 speakers. I was worried that, given their vintage, there might be obvious deterioration, but plugging them in to my existing amp etc. dispelled that notion; even sitting on a bamboo block on the carpet they sound fantastic.

I asked around about recommended stands to lift them off the floor (Spendor recommend at least 9 inches clearance below the speakers) and audiophile shops quoted me £300 for the same. Asking around has uncovered a favourite trick of users of similar Harbeth speakers utilising IKEA Oddvar stools, cut down and without the top. This results in a solid wood stand with plenty of airspace beneath the speaker cabinet. This costs £21 including postage, plus extra for some teak stain to colour the stools to match the cabinets. I’ll probably also buy some sorbothane pads and cork pads to go on top of them too for the points on which the speakers sit.

The problem I now have is that the speakers really demand a better amplifier than the one I have. Along with the speakers I was also given a vintage Trio KR-4070 Receiver/Amp. This really needs a good clean and service to get it back to scratch. Once that’s done we’ll see where things stand.


Meantime, thinking of things musical, The Deuce gets better and better (though it also gets harder to watch in some respects, as life on the streets takes its toll on the characters.) I’ve watched up to episode 5, and, amongst everything else, the soundtrack has been superb. There was a scene in episode 5 in a rudimentary disco that had me scrambling for Soundhound when the DJ played this