June 10th, 2009


Request for Northern Ireland-based readers

I wrote a piece for the Newsletter about the elections yesterday - would be interersted to know if they used it for the print edition as it doesn't appear to be on-line.

(I have written for the Tele and Irish News previously, and indeed helped the latter set up their online edition in the dim and distant past, so if the Newsletter did print the piece I now have the hat-trick of Belfast dailies.)

If it is possible to scan and email the article (assuming it exists), I would be very grateful!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army - "Let's go to Antrim!"

Working through the Hugo nominees is exposing me to a lot more parts of the sf world: it is a surprisingly good educational experience. I was vaguely aware of the Hellboy comics but had no idea that there had been a film version, let alone two.

I'll be honest: the most exciting thing about the film for me was that the climactic segment is set in a steampunk elvish subterranean vault under the Giant's Causeway. Unfortunately the local colour is just some aerial photography of the Antrim coast, before we return to location filming presumably somewhere in California (cloudless sky, wrong sort of vegetation, and crucially no hexagonal basalt pillars in sight) but I appreciated the effort (as I'm sure the Montenegrins appreciate Karlovy Vary and Lake Como in Casino Royale). The Bethmoora demon's Ulster accent was not quite as bogus as I had feared (John Alexander is Scottish). Apparently King Balor's lines are all in "Gaelic", which presumably means Irish; would be interested to know what any gaelgeori thought of this. Also "Nuala" and "Nuada" do not have three syllables. (Maybe two and a half, depending, but the stress is certainly not on the first 'a'.)

The special effects are great: thinking especially of the tooth fairies, the Elemental stomping New York, and the Golden Army reassembling itself; also Dr Kraus's ectoplasm and Liz Sherman's fiery manifestation. The script is OK, some witty lines, some interesting setup for future stories, but a lot of cliches. The plot is pretty straightforward. I will rank WALL-E ahead of this in my ballot.

June Books 3) McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime, by Misha Glenny

I met up with Misha (I have known him for years) a few months ago at the Tube station close to his home. It was festooned with posters for his book (presumably a coincidence; I doubt that the advertising agencies care where he lives). I suggested he should autograph the posters but he sensibly declined to do so.

The book is an excellent run through the pervasive infiltration of organised crime around the world, which Glenny attributes largely to the collapse of the Soviet Union (though with a nod also to the US War on Drugs). He takes us on a breathless tour of the underworld in the Balkans, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, India, Dubai, Nigeria, South Africa, North America, Colombia, Brazil, Japan and finally China - which will have a key role in the future of crime, for good or ill. As always, he mixes deft character sketches of the personalities with gobsmacked horror at what is going on.

I must say that in general his account reinforces my libertarian instincts - criminalising drug use has little effect other than to empower and enrich criminals; stringent immigration laws enable and reward human trafficking; prohibiting prostitution makes vulnerable women even more vulnerable. The one area where this doesn't work of course is in the exploitation of scarce natural resources - the account of what is happening to the Caspian Sea's caviar is very depressing.

An excellent book, and an easy if sometimes wrenching read.

Iron Man: "Not technically accurate, since it's a gold titanium alloy"

Well, another Hugo-nominated film based on a comic that I had barely heard of. I found the politics stupid to the point of being offensive: I don't think anyone with the slightest notion about Afghanistan could find either the kidnapping plot or the Iron-Man-rescues-the-villagers scene anything other than crude and simplistic. (And bloke who's grown up living off the fortunes of his dad's arms business is converted to Doing Good when he suddenly realises that the bangy things kill people? Gimme a break.)

The effects were pretty impressive, but essentially allowed Iron Man and Iron Monger to ignore the laws of physics to the point where there wasn't much tension left. This will not be at the top of my Hugo ballot.