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January 24th, 2010

After my recent struggles with Belgacom I was rather comforted to remind myself of Arthur Dent's problems with bureaucracy, many years ago. I more or less knew this book by heart when I was twelve, and the Adams genius still works for me; most of the good lines are in the various other incarnations of the story, but one or two are only found here - for instance, the information that Arthur "wasn't aware of ever having felt an organic part of anything. He had always seen this as one of his problems." Sometimes the magic survives, three decades on.

The edition I read is the movie tie-in which comes with 100 pages of back matter about the making of the film (which. I watched a year or so back - my verdict is that the Zooey Deschanel / Martin Freeman chemistry is the best thing about it). Interesting to find that most of the (pretty radical and thorough) plot changes in the film dated back to Douglas Adams' own adaptation efforts; there is a rather self-deprecating piece by scriptwriter Karey Carmichael explaining that he didn't do much and was sort of filling in time between The Chicken Run and Charlotte's Web. The main cast are also interviewed, and I have to say that Mos Def comes across much better on the page than he did as Ford Prefect on screen.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney
This has been lingering on my shelves for years, and it took an intercontinental plane flight to finally work through the fairly modest 158 pages of the book. It is a rather peculiar collection of short stories and extracts from longer works, including two ostensibly factual pieces by the editor on witchcraft accusations in Clonmel (1895) and Island Magee (1711). The only bit actually worth reading is a Sean O'Casey story, "The Raid", which didn't seem to me to have any supernatural element at all (unless you believe that randy Irish women are unnatural). The collection doesn't really cohere and there is too much Oirishry.

Moon Stallion

My inflight entertainment this evening was the 94-minute VHS edition of this utterly brilliant 1978 BBC children's series, starring 16-year-old Sarah Sutton, several years before she became Nyssa of Traken, as the blind Diana who finds herself at the focus of ancient mysteries around the White Horse of Uffington in around 1902. The story also features the unforgettable music of Howard Blake (before The Snowman and "Walking Through The Air") and the incomprehensible yet gripping script of Brian Hayles. (The supernatural is actually an understated recurring theme in several of his Doctor Who stories, most notably The Smugglers and The Curse of Peladon.) Dorothea Brooking directed a number of classic BBC children's dramas, but this has to be one of the more remarkable ones. Anyone with a passing interest in paganism / English folklore / Doctor Who actors in other roles should try and get hold of it. (Also features the eternal John Abineri, Michael "Robot/Cyberleader" Kilgarriff and David "Pangol" Haig.)
A grim young adult novel set in a world where the racism of our society is reversed and white "noughts" (or "blankers", to be rude) are oppressed by the ruling Crosses. The two young protagonists are from politically active families on opposite sides of the divide, but are childhood friends and hurtle to a tragic conclusion. It is very well written, though I felt it got just a little cluttered with teenage pregnancy and capital punishment alongside the impressive treatment of the big central issue.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

January Books 20) Doctor Who Annual 1968

Sorry for the mass posting of reviews, but I have been on a really uncomfortable intercontinental flight (usual issues of cramped seats combined with takeoff two hours late and a very large passenger next to me who overlapped unavoidably into my space).

Anyway, I've reached Power of the Daleks in my run through classic Who so it seemed a good time to look at this annual which includes eight stories, two comic strips, two board games, puzzles, and some actual publicity about the new Doctor and his companions Ben and Polly, and some factual pieces (one of which is about Atlantis, which was about to appear on TV; also one of the board games features a visit to Scotland in 1745).

The stories are rather interesting - some of them are distinctly downbeat or just odd in tone. The very last one has the Tardis materialising on H.M.S. Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Doctor for some reason deciding that he must prevent Nelson's death (he fails). Very few of the stories come close to Troughton's characterisation, and a couple read much more convincingly as First Doctor stories. No returning aliens from TV, though again one of the games references "mechanised robots" on the planet Skaro (presumably Terry Nation being tough on the rights to the Daleks again). Lots of good artwork and some excellent colour publicity pictures of Troughton, Craze and Wills. Definitely worth getting hold of.
Sent to me by the author after a chance meeting a couple of years ago, and now rather out of date as it was written in 2002 (slightly revised in 2003). The two eponymous faces are fanaticism and moderation; the book's subtitle is "Saudi fundamentalism and its role in terrorism", and the whole thrust of the book is to expose Wahhabism and its linkage with the Saudi monarchy as a driving force in Islamic terrorism worldwide. The tone of the book is offputtingly polemical at times, but there were a couple of good sections - Schwarz is pro-Shi'ite, so his take on Iran is much more sober than one usually gets from US sources; and his account of the failure of Wahhabism to make much headway in Bosnia or Kosovo is almost comical. However, he has a painfully unconvincing page on Iraq (I guess to try and exploit the 2002 market) and also numerous other surprising asides - that the Yugoslav wars might have been planned from the Kremlin, or that Trotsky's assassination was the most famous terrorist act of the 20th century (the latter particularly surprising from someone who knows Sarajevo as well as Schwartz does).

However, despite the weaknesses of the argument, the case is well made that if the US is actually serious about fighting terrorism through regime change, there are worse places to do it than Saudi Arabia. Also Schwartz's call for more intense monitoring and intervention by US authorities in their own domestic Islam religious and educational discourse is probably well-founded, and it has to be said that the recent incidents of home-grown extremism in America rather prove his point. But I would be interested to read a more sober and detailed account of the relationship between Wahhabism and Saudi money; the indications are all there but the details didn't quite join up for me.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer - second time that has come up this month.
A decent story of the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones landing on an apparently deserted spaceship which suddenly acquires a woodland complete with frightened natives (disappearing children and 'orrible monsters). Lots of familiar elements (and a reference to Beowulf, though that is not taken too far) but with some extra energy in the mix. Good stuff.

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