In Praise of Pratchett: The Science of Discworld III – Darwin’s Watch


And here we are again.
The third Science of Discworld is absolutely in the tradition of the first two: chapters of Terry Pratchett’s novella, Darwin’s Watch alternate with (substantially longer) chapters of science explained by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.
As I fervently hope will be obvious to you, the theme for this third book is Evolution, and Messrs Stewart and Cohen fill up many pages with their explanation of the history, theories and evidence surrounding this still controversial topic. The story of Darwin’s Watch, which as usual is geared to set up the various points the scientists wish/need to make, is the spoonful of sugar to assist the medicine, although by now it’s probably some natural sweetener that in no way contributes to the issues of obesity and diabetes to which sugar contributes so terribly.
The story itself is in many ways a re-run of The Globe in The Science of Discworld II: Wizards notice that once again the plucky inhabitants of Earth, inside Roundworld, do not lever themselves off the planet before their cycle of existence reaches its disastrous end, a fate that has been engineered by interference from a third party force, requiring the Wizards to once more tinker with Roundworld’s history to procure the necessary individual to be the round peg in the requisite round hole.
For the Elves, substitute the Auditors of Reality, for William Shakespeare, substitute who else but Charles Darwin.
There is a catch, however, or rather a twist, Pratchett being too good an author to repeat himself quite so slavishly. This time the task is not to guard the Bard into existence in place of a quite hopeless alternate dramatist, but the rather more pernickety one of getting Master Darwin to write the right book.
For it appears that, instead of The Origin of Species, the influential Darwin has instead written The Ology of Species a sort of Evolution-for-Creationists text book that posits God and Intelligent Design as the centre of creation. The real Origin of Species is eventually written (by none other than the Reverend Richard Dawkins) but far too late to get humanity off the planet.
And when it comes to guiding the course of history through all the hoops requisite to ensuring Darwin writes the book we know, the influence of the Auditors means that the number of possible histories in which this happens is no longer infinite but infinitely small. The Wizards have an awful lot of interfering to do if it’s all going to work…
Pratchett has a good deal of fun with the sheer volume of tiny things that have to be acted upon to keep young Charles on the straight course, but the very complexity of this side of the story, not to mention the (necessarily) perfunctory nature of most of the solutions does tend to deprive Darwin’s Watch of the buoyancy and drive of The Globe. And in its climactic pages, with Darwin having been accidentally sucked into Discworld and the Wizards having to deal with him directly, Pratchett attempts the introduction of a numinous aspect to the conclusion that, for me at least, does not come off as it should.
The epic nature of Darwin’s achievements, and the vision of mind needed to pursue these is told, rather than being shown.
Since we’re only discussing the story side of the book, I’ve got to say that to make the novella work, Pratchett rather has to shut his eye to the historical existence of Darwin’s ‘rival’, Alfred Russel Wallace, who was working on the same theories as Darwin, and who jointly presented his own paper on the subject together with the Great Naturalist. But to have accommodated Wallace simultaneously with Darwin would have been to diffuse the storyline and to make the plot unworkable.
It still remains one of the drawbacks of working with historical personalities in that lives are simply not as simple as legends.
Nevertheless, Darwin’s Watch is still a major cut above the first Science of Discworld, whatever else we may say about it. But the series was, after three bites at the same cherry, starting to run a little stale.

The Infinite Jukebox: Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’


I don’t remember hearing this for the first time. I hope I was impressed but I suspect I wasn’t. I’d only just begun to listen to music properly, seriously, enthusiastically, and I think this song, this perfect blend of simplicity and sophistication, went over my head.

I remember the stir it caused, the universal applause it received, a rare but deserved one-mindedness about a song. These were the days when DJs had theme songs, topping and tailing their shows, and Dave Cash, whose Radio Programme saw out Radio 1’s time-constrained afternoon broadcasting, immediately switched his theme for this song, just so he could play it twice a day, every day. He was barred from doing so once the single reached Number 1.

What have I to add to the millions of words already written and spoken about ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’? This was the song that, effectively, broke up Simon and Garfunkel, and it’s entirely understandable.

Where do you go from here? What have you left, what can you do after a song and an arrangement that will still be playing a thousand years from now? And how can you write and arrange a song like this, even without Paul Simon’s ego, and stand at the side of the stage every night watching Art Garfunkel sing it, and take all the applause?

It begins with a piano, alone, a single player somewhere in an empty space. Sure-handed, composed, developing a musical theme, a serene melody until, in a moment of resolution, a space for thinking, it is joined by Garfunkel’s voice, equally alone: light, unafraid, pure, almost weightless. When you’re weary, he sings, feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.

This is a love song, but it’s nothing like any other love song. It’s not a sexual love, the way it always is now, nor even a romantic love, as would be expected then. We do not yet understand it, but the words have already introduced us that this is different, that what Garfunkel is singing of is love, pure love, agape: love of soul, of the whole.

I’m on your side. Four simple words, undramatic, committed. We all want that all need that, someone to be on our side. No matter what.

When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street. For a moment, we flash back to the poor boy of ‘The Boxer’, pocket full of mumbles, but this is no boy. Whatever else, whoever else Garfunkel is singing to, is making promises to, it is a woman. And his singing is getting stronger, and richer, and the pianist’s sound is growing, his hands heavier on the keys, to match the growing strength of the song, of the promise. Like a Bridge over Troubled water, I will lay me down. And Garfunkel’s voice has grown, and now it fills all this space into which it came, sweet, soft, alone.

And the chords mount, the music builds. Simon has held back so long, a choice of the greatest musical daring, trusting on that piano, and on his partner’s voice, to hold everything together, so still, so brave. But the cymbals clash, strings begin to hum, soft yet piercing, a single bass note plucks in the deepness, and again.

This is a love song about having someone’s back, about being there for them, about smoothing their way. It could be condescending, looking after the little woman who’s out of her depth, it could be a father or mother to a child, looking after them. But the glory of this song is that it is not. The singer has faith. Not just faith, belief, knowledge. Sail on Silver Girl, sail all night. Your time has come to shine. This is your time, this is you, all the things that you are and can be and will be, you have it in you to be all of that. I’m on your side. I will watch, and I will glory in you and what you will do.

And I will be there, sailing right behind. In those times of darkness and despair, when everything feels as if it is against you, I will be ready, I will support you, I will be what you need to make your way. I will be a Bridge over Troubled Water. I will lay me down.

And the music soars and swoops. Paul Simon draws in for a few lines of steely, austere, harmonies, reminding her of how her dreams, her future shines, but this is Art Garfunkel’s song and whatever it meant to their partnership, Paul Simon’s artistic soul saw it right, understood that it was Art’s voice that was key to this, that his was the right voice, the only voice, to do justice to this spiraling, towering, cathedral of sound, this immense, lifelong, soul-deep assurance. I will lay me down.

It’s not hard to see why many will call this a deeply religious song, will see God as the voice and the promise, not just to a young woman making her world for herself on the very cusp of feminism. I will comfort you. But to me, to arrogate this song, this promise, to a deity is to diminish it. This is an intensely human song, an incarnation of what we are and can be, of everything we contain within us that so rarely we display.

We can be like this. We are like this. This is in each of us. Paul Simon’s gift lay in finding a way of saying that, and finding a music that says it in complete harmony with the words. Like a Bridge over Troubled Water. How much I need one.

Saturday SkandiCrime: The Bridge 3 – episodes 3 & 4


Sonja Richter

To be honest, I am not having a good time of it at the moment, for reasons I don’t propose to go into, and I mention this only to explain why the two hours of Saturday night that are devoted to The Bridge 3 are the two most important of the week, because they are the two hours that I am furthest away from myself, immersed completely in this series, that is developing tracks and lines and branches almost beyond my ability to keep up.

For instance, a quarter hour into episode 4 and Saga and Henrik have captured the killer, which turns out to be creepy Rikard, the tarantula keeper, necklace-borrower and altogether creepy guy who’s obsessed with the lovely Lisa  (as who wouldn’t be if you threw a brown paper bag over her extreme right-wing principles). It’s far too soon for a solution, which is why a large part of episode 3 had already been used to set up another curious situation that I’ll get to in a moment.

But Rikard, who’s refused lawyers and responses to questions, turns out to be a red herring. Oh, he’s killed Father Christiansen and tried to get Helle Anker’s wife, Natalie, but he’s not responsible for Helle herself, nor Hans (recovered, strung up in the Ghost Train in a deserted funfair, minus right hand, currently in coma), and the new third victim, Lars, a 72 year old Swede, retired PE Teacher, whose missing bit appears to be his meat’n’veg.

To add to the various trails by now crossing the viewers’ path, if not yet the Police’s, Morton Anker, he of the bushy beard and PTSD, who didn’t even get in to last week’s review, is shot dead at the start of episode 3 by three closely grouped bullets to the upper left chest. Morton manages to declare that he was shot by his ‘brother’ though clearly not a biological one, since the only qualifier in that category is four years old.

Morton’s ‘brother’ is likely to be his brother in arms, Lukas Swendstrup, now the only survivor of the trio accused of army rape. Lukas has turned himself into a self-made social worker on the surface and a local gangster underneath. There’s a very intricate bit of business with a stupid little sod who’s gotten himself into 78,000 kroners worth of gambling debt with Lukas, whose fat is pulled out of the fire by his heavily-to-the-point-of-waters-breaking-any-moment pregant girlfriend Jeanette.

Jeanette has to drive to Sweden, collect a very heavy bag and bring it back. Unfortunately, it is stolen for her in very professional manner, examined by two complete strangers, and pronounced unneeded. Jeanette returns empty-handed , having lost the bag, only for Lukas to wipe the debt and tell her and her idiot boyfriend to piss off. His assistant then produces the bag.

Then there’s the new CEO of Ekdahl Homes, a family house-building business just expanding into Denmark. In the midst of all this elevation and expansion, she’s finding time to shag the balls off the teenage son of her best friend. Except that episode 4 ends with her indiscretions being exposed, with photos, across the Danish press.

Episode 4 also introduces the inspirational lecturer and bookwriter whose father is dying in hospital. Compassionately, but effectively, he sticks his fingers up Daddy’s nose and suffocates him before going off to his next lecture. He’s being stalked pretty obviously by the vivacious but somewhat creepy Annika, a funeral director, who then turns up at his hotel that night to tout for business – after she’s slaked what will no doubt turn out to be a very small portion of her lust on his lily-white body.

Where all of this is leading and how it all connects is utterly unfathomable this far, but I am hanging on every instant.

Sex is definitely in the air (especially every time Sonja Richter’s on screen: she did go out and get those leather pants, you know). There’s creepy Henrik still (the adjective creepy is applicable to a lot of people in this series). It’s weird how he denies being married to John the computer bod, yet he’s got his lovely dark-haired wife and two golden-haired daughters at home. There’s an early clue in the way he switches off the TV whilst the girls are watching it, which is done so casually it’s barely noticeable. And lovely wife is pestering him to approach Saga with this case he’s worrying about.

But yet again he’s off to the singles group, this time at the local trotting stadium. Episode 1’s dark-haired lady gives him the cold shoulder but look who’s here? None other than Saga Noren, needing to relax with some sex (strictly in accordance with her strictures) and reasoning that Henrik’s singles group is an easy way to get some complication-free fucking.

You know it’s a mistake, it’s a serious mistake, and nothing good is going to come of this, but yes, they do. Saga, having never had sex with a colleague before, asks Henrik if they announce it at work and thankfully he says no. Fur hilven!

I’ve refrained from commenting upon Saga until now because she is simply the most compelling part of these two episodes. As much as I miss Martin, I’m not missing Martin, if you know what I mean, because Saga is carrying this series single-handedly. She’s missing the hell out of Hans, and even she’s beginning to become aware of it, but she’s coming under serious pressure from two angles now, and I’m starting to get seriously worried about where this is going to go.

The first is her mother. Mama Noren is invading Saga’s life more and more, inviting herself into the squadroom, contacting Hans’ substitute, the overly-serious Linn. Papa has died, but that’s entirely secondary to Mama trying to get Saga to admit she was wrong over Mama hurting both Saga and her sister with her Munchausens by Proxy. Mama’s calm, almost smug insistence on Saga changing her mind is creepy and controlling and she seems to have taken in Linn, who is pressing Saga to behave, well, normally, and giving entirely too much credence to Mama. To the point of leading Saga directly to Papa’s Memorial Service which Linn is convinced she must attend. Saga drives away, but that’s not going to do her any good with the uncomprehending Linn.

There’s one more thing. Henrik does ask Saga to give a fresh perspective on his case. It’s a Missing Persons file from 2009, pretty thick too. Not Henrik’s case. Then we see Henrik back at home. His wife, dresses in a silver nightie, looks in on him. A second later, she’s not there. Between that and the TV earlier… But my intuition comes only just before the punch.

The Missing Person case involves three people. One lovely dark-haired woman. And two golden-haired daughters…

In Praise of Pratchett: Going Postal


At a very late stage in the Discworld saga, Terry Pratchett could still surprise us with a new recurring character, though the name Moist von Lipwig has always struck me as being considerable less ‘real’ than the other denizens of the Disc. And Pratchett also established a strange new approach for this latest of his books, which furthered once more the development of Ankh-Morpork as a modern city environment.
The first thing we notice about Going Postal are the words Chapter 1. Chapter? This is not Pratchett, this is not his way, Terry Pratchett does not write in chapters because life does not come in chapters. Yet here we have it, and chapters headed with brief notes that summarise (in a properly oblique manner, reminiscent of Peter Tinniswood’s page headings) what are to come in these chapters.
And then there’s the… well, how do we describe it? This is a very detailed book, yet, in another way, it’s curiously undetailed. It takes place in Ankh-Morpork, and it features half a dozen or so of the familiar characters we expect to see in Ankh-Morpork, and yet they’re not entirely there, not in the depth we normally expect of them.
Take Sam Vimes, who is the most extreme example of this curious distance. Sam’s there in one scene, close to the climax, when the chance – created by Moist von Lipwig – falls to the Patrician to step in and have exposed the machinations of those who own, and who have exploited the Grand Trunk, the clacks system. Sam is there, but he is not in the scene. Lord Vetinari orders that Commander Vimes arrest the Directors and take them to the cells.
And that’s it. Vimes neither speaks nor is referred to as taking action. He is a ghost conjured up by Lord Vetinari’s words, but he does not ‘exist’ as the Sam Vimes we know.
It creates a two-fold effect. Firstly, it introduces an atmosphere not that far removed from the Young Adult books, in that whilst we may be in Ankh-Morpork, we are not necessarily of it. There are no descriptions, no solidity. The other is to give us an impressionistic introduction to the world of Moist von Lipwig.
Moist is a con-man, a crook. He lives to fool people, to get things out of them, to exploit their gullibility and the unpracticed greed in their souls. In a way, he’s like a walking, talking version of the National Lottery, only with less chance of hitting the jackpot. Ankh-Morpork and the familiar characters  we meet lose several degrees of their reality because that’s how they are to Moist. He’s partly a psychopath, though a strictly non-violent kind of psychopath, because other people aren’t really real to him, and this goes for the consequences of his actions, too.
When we meet him, he’s going to die. He’s been caught, tried, sentenced to hang, and this time there are no clever schemes to con his way out. So he dies. But Moist is being hung as Albert Spangler, and it’s Albert Spangler who dies, because Lord Vetinari has decided that someone with as complex a mind as Moist von Lipwig is the right person to reactivate, re-open and re-animate the Post Office.
And, despite his natural reluctance, despite his conviction that it’s impossible, Moist slowly discovers that the Patrician was, as usual, dead right.
Moist knows that he’s a tool, but what he doesn’t appreciate immediately is to what extent he’s a tool. Many of the later Discworld books show the Patrician as, in one way or another, encouraging the development of Ankh-Morpork (and by natural progression, the whole of Discworld) into a modern city, culminating, of course, in the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in Raising Steam, another Moist von Lipwig book. But Lord Vetinari is not interested in the Post Office as such, but rather as an alternative to the Grand Trunk, and a weapon with which to face its Chairman, Reacher Gilt.
Which is where Going Postal goes heavily, angrily and very effectively political.
The clacks towers appeared out of nowhere in the background to The Fifth Element. Nowadays, we think of them as the Discworld equivalent to e-mail, which signals just how fast Time has breezed by us, because to begin with, as the rhyme of the name indicates, they were Discworld’s version of the fax machine.
Either way, at a stroke, the Discworld has been brought together. The clacks towers were the cause of the Borogravia/Zenobia war in Monstrous Regiment. They’re an instrument, the instrument of change. And the Grand Trunk has a monopoly…
Pratchett is both clinical and savage as he tears capitalism apart during the course of this book. The Grand Trunk was conceived, built, created by the Dearheart family, especially Robert Dearheart, the father. It was put together by dedicated men, inspired men, geniuses in their specialised area, and it was run properly by them. They understood their business, they knew what was required to do it right, they prioritised doing it right, for the benefit of everybody.
But such people don’t have the money. They’re dreamers and practical men combined, but they’re not businessmen, so they need businessmen to run things for them, until they look up and find that the businessmen actually own everything, and they own nothing, they run nothing, they control nothing. Their only options are to watch what they’ve built fall to pieces, or to walk away.
Because the only thing the businessmen know about is money, and the only thing they care about is more money. There are always ways to make more money today, corners to be cut, expenditure to be cut, ‘efficiencies’ to be made all in the pursuit of bringing in the next five years’ income this year. That they’re destroying the actuality of the business, to the point where it won’t be there in the second year, is something they neither understand nor care about. If the worst comes to the worst and it all crashes, they’ll simply form another company, buy the old business at a knock-down price and carry on.
The people who understand, who know how things work, who take pride in a job well done have either left in disgust or else been sacked as unnecessary: I’m sorry, actually they’ve been down-sized.
Pratchett picks all this apart with forensic delight, contrasting it with those who can and do understand how things work. He puts Moist on one side, the showman, the flash man, who slowly grows up, and he emphasises things by putting Moist’s equivalent, indeed superior, in charge of the Grand Trunk.
Reacher Gilt is a pirate, he acts like a pirate, he dresses like a pirate. Reacher Gilt is Free Enterprise, overtly opposed to Government Intervention, to Public Ownership, which is an Intolerable Burden on Taxes. Reacher Gilt is Margaret Thatcher. But, in one of the wisest lines Terry Pratchett ever wrote, when Gilt talks of Freedom, it is freedom for himself and no-one else.
Gilt is capitalism rampant. His very name spells it out. Moist, who is the Patrician’s tool to ratchet open a chance to bring Gilt down, recognises an artiste in his own game, but at the same time finds that of his own accord he has to take the honest route, so as not to be Reacher Gilt. Some of that impulse is because of Spike, his pet name for Miss Adora Belle Dearheart, daughter of the cheated and broken Robert, sister of John, who died when he tried to challenge the Grand Trunk with newer and better ideas: Spike, who was a victim of one of Moist’s ‘victimless’ crimes.
Moist has to learn how to live up to the permanently angry Spike, which adds impetus to his determination not to be Reacher Gilt, but the most important part of his transformation is simply not being the man for whom nothing matters but himself, the man who doesn’t hide what he is, only his utter contempt for those who refuse to see, whilst Moist delights in the con because it’s what brings him most alive.
And it is Moist who wins because he knows and understands words and what effect they can have above and beyond truth, the words that don’t need to be legally provable because they go to the heart of what people want to believe. Once they’re spoken, then the Patrician’s form of Forensic Accounting can go in and unravel everything.
And Lord Vetinari can make a similar offer to Reacher Gilt. The Royal Mint needs looking after, transforming, re-animating. Gilt can do for that what Moist has done for the Post Office. He can do great good for others. But Gilt is Free Enterprise, he is Thatcherism incarnate, and the only freedom to be had is freedom for oneself, even if the only thing that can be done with that freedom is to refuse angels and take the other choice.
I’ve left a lot of Going Postal out of this review: most of the ingenuity, nearly all of the comedy. Neither of these are negligible. This is a very clever, very funny book. But it’s also very angry, it’s where the anger lies closest to the surface, and it’s a book that is prescient. Reading it in 2015 holds a different meaning to reading it when it was first published in 2004, before the financial crash that has twisted all our lives out of true and which the Gilts of this world have seized upon to extricate as much of everything as they can for themselves. There are lines which were funny once yet now hold a grim significance.
Pratchett could interweave deep, whole-hearted comedy into that, make it a seamless whole, but I’m nowhere near good enough to do that in a review. I like Moist von Lipwig, and Spike, and rapidly promoted Junior Postman Tolliver Groat, and Stanley, whose un-given surname surely has to be Gibbons. But I respond to Pratchett’s denunciation of those who know the value of money and of nothing else, and I share his rage.

The Fall Season: The Man in the High Castle


Yes, I know it’s nearly the end of November, and over here in the UK that makes it very late to still keep calling it the Fall, especially after the weather we’ve been putting up with this month. But it’s too early for the Mid-Season shows, so let’s stick with the title and look at a late addition.

The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon show, which means that the whole series, all ten episodes of it, was released, Netflix-fashion, in one fell swoop. But you still can’t watch it any more than one episode at a time and, in Thanksgiving week, when half my weekly American shows have been pre-empted, I have down-loaded the first couple of episodes and just come off the Pilot.

The series is based upon the legendary Philip K. Dick 1962 novel of the same name. I read the novel many years ago. Dick is not among my favourite writers and I remember little of the story save its basic premise: that the Axis powers won World War 2 and occupied America between them. Nor have I been back to remind myself of any other details from the book.

The pilot episode is superb, rich in detail and atmosphere. Wisely, it hasn’t been updated, meaning that the two regimes have been in control of the USA for almost two decades, but that a significant part of the population is old enough the remember defeat, and the world before that. The Nazis occupy all of America east of the Rockies as a Greater Reich, the Japanese hold west of the Rockies as the Japanese Pacific States, and there’s a neutral zone between, a buffer between seeming allies in conquest.

Enter our two main characters (though TV.com has one of them as merely ‘recurring’ and a thus far supporting character as the other star. In New York City, Joe Blake, seemingly in honour of a commitment to his (deceased?) father, joins the Resistance and is tasked with driving a truck to Canon City in the Neutral Zone, where someone will contact him – if it’s safe. En route, he checks out what e is secretly transporting: a reel of film.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, in San Francisco, Juliana Crane stumbles inadvertently into the western Resistance when her half-sister Trudy is shot dead on the street, seconds after handing her a bag. The bag contains a reel of film, film that in our world is authentic, well-known newsreel footage about the Allies’ victory, but which in this world can only be fake: or is it?

Juliana watches it over and over, in delight. Her live-in boyfriend, repressed artist Frank Frick (the other ‘star’) knows it comes from some mysterious individual known only as The Man in the High Castle, and that possession of the same is treason. He wants Juliane to turn it in, explain it away, but instead she runs, taking Trudy’s place, heading for a meeting in a Diner in the Neutral Zone. In Canon City.

Much of the pilot is taken up in establishing this situation and moving Joe and Juliana – who come off mainly as cyphers so far – towards their meeting in the episode’s closing minutes: Juliana as damsel-in-distress, robbed of bag and money, unable to pay 2 Marks for her diner meal, Joe the White Knight, a friend-in-need with obvious interest in the fair Juliana’s warm and fair body.

There are two other significant strains started in this episode. In one, we learn that the white-haired Hitler is seriously ill, with six months left to live. There is a power-struggle going on over the succession, but all three candidates plan to begin their term as Fuhrer by bombing the Japanese Pacific States…

And back on the East Coast is the fanatical Resistance-breaker, Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith. To whom, his cover safely established, Joe Blake reports at episode end.

What impresses most about this first episode is the sheer detail, the volume of it. Familiar American scenes have not merely been recreated in their form of 1962 with stunning authenticity, but they have been twisted into the world of the series. New York is littered with swastikas, San Francisco with rising suns, to an extent far too intense to take in at once. Money has not been spared in creating this visual scene, nor in creating a sombre, slightly darkened colour palate that mutes the eye. It feels real: hopelessly, inescapably reel.

I shall be here for the duration.

Two last things on which to comment. I haven’t yet mentioned the seemingly minor role of Japanese Pacific State Trade Minister Mr Nobosuke Tagomi (beautifully and gravely etched by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) who is one of the central characters in the book.

And there was one moment, midway, that had me shuddering: Joe blows out a tyre and needs help from the local law, a war veteran with a swastika armband. As they finish, ash starts to descend from the sky. Don’t worry, the sheriff says, it’s the Hospital. Every Tuesday they haul in the deranged and the old and dispose of them. The mental image goes off like a bomb. But it’s the sheriff’s casual approval, not just acceptance, that scares the bejasus out of you.

10 August 2017


The above date is the publication of a novel in paperback. It is unknown to me whether a hardback edition will appear prior to that, though based on three factors, I anticipate it will. Those three factors are that the book has been written, finished, and delivered to its publishers in August 2015, that the author’s previous, brilliant novel was first published in hardback, not long before Xmas 2013, and that I can’t believe, and I really really don’t want to have to wait twenty-one months before getting to read Christopher Priest’s The Gradual.

Especially not if it’s set, once more, in the Dream Archipelago…

Deep Space 9: s1e08 – Dax


A Trill for all Seasons

The title of this episode makes it clear that we are going to focus on Lieutenant Jardzia Dax, the Trill, the symbiote host, whose previous incarnation, as Curzon Dax, was both friend and mentor to Commander Sisko. It’s due as well: we’re eight episodes in and we’ve really not seen Dax (nor Bashir, nor Quark) as anything other than superficial characters, although Terry Farrell is part of the cast.

‘Dax’ made for a very interesting episode, which had me concentrating quite closely, but which, at the same time, had underlying weaknesses of which I was very conscious. But let’s set up the story first.

We begin with an old-fashioned Captain’s Log Stardate Gobbledygook entry, just to tell us that Chief O’Brien isn’t in this week’s episode. Then we cut to the ever-naive, puppydog Doctor Bashir still trying to get somewhere with calm, unflappable, uninterested Jardzia. Then the good lieutenant is set upon and kidnapped by assailants under the command of guest star Gregory Itzin – baddy yes, but still light years from his slimy, creepy President Logan in 24 – only for the well-laid plan to be foiled by the rest of the cast.

Only then is it revealed that Ilan Tandro holds a perfectly valid, Federation-respected warrant to arrest Dax for crimes of murder and treason thirty years previously as Curzon.

Since Bajor doesn’t have a treaty with Kleasron IV, Sisko holds things up with an extradition hearing, which forms the body of the episode (and in which guest star Annee Haney, as the waspish, 100 year old, no-nonsense Bajoran arbiter steals the show effortlessly).

Yes, courtroom drama, turning on the moral and philosophical point as to whether a symbiont lifeform remains responsible for crimes committed when joined to a previous host, when the punishment – the death penalty – would fall upon a host body not merely innocent of such crimes but not even alive at their commission.

The arguments are fascinating, with both sides bringing up compelling points. Dax is accused, in his role as a Federation Mediator, of betraying General Ilandro (Gregory’s daddy) to the Government forces, who killed him. Ilandro became a martyr to the rebel cause, inspired it to overthrow the Government, and remains a public legend to this day, so the crime is a heavy one.

Ultimately it will be found that Dax was not guilty of the transmission that betrayed General Ilandro to the Government, because he was shagging the General’s wife at that very moment (suppresses sarcastic and lewd thought). Indeed, in a throwaway line that is exceedingly disappointing in its perfunctoriness (reflecting the fact that no-one involved in the story cared about who actually shopped the General as anything more than a MacGuffin), Mrs Widow General lets slip it was Ilandro himself, planning to betray the rebellion. Choke, how ironic.

That’s a very poor ending, but then so far on this series I’ve not been over-impressed with the closing scenes, which are given far too little time to be at all effective. However, good as it is, the episode has, as I said, two major flaws.

The first is structural, and goes to the nature of the form. Courtroom dramas like this can’t work without some fundamental information being withheld: the Courtroom in drama is used as an investigation (think Perry Mason and all its heirs) in pursuit of the truth, which has to start concealed. When it’s used in a series with an established cast, and an accusation against a cast member, the structure falls apart if the accused doesn’t spend at least half the show refusing to defend themselves and generally keeping their mouths shut. As does Dax here, except that ninety percent of the time, this refusal to defend oneself comes over exactly as it does in this episode, as a clumsy contrivance to enable the story to be told, and completely out of character. Why won’t you tell us what really happened? Because if I did the story would end after fifteen minute and we’d have to busk until the end.

So the episode ends up being about, but around Jardzia Dax. She becomes the hollow centre of things and, rather than learn about her as we need to, we learn about Trills in the abstract, we get a xenobiology lesson, not a character portrait, an insight.

And that’s down to the other underlying weakness of the episode, which is that, at this stage in her career, Terry Farrell simply isn’t a good enough actress to play Dax as something more than a quiet, emotionally restricted, flat character. What lines she does speak carry little weight. When you try to imagine her at the centre of a trial, defending herself, you quickly see that Farrell hasn’t got the range to convince in a deeper role for more than thirty seconds, if that.

That’s one of the reasons, I suspect, that we’re going to see Bashir pursue for some time longer. It’s a comedy sub-plot that, with a better actress on Dax’s side, would see her put him out of his misery pretty damned quickly, but until Farrell grows in her performance, she just couldn’t put any of that across.

So, a very good episode in spite of its flaws. But the series needs to do something about those closes. At least sixty seconds more airtime would help.

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 1


Lost 70s Volume 1 ran to 23 tracks, mostly from the early to mid-70s. There’s only two post-1975 tracks on it, both from 1978, though neither of them sound in the least like songs from that year. And the second of them is the only top 30 hit single in the compilation! All but one of these tracks can be found on YouTube and there are links to each of these.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with later selections.

Loving You Ain’t Easy    : Pagliaro

Michel Pagliaro was a French-Canadian singer-songwriter who recorded primarily in French. This, and its less-appealing follow-up, ‘Some Sing, Some Dance’ were the only tracks of his I heard. ‘Loving You Ain’t Easy’ was a bright, breezy, guitar-driven song that got lots of airplay in the hot summer of 1971. After several weeks, it actually climbed to no 35 and Pagliaro scored a TOTP appearance. But the track was thinly produced and lacked the single’s verve, which killed it’s chances of breaking through. Still a great piece of guitar pop.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHi3nwKTEzM
Gotta Find You: Rescue Company Number 1

A weird, doomy string draped 1970 pop song with a mid-tempo sound that got enough airplay to intrigue but which I never got hold of until well into the 2000s. The band had more airtime for their very commercial second single, ‘Life’s too short’, in 1971. The song’s credited to professional songwriting team Arnold, Martin and Morrow, and the similarities in tempo and vocals to their top 20 hit ‘Don’t You Know’ as Butterscotch lead me to think that this was a studio creation, with the writers doing the singing, and the band only put together to pick up the name for the folow-up. This one’s got a bit of a stalker-vibe to it that would be much-multiplied when we got to ‘Every Breath You Take’.

Love and Rainy Weather: Tony Christie

Christie’s commercial peak had already passed by the time this song appeared in 1973. It was the theme song to the film of the Jack Rosenthal TV sitcom, The Lovers and it’s semi-relaxed atmosphere brings memories of a film I loved, and its co-star, Paula Wilcox, who I always seriously fancied.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I17I70cyAk

Gypsy Woman: Brian Hyland

This 1970 song was another turntable hit, Tony Blackburn in particular plugging it for months until it briefly troubled the charts at no 40. I had no idea who Hyland was at the time, nor his big early Sixties’ hits, I just loved the rolling warmth of the electric piano intro, and the leap towards the falsetto that Hyland’s voice took – rather artificially to my more-practiced ears – when he went into the chorus of this old Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions song. This is part of the soundtrack to the months of adjusting to life in the aftermath of my Dad’s death.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StC5lwA2snM

Albert Flasher: The Guess Who

The only thing I knew about this Canadian band was their minor UK success with ‘American Woman’ in 1970, which I’d hated. This 1971 single was  rarely played and I never got to hear it properly, but it’s another tie to that hot summer, the summer of hot-pants, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep and incessant games of Subbuteo with my mate, Steve Callaghan.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ-hdVe0p94

Living without you: Manfred Mann

The original Manfred Mann had turned into the jazzrock oriented Chapter Three in 1969, and this was the first step back towards a more commercial sound in 1971, before the band acquired the Earth Band soubriquet. It’s a smooth, synthesizer laden version of a Randy Newman song. I was listening a lot to Radio Luxemburg this year, and they tended to play it far more than Radio 1, which denied me a proper chance to get this on tape. Next year, they’d record and have a hit with ‘Joybringer’, but this was the first step on that road.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN3eBsTgDoc

I need you: America

Intro-free, piano-led, unsuccessful follow-up to ‘A Horse with no Name’. I got to know this well from America’s first album, which I had for a time. It’s just a lovely, yearning, beautifully harmonised song that was sweet but too bland to build on the freak success of their first release.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThTplavLL7w

It’s up to you Petula: Edison Lighthouse

Speaking of things not building on first successes… This version of Edison Lighthouse was definitely a put-up band to cash in on the success of ‘Love Grows Where my Rosemary Goes’, five weeks at Number 1 at the start of 1970. That was one of four simultaneous Top 10 hits written by the same group of professional songwriters and recorded by themselves under different names, with session musicians/singers – principally Tony Burroughs, who did lead vocals on all of them. It took nearly a year to put together an Edison Lighthouse to pick up on the hit and this follow-up was far too lightweight, jangly and out of step with the change in music in that twelvemonth to go anywhere. A near Top 30 miss: but I liked it at the time, and the nostalgia’s enough to do it for me still.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpeIsj3vhFw

Curried Soul: Mr Bloe

Speaking of things not building on first successes (part 2)… I loved the original ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’ single. It was my favourite single of 1970, and only my second ever single bought, a purchase I held off making until the week it hovered at no 2, hoping to help push it to the very top, past Mungo Jerry: alas, no. It was an oddball track, originally a loop, irreverent b-side to an American single, mistakenly flipped over here and recorded by a studio band. The original piano track was played by Elton John, but the producer didn’t like it, so arranger Zack Laurence was brought in to re-record it and that ended up being the hit version. Part of is success was the novelty effect of a harmonica instrumental (played by veteran Harry Pitch, also famous for the theme music to Last of the Summer Wine) but I also believe it was popular in the Northern Soul venues. ‘Curried Soul’ did feature Elton John, and the other four musicians went on to perform as Hookfoot, but the novelty had worn off and Radio 1 only played it to talk over. As soon as I could download, I was determined to get this properly at last.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qq5F6VahsT0

Classical Gas: Beggar’s Opera

Another unsuccessful instrumental. I knew very little about Beggar’s Opera, but in 1973 they covered the old Mason Williams hit, ‘Classical Gas’, taking out the acoustic guitar and the orchestra, adding a more progressive touch with electric piano and a pure seventies style synthesizer, with an underlay of electric guitar that borrowed a little of the funkiness of the ‘Shaft’ theme. That synthesizer sound, the sound of pure electronics, music made digital with the rasping, almost frayed edge of the traditional Moog, that’s vanished now, but it was the sound of the Manfred Mann track, it picks up the secondary theme here, and there’s another example of that raw sound, near the end of this compilation. A worthy companion to the original.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qffjCEdNBCY

Promised Land: Johnnie Allan

My first introduction to Cajun music. This high-speed take on the Chuck Berry original about heading to California to make your fortune gets ripped up and put back together as a cajun shouter, with Allan’s hoarse, accented vocals whipping through the verses almost as fast as the red-hot accordian solos, whilst the band lay down a flat, solid groove. I did some Cajun dancing lessons once, many years after this, and I can’t now hear if without seeing the couples, bent-knee shuffling, hurtling around a sweaty dance floor as Johnnie Allan drives them on to faster and faster spins. Primitive, high energy stuff, perfect for blaring out of your radio, and only two minutes long. Released in 1978 but could have been recorded any time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyytlU-uS7k

Westbound No. 9: Flaming Ember

Evidence that time and tastes change. Flaming Ember were an American blue-eyed soul band who had a couple of hits over there and did nothing in the UK. I hated this in 1971, couldn’t stand hearing it, which  thankfully wasn’t too often, but I like it now. There’s a lot of 1971 music on this compilation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vO0v8p6rSTU

Water Sign: Gary Wright

Everybody used to go on about Gary Wright being an ex-member of Spooky Tooth, which meant nothing to me. He’d gone off to America where he’d become very successful as a solo artist, with a big hit in ‘Dream Weaver’, which I didn’t like, but this later single, 1976 I think, caught my ears. Whilst everything so far on this compilation is Radio 1 music, Gary Wright was the sort of thing I got through Piccadilly Radio, Manchester’s Commercial Station (April 1974) and particularly the evening/late programmes. There’s a lot more of that on the next compilation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylnWEHLD3ow

Overnight Sensation (Hit Record): The Raspberries

The Raspberries were led by Eric Carmen, he of the utterly loathsome and whiny ‘All By Myself’ (there was some serious self-pitying about in the back half of the Seventies). But the Raspberries were all about pop, big, bright, commercial pop, innocent and fresh. ‘Overnight Sensation’ had it all, great harmonies, a cool tune, slow and up tempo bit, a sax solo, even a neat moment where the sound abruptly fades, turning the song into something heard through a tinny old transistor radio. There’s even a false ending followed by a great, thundering burst of drums. It was fun from start to finish one of those  records where it was impossible to fathom out why Radio 1 didn’t want to play it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFykKccM0wM

Don’t Pull Your Love: Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds

Another 1971 alumnus. One of the band was going out with the gorgeous actress/model Caroline Munro and expressed his displeasure at Colin Blunstone releasing the achingly wonderful ‘Caroline Goodbye’, about the ending of his relationship with the lady. Stupidity like that didn’t prejudice me against this jaunty, brass-propelled, stop-start number, with its richly American sound. Blue-eyed soul is the closest genre for this song. The band went on to be quite successful in the States, but I never heard another thing from them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcKZoq_GcPU

No Regrets: Tom Rush

Although it was the later Walker Brothers’ cover that sold, taking them into the Top 10 for one final, belated time, I had already fallen in love with Rush’s original, which had been around for months without any prospect of it selling. It’s a beautifully sad, low-key, self-contained acoustic song, with minimal instrumentation. It’s about the end of a relationship, when everything’s been said and done, when the couple have stayed together far too long and it’s time to go. Rush sings in a deliberately dispassionate tone, allowing only hints to creep through about how hard it all is to let go, even with what he knows. This is a great song, obviously built from personal experience, made all the better by its steely determination not to over-emote. Stunning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKU0S5K5aYE

An American Trilogy: Mickey Newbury

And a second successive original of a song taken up and made successful by a bigger artist. Elvis Presley had the top 10 hit with this medley of American songs, but it was country singer Newbury who conceived of, and arranged, this loving, sincere and thoughtful tune. Newbury sings slow, and simply a medley of ‘Dixie’, the negro spiritual ‘All my trials’ and ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, all three songs reduced to a slow, lamenting, intense vocal, with minimal instrumentation keep well to the rear. An amazingly simple and deeply effective idea, even to those of us with no nationalistic attachment to the originals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIagEIdm3lo

Our National Pastime: Rupert Holmes

Rupert Holmes (originally David Goldstein, born in Northwich, Cheshire to USAF parents) is best known over here for 1979’s ‘Pina Colada Song’. He’s one of those witty, slightly over-clever songwriters, that you can’t help feeling are too fond of demonstrating their superior cleverness. It’s shot all the way through this 1974 single, which I heard off Piccadilly Radio, but which I nevertheless like, because its goofiness overrides its underlying smugness. It’s basically a story-song, with spoken word interludes, about a guy who meets a girl at a rained-off baseball game and takes her home, hoping to score. The awkwardness is still entertaining all these years later and the ending is still horribly embarrassing. But in a good way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wma7BH0nkLQ

You keep tightening up on me: The Box-Tops

Everyone knows that the Box Tops were that ultimately enigmatic genius, Alex Chilton. But this 1970 single was recorded without him or any of the old line-up, though you wouldn’t know that from the sound of it, which is just as firm, direct and tuneful as classics like ‘The Letter’ or ‘Soul Deep’. Ok, if you listen closely enough, you can tell that’s not Chilton on lead, but the half dozen times I heard this played, I had no ear for such subtleties nor experience of other songs to tell. All I knew was that this was a great pop song and it should have been played thousands of times. But it wasn’t.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex6bCJTu9N8

Toast and Marmalade for Tea: Tin Tin

This has nothing to do with Herge and a lot more to do with Maurice Gibb, who supported this Australian band and got them a British album deal. The band released four singles, of which none charted and only two got any airplay, but this got a lot of airplay. It’s distinguished by a vibrato piano effect, created by pissing around with the tape, as the band harmonise a dreamy, eight line rhyme that’s repeated with the addition of extra instrumentation. It was a particular favourite of Ed Stewart, so it got a lot of ‘Junior Choice’ airtime in 1970. The sound stood out, but the public resisted.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mt2u9WNd4Qg

The Ride to Agadir: Mike Batt

Mike Batt’s had a very mixed career. By 1975, when he recorded this crunchy, propulsive, Moorish-influenced pounder, I knew him for The Wombles, which had been his commercial breakthrough. This song, and the album it was taken from, were an attempt to be recognised as a serious musical artist, but you only had to start chanting Remember You’re a Womble to know that that was a complete non-starter. But I always liked the drive of this track, with its lyrics recalling the Riffs and fighters of Morocco of the Desert Song era, it’s strident harmonies and the sheer determination of Batt to be heavy. Despite the presence of very Seventies drums, I think it still stands up very well. If more people had agreed with me, maybe we might have been spared ‘Summertime City’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7_y-F8VtSo

Mr President: D, B, M and T

To be honest, most of this 1970 single, which did get the band on TOTP the week it was nearest to cracking the Top 30 (that’s the performance which is linked below), was not very interesting, just a shuffling acoustic beat, some harmonies on a not-very-distinctive tune, and a rather artificial lyric about suspicion of the President: all very Sixties-pop-group-get-serious-now-its-1970. For D, B, M and T are of course Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, now that Dave Dee had left to go unsuccessfully solo. What made the song, then and now, is its sudden eruption into an out of place synthesizer solo, that ol’ Moog making itself felt. The rest of it was worthy-but-dull. It was 1970, what else is there to say?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B3Y2MdQOGQ

Loving you has made me Bananas: Guy Marks

Last, but not least, is the only actual hit single on the entire CD, a bona fide, twice upon TOTP, number 26 hit in the summer of 1978, when I was living in Nottingham, instead of Manchester. And the joke is that not a single second of this record sounds as if it could have been recorded any time after about 1938. ‘Loving you has made me bananas’ was a spoof, a gloriously, lovingly created spoof, of a sound and a time and a conception of music that no longer existed, done with immaculate conviction by a guy old enough to be your grandfather. It’s not just a song, it’s a radio broadcast, a live ballroom performance in miniature, that only rises into even the mildest of satires when the medley of standard favourites is performed just the song’s titles as lyrics. It’s one of those real WTF songs that you’re not entirely sure about, but the smile is both taunting and delighted, so lose yourself in its conviction for two and a half minutes, bask in a world so entire, and give yourself up to what it must have been like. There was no way you could follow this, which is why I placed it last on this disc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqrvDVxaDFc

 

Imaginary Albums: The ‘Lost 70s’ series


First non-Imaginary Album

It should be obvious to anyone who so much as passes by here that I am behind the times. I read old books, I collect old comics, I still prefer my music and films to have a physical existence, even though I’ve ample memory on the current laptop. I have the extended Hobbit trilogy within this portable artefact, but I’m still buying the boxset for Xmas.
Like anyone who’s had access to CD-burning technology for a dozen years, I have downloaded mp3s and burned a few hundred CDs of my personal curation. Most of them are, in one form or another, compilations. Increasingly, I find myself preferring collections that throw someone different at me with every track.
One of the very first CDs I burnt has gone on to form the basis of a series now stretching to a dozen volumes. I called the first one Lost 70s and that’s the theme.
I grew up musically through the Seventies: first albums, first gigs, first Saturday afternoons spent hunting through the unending racks of singles at the Second-Hand Record Stalls on Shudehill, each one scraped out with what little money on the pocket money allowed by a widowed mother bringing up two kids on a pension and three days a week as a seamstress at two of UMIST’s Halls of Residence.
With the exception of the punk explosion at the end of the decade, I don’t have that many good feelings about the music of the Seventies. I was out of step at nearly every step. I didn’t even start to listen to pop or rock until literally days before the end of the Sixties, so I was taking baby steps with very simple tastes whilst everybody around me at school was going progressive (except Malcolm Eddlestone, who was into reggae, which at our School was so far beyond the Pale that people beyond the Pale despised it).
And when I got through that particular phase, discovering Lindisfarne as a favourite band, I found myself in between: too individual and idiosyncratic for a pop world dominated by T. Rex and rushing headlong towards GlamRock on the one hand, and frankly bored to a very large degree by the interminable epics of the ProgRock giants like ELP and Yes who were the staple diet of my closest mates.
Nor did I enjoy the music of my best mate’s favourite artist, Olivia Newton-John. Yes, ELP and Livvy: and he did seriously love the music, not just the photos!
Punk’s aggression, raw simplicity and sheer energy was the saving for me, much to the disgust, or at best amused tolerance of my friends, Punk, New Wave and the Ska Revival (I have vivid memories of dropping in for a lunch-time chat with one of my fellow Articled Clerks in 1979, his mentioning this band he’d seen on TOTP the previous night, his cheerful assumption that I would have liked it even though they were absolute rubbish, didn’t know how to play their instruments, would never get anywhere: we eventually worked out that he was referring to the debut of Madness!)
But here and there, in among the over-produced rot, the slick pop, the self-indulgence and the plain shite, there were songs I liked. Sometimes, they were big hits: I was into 10cc for several years, and I went through a Fleetwood Mac spell from the White Album to Rumours, though I was seriously ahead of the curve so far as Britain was concerned, confirming that my taste and that of the record buying public were never in tune.
No, most of the time, the things that I loved were records that Radio 1 either gave short shrift to, forcing me to shift to try to record these tracks off the radio, or which failed to sell: songs that peaked at no 35 or lower, or never troubled the Top 50 at all.
That still begs the question of why not Lost 60s, or Lost 80s? That’s down to age. I missed the Sixties at the time it was going by: all my discoveries there are retrospective. And whilst I didn’t suddenly stop listening to music after 1979, I barely got halfway through the Eighties before setting my own course, and I’d given up on pop radio by that time anyway. No, if I were going to indulge in music that was both nostalgic and obscure, it was going to have to be that real armpit of a decade.
So Lost 70s it was. It was a compilation of those songs I could remember, those oddball, weird tracks, records played a handful of times, which had vanished. Lost music, bound together only by being part of the decade of my education in music, that aroused recollection of my own private musicology.
And the memories kept on coming out, slowly teased from the recesses of my mind, patiently hunted out, most from YouTube but some from sources more obscure. There are now twelve CDS, twelve Imaginary Albums under the Lost 70s rubric and I’m going to throw them open, complete with links for everything that’s locatable.
And if any of the songs that I’ll be listing spark your memories, good for you, and throw back your suggestions please. After all, I’ve currently only got seven tracks for Lost 70s 13.

Saturday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 3 – episodes 1 & 2


It’s been a long wait, far longer than mortal man should be expected to endure, but we are once again immersed deeply in the deep and compelling world of The Bridge. Sofia Helin is back as Saga Noren and, despite the absence, probably permanently of Kim Bodnia as Martin Rohde, despite the inevitably changed dynamics, from the moment the show got on the road it was clear that this was going to be very very very good indeed.

Blogging something as good as The Bridge is considerably harder than it is hapless fluff like Arne Dahl: the depth, the detail, the intensity, the intricacy of the writing, the performances, the direction. It’s a whole order of being different, because there is so much to watch for, so much to take in, so much that prompts speculation as to where this might lead, what effect it might have.

For instance, the series pulls a brilliant trick on us in just the first episode, a lovingly disguised punch. A woman is dead, a Danish citizen murdered in Malmo in bizarre circumstances. A prominent LGBT campaigner, promoting gender-neutral pre-schooling, she has had her heart cut out and, with emoticons painted over her face, has been arranged in a tableau of the nuclear family, sat around a table, mannequins creating this set-up.

Saga has to work with a Danish counterpart, but Martin is in prison, six months into a ten year sentence for last series’ off-stage murder, so Lillian – the Danish Police head who is now three months married to Saga’s boss, Hans – appoints Hanne, an older, female detective. We smile to ourselves, prepare to adjust to the changed dynamic, we watch Saga try to institute small talk with her customary air of bafflement at other’s reactions, we laugh at the awkwardness, we settle in for en episodes – and a trap blows Hanne’s right foot off just before the end.

Danish involvement in the case shifts to Henrik, a thirty-something, handsome, slick guy, who wants the job because it means working with Saga.

More about Henrik shortly. Let’s dial it back to the first episode. We have the murder, and the lack of any real leads or motives around it. On this spine, the series starts to build a mosaic, of people who, initially, we don’t know, doing things that have no apparent bearing on our case, about whom we start to wonder.

For instance, there’s Lisa Friis Andersson, played by the considerably attractive Sonja Richter. There’s a young guy helping out at her home who steals a necklace, which he puts on. Her daughter Karen’s being bullied at school, which is being spectacularly ineffective about combatting it. Lisa’s teaching her daughter to hit back. She’s married to Lars Andersson, in one of whose containers, on his Malmo site, the murder victim was found.

Oh yes, and then there’s Lisa’s video blog. It appears she’s a fundamental Christian, with a strong conviction that she freely expresses. That the victim was a lesbian, trying to destroy the difference between genders and therefore the basis of the traditional family, is something to be welcomed. It’s nasty stuff, that Lisa defends as free speech. So too’s the calm, polite but vicious blog against the priest who conducts Denmark’s first same-sex marriage. Lisa points out that if he’d done that back when the scriptures were written, he’d have been stoned to death: rhetorically, she asks why people think the old  days were bad?

It’s sleek, nasty, inciteful stuff, which Lawyer Lisa denies incites action. So is it a coincidence that, in episode 2, someone strangles the priest, paints his face with emoticons and leaves him dressed up to be found in a playground?

Though she’s not necessarily that Christian: our Lisa would like a pair of leather trousers like Saga’s, because they look hot. In a less involving series, I’d be rooting for her to get them, because Sonja Richter looks like she could seriously rock them.

And there’s Henrik. Long before he’s named, long before we discover he’s a Police detective, he’s acting pretty strangely. He appears to be married, with two girls, but he’s out picking up an attractive, dark-haired thirty-something at a Singles Club, takes her home, has sex with her. But when he gets back home, he’s describing the woman, her name, her apartment to his wife, a scene that sets the nerves jangling with the implications.

He’s a damned good detective too, spots a number of things Saga misses in the second episode, but he’s also trying to pull with her. Young master Henrik is one mother of an enigma. Not to mention a regular pill-popper…

The second half of the second episode is dominated by Hans being kidnapped, at gunpoint. His assailant is Aleks, an armed robber just released from prison, who hwants revenge on Hans for allegedly forcing him to grass up his associates (who don’t appear to be all that forgiving) or else see his wife Samira roped in as an accessory, their kids taken away. Aleks wants money to set up his family, but the loot’s been stolen, Johnny denies taking it but sets him up to be killed.

Unfortunately, Aleks discovers that Johnny has also taken Samira and the girls. He’s about to kill Hans rather than ransom him, when the Police, following Henrik’s deductions, raid his place. The Police miss the concealed basement. But someone following up, with a bloody big gun, doesn’t. Aleks goes down but the mysterious, leather-jacketed rescuer doesn’t free Hans but instead knocks him out with Chloroform. Just like the Clown Killer used on the first victim…

Like I said, it’s harder to blog The Bridge than feeble stuff like Arne Dahl, but the comparison is unfair to begin with. The Bridge has ten hours of story to tell, and demands you look and watch every second, whereas the Arne Dahl‘s only have two hours to begin with. Even if they were good enough to summon up two hours worth of story, there’s simply no basis for comparison between the two.

But of course The Bridge 3 is Saga Noren, is Sofia Helin. What of her? On the one hand, little has changed: Saga does not do change, she does not do any variation on her intensely focussed devotion to her duty. On the other, she has changed. Others keep referring to what she did to Martin, trying to get into her head over her shopping him. Hans is convinced that she must be affected by the loss of her friend, by guilt at not going to see him.

But he’s a murderer, and Saga cannot socialise with a murderer. In 9 1/2 years, when he’s released, she’ll see him then.

But she’s different. There’s a beautifully incarnated extra fragility to Saga. She acts more like a ‘normal’ person at times, having absorbed the need to do so, but there is no real warmth to it, but she is more and more puzzled at its failure, at everybody’s failure to react as they, conventionally, should. Helin’s momentary rigidity indicating a trapped feeling, an urge to fly, her eyes darting around, seeking an escape, these are more intense, but the degree is subtle.

And there is a personal pressure on Saga too. Her mother has reappeared after 20 years, to tell her her father is dying, to try to drag Saga into reconciliation, to ask her to read the medical records of Saga’s sister, Jennifer, who took her own life after years of abuse. Saga is convinced that her sister was driven to her death by Munchausen’s by Proxy, but her pathologist colleague, whom she trusts, tells her that there is no evidence to support that. And he and she trust in evidence.

This is heady stuff. It’s too soon to fully judge, but this is already the best thing to happen to Saturday night since The Bridge 2, and in four more weeks it might very well be the best thing in television all year, and since The Bridge 2 for that.

Four weeks. Just think of it. Only four more weeks.