Is there something they’re not telling us?

I am currently watching a Batman Rebirth Deluxe hardcover on eBay when I noticed that they have it classified as Non-Fiction.

This reminds me of the glory days when I lived in Nottingham and would walk home through Boots on my way to the Victoria Centre Food Court, and I would check their books section, and always I would find the same thing under Non-Fiction: The Lord of the Rings.

Maybe Alan Moore’s right about all stories being true?


A Buzz around the Hornet: Part 3

Third time round for The Hornet, the D.C.Thomson stable comic, issues 201-300, covering the paper’s life from 15 July 1967 to 7 June 1969.
Though it’s 1967, the summer of psychedelia, Procol Harum at number 1 for six weeks, free games for May and Strawberry Fields Forever, Hornet shows no signs of stepping out of the time-bubble in which it is enclosed. It is not keeping up with the Sixties because it has never yet arrived in the Sixties. Of its line-up this time, there is little to enthuse me, just two of the comic’s round of regulars, a Rob Higson Runs that Count, introducing big, burly, ball-bashing, bird-watching batsman, Bert Bunting (another tone-lowering, independently minded scruffpot) and the start of a new Bernard Briggs serial, The No-Goal Goalie.
Bernard’s moved to the two-club Midland town of Stockley, bought a house that comes complete with a gasworks attached, and signed for the posh boys, Rangers on condition that they pay their down-at-heels neighbours Rovers £1,000 for every shut-out Bernard produces. You know where the money’s going.
The only other series of any distinction at this point is Laramie, an adaptation of an old TV Western, cancelled four years before – but only of its sole season in the Fifties!
Nor was the mix improved by the first new series of this batch, a run-of-the-mill World War 2 story replacing one about hunting King Solomon’s Treasure with a cheat ending. It’s Runs that Count completed its run in issue 207 (26 August), leaving cricket to be replaced by football in the familiar-sounding Ball of Fire, about centre forward Wally Brand. I didn’t recognise it as such, but it ploughed an enjoyably familiar trough with the forceful Wally another of the independent kind.
And a third new series in four issues was another enjoyable returnee, Jim Ransom, the Big Palooka, this time tackling American crooks muscling into Britain as from issue 210 (16 September), though only for a ten week run.
Two more new starters were lined up for issue 212 (30 September), both returnees. One was a repeat performance for one of the more abysmal SF series but the other, about due a revisit, was Wilson, though not my long anticipated Ashes Test story. How much longer before Nick Smith again?
Wilson’s new serial, It’s Wilson Again, saw him back in Africa searching for a lost city that turned out to be a Greek colony that had erected a replica of Athens that wasn’t all ruins. As ideas go, it was horribly trite. As for Nick, he wasn’t showing up just yet but the flood of new series swept in the Deathless Men again, in a V for Vengeance series titled ‘M’ Marks the Spot.
I haven’t had a jump of nostalgia for quite some time now and in issue 215 (21 October) it came in the unexpected place of the prose serial, which I’ve been guilty of ignoring since the first Nick Smith and Rob Higson because, well, they’re not worth reading. But Kid Laine the Dixieland Drummer, about a fourteen year old dockloader called Leo ‘Kid’ Laine who would go on to be a groundbreaking jazz drummer, and lead the massively successful and influential jazz band, The Big Five, was a tonic for the troops. Like some of Eagle’s serials, this was obviously being read by someone who knew what they were talking about, in this instance both jazz and drumkits.

Still the new series kept on appearing. After a long run, Laramie went back to the bunkhouse to free up space for a second go from ex-Special Air Service Greg Stewart, whose bag was finding antiquities for the Military Museum.
Briggs’ latest improbable season ended in issue 222 (9 December) whilst the Deathless Men finally got the British Agent to the crashed plane to destroy the secret papers. That left room for two new stories, one of which was the return of the unimpressive Limping Man, but the second ws another right from the memory bank, The Goals That Nobody Cheered. Stan Rankin, centre forward for Hampton Town was forced out of the game when he accidentally killed two goalkeepers in successive weeks, each by a kick to the head (this was a series for kids?). But Stan came into a large sum of money, enough to buy a majority shareholding in Hampton and reinstate himself as Player-Manager. Except that the fans boycotted him and the first team, leaving Stan with the hard task of winning them back around.
Two more new series arrived in issue 224 (23 December), with Wilson and the crap SF series ending to accommodate them. They were neither of them worth mentioning, but they were followed in Xmas week by several things I surprised myself by recognising.
The first was the cover story, about the amazing Xmas match between Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town. Reduced to ten men, Charlton were 2-0 down at half-time and 5-1 with half an hour to go, and their left-winger Johnny Summers was wearing brand-new boots, when he went on a spree that saw Charlton win 7-6 with the last kick of the game, including five goals from Summers, all scored with his ‘wrong’ foot. No, this wasn’t fiction, though I remembered the one-off Ball of Fire story, which was.
Last of all was a new series, Crazy School, starring young Jimmy Bell, sent to a snooty private school where everyone down to the porter boy was a snob out to make him feeling unwanted. Unpropitious stuff, and nothing to write home about… until I recognised every single stunt, because Jimmy has fantastic hypnotic powers!
The Dixie Drummer ended its first series in issue 227 (13 January 1968) with Kid Laine joining the British Army to fight in the Great War, but there has to be at least one more series to come because I remember the Big Five’s reunion in No Man’s Land. That left just two decent strips, and a couple of real SF schtumers: Hornet could not do SF to save its life.
After giving me a nostalgia jolt in its first episode, Crazy School ended in issue 230 (3 February) without ringing another bell. The same week, Stan Rankin was joined by another football series, Haddie, another amateur footballer who would end up dragging his club towards another FA triumph. Haddie, whose nickname came from his profession as a North Sea Fisherman, was a junior league Bernard Briggs, playing for fun and reserving his seriousness for his fishing.
And speaking of old Briggsy, the real thing returned in issue 234 (2 March), still scrapping but now scrapping, in the square ring that is. It was another of those times when new series seemed to start nearly every week. Stan Rankin was finally vindicated when television footage was discovered that exculpated him over the two keepers’ deaths, bringing the crowds back in to cheer his goals once more.
His replacement was Bring ’em Back Barney, another one that trips the memory. Barney Hines, the Mayor of Walla-Wogga, has opened a town museum that is empty, so he’s enlisted in the Aussie Army in the Great War to collect ‘souvenirs’ for exhibits. Why do I remember something like this when I have no recollection of The Devil Dogs of the Dravids in the same issue?
Also back the same week was Kid Laine in The Return of the Dixie Drummer, in France, in the War and about to be reunited with the rest of the Big Five. And one issue later it was time again for Wally Brand, the Ball of Fire, back in a new series in which, shock, horror, he’s still at the same club.
The Dixie Drummer’s second story ran until issue 244 (11 May) after which he gave way to Detective Paul Terhune, whilst Richard Sharp, The Blazing Ace of Space, also returned after a very long absence for more World War 2 RAF missions.
The next new series was The Fifth Wicket Fosters, a cricket strip. Unlike Bring ‘Em Back Barney, this was one of the series I had always remembered, and one I was looking forward to reading again. Peter Foster is the third generation of his family to bat at no 6 for Northshire, an attacking batsman. But he’s also a Special Ops Agent who, in order to stem an aggressive Dictator, agrees to appear a traitor delivering secret plans. The plot succeeds, but the Dictator susses that the plans are fakes and sends men in search of Peter, who, having undergone plastic surgery and been re-named Dave Palmer, applies to become a professional cricketer – at Northshire. An intriguing set-up.
It didn’t take long for ‘Palmer’ to give himself away, safely, to his younger brother John. John Foster suffered from a frozen right arm after a car accident but is secretly training himself to bowl left arm spin.
Another, if gentler, jolt of memory came with the debut of the Floating Man in issue 251 (29 June), about a salesman trying to promote a buoyancy suit that turned a man into his own boat, so to speak. A familiar panel, but nothing else was recognisable in the first episode, but it was recognisable to me.

Richard Starr’s second series and Bring ‘Em Back Barney both reached an end in issue 253 (12 July), with one being replaced by a nondescript treasure hunt series and the other a one-off war story. Meanwhile, The Fifth Wicket Fosters came to an end all-too-soon, with truth, exoneration and the County Championship all round, to be replaced, at last, by Wilson Did It. This is the Wilson Cricket story I’ve been waiting for all along, that I left unfinished when I gave up Hornet in 1968, the year of graduation from (most) comics to Football magazines like Goal, Shoot and Striker. An end is in sight.
The set-up is that the plane carrying the England Test Team, travelling too Australia for the Ashes, crashes in Arnhem Land, killing no-one but injuring every player. A second party crashes in the exact spot, where the Amazing Wilson is studying the Aborigines and their approach to cricket. Wilson discovers a dead Aborigine tracker, shot through the head, from a half-track vehicle that has vanished. A mystery.
Of the second party, the only player uninjured is our old friend Bert Bunting, the Highshire wicket-keeper (since when?). And there’s a double crossover when Rob Higson, not selected for either party, asks Wilson to lead a scratch English side in a charity match. When Wilson turns out to bowl at bat-smashing speed, Higson gets a fantastic notion…
The thought of completing the story after fifty years – a longer time by far than the Eagle serial I wrote about here (insert link) – makes every panel of this story a fascination, but I mustn’t forget the rest of the paper, not that the majority of the stories make forgetting them difficult. Two new series debuted in issues 257 and 258 (10 and 17 August), the first, Shawnee Fall Was Here!, a western about a small mining town that vanishes completely whilst Deputy Marshall Jubal Smith was away ten days, trailing a robber, and the second featuring the popular character, the Swamp Rat, this time revealing his real name of Peter Bold and how he got all his tattoos in The Badges of courage on Darkness Island: very boyhood of Arnold Tabbs with a soupcon of Lord of the Flies.
The same issue saw the rather lacklustre Bernard the Boxer end abruptly when he discovered his manager had been ripping him off, with the mildly interesting The Man in Black also concluding.
The long term replacement for Briggs was another returnee, The Diggers in New Guinea, two Australian cobbers at war. And no less than three old favourites returned in issue 261 (7 September), with Briggsy back in goals for an American tour, the Deathless Men in a new V for Vengeance series and a long overdue second series for Muscles Malone.
Briggs was just Briggs in an American context, and funnily enough Muscles Malone was also Stateside, but I should have realised which V for Vengeance story this had to be, coming so close to the end of my experience with Hornet. This was the origin of the Deathless Men, beginning with the escape by captured and tortured British Agent Aylmer Gregson from a concentration camp, and his decision to start the Army of Vengeance, an Army of Jacks: like the little metal things that turned over a fallen tank, human jacks that would overturn the Nazis. It also introduced plastic surgeon Anton Gerhard, the never before seen Jack Two. After two substandard series, only one episode was needed to show that V for Vengeance was once more at a cold peak, by concentrating on its original format: of vengeance.
The Diggers’ series came to an abrupt end after only six episodes in issue 264 (28 September), but I was more concerned with the Wilson series, which began with something I well remembered, and ended with something of which I had no memory: was this the point?
Yes, it was. The next Hornet saw the introduction of a new cover feature, one I had never seen, The Hornet Gallery of Sport, kicking off with a very unlife-like George Best, and Wilson’s story moving onto territory I had never seen. That dates, very precisely, when I gave up Hornet. But not this account: I have at least one series to finish, don’t I?
By stopping when I did, I missed a fourth Big Palooka series, this one at the Mexico Olympics: oh no! That must mean the story was taking place in 1968! Oh, calamity!
The mystery of the two crashed airplanes in Wilson turned out to be accidental engine interference from machinery used by uranium prospects though that did not quite explain why they were planning to do it deliberately to a third MCC team. Which didn’t explain the shock I got from very clearly recognising incidents in the episode in issue 269 (2 November). On the other hand, I had no recollection whatsoever of the latest execrable SF series.
Briggs’ American tour ended in issue 272 (23 November) with the discovery that the statue of Sam Houston he’d been toting around was made of solid gold, solving all manner of financial issues sprung in the last chapter. And V for Vengeance also came to an end, a final end, with Hitler’s suicide in his bunker bringing to an end the need for the Deathless Men. Their replacements were one each of football and war, with the former having the more promising set-up. For a start, it was a second series actually set in 1968. Danny Hawke, manager of struggling Ashfield Rovers, had managed a massively successful England Schoolboy team five years earlier. Now he set off to scour the world to reunite his Eleven Little Soccer Boys to rescue Ashfield.
Meanwhile, Wilson’s Australian adventure was still going on. Hie team had been awarded the Test series and won the First Test in a most improbable manner, but an espionage element had come into play, a spy for an East European power seeking to extract secrets from the scientist Dr Moffin, who was behind the two MCC plane crashes back at the beginning of the series. Issue 275 (14 December) represented 22 episodes with no end in sight.
Of course, Bernard Briggs wasn’t off the scene long. The Goalie was replaced by the Boot as our favourite rough diamond joined the Great Britain Ruby League team for a tour of Australia in issue 278 (4 January 1969). And Wilson Did It finally ended in issue 280 (18 January). The Test series was won with two games to spare, Wilson was off to remotest Canada to further test his endurance, and the spy was dead of a heart attack without any explanation of why he wanted to crash two MCC touring parties: I expected no more. But at least I got to the end of the story, 51 years after I started it.
After 282 issues (1 February), Hornet surprised us by introducing a one page comic series, Phil the First, about a lad obsessed with being first at everything, in the style of those many dumb one-pagers in Lion and Valiant. In in the style of those comics, it was dumb and unfunny.

Post-Wilson, there wasn’t much to enthuse me, and there was one less when The Big Palooka went back to England in issue 284 (15 February). However, just two issues later, I discovered that I was wrong about V for Vengeance and the Deathless Men. So many Hornet series’ were comic strip adaptations of prose serials from the Forties and Fifties. I have often wondered if V for Vengeance was amongst them, and now I was answered with The Voice from Berlin, a prose serial about a plan to discredit and kill a fictional version of the infamous Lord Haw-Haw, Basil Royce, not William Joyce.
This also teased a connection I’d long since pondered from the beginning of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta. To the semi-coincidence of the title, this now added a reflection of the three-parter dealing with the fascist Government’s propaganda broadcaster, Lewis Protheroe: Voice of Fate, Voice of Truth. Intriguing.
A second one pager, Harry the Hitch, started in issue 288 (15 March) with no better quality. Meanwhile, despite the accent on melodrama, the prose V for Vengeance was much stronger, thanks to its ability to go into details that could not be portrayed in panels.
The modestly entertaining Eleven Little Soccer Boys finished in issue 292 (12 April), giving way to another football series, The Team from Trisidium, featuring a team of aliens to whom football was archaic war: just your average notion, then. And with Barnard Briggs ending his Australian tour two issues later (and no doubt starting a short countdown to his next series), for the first time there were no ‘picture stories’ to really interest me.
And when the V for Vengeance serial ended in issue 297 (17 May), there were none.
There were also only three issues left to this instalment. Nothing changed in that time and thus another instalment is over.
I’ve outlasted the days of my original enthusiasm for Hornet, I’ve ended my interrupted story, and now it’s 1969, not that you’d ever known from within this comic. Time to look elsewhere. There are enough issues left on the DVD-Rom set for three more postings, but these will be reserved now to when I’ve run out of alternatives: I’ve had enough of the Fifties-style comics for a good time. We’ll be back to Adventure Comics next time.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

As a former Solicitor, steeped in the Law, I understand only too well the danger of protesting a Jury verdict. No newspaper reports, however comprehensive, can duplicate the evidence that a Jury hears. You cannot second-guess them unless you have yourself sat through every second, listening, assessing, balancing what they hear and see in the same fashion, and even then yu are one mind, not twelve. So if I am to be true to my principles, I cannot raise my voice in protest at the decision to acquit former Superintendant David Duckenfield of 95 charges of Manslaughter by Gross Negligence of Liverpool fans whi=o atended that infamous match at Hillsborough.

But I do. From the day of the game, and that awful fuzzy sound that came out of my car radio, the sound of horror, death and unspeakable disturbance, through thirty years of study, reading and listening, I condemn this man, and I will go on condemning him.

An atheist is not supposed to believe in an afterlife, an existence of a different order than ours, although technically atheism is a lack of belief in God, a God or Gods and, as such, is not logically incompatible with the concept  of another stage of ‘life’. So I say he is only not guilty in life but in what may yet be to come, he has yet to pay, and he will pay, 96 times over, once each for every single person his arrogance, incompetence and stupidity caused to die.

Ninety-six people, former Superintendant David Duckenfield, ninety-six lives. They do not wash away that easily, not even on a Jury’s considered verdict.

Guilty. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.

WSC called it on the spot

Lou Grant: s03 e05 – Frame-Up


Though there was a certain degree of satisfaction in the conclusion to this story, overall this was a very nondescript affair that dispensed with having a point to it for over half its length. The story was a Billie Newman solo to all intents and purposes, or almost a two-hander with Stephen McHattie as Curtis Folger, the public face of a deal to bring a substantial company, Anacott, from Detroit to LA, along with 2,500 jobs, an injection into the economy of $5,000,000 in salaries and a tax windfall of £1,000,000.

Yes, all very dry stuff, made drier by the decision to not actually tell us what Anacott do.

Billie’s at the Press Conference, pushing the Environmental angle, and Anacott’s ability to satisfy the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements. Something doesn’t feel right to her and when she discovers Anacott have veen cited 117 times for breaches in Detroit, she writes the story that has Anacott pulling out and moving to Mexico instead, not to mention Billie’s name becoming mud.

It’s still very dry. Folger points out, reasonably enough, that it’s far easier to build a standards-fit plant from scratch than to adapt an old plant to changing standards, and Billie’s determination to follow her hunch that something’s not kosher, especially when the EPA and the City give Anacott substantial concessions make her look slightly vindictive. Where we’d normally applaud her integrity, this time it’s all very much what’s the point?

Well, the point is when Folger’s sacked secretary, Nell Wheeler (Wendy Phillips) smuggles out a memo that sets out the whole manipulative scheme in all its slimey detail – only for Folger to denounce it as a forgery, and prove it. Cue a $5.3million lawsuit against the Trib.

Cue also a prolonged and strange interlude in which everyone at the Trib starts to treat Billie funny. She’s quizzed on all the angles that might have led her to fake this fake memos, everyone’s all eggshell solicitous around her, the lawyers are talking about settling. It’s driving Billie crazy that no-one, not even Lou, will support her, will actually consider that this is a frame-up. By a man who used to work for a major Agency in Detroit that specialise in dirty tricks in political matters of a kind that, in 1979, would still be very fresh in the American people’s minds from the panoply of Watergate.

Oh, and it’s also the Agency to which Nell Wheeler is tracked down for her new job after she disappears without trace…

Yes, it was a frame-up, and Folger’s hands were in the cookie jar up to the elbow. Behind the scenes, the Trib worked to expose the story, to vindicate themselves and Billie.The satisfactory bit was Folger in Lou’s office, trying to bluff, bullshit and bribe his way out of being pinned to the wall for this, and Lou’s quiet, almost monosyllabic refusal to take any bait.

Less satisfying was the episode failing to give Billie any agency in this. Apart from four paragraphs to be batted out before deadline, it was all done for the helpless little woman by the male staff, covertly, and without any actual apology for how shittily they’d treated her. Still, it’ll all be forgotten by next week, won’t it?

And whilst this has nothing to do with the story’s merits or demerits, I have to point out that, to considerable shock, Linda Kelsey actually wore a midi-dress without knee-length boots for one scene, in which she crossed her legs and exposed a kneecap. It was a shocking display of flesh and for for which I was wholly unprepared. But it’ll all be forgotten by next week, won’t it?

Farewell a Friend: Clive James R.I.P.

In these recent years when the famous and the meaningful seem to have been leaving us with a frequency that’s been painful, one of the few things to cheer me has been the unfailing regularity with which I have woken up every day to find that the death of Clive James has not been announced. But everything comes to an end and, after many years in which Clive has been expected to die of his leukeamia, that unbroken record has ended.

I first encountered Clive James, unknowing, in 1970. There was a single, ‘The Master of the Revels’, by Pete Atkin, an odd, jaunty little tune with unusual instruments, crisp lyrics and an indefinable air of melancholy that seemed odd in amongst all the professional jauntiness. The sing was much beloved by Kenny Everett, and played every Saturday morning until he was sacked from the BBC for an unfortunate joke that, in those years of greater deference, was not to be tolerated. I did not know then that the lyrics to the song were written by Clive James.

I was more aware of him in 1973, when he hosted Granada TV’s Cinema, but my real real introduction came in the Eighties, when I borrowed the second collection of his Observer TV column from the Library. From then on, I was hooked. And nearly ruptured one Friday night, reading one of these books in my bedroom whilst my sister in her bedroom was trying to sleep: have you ever tried to laugh hysterically in silence?

From then on, I have bought practically every book Clive James has published. A friend lent me the six albums by Pete Atkin, then long-deleted, and I taped and played them in the car, incesssantly, and slowly built up my own collection. And I joined Midnight Voices, then an internet mailing list for fans of Pete and Clive. I got to see Pete Atkin at Buxton Opera House, and unexpectedly Clive James had joined him.

But it all comes back to the words, to the things being said and the way in which they are being said, and whilst I am in awe of how they are being said, for I love words and the ways they can be put together, this would be meaningless without the content. Clive James always wrote about something, not merely for the sake of writing. And he wrote things that I recognised and understood and that I could, given a higher degree of ability, have written myself. I like that.

And it’s come on a day when the celebrity chef, Gary Rhodes, and Jonathan Miller have preceded him into that twilight. Goodnight, Clive, you made this life wonderful with your writings, your lyrics and your poems. Somewhere in the beyond, you will be sitting in an outdoor cafe overlooking Circular Quay, the typewriter full of shells, the sky full of sun and the blue water, your notebook open, forever.

Farewell a Friend.

Time has finally found the time.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: The Fall of Rome

The Fall of Rome was published in 1971, but differently titled as Alaric: or The Day the World Ended when it was reprinted in 1993. Once upon a time, I bought this book and I owned it for quite a long time before I was willing to let myself read it. This was because I believed this to be the last R.A. Lafferty book I could and would read: as long as I held onto it, unopened, there was something left to discover.
In this I was wrong. I found a way to afford those tiny circulation chapbooks, one of which will be in this series, and there are still a tiny handful of stories left, and now the faint but actually realisable prospect that some, or maybe all of that unpublished wealth of short stories and novels might someday be available. Of course, the first of these should be the third and fourth Coscuin Chronicle books, but really I’ll take anything.
The first question to ask is, is The Fall of Rome fiction or history? I don’t have the historical expertise to pronounce upon the historical accuracy, or otherwise, of the account, but most locatable reviews, including those rare ones that are unfavourable, seem to treat it as true, if selective. And a look at the Wikipedia entries for some of the major figures, after re-reading the book, accord with the events portrayed within, insofar as battle and politics go.
But this is R A Lafferty and he does not have a completely separate style for non-Fiction, and thus the book is told as a story, and in the grand Lafferty manner, from the equivalent of a Dramatis Personae which begins the book, and which includes such descriptions of the players as: THEODOSIUS THE EMPEROR, the last who can be called ‘Great’ without laughing; SIR ICIUS, the Pope who did nothing; INNOCENT, the Pope who did next to nothing, and ARBOGAST, Count of the Franks, who had the world in his hands, and dropped it.
Clearly, this book isn’t going to be without fresh, forthright and not necessarily respectful opinions.
What Lafferty is depicting is the fall of the Western Roman Empire, which had already ended by dividing itself into Western and Eastern portions, and which in terms of its formal existence would continue some fifty years after its ending in this account, but which ended on its sack by the Goths under their King, Alaric. And Lafferty makes it clear in his terms, as always defined by his deep and ancient Catholicism, that it is Rome as Mundus, as the civilised world, of which he speaks.
The Fall of Rome moves swiftly from place to place and from person to person, of whom the two most major are Alaric the Goth, who was also Roman until almost the last, and Stilicho, the German who was Roman and nothing else, and who was Master General under the Emperor and the most competent man of these accounts, who until he was betrayed and executed, was the Master over Alaric, the Boy Giant. But Lafferty is also keen to define the Goths, more even that the Romans, in terms that will surprise we whose historical outline places them as barbarians, whereas, if we accept what we are here told, were far from it, and were in many ways more civilised than the Romans themselves, whoever they may be.
The book is dense as to both person and place, and without a prior knowledge of the times and the movers, it can be difficult to follow. Lafferty’s history is at one and the same time both more abstruse and more personal, attending to the thoughts and intentions and emotions of those in this expansive game, be they people or races. He is alive to the unreliability, and often paucity of the evidence that has come down to us, and not afraid to admit that a story may be defined but that what defines it remains unrevealed.
Nor is he afraid to give a confident judgement between contradictory accounts, choosing among probabilities and psychic commitments. And he is sweeping, yet thoroughly believable, in what on one level is a single-handed but massive attempt to rehabilitate the Goths from the false image the makers of history have placed upon them for their own ends.
There is no simple analysis of this book. Within what can be known, Lafferty treats the truth as his priority, but also halts the narrative drive to frequently observe things in the round, and to introduce moments where the inevitability of the history we see might, by a simple choice to do or not to do something might have led to a history far from what shaped the world in which we now live.
So The World Ended. According to a later series of lectures given by Lafferty, it does this over and again, though not perhaps at intervals to be known. But the Fall of Rome, and the precipitating of the Dark Ages that followed, during which history seems to stand still, its movements unseen and unfelt in its night of unreason, is the biggest of all of these, and the one that Lafferty presents as a many-sided thing, the understanding of which is heavy and important.

Person of Interest: s03 e06 – Mors Praematura

The new team

Now this is the sort of thing I’m watching Person of Interest for. There are no less than three separate stories going on here, intercutting smoothly: spare, taut scenes that deliver minimum information each time but which do not leave the viewer flailing for solid ground on which to stand, each of which are, ultimately, merely way-stations en route to the slow-building greater concerns the series has yet to unfold. Oh, and there’s the odd few dry as a desert jokes along the way.

After last week’s Russian title, we have a Latin one, ‘Mors Praematura’ meaning Premature Death, the reason for which comes only late in the episode and which means something other than the one you might assume. There are two missions to begin with: Finch is in the field, with Bear, with the latest Number, Timothy Sloan (a splendid role for guest Kirk Acevedo), an Estate Investigator whose job is to find heirs to those who die apparently without family.

Sloan is, illicitly, investigating the death of hacker Jason Greenfield, two weeks previously, from a heroin overdose. Greenfield is family, Sloan’s foster-brother since his addict parents burned themselves to death when he was 14: he would never touch drugs.

Reese, on the other hand, has a mission closer to home. Shaw hasn’t checked in for far too long: is she ok? Now you, me and the gatepost know she’s been tasered, drugged and kidnapped by Root, and we’re about to see Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker working together for the first time, and it’s more fun than a barrelful of monkeys. Root has a mission from the Machine, for which she needs Shaw’s help, that turns out to also be to save someone’s life: Jason Greenfield’s to be precise. Jason isn’t actually dead. Not just yet, that is.

These two lines operate in completely different manners. Finch and Sloan develop their investigation along logical lines, expanding their understanding, whereas Root is happily accepting all manner of unrelated instructions, that come together gloriously in a freewheeling climax in which both stories collide.

The third strand features Carter and her unwilling sidekick, the HR rookie, Mike Laskey. Laskey’s collecting protection money from this storeowner he’s known all his life. But Laskey has a very big lesson to learn, about the real nature of HR, and what he’s in. The storeowner’s skimming, Simmons confronts him and shoots him, and Laskey’s punishment is to bury the body. Laskey’s really Russian, one of twelve filtered into the Police: instant loyalty and cementing closer ties with the Russian mafia.

Whilst Root builds an ambush to an as yet unseen plan, Finch and Sloan discover that Jason was using his hacking skills for a mysterious group that we will learn is named Vigilance. This is Peter Collier’s mob, the privacy crusaders. Jason ratted them out to the CIA in exchange for witness protection, only to find himself betrayed to indefinite interrogation, where he meets Ms Samantha Groves, brought in by Agent Dearborn, who looks incredibly like Sarah Shahi.

Vigilance plan to intercept and kill Jason. Since he’s been digging into Jason’s death, they’ll also kill his foster brother, Sloan. Reese, heading one way, crosses paths with Shaw, heading the other, whilst Root spirits Jason away to a new identity somewhere in paradise. Why does theMachine want to save an expert hacker? That’s a very good question.

Ultimately, Shaw saves Root from execution by Vigilance, although that’s only so she can sock her one, whilst Collier forces Reese to choose between catching him or saving Sloan: no contest.

Root’s fate, for the moment, is imprisonment at the Library, in a steel-caged room that’s constructed to be a Faraday Cage, i.e., no electronic communication can get in or out, not even the Machine. She warns Finch that the Machine will be angry that he’s interfering with ‘her’ plans. Finch counters by asking if Root is sure she isn’t where the Machine wants her to be? We eagerly look forward to the next episode, for more questions, and maybe even some answers…


Film 2019: The Big Sleep

Last of the Bogart box-set, The Big Sleep is an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name, the first to feature private Detective Philip Marlowe. It’s a dark, intriguing film noir, full of betrayals and conspiracies, intricate and clever, whose bittersweet suggestive ending is perhaps the only false note the film suggests.
It’s also very interesting to compare and contrast Bogart’s performance as Marlowe, one of the most iconic figures of Twentieth Century crime fiction, with his portrayal of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Bogart is Bogart in both, but where Spade is blunt and aggressive, Marlowe is witty and cynical. Both are men who refuse to be imposed on, but it is Marlowe whose wit cuts and riles. Bogart is not quite the Marlowe of the series, in the way that the film, though using the title, never explains why. The Big Sleep is death and Marlowe is the man who is himself not mean.
The detective is hired by the elderly General Sternwood (a vivid cameo by Charles Waldron), a dissolute man who has outlived his ability to indulge in his capacity for wildness, but is only too aware that he has passed this capacity on to both of his beautiful daughters. We’ve already met the younger, Carmen, played by the astonishingly beautiful Martha Vickers, who prompts Marlowe into one of the most archetypal Chandler lines of all time when he says, “She tried to sit in my lap, whilst I was standing up.” The line comes from the film not the book: Chandler didn’t write it!
The General’s other daughter, Vivien Ruttledge, is played by Lauren Bacall. She’d already played opposite Bogey in To Have and Have Not, though this was before they’d married, and the film was much changed from its original 1945 cut to extend the relationship between the pair, to cash in on the public’s fascination with Bacall, and to de-emphasise Carmen, who was threatening to overshadow Bacall.
Ostensibly, Bogart has been hired to rid the General of a blackmail threat, based on the mentally deficient Carmen’s seedy activities (the sexual element of the book is heavily suppressed, mostly by omission, thank to the strictures of the Hays Office, the Board of Control, the Censors). Most people, starting with the lovely, cool, defiant Vivien, assume Marlowe’s been hired to find the missing Sean Regan. Regan, ex bootlegger, ex IRA, was the General’s employee, hired to sit and talk and drink, in short, to be a friend, and almost a son. Regan disappeared a month ago, rumoured to have run off with the wife of Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), a gambling mobster.
Marlowe wraps the case around him. The Sternwoods prize privacy, and Marlowe has to dig deep to keep them from becoming associated with the dirt that runs through this matter like poison. Pornography, murder, murder and murder again. There is something poisonous behind everything, acutely foreshadowed by the General’s early remark about orchids being poisoned by the sweetness of corruption. It’s meant as a metaphor for his family blood as passed on to Vivien and Carmen, but it stands for the whole film.
Marlowe isn’t trying to find Sean Regan, but nobody believes him, especially as he keeps his cards close to his chest at every moment. But everybody’s insistence about Regan indicates to him that the Irishman’s fate lies behind everything.
So he pushes on, through warnings from the DA to lay off, through attempts from Vivien to pay him off, through a beatdown from Eddie Mars’ men that leaves him bruised and sore but still digging. Marlowe is relentless, observing and judging, with a fine ear for lies and what lies behind them. And there’s a dirty moment when a quiet man, another shamus, Harry Jones (a wonderful cameo from Elisha Cook Jr., refuses to give up an address to a killer, and dies of poison whilst Marlowe can do nothing but listen.
But this is the level the film operates on. It has its principals, but it refuses to let the little players let it down. Charles D. Brown as Norriss, the Sternwood butler, refusing to allow Marlowe to get a rise out of him with sheer dryness. Dorothy Malone as the bookshop proprietress, teasing the cliché of the girl who becomes beautiful by removing her spectacles and unclipping her hair by already being beautiful with both, and bold with it. The cigarette girls at Eddie’s gambling hell, giving Martha Vickers a run for her money when it comes to great legs.
In the end, as it must, after a whole film’s worth of dirtiness that gets exposed and, to some extent, resolved by Marlowe’s refusal to be deflected from his pursuit of the truth – down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean – the truth comes out. Carmen, who doesn’t like the word no, shot and killed Sean when he refused her advances. Eddie Mars helped Vivien dispose of the body and even sent his wife away to fuel the rumour, although he then started some blackmail of his own. Marlowe forces him into a situation that sees him killed by his own men, a death that ends the corrupt web. He also forces Vivien to have Carmen committed to a psychiatric hospital, and the picture ends with the intimation that he and Vivien will go on to marry. Given the moral strictures imposed by the Hays Office, how the absent Mr Ruttledge will be accounted for, and indeed why he’s absent in the first place, are left to our imagination, and in the case of at least one member of the audience who loves the books, to a complete lack of interest. In the book, Vivien is married to Rusty Regan, giving her much more of a reason to be concerned about an attempt to find him.
My DVD doesn’t advertise itself as re-mastered, but the imagery is sharp and clear and the various shades of light and dark and all the greys between are subtle and varied. So is the film, which is a gem.

Lou Grant: s03 e04 – Charlatan

Cast out by the Church

When your episode title is ‘Charlatan’ and you open with a church service in opulent surroundings, with a well-dressed Minister declaiming above a congregation, it’s not hard to tell where the story is going to go. Nevertheless, the show made its course more complex, and more equivocal than it need do, the result being a thought-provoking episode.

We began with three separate strands, two of which became swiftly intertwined, and a third which seemed irrelevant but which became an important counterpoint to the major story.

The Church was the United Pilgrim’s Crusade, founded and led by Dr Thomas Chamberlain. The Trib’s Religious Affairs writer, Marcus Prescott, was there to conduct a standard profile. Joe Rossi was there because he’d spotted a naked man climbing the Church Tower to display a banner reading ‘God Sees All’. What was it God saw? From the Church’s enthusiasm about their disturbed brother’s privacy, it was clearly something needing investigating, as Rossi automatically assumed. Prescott, the son of a Southern Hellfire preacher, did not see it that way.

Our third strand was a sneaky phonecall to Lou from an Arnold Zinner, soliciting Lou’s support against Prior Restraint, that is, the Law’s intervention to prevent a newspaper publishing something, the very thing the First Amendment prohibits. Of course, from the shifty way he didn’t identify any specifics, we knew what sort of publication Zinnah ran – Grabber magazine, a cross between a pre-National Enquirer cheapie and a low-rent porn monthly, but which happened to have all the names and addresses of all the undercover Narcotics agents in LA (how and why were never explored).

There was a lot of stick over supporting a disgusting rag like that, but Lou held to the principle. Because we all know that it’s the difficult to defend cases that are prosecuted first, because it only takes one case to set a precedent.

This would tie back into the min story in two ways. First, however, a succession of minor matters drew attention to the possibility – to some an evidence-unsupported certainty – that something fishy was going on, that Chamberlain was not as he painted himself, that the United Pilgrim’s Crusade was not a legitimate Church with a genuine doctrine.  Rossi’s convinced this is so. So’s Billie, when she gets brought in on this. Marcus, on the other hand, is far less convinced, considers the evidence too shaky, is blocking the story to the point where Lou takes him off it.

Is he just too (self-)indoctrinated to accept an anti-Church story? Or is he someone who demands a high level of proof because he’s aware of how susceptible people are to anything that appears to tear a minister down? Or is he just not enough of a bastard? Donovan, who sympathises with Prescott, thinks the latter, and it is his encouraging reaction that spurs Marcus back to the story.

There were multiple levels to this. Prescott interviews Agnes Carson (Ruth Silveira), a believer who’d found salvation in Dr Chamberlain, a volunteer who was giving far far too much money to the Church. Lou, Charlie and Mrs Pynchon discuss things with ‘orthodox’ Minister, Dr Bunning. who confesses his suspicions of and distaste for Chamberlain’s church but who implcably opposes stories against them: hurt one religion and you hurt all.

In the end, it’s Prescott who gets the real deal, persuading Smithfield, the naked man, already identified as a fanatic, to give up the print-outs that expose the frauds. Even then, Chamberlain and his business manager Crossley admitted the truth of the facts but not their meaning, heedless  of the figures having gone to the Attorney-General.

No, all of this was Stan’s doing, an attack upon God, by a heathen newspaper, the state, an editor who openly advocated for a pornographer out to destroy their children… Even Agnes Carson told Marcus Prescott he was mistaken, but she was the true Christian amongst them.

And fittingly, the story was left with that ending, no neat little bows of pink ribbon to sign it off, even though all of us, and not merely the cynical, understood where truth lay and that there was no God in God’s Temple. An excellent episode.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Aurelia

When Aurelia was published in 1983, in an edition illustrated by Larry Todd, from Starblaze Books, six years had passed since the publication of a Lafferty novel in mass-market form. By then, it had become abundantly clear to publishers that there was no mass market for R.A. Lafferty. Aurelia was immediately recognisable as one of that tantalising plethora of unpublished novels from Archipelago‘s list, where it had appeared as To Aurelia With Horns.
I’ve got to say that whilst the book itself looks like a handsome presentation, with its bright, quasi-cartoon cover showing the titular character blowing a horn in a meadow, and Todd’s clean, rounded black and white illustrations within, it’s badly in need of a proofreader. There are dozens of mistakes, most often misinterpretations of the text, causing a constant disruption as the reader is momentarily dragged out of the story, to mentally search-and-replace the right word.
Aurelia builds itself off a one-line joke in an early and much respected Lafferty short story. This is ‘Primary Education among the Camiroi’, collected in Nine Hundred Grandmothers (a superb collection). The story is basically about a group of Educators from Earth visiting the Camiroi to examine their education system, which is insanely and impossibly comprehensive and turns out comprehensively competent people. It’s a great goof, with a classic sting at the end, but one of the items on the Camiroi curriculum is World Government. This sounds like a class the American children have. The joke is that the Camiroi mean it literally: their students go off to another world and govern it for one year!
Thus Aurelia. She is a skinny fourteen year old, and one of seven Camiroi children of similar age, who are about to set off to govern worlds. Being Camiroi they have all designed and built their own space ships, full of all the machines and devices that will ensure a safe flight to their chosen planet, avoidance of danger and good landing. Not so Aurelia. She is the most awkward of the bunch. The list of things she has forgotten to incorporate in her ship grows ever longer.
As a result, Aurelia takes off badly, has a rotten flight and crashes on her planet. It is not the planet of her choice (Aurelia has forgotten to build the necessary guidance). In fact, she doesn’t even know what planet it is she has landed upon: is it Skokumchuck? is it Thieving Bear Planet? is it Gaea or Hellpepper World (we sure hope it’s not Hellpepper World). Aurelia continually asks and the people of this planet always deflect her questions.
Though the course advice is to land in secret and study the world a bit before starting to govern it, Aurelia crash lands, all horns blowing (to try to get the planet to move out of the way first). The discordancy of her horns sees her immediately taken up by the young, who have rejected music and only worship discordant notes (do I detect a little prejudice here?).
But Aurelia is taken up by many people, not least the tycoon Rex Golightly, who provides for her and loves her as if she is one of his daughters, who provides her with the world’s best bodyguard, Marshall Straightstreet, or is he Julio Cordovan,the man of a thousand faces (or are there two of them and both the same man?)
She encounters the Press in the forms of Jimmy Candor and Susan Pishcala. She meets international criminals such as Blaise Genet, Julio Cordovan, Helen Staircase and Karl Talion. She becomes the object of a cult that adores her, and another that wants to kill her. At the same time, she is denying any kinship with her Dark Companion, Cousin Clootie, who is the Anti-Aurelia.
The book builds massive walls of confusion around itself. Aurelia is everything she should not be, and during the course of the story, which covers about a week from Aurelia’s startling arrival and her improbable but unanimously foretold death at the hands of the worm with the pistol, she doesn’t actually govern anything. She becomes surrounded with factions, in her favour and against her, and she grows in stature from her ultra-klutzy beginning to her three day wanderings, issuing sermons four times a day about what the world should be and what people should be.
I get the impressions that these pronouncements, coming from an odd but not unattractive philosophical basis, are the main purpose of the book for Lafferty, as if Aurelia and her misadventures are just a context for expressing these, but the book is still full of interest and improbability. Lafferty makes the odd satirical jab at what he dislikes about modern society (we know the book must have been written by 1979 at the latest, and remember, he was 65 that year), but these often come with quite hilarious humour.
There’s a scene where a man, on the basis of sexual freedom, tries to force himself on Aurelia, which causes her to tie the Impossible Knot in it, which to undo involves pulling the entire Universe through a loop, but there’s also a lovely scene in the latter half of the book when a boy her own age is touchingly enamoured of her and shyly asks if he could ever get to kiss her: Aurelia points him to the ‘Kiss a Girl of your Choice’ booth and tells him to buy a ticket. The lad buys one hundred, and by the end of the afternoon has used fifty of them!
Even this sweet little romance has its joke as the lad ventures to wonder if they might, ever, you know. Aurelia, a little put upon at this moment, points out that they’re from different planets (and which World is this one anyway?) and shoots questions at him about their physical differences. How many chromosomes does he have? Well, go and count them!
Like every Lafferty book, these are only a fraction of the things it contains. There is always more. Every corner contains things and there are more corners than any normal geometry allows. It’s not one of the major Lafferty novels, and like all of them it leaves you shaking your head and wondering, just what was that I just read? Think about it. You can spend a lifetime asking yourself, just what was that anyway?