Lou Grant: s03 e18 – Censored


Lasagne with American cheese

It began with a burning and it ended with a burning. At first it was just books, but by the end it included album covers, magazines and even television sets. It was creepy, because bok-burnings are always creepy, because they’re about trying to stop ideas existing and especially about keeping the young from finding out anything that doesn’t replicate their perents’ beliefs, that might change them out of being mindless, ignorant copies of their parents. How is it good parenting, true parenting, true love for a boy or a girl you have created to want them to be less than they can possibly be?

There were two censorship stories in this episide of Lou Grant but one was lightweuight and comic, aptly so because it involved Charlie Hume refusing to run a satirical cartoon strip that accused a California Senator of being in Arab politics, the fuss it caused, the Senator’s refusal, to take legal action and the cartoonist suing the Trib for breach of contract for failing to publish. That”s still censorship, but it’s the very thin end of the wedge.

The thick end is Altamira, where the book-burning(s) are takiing place. Rossi went out there to investigate, armed with an introduction to Mitchell Webster (Richard Dysart, later of LA Law), editor of the local newspaper and an old buddy of Lou. Webster had changed though. It was obvious from the outset, his overplayed avuncularity, his Altamira-is-a-nice-town-full-of-nice-people schtick.

But a very popular, very enthusiastic, very thought-provoking teacher Marilyn Keefer (Laurie Heineman) had been fired for refusing to drop books that are part of the National Curriculum, books with ‘radical’ ideas, asnd wound up working in a cowboy bar in a bare mid-riff fringed top and probably the shortest skirt in the entire run (so short we weren’t allowed more than tjhe briefest glimpse of the approximate position of its hem). She filled in Rossi on the Paul Revere Society, a self-appointed groupn of concerned citizens, out to drive ‘progressive’ ideas out alongside the ‘filth’.

There was also Irene Teal (Karen Ingenthron), the Librarian who brought her daughter here after her divorce, to live in a quiet, peaceful, nice town, who has to deal with famous and classic books being removed from the shelves, who has to accept borrowers editing The Catcher in the Rye by cutting out lines they don’t like with scissors, turning pages into doilies, who goes to dinner with Rossi in a place that makes lasagne with American cheese because she’s afraid for her job if she’s seen talking to him.

There’s the owner of the motel where Rossi’s staying, who takes out the televisipn to burn it, and bans it at home, because a popular character in a popular sitcom mentions being on the Pill.

Webster, an aptly chosen name is the spider in the centre, lying stories, slanted stories, praising the Paul Revere Society before they’d even formed, running their PO Box, creating, not reporting the news. And why? His son Jim, a Vietnam vet, died in 1969. not from the war, but from getting mixed up with drugs when he got back to LA (the episode was rigidly silent on the possibility that Jim Webster got hooked on drugs in Vietnam as a response to such a shitty war because if it hadn’t been you would never have seen this episode). Webster was out to stop the corruption spreading.

He was a fightened and confused man. They were all frightened and confused men and women, well-meaning and, in a way that would get the episode on the air, they were immocent. They wanted the best for their children and their neighbours.

And what made this episode horrible to bear was they we are their future. this episode was broadcast in January 1980. Before the year was out, Ronald Reagan would be elected President on a rising tide of fear, selfishness and conservatism (for what else is conservatism but the denand that you should do only what I allow?) This was a warning of what has become Trump and Johnson, with no end in sight, only we missed all the signs. We thought they had good intentions. We thought that they were just misguided.

But they burnt books out of fear of what was in them. The people who do that cannot ever be trusted to leave you alone. And too many still can’t see that.

Once Upon a Time in Amber: The Guns of Avalon


‘Horned God’ First British paperback

The Guns of Avalon was the book that introduced me to the Chronicles of Amber, sometime in 1974, when I was eagerly exploring as much SF and Fantasy as I could carry home from the Library. In this case, it was Manchester Central Library, the one we all called Central Ref for short. I caught sight of Patrick Woodruffe’s splendid ‘Horned God’ cover, read the blurb, chanced the book and introduced myself to Roger Zelazny. It was the only book of the Chronicles that I read out of order, it was the most recent book to have been published, in 1972.
When I finally got to read it, on order from another branch, before buying my first copies for myself, I thought Nine Princes in Amber was not as good as this. Nearing fifty years on, I still think that. The Guns of Avalon has the advantage that all the complex exposition as to the characters and the setting has been laid out. It doesn’t need to do any more than provide brief recaps at various points and thus can concentrate on being a more direct action story. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to bounce around so many places and scenes, so Zelazny can take things more slowly, more smoothly, and vary the pace so that, overall, Avalon is a slower but more solid book, leading into a more cliffhanger ending.
Storywise, the book again offers the traditional three Act structure. Act One sees Corwin of Amber land after his sea-voyage and set-off to find a Shadow of his favourite Shadow, the land of Avalon, long since collapsed into Chaos. He is diverted to the land of Lorraine, ruled by Ganelon, once an adherent of Corwin’s in Avalon, long since exiled here for betraying him. L:orraine is affected by something called the Dark Circle, home to monsters and evil that is slowly expanding to encompass all the realm. The Dark Circle is the local form of Corwin’s curse: he stays to regain his former fitness and to defeat the Circle in this place.
In Act Two, Corwin completes his journey to Avalon, now accompanied by Ganelon as his aide. Guns don’t work in Amber because gunpowder is inert there, as are practically every other form of accelerant. But long ago, by accident, Corwin discovered that jeweller’s rouge from Avalon burns in Amber. He plans to lay in stocks. But Avalon has just defeated a Dark Circle kind of threat of its own, defeated – at the cost of a severed arrm – by its Protector. And that Protector is Benedict of Amber, Corwin’s oldest brother, the one for whom he has the most liking and respect, not to mention fear: Benedict is the Master of Arms for Amber, its greatest tactician, strategist, General and fighter. Corwin is welcome to rest in Avalon but not to further any attack on Amber, which is under constant attack from strange, foul creatures along a Black Road that cuts through Shadow, whose further end would seem most likely to be the Courts of Chaos. Corwin gets his rouge, takes a sidetrip to an equivalent of South Africa’s diamond fields to just pick them up out of the sand, and leaves. But before doing so, he meets Dara, a fresh, attractive 19 year old who he learns is Benedict’s great-granddaughter. He teaches her about Amber and Shadow. He also seduces her. When Benedict pursues him, Corwin assumes that it is this that has enraged his brother enough to want his head. Instead, Benedict accuses him of murder. Thanks to a trap involving the local manifestation of the Black Road, Corwin disables Benedict and escapes.
The final Act begins with an interlude on Shadow Earth. Corwin arranges for his special military equipment and even visits his former, still-intact home as ‘Carl Corey’, where he finds a message from Eric, asking his alliance against Amber’s enemies, or at least his forebearance from attacking until this threat is dispelled. Naturally, Corwin rejects the idea. He recruits a guerilla army from the hairy clawed Shadow he used before and leads a sneak attack over the mountain, Kolvir. This coincides with a massive attack along the Black Road, forcing Corwin to intervene on Amber’s side. But Eric is wounded, fatally, leaving Corwin in charge for practical purposes.
But his foray is interrupted by Dara, obsessive about reaching Amber and walking the Pattern, unrealistic about the reasons why she can’t. During the battle, she bursts through, aiming for the Palace. Benedict disowns her, filling Corwin with dread. He gets to the Pattern in time to watch Dara complete it, changing shapes a dozen times. From its centre, she tells him he is exactly too late. She disappears with the words, ‘Amber will be destroyed’.

US trade paperback

Up to and including this point, The Guns of Avalon is a direct sequel to Nine Princes in Amber, linearly and thematically. Until the very end, Corwin is still pursuing the throne of Amber. We meet two more brothers in Benedict and Gerard, we meet Dara, who purports to be a much younger generation of Amberite, we have our first, but by no means last ‘hellride’, that is, a passage during which Corwin travels in Shadow in an accelerated state, depicted in an abstract sequence of changing images.
But we don’t add much to the original set-up, until the irrationally obsessive but young and inexperienced Dara reaches the Pattern and transforms into an enemy intent on the destruction of Amber.
I’ve already stated my belief that when he started the First Chronicles, Zelazny had either no specific ending in mind, or that he had an ending that he later abandoned, realising that it was inadequate as underestimating the richness of possibility that Substance, Shadow and Chaos presented. And it’s my belief, based on the change that hits the series as of the next book, that this came now.
The two books still, to me, read and feel like the first two books of an enjoyable but underambitious trilogy. The Guns of Avalon has served the purpose of a middle book, extending the story to a turning point that sets up a grand finale: more of the same but sufficiently different to keep them reading.
There’s still the overuse of cheapjack Earth similes at nearly every turn, though nothing quite so egregious as in Nine Princes. There’s the Black Road, and its forerunner, the Dark Circle, openly established as the outcome of Corwin’s curse and no other, creating the ironic set-up that, now he has all but secured the Crown of Amber, he must defend it against his own work.
There is a relatively minor change of detail in the book. When his memories – true memories – are restored via the Pattern in Rebma, Corwin is adamant that there are/were a total of twenty-three siblings: fifteen brothers, six of them dead, eight sisters, two, possibly four of them dead. Here, the total is reduced to the thirteen live ones and a handful of deceased, who barely matter (these will be further reduced to brothers Osric and Finndo, senior to Benedict, who died ‘for the good of Amber’). Zelazny never tries to explain the discrepancy.
And there’s Ganelon. Ganelon was exiled from the real Avalon by hellride, centuries before. It’s one hell of a coincidence for Corwin to be diverted to Lorraine, where he is its protector, though the means by which Ganelon loses his hatred for Corwin is not merely plausible but well laid out. He’s a trusted aide, a sounding board, and asker of questions useful to the reader.
But he’s not what he seems, and when it becomes clear that a hidden hand is operating, it’s not hard to work out the truth. But that’s only in a later book. In The Guns of Avalon, Ganelon may not be only what he seems to be, and nothing more: he’s perfectly placed to be revealed as an imposter. But he’s not who Zelazny decides he will be, not yet, not whilst we’re in the first stage of the series.
It would be another three years, and two more intervening novels, before Sign of the Unicorn was published, time for ample thought. Ample thought indeed.

Second UK paperback in themed covers

Person of Interest: s03 e19 – Most Likely To…


Betty and Frank

It’s off the top of my head, I know, but I’m struggling to think of another episode of Person of Interest, or any series for that matter, that so successfully navigates the transition from genuinely comic dislocation to the sudden and most serious of wide-ranging danger, to end with a step off a diving board into waters cold and bleak, whose depth is unguessable.

And in addition to that, portraying these various moods and modes with an equal level of attention and as an organic, integrated package.

‘Most Likely To…’ began in deliberately standard operating mode, Reese and Shaw staking out the Number of the Week, Leona Wainwright, Personnel Secretary, in Town to see a musical (Mamma Mia). Who, What, Why, When and Where, the usual quinella, except that Leona is attacked in a taxicab which is blown up in front of everybody’s eyes. This is not standard operating mode: Team Machine has lost a Number.

This leads directly to a split in forces. A new Number is already in, Federal Prosecutor Matthew Read (Nestor Carbonel) attending something in Westchester that, to the vast dismay of Reese and (especially) Shaw turns out to be a 20 year High School Reunion. Shaw is convinced they’re being punished, and for once you’ve got to take that seriously.

Meanwhile, Finch and Fusco are off to Washington to investigate what information Leona Wainwright had that would make her a target for… yes, you guessed it, Vigilance.

So we have competing storylines, one deadly serious except for Fusco’s constant caustic commentary. He and Finch find the FBI ahead of them, removing every document from the office, and have to break into the FBI Evidence Locker to find it. Given that Miss Wainwright (she did not strike you, in her brief appearance, as one who would be married, with two children and a white picket fence, and certainly not an active sex-life) dealt with security clearances, her records would include the name of every security operative the US has.

Be warned, though. This is a red herring.

Whilst this is going on, ‘Frank Mercer’ and ‘Betty Wright’ find themselves plunged without warning into the company of total strangers who they are supposed to know from twenty years before, who know and remember them from that time, and about whom they haven’t a clue. Shy, braces-wearing, overweight, frizzy-haired ‘Betty’ attracts a lot of attention, as anyone would if they’d turned from that into Sarah Shahi. ‘Frank’ also atracts attention, from stoner Toke, an old buddy who’s thankfully out of it, but also from a succession of attractive women – brunette, blonde, redhead, so wonderfully colour-coded – each of whom walk up to him and slap him across the face.

But amidst this wonderfully silly stuff there’s a serious issue. Twenty years ago, a girl named Clair died of an overdose. She was Matthew Reed’s girlfriend, and everybody blamed him for it, and someone has a lot of stunts rigged to thrust her in front of everyone, to shame, embarrass, humiliate Matthew.

Except, as things modulate from light to darkness, he’s set it all up himself. He’d never been back for any previous Reunion. He’d spent twenty years blaming himself for driving Clair to suicide over his flirting with someone else, until he started looking at the case and thinking like a Prosecutor, not a boyfriend. And identified class nerd Dougie, Clair’s shoulder-to-cry-on, the one who would be a lover but had been irreversibly friend-zoned.

And Matthew’s set Dougie up to commit suicide out of remorse for what he did to Clair, drugging her up to make her more… relaxed. As in inert and unable to resist the rape that would have followed if Dougie hadn’t overdosed her.

Sands shift, the Number is a would-be perpetrator who couldn’t go through with it anyway. But without realising it, we are on a diving board as walking towards its end.

Because the High School erupts with overkill shooting in an attempt to kill Reese and Shaw. They’re not the only imposters there, as Vigilance have a man there, their whereabouts leaked by Root to draw Vigilance out into the open.

Unfortunately they’re in the open in Washington as well, and this time it’s Peter Collier himself, invading the evidence locker, confronting Finch, who’s just gotten Leona’s safe open stealing the folder. Collier’s going to take Finch as well, except that Root shows up, two guns blazing.

But Collier gets away with the folder.

And then we’re off the diving board and into the cold, dark water. Because Vigilance disseminates the folder world-wide. And the world learns that massive sums of money have secretly gone into something called Northern Lights, a massive surveillance system…

And Senator Ross H. Garrison (the ever-excellent John Doman), denying everything furiously, orders Control to shut the programme down. Shut the Machine down. And against her judgement… she does.

But the Machine shifts itself to commence Tertiary Operations.

What is it all about? Even without the benefit of hindsight and foreknowledge, it’s not difficult to see where this is leading. The Government has lost its greatest weapon in the fight against terrorism. It is blind and naked in the dark, privacy restored: Vigilance’s aim.

And there is a void. A space vacated by an Artificial Intelligence. Is there another AI, ready and waiting? Boys and girls, can you spell S-A-M-A-R-I-T-A-N?

Film 2020: Control


I can’t really say that I was there. Most of what happened with Joy Division happened when I was living away from Manchester for the only time, in Nottingham, which was hardly a punk city. I got to see Joy Division live twice, both times as support, once in Nottingham, once in Manchester, in those two years I lived there. The only part of the story I was truly present for was Ian Curtis’s suicide, closer than I might wish, for one of the Partners in my new firm was the Coronor who conducted the inquest.

But I hate the very idea of reviewing this film as a film, because it is part of my life, and because I wasn’t really any further distant from it than any other Joy Division fan in anything but geography.

Yes, I see the disclaimer in the credits about how incidebnts have been dramatised, and the comments from the likes of Hooky that it isn’t the truth because the truth was more boring, but I’ve owned Deborah Curtis’s Touching from a Distance since it came out in paperback and I lived through the Seventies in Manchester when all this takes place and the re-creation is exact. We sounded like that, we looked like that it was as shitty as that.

And I loved Joy Division’s music more than I ever loved anybody else’s, not even R.E.M. or Shawn Colvin who I had the pleasure of for decades, literal decades, not the twelve to fifteen months of Joy Division before that horifying shock announced by John Peel at the start of a Monday night programme.

And I will never forget the feeling of unease at listening to the lyrics of ‘Love will tear us apart’ as a single, knowing of why Ian Curtis had killed himself, and wondering if I really should be listening to something so personal, which was already my favourite song ever, and still is.

I can’t begin to analyse this because I lived it and the film is too much like living it again. The cast are brilliant and even what is false feels real because I was there, at a distance but there.

No Thoughts: Birds of Prey (etc.)


I went to the cinema this afternoon to see Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) expecting to come back and write one of my ‘Uncollected Thoughts’ about it. But I won’t. Don’t go to this film expecting a stiory because it deliberately rejects the idea of story, preferring to racket around in explosions and slow-motion violence that is colourful and cartoony Two of its pricipal five characters bear little or no resemblance to their comic book originals and the film drops a considerable number of F-Bombs and MotherF-Bombs (there’s one of the latter on the soundtrack). Sure, it’s vigorous, and you can liberally scatter the Z-word all over it (zany, you numbskulls) and a lot of people will enjoy its complete rejection of conventional story-telling. I’m not telling you too not go to see it, just to not blame me if you do.

You should stare at the poster for 150 minutes instead