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02 May

Reread: The Castle of the Winds – Winter of the World Part 4

The Castle of the Winds is the fourth book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and the first part of a 2 book arc.

See review of book 1 – The Anvil of Ice, book 2 – The Forge In The Forest and book 3 – The Hammer of the Sun.

After a short break I picked up again re-reading the Winter of the World series. Book 4 (and 5 and i think 6 too) is a prequel to the original trilogy. Returning after a 10 year break Rohan returns to the world just a few generations after Vayde had arrived in the West.

This books protagonists are Kunrad, a mastersmith and his two apprentices Olvar and Gille. The two apprentices really just play a minor support role throughout the book which is unfortunate given than book 5 follows their adventures a few years later (spoiler, they don’t die in this one).

Kunrad is an interesting character and the entire book is about his growth and change. Unfortunately the balance is a bit skewed into discussing him, leaving everyone else as barely fleshed out at all.

The book starts in Athalby, in the north east and shows the mastersmith working on a piece of armour with the help of his two apprentices. The town and area are gradually explored as well as the forthcoming fair. Merthian, a southern Lord arrives at this fair, becomes obsessed with the armour being made by Kunrad and robs him of it. Kunrad chases after them, first going north to the ice and then south.

The chase is interesting, showing the politics of the time as they come upon towns robbed by Merthian too and try to get aid. Eventually ending up in the marshlands having been captured by corsairs. This is where there is a lull in the book. They are imprisoned and forced to smith (sounds familiar from previous books). Then using their skill manage to escape. Whilst still fleeing they encounter a party on the road comprising of Princess Alais Kermorvan and her guards. They help fend off the pursuing corsairs. They carry on together to the nearest Lords castle (the castle in the winds) and Kunrad is again, captured and being told he has to smith for his captor. The recycling of plot lines from previous books and even chapters does not work for me.

To leave out further spoilers Alais is from the family of royalty from Kerys we encountered in the earlier trilogy although I can’t remember if the characters from this book were named in that trilogy – given Kunrad starts work on the Great Causeway it’s possible they were but the significance was not known at the time.

One section I found amusing was that towards their last scenes in the book the Princess Alais just wants to go home to the house she grew up in which had a lemon tree in the garden. Given this came out 2 years after A Game of Thrones and the Appendix also describes the world as these realms of Ice and fire this has to be a deliberate nod?

17 Mar

Once In A Lifetime

Over the past week there has been a great uptick in the number of people complaining about something being “once in a lifetime”. This has confused me as I thought I understood what that phrase meant.

The root of the issue is that during the run up to #indyref, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond described the referendum as once in a lifetime/generation. Their upset is that this means it should only happen once in a lifetime/generation.

I have always understood the meaning to be:

A once-in-a-lifetime experience or opportunity is very special because you will probably only have it once:
A tour of Australia is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

see also:

(of a chance or experience) unlikely to occur more than once in a person’s life.
‘being part of the Commonwealth Games has been a once in a lifetime experience’

These sources both explain it as something likely to happen once in your lifetime. This article about Haleys Comet quotes an astronomer saying that seeing it is a once in a lifetime event.
No doubt the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party will be campaigning for the comet not to return should some of their membership have been born before 1986 and still be alive in 2061. Which, given the average age of their membership is highly likely to be most of them. Or the majority. Or the largest grouping. All numerical descriptions they also have problems with.

14 Mar

Save Ends

I bought a collection of music from the label Black Numbers as part of the ACLU fundraiser. Working through the music and hearing some awesome stuff including Fucko, I then hit Save Ends – Hug Your Friends.

The contrasting dual vocals immediately reminded me of Rainer Maria. One of my favourite bands, who I first heard weeks before they split.

I grabbed their other EPs and tried to find their album Warm Hearts, Cold Hands. Discogs was a bust, all the sellers were in the US so charging a fortune for postage. I hunted around and couldn’t find any distros etc having it. Eventually a copy was spied on eBay for cheapness in the UK.

I had listened to the EPs, but decided to hold off on the album until it arrived, which was pretty damn difficult.

Punkorama 30 starts with a cool riff repeated and a decent instrumental section.

Cause we have got all these good friends
We lead fortunate lives
Wouldn’t change what I’ve got

And that’s how the album carries on with every track being a banger.

I knew nothing about the band until I heard the EP, on a search I found this interview with their guitarist which mentions their origin – they all played Dungeons and Dragons together.

21 Dec

2016 In Music

2016 has been an absolute stonker of a year for music.

Gigs

The Fun Lovin’ Criminals were in Glasgow for their 20th Anniversary Tour. I couldn’t resist getting tickets to my favourite live band. They also released a Come Find Yourself – 20th Anniversary Edition on vinyl which may or may not be sitting in my cabinets. They were incredible as usual.

Also on a nostalgia trip were Kerbdog, who recently reformed and have been touring their old work and a few new songs. Great live, with top quality banter about their top 37 hits etc. Great support from Elk Gang.

The Smith Street Band were touring and didn’t make it to Dundee this time. Another trip to Weegieville to see these fantastic guys.

Book Yer Ane Fest X proved to be best weekend of the year again. Make That A Take consistently knock it out of the park with this event and their season ticket deal. This year you got BYAF, a bunch of other gigs and 8 Releases for £100. I made sure to grab mine for next year, get one whilst they are available. This years fest included 3 days of events across 4 venues including a comedy set and a film showing. Every year the breadth of material increases.

New Releases

New Releases from this year included a bunch of stuff from unknown/small bands as well as some big hitters.

Tim Loud – What Am I? enjoyable folk punk.
Yndi Halda – Under Summer the welcome return of a band who released one of my favourite albums ever: Enjoy Eternal Bliss
The Murderburgers – The 12 Habits Of Highly Defective People top weegie punks return with their bazillions line up with their best album yet.
Lachance – Sunrise fantastic emo record. Unfortunately, it was undermined by the next release.
Stöj Snak – Screamersongwriter was released a week or after Lachance, and instantly went on repeat. Back in June I queried if it was album of the year. I think it was.
Green Day – Revolution Radio was a surprise release, helping you forget the previous stinkers they spewed out. Inherint nostalgia says it can’t be as good as Insonmiac/Nimrod/Dookie era, but anyone else releasing it would have blown you away.
Billy Liar, Paper Rifles – Refugee Survival Trust Benefit Split Single great split by 2 great guys for a great cause. Get it bought.
Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack – can’t say I’ve listened to it enough to praise or not, enjoyable as always though.
Elk Gang – Hours Pass available on tape and the cd (with bonus tracks). Really good.
Clearer The Sky – Held In Merciful Light brilliant record, and brilliant live at BYAF too.
The Burnt Tapes – Besides grand punks.
Sink Alaska – Battle Lines From Better Times melodic punk offshoot from Beauty School Droupouts
Paper Rifles – And Then Came The Tourists after managing to acquire a full band they just got better.
American Football – American Football. After a 17 year wait they returned with a second album.
Chris T-T – 9 Green Songs brilliant folk and spoken poetry work.

I also got the new album by Hollie McNish but haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. She is amazing though so I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

I’ve also spent a bit of time sorting out my music collection, but that mind follow in a future post.

01 Dec

What You Shouldn’t Ask A DJ

After seeing a couple of funny things DJs have been asked style posts I thought I would compile a list of a few belters. No apologies for forgetting exact quotes or munging quotes from Tired and emotional people to make it more coherent or compressing multiple very similar incidents into one. I was originally intending to do a list containing cool things which happened too but those are nowhere near as interesting or funny.

1. At a night playing funk/soul/hip hop etc.

Punter: “Can you play some Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Scooby Snacks”.
Me: “Yeah sure, was gonna be putting on in a few songs anyway.”
*whilst Scooby Snacks is playing*
Punter: “When are you playing my request?”
Me: “It’s on right now”
Punter: “What’s this?”

2. At a night playing funk/soul/hip hop etc.

*playing some song with funk in the title*

Punter: “Why are you playing this?”
Me: “Because it was a request and it’s a funk night”
Punter: “But this is a metal club”
Me: “No, this is an alternative club”
Punter: “No, it’s a metal club and has always been a metal club and only plays metal. I used to come 10 years ago when it was only metal”
Me: “You mean back when it had Industrial, Dance and Punk nights too? It was never just a metal night”.
Punter: “Well I came all the way from Arbroath and you should play only metal”
Me: “That will be tomorrow, when it’s the metal night”.
Punter: “But it’s always the metal night here” Loop to start.

3. At a night playing funk/soul/hip hop etc.

Punter: *usual whining about it only ever being metal in this club*
Me: “Sorry, this is the 4 times a year soul night. All the metal you want tomorrow, or we can chuck on something from _wide variety list of genres_”
Punter: “well I came for metal, so what are you going to do for me”
Me: “Well if listen to probably any music in the world which isn’t metal it will probably fit in somewhere. What else do you like?”
Punter: “You should do something for me, I only want to hear metal”
Me: “What I can do is recommend the metal night tomorrow, or alternatively request something not metal…”

4. Punter: “Can you play X song?”
Me: “sorry I don’t have it, I have these 3 other albums by them?”
Punter: “You played it last week”
Me: “I wasn’t DJing last week, someone else may have had it and played it but I don’t”
Punter: “But you played it last week”

5. Punter: “Can you play X song”
Me: “sure, in about 20 minutes we have similar stuff queued so will play alongside songs Y and Z”.
*plays song at time estimated after Y and Z*
*10 minutes afterwards
Punter: “Can you play X song”
Me: “I already did”
Punter: “Well I’ve been outside for the last half hour crying so can you play it again?”
Me: “no…”

6A. *plays new song by X band*
Punter: “can you play X band?”
Me: “I already did – the last song”
Punter: “No not the new stuff, I don’t know that, _the old overplayed song_”
Me: “….”

6B. The next weekend, someone else.
*plays old song by X band as requested the week before”
Punter: “why are you playing this song, you always play it, play the new song”
Me: *daggers*

6C.
Week 1 *play popular song 1 by band X to a full dance-floor*
Week 4 *play popular song 2 by band X to a full dance-floor”
Week 8 *play popular song 1 by band X to a full dance-floor”
Punter: “Why are you playing this, you play this every week”
Me: “I didn’t play it last time I was on as I’d played it the last time I was on before then which was 2 months ago”
Punter: “But you play this every week so you should play song 2 to mix it up”
Me: *daggers*

7a:
Finish night with huge pile of request slips after leaving loads out on tables etc. Managed to play at least 1 song from every list.
Facebook notification at end of weekend: “Review of club: 1/5 no one ever plays any requests”

7b:
Punter1 who is friendly and dances all night: every other week for months: “Can you play some industrial”
Me: “sorry it’s a bit late, if you’d asked earlier I would, also if you give me a couple of tracks and I can put those one”
Punter1 then has injury so can’t dance but still comes out every other night for weeks.
Punter1 returns, early and asks for industrial
Me: “of course” *throws on 2 songs* then continue with punk for rest of the night.
Facebook notification at end of night from Punter2: “Review of club: 1/5 all I heard was Drum and Bass, if I wanted to hear that I’d go to local pop club”

8. At punk night:
Punter: “Can you play Metallica*”
Me: “No sorry, I don’t have any”
Punter: “but you have to play them, they are great”
Me: “I neither like them or their music, so don’t have any. I prefer Napster”.
Punter: “but you should listen to them they are the best band in the world ever”.

*see also fanboys, and it’s always boys, of any band.

9. At punk night.
*week after Pantera singer shouts “white power” on stage and gives Nazi salutes*
Punter in Pantera shirt: “Can you play Pantera”
Me: “Not gonna be happening at a punk night, especially this week”
Punter: “why not?”

10a. Punter: “please play X song so that this girl will have sex with me”
Me: “not seeing any reason to convince _me_”…

10b. After a long week at work, with co-DJ who has had a long stressful work too. Both of whom were up at around 7, working til 5, then will be working from 10:30ish to about 3. So each getting home 21 hours after waking up after working about 13 hours.

Punter from 10a: “Can you play *big list of stuff*”
Me: “We’ll try and play some of that, but not X and Y which we played already”
Punter: “But I have a very stressful, important, well paid job so you should do it for me”
Us: “…”
Punter: “But my work is really important which is why I’m paid so well for it so now is the time I get to have fun”
Us: “…”
Punter: “I’ll buy you a drink”
Me: “I’m cool man” *points to drink* “that will do me til we close”
Punter: “please play X song so my girlfriend will have sex with me”.
Me: *clicks that this is the same guy from before but unsurprisingly different girl*
I tell story of 10a to other DJ and we laugh, he then repeatedly comes up and requests stuff and generally being a pain in the ass.
It’s the end of the night so we start playing some of the more popular songs, floor fillers etc
Punter then keeps coming to the booth to pester us over various stuff, verging between complaining we suck to offering us money and alcohol to play music so his girlfriend will have sex with him. He also returns with cans of energy drinks for us just as we are winding down to the end of the night…
Punter: “Can you not play some real punk”
Me: “That’s not a discussion that makes anyone come out looking good”
Punter: “Ah see you don’t like real proper punk, only pop music, like this”
Me: *glancing down at the Kaospilot (Norwegian hardcore band) t-shirt I’m wearing, whose music I played as first song*
Me: “er, so what do you think is the real punk music we should be playing as the last 5 songs before we close”
Punter: *names totally niche punk bands whose requests being played are normally met with an empty dance-floor*
Me: “whilst we have a full dance-floor?”
Punter: “of course, if they like real punk music they will love it”
Us: *waves of loathing emanating*
Me: “Tell you what, at the end of this punk night we will play the most punk song we can find”
Punter: “awesome”
Punter: *continues to pester us*
Final song: Something by Taylor Swift
Punter: “wtf!!”
Everyone else in the club: *dancing and over-spilling the floor onto the surrounding area*
Punters Girlfriend: *going nuts on the dance-floor*
Us: “what’s more punk than playing this at a punk night”
Punters Girlfriend: *drags him onto floor*

11. Punter: “Hey man, know where I can get some drugs?”
Me: “sorry man, not the kinda club for that”
Punter: “But do you know anyone I can go speak to?”
Me: “That guy can maybe sort you out then”
Me: *points to barman having a night off who is quite near a member of security*

12a. Punter: “pestering for Korn”
Me to DJ2: “I like Korn but we just played some heavier stuff like 10 minutes ago and don’t wanna play more now that we are playing _ska or something_”
DJ2: *queues up Korn vs Skrillex mashup.

12b. Same except Korn: Shoots and Ladders

13. Punter: “Can you play Nickelback?”
Me: “never”

14. Punter: “Can you play Halo by Soil?
Me: “I don’t have it. Deliberately”
Punter: “But it’s always on”
Me: “Yes, I’ve heard it every metal night I’ve ever been at for 15 years”

See also the “why don’t you play something new?” punters.

15. Someone has just face-planted on the not-huge dance-floor whilst holding a glass. Looks like they have lost some teeth and possibly broken their nose. Throw the lights on and call for security to get first aid. Once they are helped by paramedics someone starts clearing the dance-floor of the glass, alcohol and blood now on it etc. When they hurt themselves we were due to close in 20minutes. There is now about 7minutes before close.

Punter: “So are you starting again?”
Me: “Someone is still cleaning the blood on the dance-floor up from where that lass fell”
Punter: “yeah but we can dance around it”

10 Aug

Star Trek Deep Space 9: Season One

I never really liked Star Trek: The Original Series. A pile of the films were bad too. There I said it.

As a kid in the 80s I did however love Star Trek: The Next Generation. I tried to re-watch Season 1 again a few years ago and remembered it having a few stinkers. I can’t remember why I never really got into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I think I only started watching it around Season 4 or so when Worf joined the crew. At that point I thought it was great. I did then watch Star Trek: Voyager. Which again had a pile of stinkers but some really cool concepts.

One thing I didn’t do though was go back and watch the rest of DS9. I had intended to watch TNG/DS9/Voyager in order at some point. Netflix scooping them all up has made it possible. I figured though, that as I had already seen the others I’d start with DS9. That way if it was removed before I finished all 3 series it wouldn’t be so bad.

So I dumped my comic backlog aside and started watching DS9 Season One. It was a mixed bag and there are definitely some great elements to it, but some of the bad is really really bad. I’ll try to give a short overview of each episode and what I liked/disliked about each as well as links to the excellent Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki.

The background to the show is that the Cardassians have been an occupying force on the planet Bajor. They also controlled a space station nearby called Terok Nor which was originally built by Bajoran slave labourers. After 50 years of occupation they withdraw leaving the station behind. Over the period of occupation Bajoran freedom fighters/terrorists (depending which side you are on) fought back against the Cardassians. Starfleet has sent a delegation to run the station to keep the peace among the transition to a new free Bajor. The hope obviously being that Bajor will join the Federation.

First view of Deep Space 9

First view of Deep Space 9

Unlike previous exploration series of Star Trek this one is set in a fixed location with small expeditions out. Focusing on geopolitics and long story arcs it really is very different and ground breaking. It definitely follows previous shows in tackling social issues especially tackling religion and spirituality, albeit some clumsily and also highlights other issues in troubling ways which aren’t really addressed. But I’ll come to that later.

I’m starting to write this whilst half way through season 2 with only fleeting knowledge of later events so I’ll try to discuss things with the knowledge of the show as you are watching it. I expect to fail and be ignorant of how important things are later.

Episode 1/2: Emissary

The new commander of the station Benjamin Sisko arrives alongside his son Jake. His wife had died previously in the battle at Wold 359 so there is tension with Jean Luc Picard with the Enterprise involved. This allows O’Brien, Keiko and their daughter Molly to transfer. This hand off from the still continuing TNG show helps introduce audiences to already known characters.

O'Brien, Ben and Jake step onto the station

O’Brien, Ben and Jake step onto the station

On the station in this episode are a number of new characters, some fully fleshed out characters of their race who had previously been in an episode or 2 of previous shows. Major Kira is a former Bajoran rebel now liaison to the provisional government with the station. Odo is a shapeshifter of unknown origin, in charge of security. Quark runs a gambling den and bar alongside his brother Rom and nephew Nog. Jadzia Dax is a Trill symbiont, who has known Ben Sisko in her previous host. Changing hosts over the years allows her to comment on what it was like being a man chasing women in a previous life etc. This clearly makes some characters uncomfortable but seems natural to her and to some others. Doctor Julian Bashir is the least likable character of the show. Being a total sleazeball and consistently sexually harrassing female crew members is the main driver for this as well as being a smug condescending dick. Garak is a Cardassian on the station who is merely a simple tailor running a clothing shop. These form the main body of the senior crew for the show and recurring characters given A or B plots.

Kai Opaka is a spiritual leader of Bajor and provides the hook to the story plot as well as introducing the prophets and Bajoran religion. One issue I’ve always had with Star Trek is that it’s great that it highlights diversity amongst species encountered but not within species encountered. So although there are exceptions and I remember things changing later in DS9 for example, you can pretty much take for granted that all Ferengi are obsessed with profit, all Klingons love fighting, all Vulcans are introverted logicians, all Bajorans are of the same religion etc.

In discussion of the Bajoran religion, Ben finds out they have Orbs which appear in space and provide visions. on further investigation they discover they all originated in the same rough area of space. As explorers they go to this location and discover a wormhole. Travelling through and back they realise they have found the first ever stable wormhole in the Star Trek universe which allows travel 70,000 light years to the Gamma Quadrant and back. The opportunity for exploration and commerce as well as making Bajor a now major strategic point for this radically change the expectations of all on the station.

Following up more on the Bajoran religion they go inside the wormhole and communicate with the entities the Bajorans refer to as prophets. They declare Ben to be their emissary which from here on will have a massive effect on his relationship with the Bajorans and Cardassians.

This is all from the first 2 episodes but serves to highlight the total shift away from the Monster of the Week formula of previous Trek outings.

Episode 3: Past Prologue

Tahna, a Bajoran, arrives on the station and tests Major Kiras loyalties when it is suspected he is plotting against the Federation. From his point of view the Cardassians have been replaced by the Federation and must be opposed too. Cardassians and Klingons are also on the station with the Klingons involved in smuggling bomb parts to Tahna to blow up the wormhole. His plot doesn’t really make sense. The Federation take over the station in alliance with Bajor. The wormhole is then discovered. He thinks that if the wormhole is destroyed then the Federations motivation for staying will be nullified. I suspect the outline for the series had the wormhole already existing or something and the writers got confused as this makes no sense at all.

In the end he is caught and Ben offers the choice between arrest by the Federation and Bajorans or being handed over to the Cardassians where he will likely be tortured and killed. Whether he would follow through with such an act is unknown.

Episode 4: A Man Alone

An episode which opens with Bashir clumsily hitting on Dax and doesn’t really improve. The plot can be summarised as Man tries to frame Odo for the murder of his own clone. No idea what the writers were on. The only highlights are Jake and Nog starting to become friends and Keiko starting up her school on the station.

Hands where we can see them Bashir

Hands where we can see them Bashir

Episode 5: Babel

The episode has a rubbish McGuffin, but the story around it is not terrible. People start suffering from Aphasia and fail to communicate with each other. In a show with universal translators where first contact with a new species is flawless, communicators and computers all interfacing each other it’s interesting to see everyone being thrown out of their depth.

Episode 6: Captive Pursuit

The episode opens with an argument between Quark and Sarda, a Dabo girl. Quark had hidden a clause in her contract saying she has to have sex with him. I think at this point every episode had shown Bashir sexually harassing a colleague and now Quark. No repercussions or even acknowledgement of any of it until now.

I Am Tosk

I Am Tosk

The station has first contact with a species from the Gamma Quadrant, a Tosk. It turns out that they are genetically bred for and only exist to be sought by a group called the Hunters. Maybe they were a terrible prototype for the Hirogen. O’Brien has sympathy for the Tosk and helps him to escape the Hunters. For the first 2 races to be encountered from the Gamma Quadrant they were both a bit rubbish and I don’t think they recur.

Episode 7: Q-Less

The episode opens with Bashir hitting on some poor woman and then Vash, a character who briefly appeared in Next Generation shows up. In the background of the scene is everyone’s most annoying recurring character: Q. Vash and Q had been seen going off to explore the galaxy. Vash wants to leave him but Q the narcissistic possessive arsehole won’t let her go. There’s a McGuffin plot and snore. Terrible episode made worse by Q being in it. They could have cut him out and still had basically the same shit story. I have to admit, at about this point I almost gave up on the show on the watch through.

Episode 8: Dax

Dax and Bashir are working together. As they finish for the night Dax wishes to retire for the night. Serial harraser Bashir tries to get her to agree to let him walk her home. For fuck sake, will someone neuter this sex pest. Dax is kidnapped by people who are arresting her.

She is charged with murder due to a crime committed by a previous incarnation of Dax. The story is actually really good. It lets you learn a lot about the Trill, how they change with each new host/symbiont pairing. It’s all about the self and uniqueness of each pairing and whether one can be tried for crimes of another. It’s exactly the kind of episode I remembered liking from the later episodes I saw – exploring philosophy, morality and the rights of an individual.

Episode 9: The Passenger

Bashir is possessed by a dying alien and spends a chunk of the episode acting woodenly and putting on a crap voice. I’m really not selling this show by this point, but stick with it, it gets better :(.

Episode 10: Move Along Home

A delegation of Wadi arrive on the station from the Gamma Quadrant. The third race from there we meet, to never meet again because they are pants. They trick Quark into transporting some of the senior staff into a game and he has to play the game and help them escape. Taking risks by gambling and escewing greater profits where necessary. It’s good in that it helps flesh out Quark as an interesting character who sometimes puts the needs of others first. The Wadi are shit with a crap catchphrase they keep repeating in an annoying loud voice whilst banging sticks together.

Mullets and bad henna tattoos are in this season

Mullets and bad henna tattoos are in this season

Look writers, you know when you were told you could create completely new races from a new quadrant of the galaxy, is this the best you could come up with, or were you trying to create a contrast with some of the great ones we meet later? I seem to recall the same thing happening in the early days of Voyager. And lets be honest, in the middle and late days too.

Episode 11: The Nagus

Grand Nagus Zek, the leader of the Ferengi has arrived to save the season! Brilliant character with more personality than every new race we have met so far. Zek dies and Quark replaces him as Grand Nagus. He tries to transition to his new position of power. One interesting funeral rite you find out is that Ferengi sell the remains of their dead. With certificates of authenticity obviously. Quark has to deal with people scheming to double cross and kill him, including Rom. Eventually we find out Zek isn’t really dead, he was just wanting to see if his successor was up to the job or not. A Chekovs gun (not that one) is left with you realising Quark is going to be key to Ferengi interests in the Gamma quadrant. Yay for the abandonment of bad plots and the laying down of story arcs.

Episode 12: Vortex

Someone called Croden kills a plot enabling character. Upon arrest by Odo he says he recognises him as a Changeling from the Gamma Quadrant. This is the first time we have heard of any possible origin for Odo so his interest is piqued. He shows him evidence of this knowledge by way of a token which behaves in the same way he does and is capable of morphing shape. When hearing he would be taken home where he faced execution, he tries to convince Odo to travel to the planet where he found the pendant instead. Odo although curious can’t agree because of justice etc.

On the way home they are attacked by the twin of plot enablining dead character. Croden convinces Odo now to flee into the area where the pendant was found. When they arrive on a small planetoid he rushes off leaving Odo behind. Odo catches up and it is shown that he is really after a stasis chamber where his daughter is. On his planet a criminals family are killed and he managed to rescue her. Odo takes pity and allows the two of them to take refuge on a Vulcan ship and is prepared to lie about his death. It shows Odo is not a mindless cop only caring about justice in the legal sense, but in the moral sense too and also has empathy for other outcasts. He also strays into moral relativism by not recognising another worlds notion of justice as justice.

Episode 13: Battle Lines

Great episode with the Kai Opaka visiting the station and wishing to travel through the wormhole. She, Ben and Kira travel through and end up stranded on a prison planet. Here life meaning life is an understatement. Nano-bots keep reviving the 2 sides of a civil war who have been dumped here every time they die. They continue to exist as a warning to others. Kai Opaka dies and is revived here. When they investigate they find out that once this has happened it’s like Royston Vasey – you’ll never leave. She is happy to stay and explore her Pagh because religion and stuff.

Episode 14: The Storyteller

A disappointing dip in the show where we get a Bashir and O’Brien bonding story. They end up in some bizarro region of Bajor where O’Brien becomes the white saviour of a cargo cult. Jake and Nog meet a girl their age. It’s bad.

Episode 15: Progress

I don’t know if great episodes like this appear so because they normally have a bad one next to them. The A-plot is Kira trying to convince an elderly Bajoran and his family to leave the moon they live on so that industrial works can take place. He refuses as it’s his home and is willing to resist to do so. He is a great character for a one-off appearance and helps navigate scenes and conversations around so Kira sees her own struggle against the Cardassians as an analogy to his situation.

Leave? I just finished a new cess pit.

Leave? I just finished a new cess pit.

The B-plot is also great, Jake and Nog try to trade widgets for other types of widgets in an effort to make Latinum. Jake appears to be the better businessman of the two which is also amusing.

Episode 16: If Wishes Were Horses

What was I saying about good episodes appearing better because of crap ones being around them? It’s terrible prosthetics time as a bunch of characters from peoples imagination appear starting with Rumpelstiltskin. Bashir had an active imagination too. Oh yeah it’s Dax, in love with him. And described by the real Dax as really is submissive, isn’t she?. Oh well it’s all japes. Bad episode is bad.

Episode 17: The Forsaken

Lwaxana Troi appears on the station amongst a delegation. When she discovers Odo she wants to add him to her bucket list having never encountered his species before. He’s take aback as he is private and doesn’t value relationships above friendships. It’s as annoying as Bashir as she tries to manoeuvre to let them spend time together. There’s some bad CGI of fire and nothing much else happens in this bad episode. Oh come on series, surely you can end on a high having given us 1 good episode out of the last 4.

Episode 18: Dramatis Personae

Thanks for delivering on my pleas you writers of 20 years ago. The crew start to not act themselves and split into factions with plots and counter-plots. An airborne McGuffin is causing them to see conflict and conspiracy everywhere. The kind of episode that really works in a stationary location where everyone can easily get cabin fever.

Episode 19: Duet

Aamin Marritza, a Cardassian, arrives on the station with the symptoms of an illness he could only have contracted if he was involved in slave labour camps for Bajorans. As they investigate his story you start to really get a picture of the way the Cardassian military works to fake, delete and cover up data with plots and sub-plots and cover stories for cover stories. Major Kira has to wrestle with her immediate need for justice and the need to find evidence to back up events. Brilliant episode made better with great characterisation by Aamin.

Episode 20: In the Hands of the Prophets

Secularism is explored with some religious groups from Bajor unhappy that Bajoran religion is being taught as philosophy and not fact in the DS9 school. Vedek Winn is the main antagonist and becomes a recurring character helping to show the different religious schism on Bajor. Eventually they result to terrorism and bomb a school unhappy that their magic sky fairies aren’t given enough respect. Especially as she speaks to them through a magic box whearas Ben has only met them and been conferred the title emissary by them.

Down with this reality based education

Down with this reality based education

Conclusion

So a bit of a mixed bag. Loads of new characters and races introduced. Some as 1-dimensional, some as fully fleshed out. Some great exploration of philosophy and sci-fi analogies of real life situations. A set up of the conflicting planets around the station and the complexities of their societies. Much, much better than the previous formula of just monster or McGuffin of the week. A Ferengi or Klingon ship approaches, go get the racial stereotype trope manual out so that this captain is as interchangeable as another etc. As I finish this I’m part way into season 3 and can’t believe that some of those people and ideas that DS9 is best known for haven’t even been mentioned yet, never mind made an appearance.

The character of Bashir really is a downer for the show and I’m glad that they tone him down a lot in future episodes. I think I’m more annoyed that you never even see him get a slap and I can’t remember anyone ever complaining about his behaviour. Meanwhile every time Quark is greedy it’s shown as a bad thing. All thieves and troublemakers are shaken down for their morality by Odo. The reaction to Sisko contemplating handing someone over to be tortured to death is definitely flagged as being wrong.

Some episodes were total stinkers, but sadly it reflects on Star Trek poorly that I think there are probably less of those than there were in season 1 of Voyager or Next Generation.

If you’ve never watched DS9 before but are familiar with the Star Trek universe I’d definitely give it a shot. If you’ve never seen Star Trek I’d say to watch Next Generation and then pick this up at the appropriate time. If you aren’t a fan of Star Trek or science fiction then I’d question why?

Science fiction is best when, and the best science fiction does hold a mirror up to our world. By setting the Original Series 300 years in the future they were able to show Russian and American crew-mates at the height of the Cold War and TVs first interracial kiss. Deep Space 9 is showing you a planet recovering from decades of fighting off an invading army, where one side refers to the fighters as terrorists and the other as freedom fighters, after the end of the first Intifada.

CGI ages it and some of the technological ideas seem dated, but that’s because they were looking to the future as well as influencing it. Ok we don’t have warp drives or transporters. We do have tiny mobile devices providing instant communication. Siri let’s us ask the computer a question and it’s speech recognition can attempt to parse it and dictate an answer back. Padds they carry for data are a clear influence on the IPad and 3D printing is the very first step towards replicator technology. There’s clearly a difference watching a science fiction show in the present and watching one from 20 years ago, but how amazing that some of the things in this show which did appear to be science fiction are now real, or very close becoming real?

03 Jul

Reread: The Hammer Of The Sun – Winter of the World Part 3

The Hammer Of The Sun is the third book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and the final part of the first 3 book arc.

See review of book 1 – The Anvil of Ice and book 2 – The Forge In The Forest.

Hammer Of The Sun

It was with some trepidation I started book 3. My memory of it was of it not being as good as the previous 2 and there being a horrifying passage which annoyed me and others I know who had read the books.

It has a very strange open. There’s a large time skip and the introduction informs you that Elof, who spent 2 books chasing a minor Power called Kara was trying to control her to stop her potentially leaving. His paranoia and fear fill the first chapter.

In book 1, one of his apprentice pieces was in his ignorance intended to allow Louhi, the evil ice-worshipping Power to control Kara. He then spends the start of book 3 intending to make a pair of unremovable anklets to force her to stay. In addition to this he also coerces her to hand over her magic-cloak which allows her to change form and fly away from him. So he therefore emotionally blackmails her to stop her best immediate chance of freedom and then creates something to completely control her.

I have no idea what was going on in Michael Scott Rohans life to influence or inspire these events in the book but it’s pretty horrible and a total departure from the tone of the previous books.

There has been an ongoing seasonal effort to migrate people from the Western edge of the continent to the Eastern to escape the Ekwesh. On one of the trips to the West to transport people, Elof tries to put his anklets on Kara. She, as a Power, knows that there is magic in the anklets and what they do, becomes enraged, and rightfully fucks the fuck off, leaving him greeting and ashamed for being a complete dick. It’s just so strange how his character changes from someone who lives essentially as a monk for decades dedicated to rescuing the woman he is in love with to becoming a controlling monster. The character was previously the hero of the series and now can’t be rooted for in this book.

Elof gets permission to sail east, across the not Atlantic Ocean to try and find her, again, and make amends/win her back and Roc joins him for the voyage. The continent in the East is where their ancestors arrived from so this is essentially a re-hash of book 2 – voyage east to find civilisation and find Kara.

After a harrowing voyage across the sea, they are shocked to find Ekwesh here too! Ekwesh who had originally attacked the West Coast of not California from Siberia – so they essentially inhabit from Western Europe to Siberia. The map in this book shows Spain and western Europe with a small river which goes from the Straits of Gibraltar to Greece. There is a gate/dam between Spain and North Africa and the entire basin has a few hundred feet less water – reflecting the water stored in ice during this Ice Age. upon landing they are separated and Elof is captured by the Ekwesh and taken to the gate where Louhi lives.

Roc is rescued by Duerghar (dwarves) left when their kin went West millenia ago. When Elof escapes they meet up and move to the East. Along the way it becomes apparent that these are evil and they manage to steal the Helm and retreat into a hidden mountain stronghold. Elof and Roc continue east in an effort to reach Kerys (not Athens?), the ancient city where their ancestors left from in the long past. On their journey they meet sailors who take them to the city.

I’ll try not to spoil too many of the details (and in 470 pages plus appendix there are many). But it turns out that the King of the realm is a psychotic arsehole. He decides that Roc and Elof would make fine thralls. He orders his men to sever Elofs hamstrings. Unfortunately he does so with the sword Elof reforged, which has twice, through magic, let him heal wounds from it immediately. He starts to recover the wound (yes I realise this all sounds mental, but it’s a fantasy novel with dragons, dwarves and gods in it…). Mad King Nithaid, has Elofs legs stabbed again and the anklets inserted into the wound, through the bone and then closed shut. The magic anklets which can’t be re-opened and will then stop the wound ever healing and leaving him completely limp.

It is at this point that the novel has been known to be launched across the room.

Made up Ramsay Bolton torture from Game of Thrones and Saw may have dulled people to events like this. This happens about 220 pages into a 470 page book though, when you have previously read 2 books about these characters and are pretty deeply invested in them, and have seen Powers step in to help them in previous books. There is of course some irony in that the anklets had been intended to bind someone else under his control.

Having understood the quality of magesmith before him, Nithaid exiles Elof and Roc to an island off the city coast where they are kept as slaves to produce weapons and armour to defeat the Ice.

I’ll not spoil the book end, or where it goes from here, even if it is 28 years old. There are many things hinted at in previous books that are sewn up and lots of threads come back together. One thing which does rankle though is the last you hear of the duergar in the East is after they steal the Helm and then there is reference to the helm in other stories. They are never encountered again. One other minor criticism of the book is the chapter index at the start – the titles really give away some major plot points including the ending of the book.

The story concludes and there is also detail of what happened to the major characters after the story end to give closure which is something I appreciate in novels, maybe because of Lord of the Rings.

I’ll carry on reading book 4-6 now, but for anyone interested in these, they have just been re-released again recently, are available on Kindle, and the older paperbacks can be found for a penny each (plus postage) online.

17 Jun

Review: ScreamerSongwriter by Stöj Snak

On Monday lunchtime I went to go listen to the new Lachance EP again. Clicking on the MTAT bandcamp link I was instead presented with their newest release being an album by Stöj Snak, an artist I hadn’t heard of, called ScreamerSongwriter.

Catching up on the news from the weekend, including details of the horrific slaughter in Orlando, the first upbeat stirrings of Fuck! started. The first line of I hear them talking of freedom, I hear them lecture in love as I found out that the usual crazy preacher assholes were trying their best not to publicly praise the murderer.

So fuck how you want to fuck, give it all, do it right
And fuck who you want to fuck
But most all fuck them; this is your life

Here is to love beyond borders, gender, tradition and race
Let’s tear down the walls that confines us,
let’s make some room to make some sense of this place

Scrolled down and realised he was Danish, which explained the pretty cool pronunciation of some words. I’ve always been fascinated by the near-perfect English of those, particularly from Scandinavian countries speaking in a third or fourth language. My own pitiful attempts to learn snippets of other languages pales in comparison. To be able to write and perform in another language is an amazing skill to me.

The variable musical and vocal style as the album progressed sounded fantastic. Tracks where he holds notes for bars followed by those which probably sound like Deeker before his voice broke.

Stöj Snak

Spoiler Alert sounds almost nihilistic to start with

All these fucking humans, where is everybody going?
In the end you’re gonna die alone, you’ll bring nothing with you when you go

I joked with Neil Coalesce/Entropy/MTAT that he was obviously a fan of good club-nights with the claim We won’t beat entropy. here is a spoiler for you being one of those wonderful pronunciation quirks I mentioned.

But as the song continues it’s more about the need to make the most of your life. It’s true that time is money but the deal only goes one way – when time is out no bills will buy it back. Then in comes the Kazoo solo from out of leftfield.

ScreamerSongwriter has screamo elements which stand in stark contrast to the previous harmonies

Guitars are not meant to hang on the wall
They should resonate with passion and change
Voices are not meant to silently consent
They should sing for the future’s better days
So let me hear you scream!

Lullaby sounds like some ballad from a 90s BritPop band at Christmas to start with, until you listen to the words of Stones are gonna get thrown, Burning cars will light up the night of a night of revolution. The style changes and way the lyrics of his songs contrast with the music in places is just amazing. We’ve just had a kazoo solo, followed by screaming and now plinking piano keys.

Privacy Is A Crime Format everything, Let’s hope that you have nothing to hide a song about privacy in the information age. A song which in the 80s would have been about the Stazi. 30 years later it is about the worlds largest corporations, in the week Microsoft spent billions to buy LinkedIn, a company which hasn’t turned a single penny in profit but has massive amounts of data about people.

Hu-Men talks about being a man. In a week when toxic masculinity led to deranged assholes taking out their insecurities and inadequacies on patrons of gay clubs and MPs. The entire song is a list of topics which the men’s rights movement would talk about if they weren’t wholly and solely interested in verbally attacking women.

White Male Middle-Class Blues follows with a speech completely from the heart about the depression and alienation of globalisation. My phone was manufactured in a big factory in the East, With suicide nets around the buildings to catch depressed workers in their fall

Ronkedor is a depressing ballad to close the album, the timing of the vocals in the verses are hypnotic.

Clearing through my newsfeed and getting to work I left the album on. Once finished I hit play again. And listened to it at least once every day this week. I think the last times that happened with an album was Zero for Conduct by Jetplane Landing and Broken Social Scenes You Forgot It in People both of which became firm favourites for years. In June is it too early to say it’s my favourite album of the year? It’s definitely the best so far.

The only musical breaks I have taken from it so far are for the rest of his work, (a Euro per album get them bought!), and the new Lachance EP. I really hope the Make That a Take guys have him over soon as I can imagine it becomes even better live.

06 Jun

Reread: The Forge In The Forest – Winter of the World Part 2

The Forge in the Forest is the second book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan.

See review of book 1 – The Anvil of Ice

Forge In The Forest

After being pleasantly surprised by how much I still liked the Anvil of Ice, I started out on book 2. Like the first read through I have found both these books the type where you stay up late to finish a chapter. Not helped by the chapters being 30+ pages and the layout such that not many pages end on the end of a paragraph or other text block.

The book begins with the aftermath of the attack on Kerbryhaine by the Ekwesh. Court politics abound with eventually a quest to head east, to try and find other people and safe places in the area the Northern and Southern people had originally migrated from.

They encounter more powers, Elof is elevated to Master Smith after yet more fantastic descriptions of the smithing process, this time of electroplating and takes the name Elof Valantor. They encounter a sort of fountain of youth area. Battle more beasts near the ice. the entire story is far more mythological than the previous. More encounters with the Powers – large and small, good and evil, new to the reader and already known. A quest to an area neither the characters or the reader are familiar with. Elof also learns more about the powerful artefacts he previously forged whilst going through his apprenticeship.

The end feels a bit rushed and not very well set up. This unfortunately lets down the book a great deal. The resultant information you learn about the worlds backstory and interconnectedness of the people manage to salvage what would have been a poor ending though.

Still a good book and difficult follow up. I was surprised that it was as enjoyable as I remembered and regret this being only my second read of it.

I don’t know anything about the political beliefs of Michael Scott Rohan, so this whole series may be some sort of Germanic racist fantasy about the good people being under siege from barbarian hordes. This book however puts a large emphasis on the devastating effect of the climate change of an ice age. Written around the time Global Warming models were first seeping into the public consciousness but before either Al Gores documentary or A Song of Ice And Fire became the massive public face of climate disaster it is a snapshot of a pretty unique time.

One excellent passage following the desolation at Kerbryhaine was as the party leave the city. They pass through encampments of refugees from the north, around abandoned farms. This makes me think that Rohan is more concerned with the effect of the disaster on the people and how society should band together in times of crisis. If there is any political analogy from real life in the books it is surely that.

…the Refugees. They had made their pitiful camps of tent and shack there on land that should have grown food to help support the city. … But the blame was the city’s. Much waste could have been avoided, if it had accepted the northerners and made use of their willing labour, instead of branding them beggars. The thought angered Elof. … It was long before they passed the last of the little camp-fires, but longer yet before those fires faded from his thoughts.

The first book has the ice as a horrible looming wall to the north, and which I remembered when first going through Ice and Fire as a similar description. The second book however definitely portrays it as a slow malevolent power with a conscious considered effort to overrun mankind and civilisation. Whilst Ice and Fire can be read as the 7 Kingdoms rearranging the deckchairs as the real threat of climatic and violent murder make their way from the North, Winter of the World has an evil consciousness in league with evil vikings and minor gods to try and destroy men and all living things. The destruction of ancient cities discussed in this book show the threat of the inching ice is just as real as from a rampaging army.

The book is definitely worth reading if nothing else so the reader can contrast to George RR Martin.

22 May

Reread: The Anvil of Ice – Winter of the World Part 1

The Anvil of Ice is the first book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan

Anvil of Ice Cover

I had some spare time to read so grabbed this book for the first ever re-read of it. I had picked up the first 3 parts in a charity shop years ago on a whim and raced through them. I then found the last 3 on ebay, paying I seem to remember more than cover price for the final part as it was pretty hard to find at the time. I had enjoyed it, and it was around the period I had heard of some Song of Ice and Fire series. Couldn’t find that anywhere though and wasn’t paying the, what seemed to be extortionate fees to get it second hand/via ebay.

I remember speaking about the book series years later to someone at work and us both discussing one particular scene which was pretty horrifying/distressing. He said he had felt similarly. His brother upon reaching the paragraph hurled the book across the room. I look forward to reaching that part again.

But enough set up. The book starts off as a standard fantasy fare. Orphan boy in a town beset by Viking like raiders. It evolves into a coming of age and almost heroes quest along the way. As well as taking the usual fantasy tropes of monsters in the woods and his take on elves and dwarves.

Just this description alone does not do it justice. This isn’t some fantasy paint by numbers, or drek of the level of a D&D novel or Magic storyline. Nor is it someone just trying to re-tell Tolkien. It’s more like someone trying to write in the manner of Tolkien. Trying to tell a tale that has been written far in our past. Although the small snippet you see in book 1 makes you think it is somewhere near the the UK/Ireland with maybe Vikings raiding, from the appendix though it reads as if it is the Western seaboard of the US with the raiders being from Siberia. This isn’t clear from the book alone though so I may clarify after reading it all again. Creating a whole world and mythology. Sprinkling elements of lost languages and lore. The threat from the coming ice, years before GRRM finished his first book.

But the most important part and detail is the central storyline of Alv (later Elof) learning magesmithing. Detail is given of his journey as an apprentice and later journeyman smith. Of mixing blacksmithing with magery. Weaving spells into the objects he creates and the power imbued, drawing on at the time unknown skills and abilities he hasn’t fully unleashed or understood.

The book ends on a solid note, with the set up clear for the next. You understand the main characters journey is far from over and the world building and mythology of his story desperately leaves you pining for the next volume. I remember on my first read I was finding myself up until 2-3 am reading just unable to put it down. I think I raced through those first 3 books with a speed I only matched later on my first read through of A Song of Ice and Fire.

On the first internet trawl in years I notice his website is still as woefully out of date as I remember it. One bizarre note is that a company is saying they have the licence to work on an RPG of the series. This post though is a year old and appears to be the last public communication from the company on their site. They do appear to have released a sneak peak at it though.

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