Scoville Units Unite

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


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.

05 Jan

The Glasgow Effect Effect

Social Media has been in uproar over the Glasgow Effect.

An artist has been given a £15K grant to test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic..

There are a number of issues with it, mainly that it is named the Glasgow Effect, which clashes with a phenomenon related to poverty in Glasgow, so it rankles a fair bit.

I think the biggest issue that caused the controversy though is that is labelled an art project.

If £15K was given to a sociologist to interview people in Glasgow, artists and others to see how limited travelling and income to enable travelling limits your income prospects creating a negative feedback loop that would be seen as fine. As it is a topic of sociological study.

Most people fail to recognise living in Glasgow for a year as art. So either everyone is completely ignorant of art, or those who consider this art have failed to sell their justification to the public. Given the disdain for the Turner prize winners every year and general hostility to the Tate Modern it’s fair to say there’s a segment of the art world that only appeal to artists and their general milieu.

All it appears to be though to the general public is a stunt. The equivalent of sitting in a tub of baked beans to raise some money for your local charity and then seeing someone win the Turner prize for doing the same. A general reaction of I do that every day. It’s not art doesn’t seem to register with the Luvvie echo chamber.

There’s a giant Venn diagram which has music, painting, drawing, dance, theatre and many other activities in a bucket labelled Art and then another which has Modern Art and it is only recognised as belonging in the Art bucket by a very small group.

Over the past few years from Scottish Arts Council to Creative Scotland and various other public bodies distributing public funds there have been huge changes to where funding goes. From the cutting of funds to small projects (like 7:84) to concentrate on larger ones to the massive unavailability of Lottery funds as they were siphoned off to support Olympic related projects. Ordinary people have seen projects they see daily whither whilst public funds still appear (whether factually or not) to flow towards art only appreciated by a very small privileged minority.

I remember getting into a discussion on a message board a number of years ago, and a fan of the Modern Art movement basically justified it by saying if you read the thesis around the work you’d understand its context.

I disagreed then and I disagree now. If I buy a canvas and paint a small square on it in the centre it’s shit. Not a piece of high quality art. One artist though did just that, with their essay explaining it they sold it for a six figure sum. For the general public, art is experienced as art. If you see something and don’t think it’s art, being told that you just need to read a long document about the context of it just sounds pretentious. People don’t need an essay when they see Mona Lisa to understand it is art. Or hear Mozart. Or watch a play. Or see a film. Or any number of other artistic mediums.

The public aren’t ignorant of art, or dislike it. Weekly I see people sharing pictures of what new clothing has been put on the penguins in Dundee City Centre. How many millions of people have Instagram accounts where they post photo diaries of their lives and the interesting things they see and do. How many gigs happen daily, weekly in and around you where people go to discover new bands. The Blue/Gold dress discussion on social media centred around context and lighting and everyones individual perception of an object.

The lack of posting by the artist has probably led to more negative feedback unjustifiably going their way rather than towards Creative Scotland.

The reaction to the Glasgow Effect wasn’t ignorant people complaining about public funds being wasted. It was them screaming The Emperor has no clothes.

21 Jul

The “Centrism” of the Mainstream

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a trend in articles using the term centrist, it’s often used in commentary on the Labour leadership election for example.

So what is meant by Centrist?


In the traditional political spectrum there is a left, a right and the centre. Unfortunately this model is flawed. If you are in the UK and discussing with an American for example these terms, alongside Liberal, Conservative etc all have different interpretations.

The reason for this is obvious, if you look at the spectrum in the UK and compare to the US, an American discussing what they see as left is discussing political ideas which may be on the far right in the UK.

So it’s clear that left, right and centre are not absolute terms but based on where the commentator is standing or the political ideas they are most familiar with.

So when the Guardian discusses Liz Kendall and says

Liz Kendall, the centrist leadership candidate, has warned

What do they actually mean?

In absolute terms, is she centrist? No, she appears to be on the right wing of the Labour Party, who themselves are on the right wing.

In relative terms compared to the other candidates? Well Jeremy Corbyn is clearly the leftest of the candidates. If Kendall is the Centrist then who is further Right? Can’t really see any so that doesn’t work.

On the Spectrum of the UK? Well that would put her to the left of Labour, again, clearly not.

The only way it works as an accurate term is to say she is Centrist if Labour is Left and Tories are Right.

But what then does it actually mean? Why not say the most right wing, closest to Tories, right of Labour. These are all accurate descriptions. It’s as if the media want to promote the most right wing candidate, because they are right wing, without wanting to say they are right wing.

It’s the language of the Liberal Democrats, who describe themselves as being of the centre ground and fantasise about pulling the Tories to the left.

Last night was the vote on the Welfare Bill. Let’s look at the headline from the Guardian

Labour Party sees massive revolt but welfare bill that will cut £12bn from spending is passed in parliament

The Tories are the sole party of Government. The Labour party are the official opposition. Reading that headline alone you would assume that some Labour MPs voted for the Government Bill. Wrong. They voted against it. For the Labour Party today, voting against the Government is revolting against their leadership.


This is the consequence of triangulation and the move to the centre ground. A Tory Party in power and a Tory Party in opposition. They may as well merge or failing that form a coalition for all the difference it will make.

13 Mar

Terry Pratchett 1948-2015

One day I’ll be dead and THEN you’ll all be sorry.

Terry Pratchett was not only a fantastic writer but down to earth enough to communicate with his fans on the internet before the web existed.

When I was in around first year at High School I was introduced to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Adams via the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, which I read every year until his untimely death and then had to take a break from it.

Terry Pratchett was via the graphic novels of Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic. I was already a voracious reader – going through about 2 books a week when in primary school, so to discover 2 new authors with loads of books was amazing, later Robert Rankin and Spike Milligan joined the list of humourous writers whose work I burned through as well as Tolkien.

At the time I preferred Adams as the first two Discworld books seemed good but not amazing. As I caught up on his books though I realised that his first couple of books were satirising fantasy but later books were satirising humanity. Taking the human condition and pointing out the absurdity of it.

In 2000, he visited a bookshop in Dundee for a signing of The Truth. This became the first and only time I met the man himself but was also the first time I saw the size of the fandom I had previously known of through newsgroups and the Discworld newsletter.


As the Discworld expanded there were a number of different storylines. These could be read chronologically or as each separate storyline – I quite often recommended the Witches books as a starter. The core starting one about Rincewind was probably most disconnected from the rest, and continued to parody beaten-to-a-dead-horse fantasy tropes.

The witches storyline was one of my favourites, from parodies of Shakespeare to just demolishing patriarchy it was just delightful. The Bechdel test was probably passed on every page of these books.

The Books about religion were one of my early favourites. Small Gods and Pyramids are both brilliant satires of religion and religious belief. Pyramids also prompted fans to give him the nickname PTerry.

The storylines about death didn’t just anthropomorphise Death but made him more human than most of us. Mort quickly became by favourite book and stayed for quite a while.

The books focusing on the City Watch and Vimes were fantastic, showing the growth of a public service and the changes in society around them with the main character not just going from black and white but massive shades of grey in between.

As well as all this there were computer games and childrens books.

Outside Discworld there were collaborations, most recently with Stephen Baxter on the Long series of books. I didn’t find these as appealing, but that’s mainly because PTerrys influence seemed to lessen with each book.

Nation was a stand alone book which also stood out. I had recently finished Red Strangers by Elspeth Huxley when I picked this up and found a number of themes between them which added to my enjoyment.

For the future it looks like his daughter Rhianna will carry on writing Discworld books, at his request.

Here’s hoping you had your potato with you so you could go somewhere better.



Catching up on a thread of his work on a forum and came across an open letter he had written called A Little Advice For Life

I know first hand that Fate can be cruel and unusual at times, but she is hardly ever deliberately malicious: she just suffers from bad timing in the main, so use your gifts and your talents to greatest possible effect while you can. Spread joy whenever possible. Laugh at jokes. Tell jokes. Make puns and bugger the embuggerances. Read books. Read my books. You might like them. You might find something else you like even more than them. Look for these things in life.

Question authority. Champion good causes. Speak out against injustice. Do not tolerate bullies or bigots or racists or anti-intellectuals or the narrow minded. Use your education to challenge them. Broaden their perspectives. Make the world you interface with a happier place.

These are your choices. Choices you have been fortunate enough to have been given, so don’t waste them while you have them. Don’t look back in years to come and wish you had grasped a fleeting opportunity. Grasp it now with both hands. Live. Strive. Love.

04 Feb

Labour could be finished in Dundee West

Lord Ashcroft has released his constituency breakdown polls and it looks like Jim McGovern could be finished in Dundee West.

I was born in Dundee West and have spent my entire life here.

For a large chunk of my life, my MP was Ernie Ross, before becoming Jim McGovern.

I always despised Ernie Ross, a snivelling shit of a man. My signature quote on a local music forum used to be this with links to the local paper:

‘I’m not a rent-a-quote MP’ – Ernie Ross 10th September
Ernie Ross being a rent-a-quote MP; – 23rd July

A Yes-man who eagerly supported bombing children in Iraq. When I saw him the day after the first Scottish servicemen died, he claimed that because someone else (Tony Blair) may have lied about WMD (he did) and Ernie repeated the lie (he did), if they (Tony) thought they were telling the truth (they didn’t) then it wasn’t really telling a lie, or him re-telling a lie. Amazing logic.

When he finally retired, I hoped that whoever replaced him would at least be mildly competent. Jim McGovern has had his snout in the trough, being caught up in the expenses scandal.

We went from having a rent-a-quote MP to having a rent-a-vote MP who barely dares to deviate from the party line. He hasn’t bothered turning up to vote against the Bedroom Tax or nuclear weapons. He does manage to send out emails that say things like

We will end the exploitation of 0-hour contracts

You may wish to contrast that with the actual meaningful

We will end the exploitation of 0-hour contracts

To have the SNP sitting at 59% and Labour at 24% is simply earth shattering. Even the Guardian have picked up on it.

Labour appear to have ducked their head under the sand and are spreading FUD about the real ramifications of these polls. McGovern has not yet confirmed if he is standing again or not, no mention on the local Labour groups etc. Perhaps this poll will finally push him over the cliff to retirement.

If Cameron panicked at being the Prime Minister who could lose the UK, just think of the pressure these Labour goons are under, who assumed they now had a fiefdom for life.

Labour took a decision 20 years ago to sell out their heartlands and appeal to the middle class in marginal constituencies whilst sticking the boot into the poor and vulnerable. Hopefully a wipeout will be a long delayed boot back.

14 Nov

Warped Playlist – 7th November 2014

Gavin and I were djing Warped on 7th November, although I was feeling pretty ill. Here’s the fabby do stuff we played.

Jerry Built – Receivers
Jetplane Landing – Summer Ends
AFI – Of Greetings & Goodbyes
Cake – Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps
Alkaline Trio – Armageddon

American HiFi – The Art of Losing

Idlewild – A Film for the Future

Alexisonfire – Accidents
Bonehouse – Summer Jams
Fat Goth – Creepy Lounge
Sink Alaska – Dolphins used to live on land
Beauty School Dropout – Schizo Girl
Cold – Go Away

Slipknot – the Devil and I

Bring me the Horizon – Crucify Me
A Day to Remember – Plot to bomb the panhandle
New Found Glory – Its been a summer


3 Colours Red – Beautiful Day

Taking Back Sunday – Decade under the influence
Head Automica – Beating Heart Baby
Hot Water Music – Trusty Chords
Kings Blues – Lets hand the landlord
I am the Avalanche – Holy Fuck

Rancid – Roots Radicals

CKY – 96 Quite Bitter Beings
Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK
Clash – Should I stay or should I go?
Undertones – Teenage Kicks

Green Day – Welcome to Paradise

Offspring – Self Esteem
Feeder – Insomniac
Descendents – I’m the One

Rocket From the Crypt – On a Rope

1 AM

Movielife – Up to Me
Allister – Somewhere On Fullerton
Rise Against – Anyway you want it
student rick – heaven is a place on earth
Ataris – Boys of Summer

A Day to Remember – Since you’ve been gone

No Doubt – Just a Girl
Paramore – Misery Business
Blink 182 – Feeling this
Green Day – Minority
Sum41 – In Too Deep
Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
Less Than Jake – All my best friends are metalheads
Reel Big Fish – Beer

Madness – One Step Beyond

Flogging Molly – Drunken Lullabies
Sugarcult – Bouncing off the walls
Zebrahead – Anthem

Good Charlotte – Lifestyles of the rich and the famous

Lustra – Scotty Doesnt Know
Fountains of Wayne – Staceys Mom

2 AM

Fall out boy – Sugar we’re going down
Offpsring – Why don’t you get a job
Blink 182- What’s my age again?

Avril Lavigne – Sk8er Boy

Busted – What I go to school for

Taking Back Sunday – Cute without the E

Used – Taste of Ink
Jimmy Eat World – Sweetness
Sum41 – Fat Lip

McBusted – Build me up buttercup

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