Weekly Ramble No. 12

The completionist in me ordered the remaining adult science fiction books by Philip K Dick that I have not read – either on paperback or Kindle depending on which was cheaper. It turned out that The Crack in Space was the only one that was cheaper as a physical book. having got a little bored (I can’t believe it either) of reading Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams I cracked open the old school sci-fi book as soon as it arrived and started reading.

The Crack in Space features some interesting stuff about America’s first black (or as they put it in the book ‘col’) president – a rather outlandish idea back in the Sixties no doubt – and a portal to a parallel earth populated by a race of early men called sinathropus or Peking Man (a.k.a. Pekes). The twists and turns of the story are very much a commentary on race relations disguised in the envelope of fun sci-fi and an exploration of what the author thinks it would take for all races of homo sapiens to forget their differences and live in harmony – i.e. a common enemy in the form of the Pekes.

There’s a reverse Zaphod Beeblebrox character who has one head and two bodies who tries to play god to the Pekes and similarities to the Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Steve Baxter. As I was reading it, it all seemed rather familiar and I had to check the contents of a couple of novel collections I have to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently already read it. I guess what might have happened is that some bits of the story were included in one of Dick’s short stories that I have read.

Some of the charm of the story is that it shows its age in places with contemporary items such as tapes mentioned and yet includes such things as video conferencing, flying cars, satellites, teleportation, cryogenics and apartment block intercoms. Dick’s forward thinking views on race relations may have seemed overtly liberal to a lot of people back then but are surprisingly normal today. This tells us more about American society in the Sixties than it does about the state of science fiction writing back then I think.

Staying with the sci-fi vibe I finished watching Star Wars: Rebels Season 2 this week. Darth Vader (voiced of course by James Earl Jones) is featured early on and it was clear that the season finale was going to be a face-off between Vader and his old Togruta padowan Ashoka Tano. The character design on Ashoka still grates with me, but they have done such a good job with returning characters such as Hondo Ohnaka and the appearance of the excellently voiced Princess Leia that I need to let it go. Ashoka kicks ass with a pair of white lightsabers signifying that she is no longer part of the Jedi order.

Rex, having taken out his chip and so not carried out Order 66, is back. He’s obviously a lot older but still willing to get into some scraps alongside Ezra and the crew of The Ghost. A prototype B-Wing is rolled out and we learn that the ‘B’ is for ‘Blade’ – a neat bit of retrofitting if ever there was one – since the ‘A’ and ‘B’ wings were just evidence of a lack of inspiration by the original filmmakers – the X wings might have been ‘C’ wings if the design didn’t make a better name obvious. I joke. The hammerhead cruisers that appeared (along with a cameo from The Ghost) in Rogue One also make an appearance.

There’s a fun Free Willy-in-space episode in which space swimming creatures help out the rebels and reveal that they can jump into hyperspace as well as showing how Ezra is getting really good at connecting to creatures by using the force (apart from six legged spider things in a later episode). There’s lots of back story exploration with all of the characters including droid C1-10P aka Chopper. He gets a new pal in the form of a Marvin the paranoid android (another Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference – yup I am in full-on sci-fi geek mode today) type imperial droid AP5 seemingly, but not in actual fact, voiced by Alan Rickman. It seems like there may be some fun and games from this R2-D2 and C-3PO -like pairing to look forward to in Season 3.

In the final two episodes of the season we are given the BIG ending we’ve been waiting for when Ashoka fights Vader – as Vader puts it ‘our long awaited meeting has come at last’. But first we get a trio of Inquisitors on the trail of an aged, but still as devious as ever, Maul who seems to like the idea of making Ezra his apprentice. This all happens inside a Sith temple on Malachor and the season ends with Kanan blinded by Maul (no longer ‘Darth’ as he points out), Maul flying away in a tie fighter after the big fight, and a Togruta-shaped figure walking through a shadowy exit from the temple – so we have to assume Ashoka survives her encounter with Darth Vader. Maybe he we went easy on her for old time sake?

Here’s a fan video that kind of sums it up the fight cut with some scenes from Clone Wars – it’s kind of sloppy but better than I could do –

The YouTube video helped me spot something too – and that’s the scene of an onlooking owl taking off after the action – the same owl seems to be watching Ezra trying to commune with the ‘spiders’ in an earlier episode. I suspect this might be Yoda somehow using the bird to remotely view the progress of the Jedi from his hiding place on Dagobah. It’s great how much drama Dave Filoni and his creative team can inject into stories that ultimately have to end a certain way (to fit with the films).

On the subject of films, Siggy and I got a bit of action this week in the form of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and The Tournament.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is based on the Lee Child book of the same title which I have not yet read (I have 8 books, including One Shot – the basis of the first film – to read before I get to it). Tom Cruise is again totally miscast as Reacher, but he’s executive producer or something so that’s never going to change. The script is pretty good and I assume all the witty comebacks that Reacher comes up with are taken from Child’s writing.

In the story Reacher teams up with a female version of himself in the form of Turner played by Cobie Smulders and a girl who may be his daughter played by odd-faced Danika Yarosh. All the unfamiliar faces lend some realism despite me feeling that the plot was a bit of a reversal of one of the previous books in which a suspect drug smuggler is actually smuggling arms. It was an enjoyable film and it was interesting to see reacher not sleep with the female lead and have to deal with family issues. Whether this facet of the story made for a good action film is however debatable, but at least it was handled with more panache than Taken 3.

The Tournament is a lower budget British looking film filmed in the North of England and Bulgaria starring Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting), Kelly Hu (The Scorpion King), Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) and  Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction).

The story is that every 7 years a last man standing tournament takes place in a random city between 30 of the world’s best assassins. The winner gets $10,000,000. Some of the assassins actually look dreadful and more interested in parkour and lap dance clubs than winning the money. Perhaps one of the best assassins played by Scott Adkins (who Siggy has met btw) is dealt with far too quickly by Hu’s character leaving us with the impression that it’s definitely going to end up with Hu and Rhames fighting it out at the end.

The inclusion of Carlyle’s character – an alcoholic disillusioned vicar who accidentally ends up as a contestant – makes the film a lot more interesting than the likes of say Battle Royale. The violence is gory and reminiscent of mid-Eighties action films and the car stunts – including a double decker bus and tanker chase – are very well orchestrated. All in all, although the low budget shows through at times and the acting is pretty dreadful from the supporting cast, this was just as enjoyable as the Tom Cruise film.

This week I also closed down fdndrnk.com and moved all my posts from that blog over to here. I will continue to do food and drink related posts here under the category ‘Eating and drinking’ but won’t feel that it is so much of a burden to do so.

As a result of the export/import manoeuvre in WordPress, I had to spend a lot of time sorting out images and changing links. I also took the opportunity to revamp my pages about the books I have written. So if you have a moment, please feel free to take a look at the new category and also the tidier linked along the top of the main page. Thank you.

As well as all that, I have continued listening to the old episodes of the Adam & Joe podcast on BBC iPlayer Radio (now Adam and Edith Bowman in actual fact) and also new episodes of the Adam Buxton podcast on Spotify including a very insightful interview with Steve Coogan.

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