Archives » 2010 » April

Friday On My Mind 4: The Truth, Walk Away Renee

Walk Away Renee is another underestimated 1960s gem.

I bought the Truth’s cover version of this song before I learned it was a cover. (I knew there were other versions around at the time but it wasn’t until years later that I discovered it had first been done by The Left Banke.) I’m featuring the original, as The Truth’s recording isn’t on You Tube.

Walk Away Renee was of course a biggish hit later for the Four Tops but they overplayed it. Levi Stubbs was just too shouty for a delicate flower like this.

Anyway here is The Left Banke: Walk Away Renee

Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley

Penguin, 2007. 390p

In a timeline known as the Real, machines called Turing Gates allow movement between different worlds. Adam Stone was once employed with The Company, a US government agency which carried out undercover operations in the other realities, here known as sheaves, to bring them into line with, and effectively subject to, the Real. The select band he was part of made up the Cowboy Angels of the title. Following the 1980 Presidential election a change of government leads to the abandonment of this policy in favour of a more cooperative approach to other sheaves.

A prologue chapter reveals tensions between some of the Cowboy Angels, and inside the Company generally, arising from this. The remainder of the book is set mainly in 1984, where, as well as the Turing Gates, the Real has technology akin to that of the twenty first century in our world, the likely equivalent to which in the book is known as the Nixon sheaf. For those who enjoy such speculaton there is also an American Bund sheaf and one where the US is communist.

Stone is working in an agricultural sheaf when he is called out of Company retirement as his old colleague Tom Waverly has been killing the various different sheaf versions (doppels) of a woman named Eileen Barrie and only Stone will be able to contact him.

Cowboy Angels starts off as an apparently gung-ho right wing tract but by the end of Part One the characters have begun to doubt the worth of interference in other sheaves and of the projection of power at the point of a gun. As a commentary on the invasion (in the reader’s world) of Iraq and the aftermath of that conflict this is pretty acute.

McAuley’s treatment of the Altered History scenario is explicitly Science Fictional as it involves a mechanism for movement between (and sometimes creation of) different sheaves. I liked the nod he made to previous authors who dealt with different worlds or realities by naming some minor characters variously Philip Kindred, Leinster and Laumer.

The unravelling of the plot leads to the revelation of a greater conspiracy within the Company and the efforts of Stone and Waverly to combat it, in the course of which a further SF McGuffin makes its appearance in the shape of a time key which alters the operation of the Gates.

As you might expect from the scenario there is plenty of violence dispersed through the book but the characters, especially Adam Stone, are rounded enough. However, there is perhaps too much over-complication of the plot and I found the resolution unsatisfactory.

I would, though, recommend this to anyone who wants their brain bent (a little) by the contemplation of paradoxes.

Ethics?

I wasn’t going to post about Politics again so soon but I see Gordon Brown has been getting pelters for referring to a voter as a bigot.

Is that really the story here?

Which of us has not said one thing to somebody for the sake of being polite and yet revealed a contrary opinion when in private?

For this is the crux. Gordon Brown’s “gaffe” was uttered in private. It was not for public consumption. The fact he was miked up at the time does not negate that.

So who is in the wrong here?

I would say that it was those journalists who were eavesdropping on his private conversations and did not immediately switch off their receivers nor forget what they’d heard.

Let us not forget that the man is – for the moment – Prime Minister. The journalists had no right to listen in to his private conversations. If they had such a right we might as well forget all about the thirty year (or is it twenty year now?) rule and wire the Cabinet Office for sound right now and be let in on those deliberations.

That the journalists did listen in is contemptible. To then reveal the content is politics of the lowest variety.

And for what it’s worth Gordon Brown was right. The woman was – is – a bigot; at least in what I heard her say to him.

Unelected?

No British voter elects a Prime Minister. Neither do we elect a government.

All we vote for – all we ever vote for – in UK General Elections is a representative, a single member of Parliament.

I have voted in nine General Elections and have yet to find a question on the ballot paper asking me who(m) do I wish to be Prime Minister – or indeed whom I wish to be in government.

The only person who can be said to “vote” for the Prime Minister is the monarch – at present the Queen – who invites an MP to form a government (albeit usually on advice from the outgoing PM.) This is true whether that invited MP can “command” a majority in the House of Commons or not. It is Parliament (a word, by the way, derived from French and meaning, almost literally, talking shop) which decides whether a government exists or not; as only the House of Commons can vote a government down.

In this regard I find the complaints that Gordon Brown was an unelected PM to be strange, even ignorant – if not deliberately mischievous. He was as elected – or unelected – as Tony Blair, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Alec Douglas Home, Harold MacMillan etc. etc. before him.

Every Member of Parliament has been elected, except, in days past, for the Speaker, whom convention required to be unopposed – and he or she could not become PM. UKIP and others are, I believe standing against John Bercow on May 6th. Michael Martin had some opposition too last time as I recall.

In the 2005 General Election Gordon Brown’s name certainly appeared on my ballot paper. To call him unelected was a distortion of the truth, at best. It subsumes into the term only those closed electorates which may choose a political party’s leader. Not being a member of any of them I was not consulted when those parties made their respective choices so in that respect, but in that respect alone, they were/are all unelected. As has been every Prime Minister in my – and anybody else’s – lifetime.

Still, if Mr Irresponsible or even that inoffensive Mr Clegg become PM after next Thursday I may take some delight in dubbing them unelected.

Dumbarton 0-2 Arbroath

League goals against predictor:- 56

The Rock, 24/4/10

This sums up our season. One week we beat the league leaders at their place (and in the process probably stop them being champions) and the next, at home, lose to a team who may well be in the relegation play-offs.

Twas ever thus, though.

I didn’t expect anything from this game; partly because we had more or less nothing to play for and partly since our home form this season has been execrable.

Home W5 D4 L9. Away W9 D2 L6.

I’ve seen all but two of those away wins, plus one draw and five losses out of the six. Maybe not quite such a jinx this season, then.

Do as well at home and add in those extra four wins; we’d have been well in the play off hunt.

Still sixth, or fifth if it happens, is a good position finish first season up.

Word of warning. We only need to look at where East Fife and Arbroath are now to see how difficult the second season might be.

But, in the absence of Ben Gordon, was Chissie fielded at centre back? The BBC report’s line up suggests as much. If so, that’s beyond bizarre and Chappie was taking the piss. I know Chissie always puts a shift in but he was vulnerable enough at full back. I’d dearly love to have been able to vote for him for player of the year just because of his effort but I couldn’t be there.

Broadwood next week for a valedictory look at the class of 2010.

Where Time Winds Blow by Robert Holdstock

Pan, 1982. 286 p

Holdstock

On VanderZande’s World, also known as Kamelios, strange storms called fiersig can disturb moods and change personality. In addition, a peculiar valley is intermittently altered by winds which seem to project objects and locations through time. If engulfed by these time winds, people disappear. Worse, if caught up in the edge of a time eddy, only a part of you may be swept away. Human search parties scour the valley for artefacts revealed by the winds. The strange atmosphere of the planet has imbued their members with odd superstitions. A phantom human figure, which may or may not be a figment of the imagination, haunts the valley.

The first two sections of the book deal with the environment of this strange rift and the human society which has evolved there but in part three, after the inevitable happens, we are suddenly wrenched away to a totally different part of the planet in order for the author to indulge in philosophising through the medium of viewpoint character Leo Faulcon and to set up what is, to me, an unsatisfying ending.

The prose is occasionally Ballardian in tone but I found it too distanced. As a consequence I didn’t feel involved enough with the characters.

There is a “span” count of 2 (though one instance of “spun”) plus two cases of flaunting the rules.

Where Time Winds Blow rather confirms my previously held opinion of Holdstock’s work. I’m afraid there is something about his style which does not engage me.

Friday On My Mind 3: Alone Again Or

Love produced some eclectic music in the middle of the 1960s. A lot of their songs had strange titles: Alone Again Or, Andmoreagain, 7 and 7 Is, and the really bizarre Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale. I didn’t actually buy any of their albums until relatively recently when they were reissued as CDs. The cover of their album Forever Changes is cleverly done with the faces of what I presume are the members of the band filled in with psychedelic colours and arranged to look like a map of Africa. (I see from the video still below I needn’t have bothered with the link here.)

Not a hit as such, I remember Alone Again Or from the time of its first release as not troubling the charts very much if at all. While Love also recorded Hey Joe, perhaps more familiar from Jimi Hendrix’s version, Alone Again Or is probably their best known song.

I really like the way it suddenly transforms in the middle with the Spanish sounding trumpet passage.

Love: Alone Again Or

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool

Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid. 22/4/10.

For my sins, I suffered this game on TV. It was like watching paint dry.

It did provide, though, the spectacle of Atletico’s Tomáš UjfaluÅ¡i being a much more attack minded player than he seemed to be with Fiorentina.

Somehow I managed to miss the comedy goal.

Strangely, it was only Atletico’s second win in thirteen European games. They got to the semi-final via three draws in their Champions League group; and after that mainly on away goals.

Liverpool were poor, so doubtless will win handsomely at home.

Blenheim by David Green

Collins, 1974. 162p

Blenheim

I bought this book at a library book sale several years ago because I knew virtually nothing about the War Of The Spanish Succession apart from the names of the main battles involving the British* Army – Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet (some of which later came to grace Royal Navy ships) – and Southey’s famous poem.

The political and strategic options facing the Duke of Marlborough at the outset of his 1704 campaign are set out somewhat baldly. Marlborough’s boldness – bordering on recklessness – in making his march to the Danube from the Low Countries is emphasised. He was astute in making good provision for his soldiers and his order that they not ransack the countryside through which they marched but pay for any food they required was unusual for his times as were his pains to provide care for his wounded. It was his talent for misdirection, both strategic and tactical, – even to the extent of misleading his allies – which marks him out as an outstanding general, though.

The Battle of The Schellenberg at Donauwörth which preceded Blenheim is presented by Green as an example of Marlborough’s decisiveness as, rather than institute a long siege, he ordered an immediate assault on the fortification, which, though bloody, succeeded. The remainder of the opposition’s local forces being reluctant to fight Marlborough then ordered the plundering of his Bavarian enemy’s lands to force the issue, but this did not succeed in its aim and the French Marshal Tallard eventually arrived to link up with the Elector of Bavaria. But Marlborough’s decision to close battle early caught them off guard. His handling of the conflict also drew them into false conclusions about his intent.

The overall treatment by Green is a bit sketchy and sometimes assumes more background knowledge of the times than the casual reader such as myself holds. The Wiki article on the battle – not, of course, available when Green was writing – is as informative.

*Green refers to it as the English army (this was just prior to the Act Of Union, which occurred in 1707) but explains this point.

BSFA Awards 2010: Addendum

BSFA Awards booklet

The BSFA booklet containing the short stories and art works listed on the ballot form is handsomely produced. It’s dated 2009 because the awards were for stories published in that year. It’s a pity it didn’t arrive before the deadline but the BSFA has had trouble recently with printers and distributors for their magazines going bust on them. However, it still gave me the chance to catch up on the story which I had not been able to read online.

The Push by Dave Hutchinson

This is a traditional tale, traditionally told. No pyrotechnics, no fuss. Straightforward exposition, twist at the end. The Push of the title is a faster than light drive, improvements in which reduce the time dilation effect of its use but not enough for our narrator, Neil Hanson, not to appear much younger than his contemporaries who have done less travelling.

He has been called back to the planet Reith, which he helped colonise, because a problem has arisen with a local species, called rockers, which has suddenly developed sentience. These creatures also worship him as a god. This second factor is explained but the first, much the most interesting feature of the story to me, is unfortunately left hanging.

The characterisation is fine, you can believe these are real people – except for the newly sentient rockers, who are little more than props.

It’s not my favourite of the contenders but I would have placed it above several of them.

For my comments on the other stories on the ballot see here.

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