Monday, September 12, 2011

ebay's open door policy
Gods! this piece of shit graphics is annoying me. It's from eBay's current sign-in page. 'Look,' it's supposed to say. 'You can trust us. We've got a scary woman with muscley arms standing behind a hatch half way up a wall. Nothing can get past her. You're safe.'

That's what it's supposed to imply.

What it say to me is: 'Walk right in and help yourself.' Look at those doors. Just look at them. There's no way they are going to meet. Just look at them. Push them to and there'd be a two foot gap between them. And what are those keys for? The key on the right is in a keyhole that isn't attached to a lock of any kind. There is a lock on the other door - you can tell it's a lock because the bolt is out - though what the bolt is supposed to go into isn't apparent because there's no where for it to fit into on the other door - not that they meet anyway.

Once inside, assuming you can get past scary, but reassuring, folded arms woman (arms crossed, a classic 'guarded' posture but with a calmly confident smile) - maybe by waiting she goes for a pee, she can't stand there all day - you're into the hub of eBay's crack team of cyber crime fighters. CSI:eBay. Who seem to be happily standing around chatting, looking out of the window, and generally goofing off rather than pummelling account-jackers to bloody pulps with blunt instruments or water-boarding those idiots who pointlessly list shit that no one in their right minds is going to buy (because a there are 30,000 identical items, without any bids on, already listed at a lower price.) That's what I want the people in charge of making sure my account isn't ripped off by some Russian scammers to be doing. I want eBay to be patrolled by Judge Dredd and rabid Rotweillers, not some extras from the Ikea catalogue.

Rant over.

Friday, September 09, 2011

I'm going to jump the gun here and give you a wee chunk of this month's movie list 20 days early: Over the past few days I've climbed off my Crap Italian SF Tits and Arse Zombie Horror Movie treadmill and watched some real films. With subtitles and proper acting. No zombies. No spaceships. People. (Okay, sometimes they're naked people but it's ART naked, not Tits and Arse naked; there's a difference.) Two nights ago:
Le Mépris (1963) - Jean-Luc Godard is another one. I mean he's another 'great' French film director I just don't get. In Le Mépris we get to watch Bridgette Bardot and Michel Piccoli walk about a lot, climb in and out of the bath and wander about some more as they spend 70 minutes trying to work out whether to go Jack Palance's villa in Capri (or not), eventually they decide to go then spend 20 minutes being unhappy when they get there, "Why do you hate me?" - and then one of them dies in an off-screen road accident.


Because the copy I watched was a VHS on the BFI Connoisseur label (50p inc. postage on eBay) I slipped out the insert to read the extensive notes printed therein:

'Following the gleeful iconoclasm of his early features, Godard achieved maturity in a string of masterworks interrupted, post 1968, by a decade of Laocoon-like struggles with Marxism and cinematic deconstruction.'

Laocoon it turns out (I looked him up) was a Trojan priest who got smitten by the gods for fucking in church. First blinded, and then strangled by a snake. (And I hereby repent of the quickie I had in that baptist church in Cardiff all those years ago with a Swedish girl whose name I forget.)
As you may have gathered I had never come across this Laocoon feller before in my puff.

This Laocoon Feller mid-smite.
Arty T&A (and willies)

Tonight, in the bath reading the final entry in the Dilys Powell Film Reader (which has been my bathroom book for the past couple of months), I read:
'Suddenly, as I recall whole days spent with eyes trained on a Laocoön-complex of heaving pectoral muscles and shoulder blades...'

Or not. Maybe it's some sort of badge of honour for film critics to mention him. Maybe it's part of some elaborate arty in-joke. The Laocoön Complicity, isn't that a Robert Ludlum? Now that I've cracked it I expect Alexander Walker to turn up on my doorstep with a bucketful of money and the key to the Sight and Sound executive bathroom.

Or not.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Just to get the tediousnocity out of the way for the month, it's my monthly record of eyeball abuse. This week with tits! and Brian Blessed! (I almost had you interested there.)

  1. Dragonslayer (1981) - which for my sins I have never seen before. Daughter number one chose it for a family film night - she's got a thing about dragons at the moment and was reassured that, because it was a Disney film, 'it wouldn't be (too) scary'. That's that rule of thumb gone down the drain then. We were both snuggled together on the sofa but I don't know who was reassuring whom. A Disney film with nudity and where the feisty princess gets eaten! What a eye-opener. I loved it. Fucking brilliant dragon too, but Ralph Richardson as usual, and without breaking sweat, stole the show away from everyone. Damn, that man had great timing. (H)

  2. The Elevator (1996) - A successful Hollywood writer/producer gets trapped in a lift and he has to endure hearing four semi-demented short scripts of a wanabee writer trapped in there with him. An incredibly long 92 minutes. Starring the writer, and the producer (who were, at the time, married) the shorts we get to 'enjoy' are dull predictable talking-head two handers with occasionally some very abrupt lurches into stagy theatre lighting thrown in. Currently not flying off the shelves in Poundlands everywhere.

  3. Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) - What an unholy mess of a film. To help the audience cope with the previously unsuspected fact that fictional Scottish icon Connor MacCleod 'The Highlander' (played by Frenchman Christopher Lambert) and his Spanish oppo Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (played by real life Scottish icon, Sean Connery) are in fact really aliens from the planet Zogfart the script has to have characters recap the story so far:

    Okay, now let me just see if I can get this straight... You're mortal there but you're immortal here, until you kill all the guys who're from there who've come here... and then you're mortal here. Unless you go back there, or some more guys from there come here, in which case you become immortal here - again.

    Something like that.

    When they got round to making Highlander 3 they pretended this one hadn't happened.

  4. The Lawnmower Man (1992) - One of those films that has been on my radar for a while - ie it keeps turning up in car boot sales but I have never actually got round to buying it. It usually manifests itself on one of those Hollywood four films on two DVD disc sets along with three other films no one wants to watch. Today I found it in one of my local charity shop haunts where they give away VHS tapes, they're so unsaleable these days. So, finally, I get to watch The Lawnmower Man for free! - well, for the price of the electricity used to power the TV and VHS player (+ 35 or so p for the popcorn) - and as it was originally intended. On a big box, ex-rental VHS with 20 minutes of trailers for films no one wanted to watch (then or since) and adverts for the Commodore Amiga 600 home computer.

    The Lawnmower Man (when I finally got to it after all the hard sell) turns out to be your usual Hollywood mashup on the Frankenstein theme. This time thrown into the mix are great chunks of classic heartbreaker SF story Flowers for Algernon and slabs of Tron, other randomly tossed in ingredients included the Evil Corporation (whose evil minions handily keep boxes of easy to operate, push button demolition charges in their standard evil henchmen black vans), a cute kid, an evil priest, and an hilariously inept set piece in which an abusive father is chased round his own home by a telepathically controlled killer lawnmower. As shite as it sounds. There was a sequel - for which I am now actively searching.

  5. Sphere ( 1988 ) - Ditto radar, ditto car boot sales, same charity shop. Sphere is Solaris underwater with explosions, mutilations, death and oodles of dodgy make-it-up-as-we-go-along Hollywood 'science'.

    The trailers were less interesting on this tape. Couldn't tell you what they were for but I do remember noticing that more of them were adverts for things than for other films. This VHS copy was released a few years later than The Lawnmower Man one and for sale rather than rental. I guess the marketing guys have it all worked out that repeat viewers are more likely to be sold Mars Bars than being reminded of the awfulness of Project Shadowchaser. One thing that hadn't changed though was that both tapes started with British Voice-over Man loudly booming, "Beware of Illegal Video Cassettes!" at me. Makes them sound dead scary and dangerous. Like little cuboid gremlins that'll slide out from underneath the furniture and bite your ankles*. I watch my films with all the lights off and a bag of popcorn to hand in as close an approximation to a cinema experience as I can manage in my own living room (I even change seats twice before I'm happy and yesterday outdid myself by spilling a fizzy drink so the floor ended up all sticky). Before I sit down to a film these days I've taken to looking behind the sofa in case there are illegal video cassettes lurking down there, waiting to attack me during 'a scary bit'. God, I wish the films I watched were more interesting.

    * The film rights to this stupid idea are still available, talk to my agent.

  6. Alien Resurrection (1997) - Another set of dittos. Loathed and castigated by many die hard Alien fans (there are some weird people in the world; they're MOVIES, you saddos!). This is the fourth in the series, and looked at in isolation (it's many years since I saw 1, 2, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen 3 all the way through), is not that bad a film for a 'Oh crap we're trapped in an enclosed environment with KILLER THINGIES and the only way out takes us via an infeasibly complex route' type film. Okay, it goes a bit tits up at the end but so do a lot of other films loved by cadres of devoted hardcore fans. There were some nice touches here, a few genuine scares, and a couple of laugh out loud moments - the best surely being the moment when Rod Perlman's character freaks out after an Alien attack and uses a HUGE gun to shoot a normal sized spider on its web.

    The script is credited to Joss Whedon and I was struck by the similarities between the ragtag crew of opportunists and smugglers from 'The Betty' and the ragtag crew of smugglers and opportunists from Firefly, a series Whedon brought to the screen 5 years later.

  7. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) - I wanted to like this so much. It started well but I was fed up and irritable by the end of it. So much so that I was in full on nitpicking mode. For example, when Edmund gets mortally wounded near the end, and then gets dosed with Susan's 'Get Out Of Jail' magic 'One Drop Will Cure Anything' juice that Father Christmas gave her - he recovers. One second Argh Ugh Snotty little twerp dying from having a sword thrust into his belly, the next, sitting up big hugs loves and kissy kissy. By Jingo that's some good stuff!. Why didn't it immediately heal the split lip the make-up department had been diligently keeping continuity with on his bottom lip? You can see I was really involved with the action can't you? And was the wicked Jadis's chariot pulled by polar bears as some kind of dig by the overtly Christian producers at well known atheist Philip Pullman's polar bear-like panserbjørne? The kids, needless to say, LOVED it. (L)

  8. Cosmos War of the Planets (1977) Prompted by a post on another forum I rewatched this - and so can you! It's available free via I thoroughly recommend it to all. It is a very unintentionally funny and very surreal film. I defies all known conventions of film logic (even Italian ones). For most of it's running time it Just. Makes. No. Sense. I imagine it would be even surrealier* and funnier stoned but even dead cold sober (9 years and counting) it's still laugh out loud stupid. And contains moments of SF genius that will live with you for years - no matter how hard you try to forget them. I especially recommend the 'sex' scene at the 23 minute mark. Now THAT's foreplay.

    AND it has well-endowed Astro-crumpet to try and distract.
    from the plot deficiencies. What more could a man ask for?

    * there is now.

  9. Ghostwatcher (2002) - Zero budget, underachieving 'horror' that almost had a couple of nice moments but was so plodding tedious that I ended up watching the last third with my thumb on the FF button of my remote. Another £1 wasted at Poundland. Laughing all the way to the bank those buggers.

  10. Space Cowboys (2000) - I loved it. A real joy of a film - right until the moment they actually got into space and it suddenly went from being a gentle, amusing, and well presented tale about friendship and regret, redemption and ambition finally being achieved - and turned into Moonraker...

    Holy crap what just happened?

    It was like the last reel was from a different film, like The Dish suddenly turning into Mad Max for the last twenty minutes, or Gregory's Girl turning into Highlander II. The only saving grace was that it looked like nobody involved - apart from the special effects guys - gave a fart about this bolted on, 'we got to do this shit to sell it to the studios', 'action' sequence and it is an utter shambles.

  11. Tropic Thunder ( 2008 ) - Started off funnily enough but by the end had descended into a slice of the usual America wish-fulfilment crap in which any bunch of American Male amateurs, no matter how stupid, armed with with automatic weapons - even loaded with blank ammunition - can beat the crap out of any army of non-Americans with automatic weapons, no mater how well-trained, profession, or desperate they are. The only thing that really kept me watching till the end was Robert Downey Jr.'s show-stealing turn as the Australian actor who 'blacked up' for his role and always stayed in character until he'd recorded the DVD commentary.

  12. Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) - Some really shoddy science (simultaneous nuclear bomb tests knock the world out of orbit and towards the sun) but some great film making. A smart script that has our protagonists acting like real people in the face of possible catastrophic end of the world. They carry on doing their jobs and hope for the best. Nothing they can do, no false heroics, no Hollywood bullshit and even after studio interference the film has a wonderfully unresolved ending. (The world is basically fucked - or it isn't. We don't find out.)

    I'd never seen it with the coloured bookend sections before, they were a nice surprise. The opening is tinted a hot bright orange and the film is told in a nice cool black and white flashback. And I don't remember it being so damn sweatily sexy either:

    Curiously she didn't ever work for Disney again after this... )

    Apparently I have been remembering a slightly less fleshy, American version in which the same scenes were played out with Janet Munro showing less boobage. We used to make damn fine films in this country.

  13. The Bruce (1996) - and we also made some right old shit too. Starring Brian Blessed, Oliver Reed, and 'Wolf' from the Gladiators*...

    ...The Bruce, tells the story of Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, as he unites the 13th Century Scots in a rebellion against the hated English, led by Edward I - not to be confused with the film Braveheart (which came out the year before) in which William Wallace, a commoner, unites the 13th Century Scots in their battle to overthrow English rule. Not that anyone would confuse the two. For starters Braveheart had a budget that extended beyond getting the local battle re-enactment societies to amble past the camera in their Sunday best and unenthusiastically cheer from time to time. I presume they could also afford some professionals. It must be hard trying to recreate the Battle of Bannockburn with a hundred amateurs and the one stunt man mentioned in the credits. Dreadful music too. It just maundered around trying to be endlessly stirring and ended up underlining the deficiencies in the direction and a script which flopped all over the place and pissed away all the hard work put in by the actors. One particularly dreadful moment came when Robert the Bruce encounters the treacherous Comyn in church. Comyn points out they cannot fight on hallowed ground, this sentiment, expressed by one Hairy Scot Wig (tm) bewigged actor to another can only mean one thing to a true red-blooded Scot (or bad movie fan)... HIGHLANDER! As the entire audience cry; "There can only be one!" the two have a badly arranged fight and Comyn is killed, but, sadly, not beheaded in an orgy of special effects. The Bruce flees and the body is discovered. "Murder! ... Sacrilege!" the discoverer cries. And continues to cry, over and over again, "Murder! ... Sacrilege! Sacrilege! ... Murder! ... Sacrilege!" as the directors leisurely pans down the victim's outstretched arm to eventually arrive at The Bruce's cross clutched in his hand. I guess the intention was to have this damning piece of evidence used later in the film to prove The Bruce as the killer - except it isn't. It's never mentioned again. Either the sequence it was placed there for was edited out, never shot, or, more likely than not, never scripted. So why have the extended shot in there at all? And why have the off-camera voice of the poor sod actor endlessly shouting "Murder! ... Sacrilege! ... Sacrilege! Murder! ... Sacrilege!" as it played? Well, there had to be something on the soundtrack I suppose but it's really down to bad editing and shitty direction. Add, rubbish lighting, minimal set dressing (everyone in the 13th Century lived in huge castles with no furniture, or small hovels with no crops in the surrounding fields), occasional adequate acting (did I mention Brian Blessed was in it?), and you have a seriously dull film on your hands.

    *The trailer for production company Crowell Pictures' previous film, Chasing the Deer, contained the immortal line "...and introducing fish..." which sent my mind off in 34 different directions (including a hilarious 'Haddock meet Cod, Cod, Haddock' routine) before I was vastly disappointed to realise they meant Fish, the singer from Genesis-lite prog rockers Marrilion, making his feature film début.

  14. Toy Story (1985?) - Eben, aged 2, gets to chose this week's Weekly Family Pizza Night film. He likes Buzz.

  15. American Scary (2006) - A slight, cheaply made, documentary - ie lots of talking heads sat in front of wrinkled fabric draped across the background - giving a whistlestop history of the TV Horror Movie Host. A peculiar minor art in which people dress up in Halloween costumes and and introduce crappy films on local TV stations late at night. No Cassandra Peterson (Vampira) boo! but they managed to get Maila Nurmi (Vampira), and Neil Gaiman (Neil Gaiman) to talk to them. What could have been an interesting little project was spoiled by obvious TV slot editing and some dreadful music. As a way of gluing the rapid machine gun cutting of talking heads together someone had the bright idea of running music underneath everything like musak in a lift. It got very irritating.

  16. Zombie Strippers ( 2008 ) - There were actually a couple of nice gags buried in this piece of shit. Small ones. Not worth digging for. Why do American males in films turn into howler monkeys at the sight of a pair of plastic tits? I spent half the film bemusedly fascinated by the rigid immobility of Jenna Jameson's boobs. I wasn't punching the air with mock hysteria like the extras in the club, I was trying to work out what they were. They were fascinating, looked like like pink soup bowls stuck on the front of her chest - with nipples on top.

    The IMDB tells me that the film came in under budget, by which I can only assume the director didn't have a second cup of coffee.

  17. Catch Me If You Can (2002) - Well that was an amiable bit of fun.

Dear Blog. It's been months since I bored the world with an Every Book I have read list. In fact I don't seem to have done it at all this year. So here goes:

  1. The Dancers of Noyo - Margaret St.Clair. 'How long would men dance beneath the whips of the androids?' Dull 1973 SF novel in which our heroes get captured and escaped with relentless monotony (sometimes between chapters) and a lot of unexplained spooky action at a distance stuff goes on, groovy cover though.
  2. The City Dwellers - Charles Platt (1970) A collection of linked short stories, snaphots from a loose future history that charts the decline of the human population which clings stubbornly to a decaying city. Reminded me that I haven't read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles for a few years. I like books that are collections of short stories that form a larger narrative. Keith Roberts Pavane is very good example. The City Dwellers is a pale shadow of both those books.
  3. The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling Bedtime reading with the girls.
  4. Projections 10 - ed. Mike Figgis
  5. The Food of the Gods - HG Wells. 40 odd years since I read this. I must have been a tenacious reader as a kid or skipped a lot. I don't remember it being anything like a preachy as it is. People sermonise at each other at great length.
  6. Diary of a Nobody - G & W Grossmith


  1. Gentlemen of the Road - Michael Chabon. Rollicking old-fashioned historical adventure yarn full of hairsbreadth escapes and convenient coincidences which only stopped me dead in its tracks once. The word 'teamster' seemed wildly out of place in the world of the Byzantine Empire.
  2. The Syndic - C M Kornbluth. A 1953 SF novel set in a future where the Syndicate and the Mob rule. Surprisingly funny.
  3. The Priests of PSI - Frank Herbert. More proof, if proof be needed, that had he not written Dune, Herbert would be long forgotten by now.
  4. Solaris - Stanislaw Lem. I have meant to read this for a long long time. The 1972 film version has been a favourite of mine since I first saw it in the mid 70s. After repeated watchings I'm still no clearer what it's all about. Reading the book hasn't really helped me to a deeper understanding of it. The film is much more layered and mysterious, with the book (which in parts I found ponderously dull) acting as a central core from which much more interesting ideas and images have been spun.
  5. Vortex: New Soviet SF - Ed. C G Bearne. More Soviet era SF. Short stories this time, a couple of them interesting, A couple just dull and a couple of them so hackneyed they wouldn't have been out place in a copy of Tales to Astonish:
  6. Run to the Stars - Michael Scott Rohan. Modern(ish) but 'good old-fashioned', 'only one man can save the Earth', crash and bash SF. (Except that, in the end, he doesn't manage it and the implication is that he also fails to stop a planet full of aliens getting destroyed too.)


  1. Toyman- E C Tubb. The third (of the 33) adventures of lone rent-a-hero, Earl Dumarest as he wanders the galaxy looking for his lost home planet, Earth. I read several of these as a kid and remember them as not being that interesting. I was right. Page turning pulp from an author credited with writing over 140 novels and 230 short stories and novellas, many of which I must have read but none that I can bring to mind. Curiously, re-reading Toyman 35 or so years after I first read it bought back none of the memories of time or place that re-reading half remembered books often invoke. Utterly forgettable - I probably didn't even notice I was reading it.
  2. Tales of Wonder - H G Wells. Not quite as wonderful as they probably once were but interesting as precursors of modern SF. One story 'The Star' is an interesting precursor of Wells' own War of the Worlds.
  3. Mission to the Stars - A E Van Vogt. More weirdness from Van Vogt - though not as weird and badly written as his later stuff. Starts out as a rip roaring full blown space opera (one spaceship has a crew of 30,000!) and ends as a cheesy romance. The odd shape of the book may be due to the fact it is a 'fix-up' of previously published stories.
  4. Into the Labyrinth - Francoise Mallet-Joris. 'A tender and Brutal Story of Forbidden Love' no less.

    A French teenager is seduced by her father's mistress and swans around wallowing in self-inflicted teenage misery for 150 pages before deciding to stop.

    I adored her for saying that. She was holding in her lap a long sheaf of flowers and she looked, in her yellow blouse, like a dazzling idol a Mexican or Incan godess in a temple lost in the jungle full of precious stones and serpents. And on my shoulder she laid her hand, that brown, hard, lined hand of a haymaker, not at all the hand of a sexual pervert but rather a hand made to lie on the neck of a horse or the hip of a woman, with its fingers a little too flat, a little too supple, evoking the hands of Chinese torturers.
    The author was only 19.

  5. Veruchia - E C Tubb. More instantly forgettable adventure (5 of 33) with lone rent-a-hero, Earl Dumarest. This time the book contained a fantastic amount of blank paper. Most publishers seem to like to start chapters on the recto (right hand) page so if a chapter ends somewhere on a right hand page it will be immediately followed by a blank verso (left hand) page. Here chapters are headed by a chapter number that takes up a whole page. The numbers aren't very big and are surrounded by a lot of white paper (well yellowish and slightly foxed paper, this book is 40 years old), this is followed by a blank verso page and the text of the next chapter starts about a third the way down the following recto. This book is 191 pages long. By the time you have taken away all the blurbs, printing history, 'other books by this author', title page, and advertising at the back, you are left with 181 pages. 18 pages of that (10%) are totally blank apart from the chapter numbers (that's whole pages, I haven't included all the bits, the blanks thirds at the start of every chapter and the half empty pages at their ends which must add up to another four or five pages in total). No wonder it didn't take long to read.


  1. Of Time and Stars - Arthur C Clarke. More quaint, old-time SF shorts.
  2. Kaleidoscope Century - John Barnes.
  3. Raven 2: A Time of Ghosts - Richard Kirk the pen name for Robert Holdstock who was writing with his tongue firmly stuck in his cheek. Well, I hope he was taking the piss; it made me laugh so much.

  4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Jack Finney. A crackingly well paced little chiller which copped out at the end - the films' endings are a vast improvement.
  5. Sea-horse in the Sky - Edmund Cooper. Read in one sitting, in one eyeball out the other, 'so what' SF.
  6. The World Grabbers - Paul W Fairman. Mercifully short novel of indeterminate genre in which our hero goes from one pointless circular conversation to another without learning anything about his nemesis or why a mysterious group of mystics won't stop him from taking over the world. Right at the end of the book the mysterious group of mystics do decide to stop him taking over the world for no apparent reason (other than the author had hit his contracted number of words) and the book just stops. Groovy cover though..

    by Jim Barker, on Flickr

  7. Earth Abides - George R Stewart. Early (1949) post-apocalyptic SF.
  8. A Rage in Harlem - Chester Himes

    Another book bought for 25p just because I liked the cover. What a discovery. It's great. I'm on the lookout for more Himes.
  9. Duel - Ed. William Patrick, a collection of "Horror stories of the road" that varied from ancient and creaky stories that just didn't bear resurrecting to a couple of interesting, more modern pieces. The best is the title story by Richard Matheson.
  10. Charisma - Michael Coney. Mid 70s British SF novel which swithers between being a traditional crime novel (who did murder the obnoxious hotel owner businessman Mellors?) and a parallel world love story. The only people who can travel to a parallel world have to be dead in the world they are going to; if the person in the destination world was still alive and the two met they would cancel each other out and vanish. The hero loves a girl who is dead in this world and conversely he is dead in hers. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing between worlds as the hero becomes the main suspect in the murder case (probably because he did it - or rather his doppelgänger from another world did.) Lots of the same characters dying in different ways and it's all getting wonderfully confusing and mind-boggling before it all gets resolved in a cop-out ending that appears from nowhere. (But with a final twistette to sweeten the disappointment.) Christopher Nolan should make a film version.


  1. Wildeblood's Empire - Brian M Stableford. Innocuous mid 70s SF.
  2. The Anarchistic Colossus - A E van Vogt. Late, and therefore almost incoherent, van Vogt. Van Vogt is one of those rare writers who actually seemed to get worse over the years. SF writer and critic Damon Knight said that
    van Vogt "is no giant; he is a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter." Knight described The World of Null-A as "one of the worst allegedly-adult science fiction stories ever published." About van Vogt's writing in general, Knight said:
    In general van Vogt seems to me to fail consistently as a writer in these elementary ways: 1. His plots do not bear examination. 2. His choice of words and his sentence-structure are fumbling and insensitive. 3. He is unable either to visualize a scene or to make a character seem real.

    And though I agree with just about every word of that I find his books compulsive reading. They are so odd I just can't put them down and while his contemporaries from the Golden Age went on to write longer and longer more complex tomes (I'm thinking particularly of Robert Heinlein's later doorstops of novels) van Vogt continued write fairly short books. This one clocks in at 176 pages and I had no idea what was going on for most of them.
  3. The Wages of Fear - Georges Arnaud. Another book picked up because I liked the groovy cover - then remembered the film was pretty terrific.

    The book is pretty good too. From time to time it looks like it's suffering from translator trouble and it takes a long time to get to the meat of the story but when we get there the almost suicidal attempt to drive two trucks loaded with Nitroglycerine along a rough and unmade South American road is gripping stuff.
  4. Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905) - Edwin Lester Arnold. Limp 'I go to Mars by some magical means (flying carpet!?) and almost have some incredible coincidence-laden adventures, including rescuing and falling in love with a Martian princess, before being mysteriously returned to Earth'. Six years later Edgar Rice Burroughs used almost exactly the same storyline in his A Princess of Mars, Burroughs made his hero more vigorous and proactive, made the coincidences even more outrageous, and cleaned up. Princess of Mars still sells by the shitloads and is getting a film adaptation as we speak, Gullivar Jones is an obscure bit of SF that is almost totally forgotten; though the character Gullivar Jones does geekily turn up from time to time in more modern works. He is the first character to appear (magic carpet and all) in Vol 2 of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adventures.
  5. Simon Rack: Earth Lies Dreaming - Laurence James. The first book by the incredibly prolific Laurence James (he wrote at least 150 books under various pseudonyms). The first of a short lived series, five books were published, featuring an interstellar James Bond type and his pun prone sidekick. All sex and violence. Being published in the seventies the violence is bone-crunching, eyeball-poppingly graphic and, being British, the sex never quite happens on the page. It's total shite.
  6. The Monitors - Keith Laumer. Funny (in places)1960's SF.


  1. The Undercover Aliens - AE van Vogt aka The House That Stood Still which is my second favourite pointless book title. (The first is The Man With Only One Head). More bewilderingly plotted nonsense from a master of the genre. This time the bewilderingly plotted nonsense concerns a bunch of immortal Aztec cultists and their radioactive marble house and one of their number's overly complex shenanigans to destroy the others and take over the world. When I tell you that the plot involves secret tunnels (as does every other van Vogt book I have read. I suspect he wrote secret passages into his spaceships when he could), immortal Aztecs pretending to be Martians and destroying nuclear bomb factories in hostile countries, secret spaceships that launched from (and returned to - without anyone noticing) downtown office blocks, lifelike masks which could be applied in seconds and make the wearer indistinguishable from whoever they were modelled upon, a three thousand year old mind-reading alien robot, a private investigator, phials of three thousand year old plus transuranic elements 'unknown on Earth', and a hero who manages to fall in love with the daughter of an ancient Roman official in Britain (shipwrecked in California (sic) on her way home to Rome) - and get slugged unconscious several times during the course of the 172 pages, you will have some idea of why, even having just finished the damn thing, I have no idea who did what to whom or why in the end. Imagine Enid Blyton deciding to write an SF novel while on acid. That's the flavour.
  2. Screen Burn - Charlie Brooker. I laughed. A lot. I have no idea who half the people he was talking about were but his spleen is so well vented I don't think I missed much. Most wannabee celebulites are pretty interchangeable anyway (from what I gather from my brief glances at the covers of Hello!, Chat! Take a Break! and Twat! and the other celeb mags up on display at the checkouts in Morrisons - in true Charlie Brooker style I just made that last one up though, to continue in Brooker mode, it would make make a great magazine - Celebs naked from the waist down. I'd buy it.) More!
  3. The Status Civilization - Robert Sheckley.
  4. Dawn of the Dumb - Charlie Brooker. I laughed. A lot. Again.
  5. The Saint Closes the Case - Leslie Charteris. I've never read a Saint book before which I thought was an oversight. I doubt if I will read another.


  1. Body Politic - Paul Johnston. A serial killer novel set in an ill thought out Orwellian future. Another of those books set in a hypothesised future written by someone who don't like (or understand) SF. The author even disclaims any SFness on his webpage, "the novels are not sci-fi" he says. Which raises the question why bother coming up with a (not very) complex society different from our own in which to set the story? Sorry, kiddo, you do that and you've stuck a bloody big SF label on yourself no matter how hard you deny it's there and, unfortunately for you, it's going to get measured, judged, whatever by the rules of that particular genre. As a crime novel, I've read worse, as an SF novel, it's shit.
  2. Adam, One Afternoon - Italio Calvino.
  3. Wetworld - Mark Michalowski. A dire Dr Who novel only because daughter number one had just read it and I wanted to see what she what she was enjoying - she's young.
  4. I am Legend - Richard Matheson. First time I had ever read it. Another Must read classic of the genre ticked off. Not bad.
  5. The Underground Man - Ross MacDonald (a Lew Archer Mystery). Dreadfully dull. I will not be going back for more.
  6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S Thompson. Many years since I read this. I had forgotten how funny it was.
  7. Michael Tolliver Lives - Armistead Maupin. Many years since I read the Tales in the City books (end to end, in one go) and this was a wistfully sad little coda.
  8. Foundation - Isaac Asimov. Another of those Great Novels of SF which, when you actually look at them objectively don't look that good all these years later. In this one we get to see the fall and rise of Galactic Empires via the medium of people in offices describing the political situation to each other in one to one meetings.
  9. Bad Science - Ben Goldacre. One of those books which I am going to lend to people and loose.


  1. The Eye in the Pyramid - Robert Shea and Anton Wilson. The first of The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Not as weirdly compelling as when I read it back in the early 80s. But I was stoned half the time back then.
  2. The Survivalist No. 6: The Savage Horde - Jerry Ahern. Jesus, Mary and all the Saints! This has to be THE single most fuckingly awful book I have ever read. 59 chapters spread over 208 pages (that's 3.5 pages per chapter - though some are actually less than a page long) of porny gun-wanking in which our 'hero', John Thomas Rourke, shoots people. Lots of people. He must kill at least hundred people in this book. He doesn't ask many questions before shooting them either, but it's all right really, this is Post Apoc America and the people he kills with relentless and boring frequency are all 'brigands' or 'wildmen', hairy ill-shaven (and therefore amoral) targets for clean shaven and God fearing him to gun down page after page after page after page.
    “He already had the target-a man about six-foot four, unshaven, his black leather jacket mud-stained, a riot shotgun in his hands, the pump tromboning* as the twelve-gauge, roughly .70 caliber muzzle swung on line.”
    To break the monotony reading about John Thomas shooting people in the head page after page we are often treated to fetishistic descriptions of guns being reloaded; the hero's weaponry: a pair of chromed Detonics Combat Master .45 pistols in Alessi shoulder holsters, Colt Python and Colt Lawman revolvers, an A.G. Russell Sting 1A knife, and a shoulder sling with a CAR-15 assault rifle; and, occasionally, a parallel story in which John Thomas' wife shoots hairy amoral, would be rapists in the head with either an M-16 assault rifle or .45 automatic - even their 8 year old son gets in the act and shoots the occasional hairy ill-shaven biker in the head - though he has to make do with an antique lever action .30-30 Winchester rifle. There are twenty-nine books in the series. Four books after this one (according to Wikipedia) the united Rourke family get themselves cryonically frozen and wake up 500 years later - by which time the human race will have presumably bred enough targets for them to bother getting up again.
    *'Tromboning' is, apparently, a genuine shooting term and nothing to do with the male gay sexual act of the same name.
  3. The Disaster Zone - J G Ballard.
  4. Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex - Mary Roach. Mildly entertaining, but sometimes irritatingly smug, book about the science of sex. Very reassuring too, every time I read about another interestingly horrible sexual dysfunction it was like ticking off another 'No' box in some extensive medical check-list in my head. I came out the other end of the book reassured by my (relative) sexual non weirdness, but above all glad I don't spend my days doing any of this research for a living - or even masturbating pigs to orgasm to increase their fertility, as employees on Danish farms are encouraged to do (there is an illustration showing how to do this). Not one to read anywhere near kids who are likely to over your shoulder and ask, "What's that man doing?"

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