Friday, 5 February 2016

Take Two

The previous attempt is scrunched up and shunted to the bottom of the page. It's time to go for the second take, where everything is more sincere, and the encroaching artifice is thrown away in favour of giant penguins and the march of insomnia across the land. Yes, welcome to the Quirky Muffin, where a rhythm has been difficult to find following that trip overseas.

In coming days, including the mild but hopefully invisible disruption that you won't notice, you can expect a multitude of things. Specifics are not available at this time, but continuations of 'The Glove', 'The Ninja Of Health' and 'Diary Of A Laundry Robot' could all pop up, as could some book related posts. The land of topical news is too gloomy to be mentioned, but hopefully some chatter will run about 'M*A*S*H', 'The Invaders' or 'Quantum Leap'. Actually, that last series is making a comeback in my estimation after years in the doghouse but we'll get to that in good time. I really want to get the stories back on track and hope to work on the active ones, before kicking off 'The Wheels In The Sky' and the continuing second phases of 'Wordspace' and 'Triangles'. Theoretically, the years-long story order of priority would look something like this:

'The Ninja Of Health';
'The Glove';
'Diary Of A Laundry Robot';
'Oneiromancy' (revised whole);
'The Disappearance' (revised whole);
'The Wheels In The Sky';
'Triangles, Phase II';
'Wordspace, Phase II'.

How's that for an ambitious scheme? The stories have been really difficult recently, and 'The Glove' has been difficult for years now! I wonder why? It may actually have to be junked, which is a scary concept. That's right, a first scrapped story project! We've had reboots, and excised chapters before, but never an entirely scrapped project... There needs to be something novel at the heart of it, and there really isn't at the moment. Maybe having a story where the novelty is that the space colony is Scottish isn't quite enough? We shall see.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Movie: 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids' (1989)

Its virtue lies in its simplicity, sincerity and innocence. Its value is enhanced by Rick Moranis in his signature role, and an excellent surrounding cast. The story is rich in character and naturally steeped in spectacle. The film is 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids' (HISTK), and there can no impartiality in this post.

HISTK is a funny and amazingly detailed adventure movie, yes they used to make adventure films back in the day, about zany inventor Wayne Szalinski working on a miniaturization beam in his attic, his worried wife, and the adventure of both their and their neighbouring couple's children, when they're accidentally shrunk down to bug size and dumped out with the trash at the other end of the back yard. Will the kids make it through the now jungle of a backyard, and will Wayne be able to restore them to normal? Well, that's not really the crux of the movie as it's really a coming of age story about the kids, two of them about to reach their majorities, and the other two of the younger variety.

One of the keys to HISTK lies in its homespun and detailed production design, where nothing but the miniaturization laser itself would look out of place in any standard suburban home, and everything looks naturalistic to the suburban setting. The enlarged garden and interior sets are marvelous and wonderfully detailed, to the point where you realise that floorboards and flagstones must really look like that at the smaller scales, and the hard work of constructing it all shines through brightly.

On paper, it's an effects-driven film, but in reality this is about three and a bit love stories, as two sets of parents reconcile, a star-crossed pair of adolescents discover each other, and their younger siblings gain and lose a quite unexpected friend while growing up a little in the process. Oh, and there's a flight on a manic bumblebee, for the effects lovers.

A long time ago, the nominal leading young lady of the piece, Amy of the jungle, was the receptacle for quite the teenage infatuation. Now, she's the standout performer of an amazingly talented youthful cast. Meanwhile, the adult stars are the ever notable Rick Moranis and Matt Frewer, backed up by Kristine Sutherland and Marcia Strassman (Nurse Margie Cutler from the first season of 'M*A*S*H'!), and all excel.

Before we finish, without any criticism as there's not really anything to criticize, special notes of recommendation go out to James Horner's fantastically jazzy score, the excellently maintained tone of the whole film, and its beauty in being only ninety minutes long. It completely works, and there's no attempt to pad it out at all. The humour is low key and detailed as often as it is broad and zany, and there remains nothing more to be said.


Note: None of the post applies to the sequels, which were reputedly cash-ins of the first order. Watch those at your own risk.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Literary Reflection, I

Building my book catalogue on LibraryThing, it's becoming clear that my collection is dominated by pulpy television spins-off, and length genre series, with a small number of one-off novels of undoubted excellence. There's a real absence of the heavyweight authors and worthy novels that some might find indispensable, but... It's good. It's amazing to see things afresh and really just how many 'Star Trek' novels are kicking about the place, or pick up an 'A-Team' novelization and find out it's actually well written! There was no need to avoid them for years due to fears of broken nostalgia! (That's what the 'Doctor Who: New Adventures' are for.)

While all these 'Star Trek' novels, volumes of 'Sherlock Holmes', Pratchett works, and the glorious David Eddings sagas may not be the most gloriously acclaimed texts in the history of literature, they did do a good job. I read voraciously, and then expanded. They set up everything that followed, and perhaps that's the thing to remember when compiling reading lists for students in English. The best thing is to make these introductory books interesting and exciting. So what if there aren't many contemporary books for boys? Let's feed them Willard Price, Jules Verne, and maybe even Zorro or Tarzan!

As part of the holiday cover, I wrote the inaugural 'On The Book Piles', which was a less in-depth survey of items on the reading mountains, and in a brief follow up, it's time to unleash some words on completed reads, which were maybe not interesting enough or noteworthy enough for their own posts.

'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court' (1889) by Mark Twain: Ultimately, despite the high concept of the idea, this novels falls foul of the laboured satire of the times. It begins well, and it ends well, but the strain of being so critical weighs it down horribly. As with 'The Prince And The Pauper', 'A Connecticut Yankee' feels like it has far too little story for its length, but the ambition was bold, and it surely counts as one of the forerunners of modern science fiction, just like Jules Verne.

'Jamaica Inn' by Daphne Du Maurier (1936): Ultimately, after a promising beginning, this never quite gets above my ultimate criticism of novels, which is to be written like a bestseller. The meaning of that criticism is ambiguous, but I choose to wield it as a reflection on a lack of secondary layers or meanings. There is nothing else happening apart from the text, and it's frustrating. You can get away with that in juvenile fiction, bestsellers and tie-in novels where familiarity adds subtext, but not here. Having said all that, it's a well written thriller, accounting for its success, but not one that ever needs to be re-read. There is nothing more to be found in the text.

'Dead Man's Cove' by Lauren St John (2011): This almost manages to get a post of its own, and may still. The first novel of the 'Laura Marlin' mysteries is an impressive one, and finally provides a youthful detective for girls. Yes, there was Nancy Drew before, but I never read a 'Nancy Drew'. Well conceived, and well written, the reason why it gets mentioned here instead of in its own post is the number of references to 'Jamaica Inn', rendering it thematically tied to the rest of the post. For me, the mystery stories were provided by 'The Hardy Boys', 'The Famous Five' and 'The Secret Seven', and it's nice to see some additions being made to the genre. Where will Laura Marlin's series go? There are still three novels to go. I just hope it doesn't get horrid with adolescent nonsense! It's nice to see a narrative based in St Ives.

There will be more literary reflections...


Saturday, 30 January 2016

Ramblings Of A Returned Traveller, II

Before getting back to the regular pattern of drivel alternating with reviews and stories, it might be nice to think about those travels once again. Standing outside the personal experience of it all, isn't it amazing that we can cross a distance that would take a ship a week in just the span of ten hours? It's true that you have to strap yourself into a flying metal death tube, be pressurised to an atmosphere near that experienced near the summit of Mount Everest, lose all sense of reality due to enforced dimming of the windows (thank you very much, Norwegian Air), and have all your allergies triggered by the air conditioning simultaneously, but... No, I can't do it. It's horrible to fly. Take the boat, you crazies, take the boat!

It's fun to travel, and see the world. America is one of the more strange places, though, with its curiosities such as firearms in large supermarkets, the absences of public conveniences, and the apparent inability to provide public transport systems that people will depend on. Yes, those car-developed cities are not the easiest to get around without some significant driving assistance. Oh, and sugar is in absolutely everything. Everything! Is that enough moaning? Yes? Finally!

It was good to experience Miami, especially when unleashed to wander myself, stumbling over marathons and toddling over the immense 'Venetian Causeway' that links the Miami Beach island to the rest of the city, and enjoying the great lifeguard huts on South Beach. In less well trodden fun things, it was also good to espy all three of the Dice Tower top ten videocast hosts at a board game shop in the Hollywood area, taking part in a monthly local gaming event. Yes, these things do happen and they can be very impressive. I must be a nerd to have gone out of my way to see those guys...

The Quirky Muffin will now return to its normal service. In the next few weeks, expect some chatter about 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids', some stories, and perhaps a thoughtful piece about Mark Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court'. I'm also building my LibraryThing book catalogue up a bit. It's something to do...


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Ramblings Of A Returned Traveller, I

How lovely it was to meet my longtime penpal Diaslen, and her esteemed spousal analogue. How nice it was to get the chance to explore a new city on a whole new continent. How awful, on the dark side, to be sick once again and have an awful plane journey. Such is the way of life. This must begin with a great thank you to my wonderful hosts, who drove me around, fed me, organised activities, and were generally far too nice! How wonderful it is to have such friends, and great wishes for their future are attached herewith.

Miami is a lovely city, but one not suited for the pedestrians! If I had travelled to all the places I saw by foot, the trip would have to have been twice as long, with ever more plane trauma added in for karmic retribution! Not only was there the traditional Gatwick rock and roll landing, but on the outgoing trip the lady next to me collapsed and had to be taken away by paramedics on landing. I hope she was okay after all that. Flying is a nasty business. I may never do it again, if it can be avoided.

Points of interest around and about Miami include Vizcaya House, a mansion built by a wealthy resident who wanted a picturesque house to live in and entertain in. The breakfast room is nice at Vizcaya, but the rest seems stuffy. The Cuban restaurant called Versailles is rather awesome, and has some wonderful fish. The Loewe Museum of International Art is also well worth a visit, as is the long long walk across the Venetian Causeway that links the island of Miami Beach to the mainland. Dania Beach is lovely and quiet in comparison to the famous South Beach, with its wonderful artist-designed lifeguard stations, and if you're lucky you might stumble across a marathon as I did. How bizarre it is to be wandering around at dawn in Miami South Beach, and stumble over a major marathon. Things like that don't normally happen, do they?

Sadly, the Venetian Pool was closed for refurbishment, as was the Bass Museum of Art, while the Science Museum was closed due to moving to a whole new building. The old building looked pretty nice, though, as did the sea whenever the beach was visited. You can't beat a green-blue sea, with rushing surf. One day, I'll get into that snorkelling experience on the Keys, or fail in my so far successful attempts to avoid the alligator swamps. Oh, next time, given the momentary insanity that will get me onto a plane or the decadence required for the sea journey, there will be snorkelling and oblivion to the mosquitoes. Actually, getting mosquito bites is pretty scary in these days of the Zika virus.

How's that for a start?


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

On The Book Piles - I

(Prepared in advance, for holiday cover. Many of these books will be finished in the thirty hours of travelling!)

I'm not here right now. This is a projection from the pre-Miami days, before everything became Spanish-based and I changed my name to Pablo. This is the beginning of a probably intermittently recurring feature about what's on or in the - gasp! - piles of books in progress right now, and how exactly they're going. So, let's go.

'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court' by Mark Twain

This novel is taking forever to read. Now, at far more than halfway through, it feels as if the same hammer of satire or criticism has been wielded far too many times on the same topics. Yes, it is at times funny, but there's not enough story there to have kept it going for so long. Perhaps it will pick up as I go into the finale.

'Jamaica Inn' by Daphne Du Maurier

I'm only a few pages in, and worrying that the Hitchcock film may have spoilt the whole thing. It's got to better than that movie, at least? Hopefully, it will be better than the Hitchcock of  Du Maurier's other famous novel, 'Rebecca', which was so dismal and overly long for its story, that it became interminable. This novel seems far better, in its stages.

'Journey To The West' (Volume 2) by Wu Cheng'en

Following on from volume one, what lies in story in volume two of this epic? Will Monkey finally be redeemed? Will the other questers Xuanzang, Friar Sand and Brother Pig make it to distant lands to bring back the Scriptures? Will the jokes be as good? Only time will tell.

'Armadale' by Wilkie Collins

The third of Collins' four great novels, and the novel that I was reading on my Kindle before it self-destructed. Will the saga of the Armadale family conclude in a better way than I think, or does manipulation and scandal await all?

'Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat' by Ernest Bramah

A LibraryThing recommendation, and one which promises much. Is it as funny and witty in its opening pages as 'Bridge of Birds'? No, not quite, but perhaps this patchwork of stories will culminate in something entirely different?

'Dean Man's Cove' by Lauren St John

A recommendation from a dear friend, which is very promising in its early pages. A young adult novel, a mystery, and it might have some similarities to the beginning of 'Jamaica Inn'? We will see.

'The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956' by Schulz

Schultz in his early pomp, where Linus forms his attachment to his blanket, Schroeder reached full Beethoven worship, and Lucy becomes the full fussbudget. Charlie Brown plays space alien.

'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' by Sigmund Freud

It's fascinating that Freud devoted so much attention to humour and jokes, but halfway through this novel it seems as if they do have some interesting connections to the unconscious. Many classifications of the types of jokes, and the

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

Another one of the books that have hung around for ages, due to book blocking. Darwin's account of his legendary voyage is fascinating both for the political and social history, as well as the natural sciences he was famous for. Want to know about South America? This one place to go.

'The Archetypes And The Collective Unconscious' by C.G. Jung

Longest standing non-fiction book on the piles, whis was abandoned at some point, but will be picked back up when Freud's joke book is done. Jung certainly knew what he was doing, but is very dense and difficult to read...

'Histories' by Herodotus

The legendary first history book in existence. Herodotus recounted tales from his own recent and classical histories. More stories than you can count, and one of the source materials that underpins classical history as a whole.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Television: 'The Adventures Of Superman: Round The World With Superman' (1954) (Episode 2x26)

(The author is in Miami right now. This post was prepared far, far in advance.)

This is a special episode of a great television show. It's cute, awesome, sweet and lovely. There's not a crook in sight, and it's all about the other side of being Superman. The side that almost never gets shown any more, that doesn't involve endless punching and brawling. It's true that there was plenty of beating up of bad guys in this series, but there were also other things. This exemplifies them all.

This was the last episode of the black and white version of 'The Adventures of Superman', and it seems that they wanted to go out on a bang, knowing that they wouldn't be back for a while. When they did return, more than a year later, it would be for four half seasons in colour, and with far more of a focus on pleasing the children than the family as a whole. That refocussing had already begun to happen when we arrived here at the second season finale, but it works perfectly.

The Daily Planet, an icon amongst newspapers, had been running a letter writing contest, for children who wanted to fly around the world with Superman. (At this point, I must confess once again to being more schmaltzy than any five other people put together). The winner turned out to be a blind girl who wanted the trip for her lonely mother, to cheer her up and distract her from her problems. The mother, who wanted nothing to do with the prize, got rid of the gallant Planet's reporters, but Clark was set on fixing the problem. First, he realised that the girl's blindness could be fixed after all (precise x-ray vision), and organised the vital operation. Meanwhile, Lois got to the bottom of the mother's issues, and when Superman returned from flying the girl around the world, her father was there waiting for her.

It sounds sentimental, I know, but it's a perfect encapsulation of a different kind of television and superheroics. Just as Ernie Bilko could be the sharpest card shark, but be knocked over by the smallest tug of his own conscience, Superman spend an episode not fighting criminals or lunatic inventions and instead fix some people's lives. Superheroes can be about helping people; that's not a crime. In fact, many of the most iconic heroes transcended their comic book origins because of their hearts and not their fists. Never forget that the first superhero was Sherlock Holmes, and that he spent more time helping people in his stories than capturing them.

Yes, this is the Quirky Muffin, purveyors of schmaltz since 2012, without shame. We could probably do with more sentimentality in the world.