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Out, Out, Damned Cold!

January 14th, 2017 (02:48 pm)
Tags: ,

current location: In the Bleak Midwinter
current mood: Chilled
current song: Oh, the weather outside is frightful...


I seem to have picked up my mother's cold as a parting gift from the North, so the first few days back home haven't exactly been productive. I've spent most of the time curled up on the couch under a blanket, which isn't absolutely necessary, but is comforting. It's one of those colds that mostly manifests as a wracking cough, so it's a useful excuse for breaking out the hot toddies. It's just as well I bought myself a new bottle of whisky pre-Christmas as I seem to need a hot drink in reach pretty much constantly even if they don't all have to be alcoholic..

Plus we had snow on Thursday night, so I'm not planning on going out anywhere until the cold fades away and it warms up. The snow itself has mostly melted, but taking the cough outside at the moment would likely leave me puddled on the floor with the rest of the snowmelt. I was amused to find from one of the articles about snow in the papers (this is Britain after all, even the prospect of weather is headline news) that I grew up about 5 miles away from the place that sees the 5th heaviest snowfall in the UK and the heaviest in England - Copley is a little village just up the road from Bishop Auckland, but does have the local weather station. No wonder I remember a lot of snow as a kid.

Kent doesn't see anything like as much snow, often none at all in a winter, but does tend to get a fairly good dose when it does - I've waded to work through waist deep snow when I was young and stupid but that was exceptional (it was noticeable that only the Northerners and the Welsh made it in that week day, none of the locals). This batch was only a couple of inches, but was falling quite heavily for several hours. As I have a streetlight at the bottom of the back garden to backlight it falling snow makes for a very pretty effect. It seemed to be quite waterlogged as snow goes, so heavier than it might have looked, and after a couple of hours I heard a dull thud from the patio. When I went to look I found my jasmine bush had peeled itself away from the fence and was flopped over the patio chairs. Fortunately it picked itself up once the snow melted off it and there's no need for me to go out and tie it up. I was very surprised it did fall over as there's definite triffid in its breeding and it curls itself around everything.

Of course the lack of regular snow here means no one knows how to drive in it, and it fell over the Thursday rush hour. I was truly glad not to be stuck in the queue of traffic that was inching down the main road into town. I have been stuck in it in the past, when I was still working, and it was truly miserable, an hour plus to get home instead of 5-10 minutes. There were also times pre-car when I was on foot, gave up on catching a bus and outpaced the traffic, on crutches. Not missing that at all (though I got some memorable evil glares from drivers as I effectively skied past them <g>).

OTOH I do actually like snow - my dad could never understand that, but ensuring the roads were all ploughed was one of his professional responsibilities (see above re place with most snowfall in England), so I can understand his mixed feelings - and I've not had any chance to enjoy the clean crispness and nippy chill of this batch, so is it really evil of me to hope we get some more in a week or two when I'm rid of this damned cold? Of course it's not exactly practical in the chair, but my New Years resolution is to try and get back into the daily waddle, the number of times I walked more than 100m in the last year is probably into double figures, but not by much (and I measured my length on a couple of those).
 

Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/107691.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

DWGism [userpic]

Well, you asked....

January 11th, 2017 (05:50 pm)
current location: Not crossing my legs anymore
current mood: More annoyed than I thought

Virgin Trains just emailed me and asked how my journey went yesterday and whether I was likely to recommend their service.

I gave them 3 on 10.

We're sorry that we didn't deliver a great service for you.  Could you tell us, in your own words, why you gave us that score?

I travelled as a wheelchair-using passenger in the Standard Class wheelchair space. (Coach F). The wheelchair space on the left side of the carriage places me in line with the aisle as it passes the accessible toilet, making my space a bottleneck. Passengers were continually brushing past me and with no door between carriage and vestibule space the environment was so noisy I could not hear announcements, safety or otherwise. The right hand Standard Class wheelchair space, which does not have these drawbacks, was occupied by a non-disabled passenger for the entire trip. (And passengers were being encouraged to place bulky luggage in the space a chair would have had to occupy had one boarded at York).

Additionally the accessible toilet was out of service for my entire trip of almost three hours, including the nearly two hour fast section between York and Kings Cross. I recognise that mechanical failures will occasionally happen, but none of the on-train staff thought to check whether the lack of a an accessible toilet was an issue for me. Given that a disabled passenger being forced to wet themselves through lack of an accessible toilet had been national headline news within the past week (even if with another TOC), this reflects poorly on Virgin East Coast's standards of customer care.

If it is not already policy that train staff should check with wheelchair using passengers if the accessible toilet is out of action, then it needs to be made so urgently.

I would also suggest that if a train has a wheelchair passenger due to board, and an out of service onboard toilet, the message be passed ahead to station passenger assistance staff and the passenger offered the options of i) being boarded in the other class if the wheelchair space is available (obviously with a refund in the case of a First Class passenger forced to travel Standard Class), ii) travelling by a later train, iii) opting not to travel and receiving a full refund.

It rather boggles the mind that on a previous journey on-train staff specifically approached me to offer to fetch and carry for me as the trolley service was out of action, but on this trip didn't even speak to me when the accessible toilet was out of action, no matter that at least two interacted directly with me during the ticket check.

If you have any other comments or feedback please type them in the box below.

On my prior journey to Darlington I received an offer of an upgrade to First Class for £20, with instructions to approach the Guard on the train to see if space is available. There appears to have been no thought to how this offer would work, or rather fail to, for a wheelchair-using passenger. By the time I have boarded it is impossible for me to upgrade to 1st Class because I cannot move through the train, nor can I move through the train to locate the guard to enquire if there is space for me to take up the offer.

As there is only a single First Class wheelchair space, in comparison with several carriages of non-wheelchair First Class spaces, the overwhelming likelihood is that wheelchair passengers are much less likely to be able to avail themselves of this offer than non-wheelchair using passengers.

Equally, to the best of my knowledge there are two Standard Class wheelchair spaces, but only a single First Class wheelchair space. If both Standard Class wheelchair passengers have received the offer, the Guard could be faced with two people requesting upgrade to the same single space at exactly the same moment. There appears to have been no thought whatsoever as to how the offer would function for a wheelchair-using passenger.

The offer can only function in a fair and equitable manner for wheelchair-using passengers if they have the same likelihood of being able to access it as non-wheelchair-users. It cannot work for them at all if they must wait to contact on train staff, and needs to be modified so that they can approach station passenger assistance staff instead in order to be boarded in the appropriate carriage.

As the system stands, Virgin East Coast are running offers that can only be used by non-wheelchair-using passengers, which constitutes direct disability discrimination and places the offer in violation of the Equality Act 2010. Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/107288.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

DWGism [userpic]

Home

January 10th, 2017 (09:16 pm)
current location: Cha'am

Finally back from Durham, normal service will be resumed as soon as I'm caught up with stuff.

No disasters with passenger assistance on the trains this time, but the accessible loo was out of action for the entire nearly three hour trip from Darlington to Kings Cross. I plan on gently needling Virgin East Coast about it on Twitter tomorrow. It gives a whole new meaning to #NoGoBritain ;)

And doubly troubling as lack of accessible loos was a headline story barely a week ago.

Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/107139.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

DWGism [userpic]

Belated Happy New Year!

January 3rd, 2017 (06:19 pm)
relaxed
Tags:

current location: Oop North
current mood: relaxed

Still in Durham and only getting internet when I get over to my sister's, but surviving. Weather is incredibly mild - 8c today, when we'd normally expect it to be hivering around zero.

Christmas was slightly topsy-turvy as we have a tummy bug working it's way around the family, we ended up doing presents on Boxing day instead and I bailed out early on New Years Eve as I wasn't completely over my bout with it. OTOH I left the house with £40 in my pocket and came back with £55, so that wasn't bad ;) (I'd still rather have had the bottle of whisky my -- teetotal -- Mother won in the raffle, OTOH I did win a hamper of chocolate in the Christmas one).

Normal service should be restored in about a week.

Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/106821.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

DWGism [userpic]

Just Checking In

December 21st, 2016 (05:59 pm)
cheerful

current location: Hyem
current mood: cheerful

 Made it up to Durham without too much trouble - the usual 50% hit rate on boarding assistance for the train - one waiting on the wrong platform with the ramp when we pulled into St Pancras, and the help at Kings Cross finally turned up just after they locked the doors. Fortunately the on-train staff stepped in in both cases. I was so ahead of schedule getting to Rochester that I was running an hour and a half of schedule. Of course that didn't help when I was on a fixed train out of King's Cross.

I've spent the last week doing nothing much at all, and enjoying it thoroughly!

Season's Greetings to everyone!
 

Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/106553.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

DWGism [userpic]

Seasonal Stuff

December 13th, 2016 (07:12 pm)
tired

current location: The edge of dreams
current mood: tired

I'm headed North for Christmas with the rest of the family in the morning and I can't find my mifi hub, so getting online is going to be a case of wandering over to my sister's - i.e. intermittent.

Given which: Season's greetings to everyone, in whichever is your preferred format.
 

I'm hoping the break in routine will let me reset my sleep pattern so I'm actually getting more than 4-5 hours sleep a night, which clearly isn't enough. I'm fighting to stay awake right now for long enough to pack, though fortunately there's not a lot of packing needed. I'd say I was feeling exhausted, except I've just seen my friends who are caring 24/7 for their adult son who has brain cancer, and my gauge for exhausted just got reset.

Stuff I'm hoping to do while away: work on book 2; consider rewrite of book 1 based on [personal profile] yhlee 's excellent comments; promised beta read - planning to load this onto kindle in a minute for tomorrow's train journey; respond to two different government consultations - work and health and disability hate crime - both due by January; and possibly blog on disability hate crime as well as I just realised the way prosecutions aren't working in court can be construed as forcing disability hate crime to pass a double jeopardy test.

Of course most plans don't survive contact with reality.
Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/106282.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

DWGism [userpic]

Several things make a post

December 10th, 2016 (01:54 am)
current location: Pre-Christmas Frenzy
current mood: Awake, dammit

I'm currently stuck in that thing where my body keeps insisting I fall asleep on the spot. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if I was getting 8 hours as a result, but it's been more like 4 or 5, or even 1 or 2, and that's just not enough. Worse, it means I'm tired enough any activity is triggering the fall asleep on the spot thing.

It's a good thing I'm off to spend Christmas and New Year with the family on Wednesday, as that will probably break the cycle. I haven't quite decided what I'm doing about internet while I'm up in Durham, it may just be intermittent access whenever I pop over to my sister's, or if I can find my MIFI hub I may buy a SIM and hope it lasts longer than the 2 hours of the one I bought last Christmas.

On the plus side, two years ago today I was being rushed through A&E with acute pancreatitis, so at least I'm doing better than that.

I spent 5 hours running errands today, and I think my body hates me for it. It wasn't meant to be 5 hours and it started quite well, I whipped through the stuff with my banks in Chatham - there was a really helpful guy on their helpdesk who did everything for me on the spot rather than sending me off to the teller windows, which made things much simpler. OTOH the Coastguard SAR helicopter was overhead and searching the river, which was a bit grim. But then I went to Rochester and it was full. I literally could not find a space to park at lunchtime. Presumably that was down to the Christmas Market in the Castle, but I couldn't park so I never got to find out. I went off and did some grocery shopping instead - okay some booze shopping, the bar is bare - and tried again at 3:30. Even then I only just managed to find a space, but at least I managed to get my repeat prescription (the one my GP forgot to do on Tuesday) and finally picked up my train tickets for the trip to Durham. God help anyone trying to park tomorrow if it was like this today.

So I came in and fell asleep. For 6 hours.

I hit a milestone on the car while I was out - 20k miles on the clock.

Since 2001.

And no, that isn't missing a zero

One of my friends was complaining on FB this morning that they'd just had an email about a delivery that excluded any useful information whatsoever about what was being delivered and who it was from. I'd no sooner commented on that than I found a card through my door from the post office. They have a parcel for me, with inadequate postage on it (fortunately only £2), and I need to pay up to get it. Of course there's no indication whatsoever of what the parcel is and who it's from.

I suspect it's the stuff I ordered from the States. In May.

I knew I was ordering in advance, I just didn't realise how much in advance. As soon as they indicated they'd started shipping a few days ago, it's been a nightmare as to whether it would arrive before I disappear North, because I'm away for longer than the post office hold onto parcels before sending them back. The postage is already extortionate, I really don't want to have to pay it twice. Delivery on Monday, hopefully.

On a completely different topic, one of the webcomics I read stopped updating over a year ago, with no real word as to what was happening. I noticed today it had been updated, and it's the author explaining how she had a breakdown, but is now recovering. Its fascinating to see someone talking about it so openly, and in graphic format.

 

Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/106106.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

DWGism [userpic]

Currently Reading - 8-Dec-2016

December 8th, 2016 (03:58 am)
exhausted

current location: The Plenipotent Domain
current mood: exhausted

No standard print media since the last update, that was just last Sunday, but I accidentally got sucked into re-reading some Schlock Mercenary. Schlock has been running daily since 12-Jun-2000, which makes for a very large archive - it just completed book 16, so a post the other day suggested a few potential starting points for people. The earliest suggestion was the start of Book 10, so I followed the link to remind myself which one that was, and, erm, started reading. From 29-Feb-2008. 3025 strips in three days. Eek!

What rereading them revealed is just how good a storyteller Howard Tayler has become, there are bits buried at the start of books that illuminate things that happen a year or more later in our real time when the story reaches the end of the book. It''s often difficult to remember those when reading them daily, but they really show up in a reread.

Ostensibly about Schlock, the series developed into an ensemble cast:

Schlock - Cheerfully amoral 'Carbo-silicate Amorph', a sergeant in the mercenary company Tagon's Toughs. A shapeshifter, he keeps being mistaken for a 1.5m pile of manure. Occcasionally bright, commonly childlike, mostly violent.
Captain Kaff Tagon - Commander of Tagon's Toughs. Inclined to appear a bit dim, but actually very good at what he does. Which still doesn't stop him wedging his foot in his mouth with predictable regularity
Commander Kevyn Andreyasn - Possibly the smartest biological sophont in the galaxy. Has repeated revolutionised technology (and started galaxy spanning wars as a result). Resident Mad Scientist.
Ennesby - Formerly the AI running a virtual boy band, now Tagon's snarky adjutant.
Petey - Formerly the AI running the Tough's starship, now the face of the Fleetmind, a hivemind of starship AIs that control the Plenipotent Domain, the galactic superpower, which is running the war against the dark matter Pa'anuri of Andromeda, a war Kevyn accidentally restarted. Appears as a koala-like hologram,
Ebby, Legs, Andy, Nick, Elisabeth, Chisulo - the other members of Schlock's squad, with Ebby in command. Nick's the only human, and he makes Tagon look bright. Eventually designated as Xeno Team.

Book 10: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse

The Toughs get a new job - escort a shipment of relief supplies to the artificial world of Credomar (a cylinder about 6km in diameter and 40 in length, with a population of 5 million). But first they pick up a few new recruits, including 18 year old roboticist Para Ventura. To a large degree Book 10 is about Para finding her place in the Toughs

So how difficult can delivering a few supplies be? Very, it turns out, when Credomar is factionalised over control of the food supply, the contract says they have to distribute the supplies, and the docks are out of action. With 65 megatons of supplies to unload, they should be done in about 25 years. That's when Para repurposes a damaged tank as the eponymous Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse, which promptly proclaims that it, LOTA, is too mighty for puny pronouns. When things go wrong, the Toughs have to launch a desperate raid to sieze a stock of antimatter, Para finds herself alone against a mob, and LOTA siezes a solution to the problem.

And meanwhile, there's the puzzle of Credomar's wierdly inefficient design.

Book 11: Massively Parallel

After accidentally bending their ship and its AI in Credomar, the Toughs have to split up to make enough to cover wages while it's repaired.

Schlock, Elisabeth and Chisulo get a job at the circus. As Chisulo is an uplifted elephant and Elisabeth looks like a elephant-sized gorilla they aren't entirely out of place, though Carbo-silicate amorphs are old news, which leaves Schlock playing janitor. They're undercover to investigate a murder, but something smells very off about their employer.

Kevyn, meanwhile, is back off to Credomar, King LOTA wants an evac mechanism for the city's inhabitants, and Kevyn is the inventor of the teraport. Things get murkier when they figure out the smoking gun of just why Credomar is so inefficiently designed, Are they building a safety mechanism, or unlocking a weapon of mass destruction? And can they trust LOTA?

And for Tagon and most of the company it's the humiliation of being reduced to mallcops. In Mall One, a rotating spacestation, full of open spaces and plagued by a mysterious set of urban runners. There's only one way to catch them - train the Toughs in Parkata Urbatsu, the martial art of urban running. Meanwhile, is Nick about to get a girl, and which girl is it going to be, the mysterious blonde spy, or the fast food clerk?

And all the strands braid back together again with a desperate mission into the heart of an enemy-held asteroid to rescue Kevyn's clone, and Tagon's dad. Of course neither are exactly helpless - never underestimate a man with a remote-controlled headless monkey and a bandolier of grenades.

Book 12: Force Multiplication

An earlier book saw the Toughs stumble on a deep black UNS intelligence operation, one that they only got out of alive by agreeing to have their memories altered. Petey now has a way to reverse that, and it's time for the Toughs to remember what really happened, what really never happened, and who did it to them. One of the not-memories is the wedding of Doc Bunny Bunnigus and the Reverend, which means doing the whole thing over.

Given the need to speak to her (not-)mother-in-law, Bunny quickly decides on a field trip to check up on Shep, one of the Toughs' retired soldiers. Given Shep lives in a rough habitat, she takes Schlock, Para, Legs and Ennesby along with her, and hires Kathryn (that would be the mysterious blonde spy) to ferry them there. Things rapidly escalate as they discover the whole habitat is under the control of the mysterious Professor Pau, who doesn't like doctors, but has a medicine to cover every eventuallity. With Shep kidnapped, it's up to them to get him back, and Kathryn may have just the skills they need. Well she would have if she hadn't just defaulted on the contract she signed, giving Schlock the right to eat her.

So it's Kathryn vs Schlock in the bowels of Haven Hive, and Kathryn turns out to be unexpectedly resourceful. But then she stumbles onto what's really going on, and she's not about to let that go unanswered. Even if it means a chance of running into Schlock again as the Toughs make their move to free Shep.

Book 13: Random Access Memorabilia

The Toughs are hired to provide security on an archaeological dig, the dig being on an artifact, Oisri, that's so old it has a planet wrapped around it. The problem being Oisri is potentially so valuable it may be worth throwing entire fleets at them. Fortunately the Toughs have an answer for that, an autofabricator with a large pile of dirt going in at one end and lots and lots of missiles coming out at the other. That takes care of the overt threat, but leaves covert routes open, including nano-warfare, which it turns out Tagon has a history with.

It actually turns out the major threat is on a more human scale when one of the scientists accidentally rips his head off, then gets up again. The Toughs are up against Redhack, the culmination of the intelligence project they stumbled on. It was supposed to be a means of immortality, now it's a weapon, turning people into killing machines, and the only way out may be to kill everyone the Toughs signed on to protect.

Meanwhile, there is a spy aboard their ship.

Book 14: Broken Wind

Kathryn is back at Mall One, bonding with Tagon's dad over a little urban running, when they run into an alien with a job for both Tagons and the Toughs. Which is when Karl Tagon finds out his son has blown up yet another UNS battleplate; time to get everyone out of Dodge before they're scooped up by UNS intelligence. That includes Kathryn's urban runners and Alexia Murtaugh, the mercenary/cop who took the blame for what went down in Book 12.

Meanwhile the Toughs are facing up to the news their ship was totalled when its AI went berserk during the events at Oisri. Petey wants them to retire, and some of them are seriously tempted, the Plenipotent Dominion is a post-scarcity society, thanks to having turned the galactic core into a power generator. If money isn't an issue, then boredom may be, and when Karl Tagon turns up with a gunship and a job, he finds his son and the Toughs ready to board. Of course there is the small matter of the gunboat refusing to answer to anyone but the spy who betrayed them.

The job the Oafans have for them is a bug hunt, but the scale of the bug hunt wasn't actually as clear as it might have been. Eina Afa, the ancient spacestation that needs delousing, is big enough you could stuff the Moon and Mars inside with room to spare. The job gets fairly rapidly rescoped as a biological sampling mission, but then the station's old defences wake up, and they're stuck trying to find a way to talk down yet another berserk AI.

Book 15: Delegates and Delegation

The Oafans send an embassy to Sol in Ennesby's new ship, with Captain Murtaugh and  Xeno Team along as security. Of course, diplomatic credentials or not, there's a certain intelligence agency that may consider the Toughs to know too much. If they knew what the Toughs really have in mind they'd nuke them from orbit, as the only way to be sure.  This time the Toughs aren't going to revolutionise technology, they're going to revolutionise society.

Of course theirs may not be the only revolution people have planned. So it's up to the Toughs, a UNS ship designer, and a killing machine in a body he doesn't own to save the day and stop the UNS descending into civil war. (With a little help from a 750kg uplifted Polar Bear).

Book 16: Big Dumb Objects

The Toughs are still helping get their new home in the Neofan Freehold (aka Eina Afa) up and running. There are cities to be built in a day (okay, two), judiciaries to be created, and ancient librarians to be resurrected to see if they know enough to save the Galaxy (they don't, but they do know where the index is). Fortunately money isn't an issue when you have an ancient spacedock stuffed to the gills with millions of derelicts whose trans-uranic hulls are individually worth a fair fraction of the annual GDP of Sol system. And in between times, there's an archive Petey needs looting access to, which rapidly descends into a crime-scene.

But everything comes together when the science team stumbles onto the location of an ancient Oafan 'world forge'. Only one problem, it should be the size of Saturn, and it's been squished down to the size of Earth. Plus someone's already living there.

Fortunately the Essperrin are perfectly willing to sell access, for a ship or two. They would even be cute, as knee-high space ant-butterflies, but for their habit of 'improving' any technological system they can get their hands on. And their senior commander can't help noticing how much portable worth the Toughs new ships represent....

Over-Arcing Thoughts

I don't quite know how far back Howard Tayler has had the Schlock arc pinned down, but it's been clear for a while that the core arc is the Redhack technology and what functional immortality is going to do to society. The roots of that arc stretch right back into the very earliest days of Schlock Mercenary, when it was still primarily a daily strip and a long story arc was a month. The stories above represent the arc moving into the end game (Tayler's said as much), which is perhaps obvious when Book 17 is called A Little Immortality.  There's still the war against the Pa'anuri to resolve, and will Petey end up a benevolent god, or a tyrant, but I think those are the backdrop against which a more human story plays.

Schlock went through the same art evolution as a lot of webcomics, in fact it's early art is much more basic than a lot of comics start with. Tayler himself says: "Seriously, don’t start people at the beginning. Just don’t."  But if its art has evolved further than most, I still think it's the storytelling that has come furthest. That goes for characterisation too. Earliest Schlock had almost no female characters, but current Schlock has 5 female command characters out of 10 and several significant female characters in the enlisted ranks. Schlock doesn't just beat the Bechdel test, it has military operations being entirely run by female officers (the male officers are almost entirely absent from Book 15), and other female characters getting together to talk about the spaceships and robots they're designing and building. Kevyn, the resident mad-scientist, is regularly mocked by Para, who is simply better with robots and AIs than he will ever be (and Elf, his partner, is often the more practical engineer) Meanwhile Tagon started out as almost a buffoon, and he still has his foot in mouth moments, but he's now convincingly a commander to be reckoned with.

Howard Tayler is right, the Schlock archive is huge and intimidating, but I think it's worth the investment. Personally I might start with Delegates and Delegation to see if it appeals, the story is relatively self-contained even if some of the motivations won't be. That will leave you in a good position to work forward from there to the leading edge of the story, and you can go back and pick up the older stories at your leisure.
 


Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/105954.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

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Currently Reading - 4-Dec-2016

December 5th, 2016 (02:53 am)
current location: Belatedly ex libris
current mood: Literate

A little bit of a catch-up as a couple of these go back almost a month.

Currently Reading

Anno Dracula - Dracula, Cha, Cha, Cha, Kim Newman

It's 1959 and the Italian Dolce Vita is watching eagerly as the guests assemble for the wedding of the year - Dracula's marriage to the vampiric Princess Asa Vajda. Also in Rome, watching Dracula in his Italian exile, is Charles Beauregard, the man who thwarted him in Victorian Britain. But Charles is 106 and waiting to die, and not even Geneviève Dieudonné, the love of his life, can persuade him to let her give him the vampiric kiss and bring him over to be one of the undead. Arriving to help Geneviève with Charles' final days is Kate Reed, the vampire journalist whose credentials stretch back to being a prominent part of the resistance to Dracula. And it soon transpires that also in Rome, in fact working as Dracula's chatelaine, is Penelope Churchward, the third of the vampire women in Charles' life.

Reading Newman's notes after completing this, I realised that I had missed a large element of the story. Newman's work as a film critic means he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film, and the core motif for Dracula Cha, Cha, Cha is apparently Three Coins in the Fountain, which I'm not certain I've ever seen, with Charles' three women taking the title roles. Of course, that's not the only film motif. The Talented Mr Ripley is contemplating the prospect he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew in trying his games on Dracula's household. Secret agent Hamish Bond is in town, and there are several perfect adaptions of Bond film motifs, though Geneviève finds Bond a pale shadow of her Charles. Drawing on the Italian vampire movie tradition is a major subplot involving Matre Lachrymae,  the Mother of Tears, the guardian spirit of Rome, and a series of vampire murders, culminating in one at the wedding itself, and leaving our three protagonists needing to find the real culprit in order to clear Kate, who was caught literally red-handed.

Also included with the package is the novella Aquarius, which is a solo effort for Kate Reed as she is asked by the Diogenes Club to investigate a rare vampiric murder as a favour to Scotland Yard's vampiric B Division. It's easy enough to imagine Jack Regan of the Sweeney as a vampiric cop, but George Dixon of Dock Green?!? Lying close to the root of things is one of the creepiest images of the whole series, amoral secret policeman Caleb Croft turned into an academic of the beat generation, with his own little cult of followers.

Anno Dracula - Johnny Alucard, Kim Newman

It's 1976 and Francis Ford Coppola is in Romania to film his Dracula,  with Kate Reed as his technical advisor. Vampires are persecuted in Romania as the Transylvania movement is agitating for the creation of a separate Transylvanian state, to be ruled by vampires, of course. When Kate finds a half-starved Romanian Vampire, Ion Popescu, she helps him get a job on the production as a fixer. He thanks her by setting her up for the murder of their Securitate watcher. What Kate didn't realise was that Ion is Dracula's last child.

Having achieved his aim of slipping into the States, Ion Popescu becomes Johnny Pop, master of the disco dance floor, drawing the attention of New York's most famous vampire, Andy Warhol, just as another familiar face, Penelope Churchward decides to move on. Behind the scenes he starts to build his empire, by creating the drug Drac, which gives mortals an all-too-brief experience of vampirism. His New York career is cut short, courtesy of an intersection of the plot of Saturday Night Fever with Taxi Driver, The French Connection, (probably) Shaft, and Scooby Doo.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast, Geneviève Dieudonné has run into an old PI, taking on one last case. Her help prompts him to suggest she has an eye for it, and she reinvents herself yet again. Things turn ugly when her friends start dying, and she finds herself faced with a tiny blonde cheerleader, convinced that Genè is the fount of all evil. Yes, it's Genèvieve versus Barbie the Vampire Slayer, but there's more to it than just those darn annoying kids, and she quickly  finds herself afoul of the new power in the movie business, Johnny Alucard, a man newly arrived from the East Coast and who seems to be financing a surprising number of Dracula films across all sorts of formats.

Having moved on from Andy Warhol, Penelope Churchward has gotten herself a job as an instructor on one of America's most secret projects, teaching America's best to be the best that they can be. Newman claims it's the film he hates above all others, but it's a gesture-perfect evocation of Top Gun, with Penny in the Charley role. Penny's success there prompts Alucard to bring her onboard to coach a protégé of his own.

As the Eighties pass Alucard entrenches himself in Hollywood, the Transylvanian Movement grows stronger. Geneviève reinvents herself as a forensic specialist - Bones, with blood. But in the UK Caleb Croft is back in the secret policeman role he fits best, and Kate is not his favourite person.

The endgame comes with the fall of the Wall. Alucard proposes that he should stage the Anno Dracula version of Liveaid, but this time the beneficiary is Transylvania, and the concert is the cover for a coup. The Transylvanian Movement just don't realise whose coup it actually is.

Structurally this is very difficult to review, it covers fifteen years in the character's lives, and it does it via a series of self-contained novellas. Geneviève the PI and Geneviève as Doctor Dee, the forensics specialist, I'd happily read far more of, or watch the TV series, but Kate's story is harsher, and the reality is that both our running protagonists spend the entire book being persecuted for their earlier interactions with Dracula, while all the while Alucard grows in power.

Apparently a fifth book is contracted, which is just as well, because this one ends with evil triumphant.

The Course of Empire, Eric Flint and K D Wentworth

The 'course of empire' here seems to be a descendant of the old Roman 'Cursus Honorum', the path of offices that would take a young Roman from his first position to dictator. Junior Jao leader Aille arrives on Earth for his first posting. He is literally marked for great things, the once in a generation hope of one of the leading clans of the Jao. But the occupation of Earth isn't going well, 20 years after the conquest there is still resistance, and Governor Oppuk, once the great hope of his own clan, the traditional mailed fist antithesis of Aille's clan of elegant plotters, is regularly driven to furious retribution by Humanity's refusal to accept that the Jao way is better.

Aille steps into his waiting slot as second in command of the human Jinau troops, which is roughly equivalent to sending someone fresh out of Sandhurst/West Point to command all forces in Afghanistant. But Aille has been sent to learn, and as he doesn't have any staff beyond his personal tutor in the art of command, he sets about creating one from people who have things to teach him, picking up a technocrat here, a potential bodyguard there. And scandalously he doesn't restrict himself to only Jao, drafting the hyper-competent Jinao general Ed Kransky, Caitlin Stockwell, hostage daughter of the puppet president of the US, (also the one human who truly understands the Jinau's postural sub-language, though she lacks the ears to be truly fluent) and Pfc Gabe Tully, a resistance plant in the Jinau, who can't decide whether to kill himself now before the interrogation starts, or if he's fallen into an incredible intelligence gathering opportunity.

Initially the game plays out as a dance between Aille and Governor Oppuk, each trying to lure the other into a mis-step, but Aille keeps raising the stakes, and then the stakes are taken out of their hands entirely as the Ekhat, the legendary world-scouring xenophobes for whom the Jao themselves were once Jinau, announce their arrival in the solar system. Humanity thought they were just a Jao bogeyman, meant to scare them and justify the occupation, but now they're here, and Oppuk's response is to abandon the humans in favour of a last stand in space. Aille has different ideas.

I started reading snippets of the later books in the series online, and went looking for the earlier ones, and it turns out the first one is actually free at Amazon, so if military SF is your thing, or for that matter alien societies with some nicely observed non-human edges, then this may be worth a look.

Blunt Force, K B Spangler

The fourth Rachel Peng technothriller, the novel series spun off from Spangler's 'A Girl and Her Fed' webcomic. Two years ago, in the first of the series, Digital Divide, OACET Special Agent Rachel Peng, the cyborg liaison to the DC MPD, allowed psychopathic murderer Jonathan Glazer to escape from custody. She had a good reason, he was going to escape whatever she did, he really was that competent, and her way meant he did it without killing anyone, and paid his debt with enough information to prevent OACET being wound up by Congress and the cyborgs drafted into the military. Now Glazer is standing at her front fence, wearing a dead friend's face, and telling her he has been sent to help her, because another move against OACET has been set in motion.

What that move is soon becomes clear as Rachel finds out Hope Blackwell and Avery Hill have been kidnapped. Whoever kidnapped Hope (aka 'the Girl') is riding the tiger, because she's one of the top ten judoka on the planet, and has anger management issues (plus her husband is Pat Mulcahy, aka 'the Fed', director of OACET, who was lethally dangerous even before he was a cyborg). But Avery is Hope and Rachel's honorary niece, and she's two. The game becomes a little clearer, and a lot murkier, when the kidnappers make themselves known. They're a militia, one focussed on the bizarre political world of the US sovereign citizen movement, and their leader has a little problem he'd like Mulcahy's help with. So it's a standoff, and if some of the militia were hoping for something a little Ruby Ridge or Waco, what they actually get is Josh Glassman, Mulcahy's deputy, a man who can turn anything into a party, even a siege.

Thanks to Glazer's reappearance as Marshall Wyatt, the cyborgs know there's a deeper game, but they don't know who the enemy is, or what their end game is, and explaining just why Glazer/Wyatt is helping means Rachel needs to 'fess up to the whole letting-him-escape thing, which causes some major soul-searching among her bosses and the rest of the cyborg collective. But they need Rachel, she's their best investigator, particularly when backed by her MPD team, their best bet of figuring out what the endgame is before the endgame happens to them. And all the while the clock is ticking, because Hope is off her meds, and eventually her judgement will go and she'll push the militia further than they can tolerate*.

Beneath all the technothriller edges, there's a solid political thriller here, one rooted in the story of OACET and its creation and continued existence, and a disturbing dive into the worldview of the militias. While lurking in the background, 'helping'  is Glazer/Wyatt, whose 'help' is likely part of an even deeper game.

I thought this had one or two slightly rough edges, I'd personally have done without chapter one, which is in a different viewpoint, but I still consumed it in a single sitting and Rachel remains one of my favourite characters in contemporary fiction.

* Even with her judgement intact Hope is still regularly beating up her guards, even while duct-taped to a chair. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what was going on. Her explanation is "Martial artist tricks", but there's a side of the Girl and Her Fed universe, Hope's side, that the technothrillers don't address.

Up Next

I've got some beta reading to do, not sure what comes after that.

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Bannon and Thiel and Universal Suffrage

November 28th, 2016 (10:21 pm)
discontent

current location: Aux Barricades!
current mood: discontent

I stumbled across an interesting background article on Peter Thiel over the weekend (and I do mean stumbled, I'd actually googled 'Jamethiel'), which I'd already been meaning to flag up for people, but another article I came across today was on Steve Bannon, and they really do synergise with each other into something seriously scary.

Here's the Thiel piece, it's a general 'who is Peter Thiel' article, useful for giving a better feel for the man - German-born naturalised American gay techno-geek-financier/ultra-libertarian who co-founded Paypal. (Basically think Rabid Puppy in a $10,000 suit). This is someone who took the money from Paypal and didn't use it to build rockets, but used it to co-found Palantir Technologies, and that name is no accident, it's a seriously high end government surveillance tools company that explicitly uses the corrupted Palantiri of LoTRs as it's identity/mission statement, so fighting for Truth, Justice and the inevitable triumph of Sauron. But then the article starts digging into his politics,and things get even darker.

"I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible," he wrote in a 2009 essay; he believes in monopolies but denounces multiculturalism as "exist[ing] to destroy Western culture".

In that 2009 essay, "The Education of a Libertarian", published by the Washington-based Cato Institute, Thiel writes: "The 1920s was the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron."

But if Thiel sounded hopeless or resigned in 2009, he sees Trump as a bridge to somewhere - possibly to his sense that to protect capitalism the democracy must be shrunk; get the vote back from those damned women and welfare recipients, and capitalism has a better chance in a tighter democracy of more sympathetic voters.

Thiel's argument against democracy as we've known it reads like the web-based Dark Enlightenment or Neo-reaction movement, sometimes abbreviated to NRx, a key element of which is described as a post-libertarian futurism – it touts authoritarianism, even some kind of monarch-and-subjects rule, as preferable to democracy because libertarians are unlikely ever to win democratic elections."

The Bannon article isn't nearly so deep a study, Trump’s Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon, said he’d prefer it if only property owners could vote, but the similarity in views comes screaming through:

Now, though, a former Bannon colleague, Julia Jones, who worked alongside him as a partner on a Ronald Reagan film project, revealed to The New York Times that he not only spoke on issues of “genetic superiority,” but that he “once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.”

When Jones offered the rebuttal that such a plan “would exclude a lot of African-Americans,” Bannon allegedly quipped back in return that “maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

So that's two of them, both racist authoritarians who think only people like them should have the vote, and both whispering in Trump's ear. Maybe that Palantir analogy is even closer than I thought.

 

Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/105315.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

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