The Plain Girl’s Earrings

"Earrings" cover image
Cover image
Interesting debut fantasy novel by Kim J Cowie.
The ruthless Virnal Order rules over the Empire of Satine by fear, guile and an iron hand. Lethal poisons from a past cataclysm are leaking from the ground, causing sickness and death. Unseen insurgency seeks to overturn the established order.

Cadet Starsin only ever wanted a simple life, pursuing his own selfish interests, maintaining a mistress and adding to his meager army pay by trading in ancient artifacts. But when he witnesses the cold blooded murder of a much admired officer by Virnal enforcers, Starsin feels impelled against his instincts to protest. This marks him down as a trouble-maker and potential rebel.

Implicated in sedition, and with both the Virnals and a mysterious adventuress named Lannaira Hajan taking an unhealthy interest in him, Starsin’s mundane life is turned upside down. His own ambiguous past threatens an explosive revelation.

Take a journey across a troubled land with Starsin, as he battles the Virnals, uncovers shocking secrets and finds that he is not the man he thought he was.
Look Inside or buy it on:
Amazon

Database fixed.

The anime and manga databases are working again. Links were still pointing to the old database after an upgrade, and after a while the service provider removed the old one.
I have as a result re-enabled comments, so you can waste your life sending me comment spam. :-(

Telescope reminiscences

I got interested again in looking at the night sky recently. The sky here is not very black at night (lots of urban glare and haze) but the brighter stars and planets can be seen when it’s not cloudy.
When I was a teenager I built my own telescope from scratch – in fact two of them. My first scope was a cheap table-top 4″ Newtonian reflector with a cardboard tube. It wasn’t very good, so I re-figured the mirror and built a nice square wooden tube for it, with a spiral thread focuser salvaged from a dead TV set. I can’t remember what mounting it had.
After that I built an 8″ Newtonian reflector from scratch. I ground, polished and figured the mirror, built a tube (from wood, IIRC), and built a massive equatorial mounting with a fork made of 3″ steel pipe and filled with cement, supported by a brick pier. The whole thing was covered by a run-off wooden shed that ran on rails.
I don’t think that many people build their own telescopes any more. The ready-made ones are much cheaper in real terms. These days, one would consider an 8″ reflector to be more of a portable item. When I left home, I had my parents sell the telescope. (They probably couldn’t get rid of the eyesore in the back garden quick enough).

I was also involved with making a 6″ Newtonian reflector at my grammar school. So far as I remember it had an openwork tube made of wood. It did get used a few times (I remember stopping a teacher from looking through the eyepiece when we used it to project an image of the Sun.) There was a notion of giving it a permanent home on top of the concrete bike sheds, but that did not come to anything. (These days, a 6″ Newtonian reflector and mount would be portable).

Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds

Book cover Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds
Science fiction and art in the sixties. David Brittain, Pub. Savoy Books, Dec 2013, 184pp, rrp £17.00

I have a complete set of the large format New Worlds – #173 to #200, which were published from 1967 to 1971, so I was particularly interested to see a book about the magazine and its art.
Michael Moorcock took over editorship of the science fiction magazine New Worlds in 1964, and began changing it from a genre SF magazine to a ‘new wave’ magazine of “speculative fiction.” In 1967, Moorcock obtained a modest Arts Council grant that enabled him to change the format from a paperback to a monthly magazine with half-tone reproduction.
Both Michael Moorcock and leading contributor JG Ballard knew Paolozzi personally, and were interested in modern art, as were other people who worked on the magazine. The purpose of changing to a larger format was to include art that complemented the radical fiction content of the magazine. Paolozzi’s science-fiction tinged art was thought to mesh with this. In the event, very little of Paolozzi’s art appeared in the pages of New Worlds (there was a review article about his work in #174, and an illustration in #178), but he was listed as ‘Aeronautics Adviser’ and was clearly an influence.

Moonstrips Empire News - Paolozzi
Moonstrips Empire News -Paolozzi

David Brittain’s book examines the magazine during it’s prime period, throwing light on the interactions of the art of the time with what Judith Merril and Harlan Ellison called ‘the new wave of science fiction.’
It places Paolozzi’s ‘science fiction’ art of the late ’60s in the context of the new SF and offers fresh insights into the way images and a fragmentary, collages approach to writing informed the controversial prose of Ballard, Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Norman Spinrad and others.
The book contains rare and unseen images from the archives of New Worlds and the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation, together with excerpts from what is thought to be an unpublished science fiction novel by the artist. There are also new interviews (by Brittain) with Moorcock and key members of his circle about the magazine and others.
Covers, with Paolozzi's 'Diana as an Engine'
Covers with Paolozzi’s ‘Diana as an Engine’

The book contains many illustrations in monochrome and colour, including many colour images from Paolozzi’s ‘Moonstrips Empire News’, and most of the New Worlds covers from this period. Footnotes and bibliography are included. David Brittain is a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.
If you are interested in Paolozzi’s science-fiction inspired art and his influence on the magazine, or merely in this exciting period of the magazine’s history, this is a book well worth acquiring.

Blu-Ray – worth the money?

Is Blu-Ray worth the money?
If you’re asking UK fans of Japanese animation, the answer seems to be a resounding “no”. You need only look at the shelves, and when I asked an assistant at a major store, he confirmed that sales of BD anime were very low.
Why? Possibly because there’s not much point having a BD if you’re going to play it on a 19″ 720p TV in your student bedroom. And then there’s the patchy availability of titles. I got a BD player along with my HD TV with the intention of buying BD instead of DVD in the future, but that was over a year ago, and the number of BD titles I have been able to buy remains very small. In several cases I was balked because the title of interest was not issued on BD at all, or only as a region A.

One had the region annoyance with DVDs, but in that case the answer was to order a player modified to play all-regions. Problem solved. Unfortunately this just isn’t possible with BD players. All is not lost however, and there seem to be several ways around the problem, none of them particularly satisfactory. Some models of player, now discontinued but still available second-hand or ‘reconditioned’ could be altered quite easily to region A or ABC, usually by the expedient of downloading the firmware for another region version of the player and installing it. (The catch is that if you are foolish enough to connect the player to the Internet, it may self-update its firmware…) You could order a new ABC or region-free player, possibly hacked and definitely premium-priced. You could import a new player from the region of interest, in addition to your locally bought BD player. There are two problems with this: the high cost of carriage, and what to do if it goes wrong.
Then there is the PC. If you have a recent model PC capable of handling 1080p HD, and with a BD-ROM drive in it, this will play BD disks of your local region, and apparently some easy software hackery will allow it to play BDs from any region. If you already have such a machine stood next to your TV, that looks like the best way to go.
[Actually I would strongly recommend having a small-form-factor PC stood next to your TV, as it will handle lots of things that a smart IPTV can’t quite handle yet, such as display streaming from Crunchyroll and 4OD or other TV archive services, or bittorrent downloads.]

uTorrent crapware??

If you install a current version of the uTorrent bittorrent client, be very careful with what you select during installation as it’s designed to catch you out and ensure that you install the uTorrent Toolbar and something called Conduit Search, which will thereafter appear all over all your web browsers. Should you want to uninstall all the extra junk (which does who knows what), you’ll find that there is no Uninstall button and you have to do it the hard way.

The same or similar remarks may apply to other bittorrent clients.

Hariton Pushwagner

Hariton Pushwagner is a Norwegian pop artist whose work contains strong sci-fi and comic-book like elements. Particularly when seen in a gallery or in a book his almost obsessively repetitive work powerfully evokes sci-fi dystopias and the crushing effect of modern architecture and consumer culture on modern Man. He has produced a large-format graphic book “Soft City”. Currently (till 2 Sept) there is an exhibition of his work in Milton Keynes: http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/
Reproductions of his works can be found online.

Kenwood VR-209 remote not working – fixed!

Today I fixed a long-standing fault in my Kenwood AV amplifier. I was sure the remote control was faulty, but then I found that there is a known common fault with Kenwoods: the infrared sensor (behind the right end of the display viewed from front) develops a dry-joint caused by thermal movement of its 3 legs. The cure is to take the lid off the case and re-solder the sensor legs. You can prove the fault by poking the area with your finger, whereupon the R/C will probably start working.

Gosh Comics, London

Having shopped at Gosh Comics intermittently over the past 25 years or so, I was surprised to find that they are not outside the British Museum anymore. They have moved to 1 Berwick Street
London W1F 0DR
– that’s in Soho.
See http://www.goshlondon.com/move/