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4 August 2017

sigh, it seems that I am a bit busy these days. At the start of the year I signed five contracts for books already written – and assumed that I could now get on with writing more. What I’d overlooked was revision. Six months later I’d completed the revision, and am now up to my eyebrows in writing the ‘more’ I’d planned. However either because of age, or sheer busyness, I keep forgetting to blog. For anyone regularly accessing this blog, please forgive me. But there are only so many hours in the day.
Something that has NOT been helped by problems with my new computer – which resisted the attempts of three different technicians to get me either onto dial-up again, or, when that consistently failed, to get me on to broadband. In fact things are still not quite sorted with the latter, but may be so in another few days. However there are times when I long for simpler days of word processing. (Of course, in those days the alternative problem was editors or the PO losing mss, so nothing is perfect) however I still think that computer technology could be made more user-friendly, and what I’d like to know is – why isn’t it? Because this user doesn’t find it all that ‘friendly.’

3 May 2017

Back about forty years ago friends and I really enjoyed a TV series called FAME. It was great, good dialogue, characters, and plot and the singing and dancing was superb. I wished for years that it would come back. And then I accidently caught a TV programme, “Victorious,” this morning. It seems to be an updated version of Fame. Arrrggghhh. That has to be one of the most pathetic shows I’ve seen in a long time. Fame felt real, the characters felt real, this seems to be a frothy confection of all singing, all dancing, (all endlessly squealing) plastic robots. Every movement is phony and exaggerated, every speech is as if they’re reading it from a teleprompter. Makes me wonder who MADE this mess, and why they bothered – and why Prime wanted to show it. Wouldn’t it have just been far better – and a lot cheaper – to rerun the original?

22 April 2017

A while back I was asked if I planned to retire any time soon and I said didn’t have time. Then earlier this month I turned 71, and another friend asked me if I felt older. No, I don’t have time for that either. Which makes me think that someone I read once who said that a real interest in something keeps you young, may have been right. Of course they were speaking metaphorically, a pity that. Bceause if it was literal I think my enthusiasm for my writing could keep me alive for a very long time indeed!

24 March 2017

Sigh, temperatures were down again this morning and I’ve lit the fire. Thunder is – as usual – parked in front of it and I am blessing having a fire on behalf of both of us. It’s something I never considered when I was younger, that I’d feel the cold more when I got old. And, of course, my damaged leg has its own comments to make on any chill, particularly the sort of dank day when wet and cold combine. But the fire is going, I’m happy and so is the cat, and I don’t really mind getting old. As they say, it’s a heck of a lot better than the alternative!

15 March 2017

Like a bullet our world spins down the rifled barrel of change. I’ve watched change for 70+ years now and come to the conclusion that the bullet isn’t aimed. It’s sent in random directions, and we can never be sure what any direction will bring.
Change fired us up into the air,
we think we know both when and where,
but this suggestion I can project,
we’re bound to land where we didn’t expect.

5 March 2017

There are times when I get reminded that we age in different ways. Several years ago I was about to have a general anesthetic, I’d been given the pre-op sedative and was drowsy when the quite young nurse arrived, and tried to open my mouth. I blinked up.
“What’re you doing?”
“I need to take your teeth out.”
“They’re mine,” I mumbled, reasonably as I thought.
The response was in a tone suitable for replying to a rather dim three-year-old. “I know, dear. I won’t take them away, they’ll be right here beside your bed when you come back.”
“You don’t understand, they’re mine.”
The tone was now definitely patronising. “Yes, dear, of course they are…”
A burst of irritated adrenalin woke me right up. “No, I mean they really are MINE! I don’t have false teeth.”
I received a rather disbelieving look. “What, not even a bridge?”
The nurse left – slowly – giving the impression she’d like to pry my mouth open and double-check that just in case. She would have found that it was. Unlike a lot of those of my age/generation I have my own teeth, not all of them, I’m missing half a dozen but I find no need for a bridge. However it seems that it may not be usual and the the default assumption seems to be that anyone my age automatically doesn’t have their own teeth. Otherwise why wouldn’t she ask, instead of trying to open my mouth and stick a hand in. And, considering my being somewhat sedated, she was lucky I woke up and asked, or she might succeeeded – and lost a finger.

17 September 2015

I’ve never known how true it is, but there’s a story about Ralph Nader (American car safety enthusiast) from some decades ago. He insisted that new cars should all have a system where you couldn’t start the car engine until your seat belt was properly fastened. A new line came out with this feature, and the first was purchased by a father for his daughter, starting her first year at university. Some months later she worked late at the university library and headed for her car, now the last one in the library car park. There she was attacked by a would-be rapist as she opened the car door, she managed to fight him off long enough to get into the car, lock the door, and attempt to start the car to flee. The car refused to start of course, since she wasn’t wearing her seat belt. Before she could fasten that the rapist broke the car window, dragged her out, beat and raped her. Her father sued the car company and won a huge settlement. Now that story may or may not be true.
What concerns me is the latest possibility of similar kind. Recently on TV there was a brief item about a new type of computerized braking system they want to fit to cars. It stops your car slamming into the back of the car in front because you weren’t paying attention when that stopped. The point is that once you get within a certain distance of something static – like another car or perhaps a wall, the brakes come on and refuse to allow you to advance by any distance at all so long as the obstruction remains. One very dangerous possibility dawned on me at that point. Picture this. A driver crosses a railway line just as the car in front for whatever reason stops dead. The car behind it is now trapped on the railway line because the braking system refuses to allow it to move closer to the other car, or even to drive past it at very close range. And you know people, there’s a good chance the driver will stay in the car trying desperately to get it to move forwards – right up to the moment the train hits it. And I can think of other scenarios of that sort that could be caused by a computerized braking system of this type. Computers do not reason, they act as programmed. I don’t think a system like this is a good idea, and it could kill people. Wonder if ALL the possibilities have been considered by the makers?
(And I should add for a friend who asked about reversing the car, that often when one stops at a railway crossing, there is a line of vehicles behind you. You’d have to go to the back of that line and persuade the last in line to reverse, then all the others, up to the front of the line. Then too, while the material I saw on this system said only that you couldn’t go forward aginst an obstacle. It may be too that the computer will not allow the car to reverse against something behind. And if so, that could leave the car stranded for reversing as well if the barrier is down behind the vehicle and the computer refuses to allow reversing through that to escape the train.)

16 July 2014

Back in 1990 I saw that a new book was out from Katherine Kerr. I ignored it. For some reason I have never enjoyed her Deverry books and without even reading the title I assumed that this was more of the same. A year later I observed the same book, this time in a UK hardcover and paused long enough to look it over. Ah, not fantasy, this one was SF and it looked interesting. I borrowed my local library’s copy, read it, went straight out and bought my own hardback. POLAR CITY BLUES had me hooked. I loved the characters, the background, and the situation – Polar City is the capital of Hagar, one of the few worlds on which the tiny, human-dominated Republic sits, squeezed between the Interstellar Confederation and the enormous Coreward Alliance. (Known to the inhabitants of Hagar as ‘the cons’ and the ‘lies.’) When an alien from the Confederation Embassy is murdered, Police Chief Bates faces an explosive situation. The main characters are neatly balanced. There is Lacey, human and female, involved in assorted semi-legal and definitely illegal activities, Mulligan, human, male, psychic and hates it. There is Buddy the comp(uter). An intelligent machine, a genuine characters in several ways, and good value, and there is Nunks, an alien, friend of Lacey and Mulligan, and telepathic but unable to speak verbally. I loved the book, read and re-read it for years (and am still doing so) and mourned that there didn;t seem to have been more than that one.

Then in 2005 and quite by accident I ran across a sequel that had been published in 2000 and must not have been that widely publicized since I’d never heard of it. POLAR CITY NIGHTMARE was a collaboration with Kate Daniels, and yes, it’s just as good. All the original characters, new and original problem being a mystery with political twists. The investigation of smuggling, blackmail and murder on two planets uncovers a plot that may unbalance the political equilibrium between the human dominated Republic and the two major alien dominated governments. Set both in Polar City on Hagar and on the capital planet of Sarah, Polar City Nightmare develops themes from the original book: machine intelligence, prejudice, and human relationships, along with a consideration of what is ‘alien’. And it’s a very good read! It took ten years to produce book two, and it’s been fourteen years since that one. I guess that book three won’t be out any time soon and for that I am truly sorry because I enjoyed the heck out of both books. They are warm, clever, excellently written, and I fell in love with the characters. The author is regularly writing new books so it isn’t as if she couldn’t do a third of this series. Ms Kerr, won’t you please do another Polar City book for those of us out here who loved the first two. Please

2 March 2014

Simon Hawke (born September 30, 1951) is a USA author of mainly SF/F novels. He was born Nicholas Valentin Yermakov, but began writing as Simon Hawke in 1984 and later changed his legal name to Hawke. He has also written near future adventure novels under the penname “J. D. Masters” and a series of humorous mystery novels along with many novelizations, many of his other works are under his original name so if you wnat to see everything, look for all three names.

Hawke’s first book,s 1981-1984, under his original name were rather heavy, more philosophical, and without major sales. But in 1984 he changed his bamne and began writing lighter work which took off with the dozen books of The Timewars series, (1984-1991) followed by the two Psychodrome books – Psychodrome and Psychodrome 2 in 1987 and 1988. And in 1987 he started an urban fantasy series. ten books based on the idea that after our civilization collapsed, magic came back and became the new technology. That series was good work. I ran into Simon Hawke’s work when in 1992 I purchased a book entitled The Nine Lives of Catseye Gomez. It was the nineth in the Wizard series, I read it in a gulp one night, cracked up, and went out looking for more of the same.

The fact was, that sadly, I didn’t find them. 9 Lives seems to have been a one-off. It was a riot, a parody of Mickey Spillane set in the world of the Wizards series, and it wasn’t only as funny as hell, it also made some very good points on a variety of subjects. I treasure my copy of it, re-read it regularly, and recommend it to anyone likely to enjoy that sort of theme. I can also recommend the TimeWars series and the others of the Wizard series too, but after them, Hawke went first into a mystery series which you’ll either love or dislike, and then into years worth of novelizations – everything from Battlestar Galactica to Star Trek, Batman, Predator, and Friday the 13th. There was a three book-foray in there of The Reluctant Sorcerer (1992)The Inadequate Adept (1993)The Ambivalent Magician (1997) which are very readable, but from then on it was novelizations and mysteries. So far as I can discover he had no more published books after 2003 with the fourth and final book in his Shakespeare and Smythe mystery series, and he seems to have given up writing short stories before that.

I find it a real pity that he never used Catseye Gomez as the start of a new spin-off series. The book was clever, funny, made a number of very good points on religion, animals, cops, personal freedoms and the Mean Streets, and would have been worth buying at twice the price. I’ve had it for more than 20 years, read it maybe five or six times and love it all over again each time. If you want to buy only one book that this author wrote, buy that one. If you want to buy an SF series then buy the Timewars books which are good reading. For Urban fantasy buy the Wizard series, or  for plain fantasy buy The Reluctant Sorcerer, The Inadequate Adept,  and The Ambivalent Magician. And while the author may not be selling any new work, his older work – including Catseye Gomez –  remains available on amazon and other sites.

And an update to that. While at Conclave 2, I purchased an older anthology entitled Mob Magic, which contains an excellend Catseye Gomez short story – My Claw is Quick. And again it reminded me what a pity it is that he didn’t write more of this character.

8 December 2013

I have seen these books described as fantasy now and again over the years, and as such they fit into this article series. But whether they are genuine fantasy or only borderline, I love them so much they’re here anyhow.

Peter O’Donnell (born 11th April 1920, died 3rd May 2010) was a writer of mysteries and of comic strips who – under his own name – is best known as the creator of Modesty Blaise. In an odd combination he was also an award-winning Gothic historical romance novelist who wrote under the female pseudonym of Madeleine Brent, and in 1978, his novel Merlin’s Keep won the Romantic Novel of the Year, presented by the Romantic Novelists Assn. (“Brent” was noted for her use of strong dynamic female lead characters and “her’ books remain popular.) O’Donnell was born in London and began to write professionally at the age of 16. From 1938 and during the war he served as an NCO. After the war O’Donnell began to script comic strips, including Garth and Romeo Brown, but in 1963 his created his most famous comic strip character – Modesty Blaise (With long time artist collaborator Jim Holdaway.) Two years later the strip sold for a movie, but in a reversal of the usual time line, O’Donnell wrote the book of the movie from his own original script and that was published in 1965, a year before the movie appeared. This was where I came in. I saw the book in my usual bookshop, thought it looked fascinating, bought a copy of it and read it – to become instantly hooked. The blurb that caught me said in part –

A twelve-year-old girl tramping across war-ravaged Europe, through refugee camps, across the Middle East, knowing hunger, rape, despair – this was the making of Modesty Blaise. She wanted the security of money and got it. In every worthwhile place she organised The Network, a crime organisation, efficient, deadly. She took Willie Garvin from the gutter and turned him into her right-hand man – a man as deadly and professional as herself. They made their money and retired. But where was the excitement? Now on the right side of the law for once they pit themselves against a vicious schemer who plays for very high stakes ruthlessly…”

I bought the book, loved it, waited for the movie – and I didn’t have that on my own either – but when that finally made it to New Zealand and I went to a showing I was stunned at the truly awful quality of the work. As the movie progressed one by one many of those attending (presumably fans of the book and of the characters) walked out, some demanding their money back. I followed suit about two thirds of the way thorough – yes, I did get repaid – and a number of us stood around talking about how the movie had been a caricature and who on earth had decided to cast a blonde busty Italian starlet – who couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag or at least was totally unable to depict the character– as Modesty? We were not impressed by Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin either, he didn’t fit the book’s (or the comic strip’s) description and the whole tone of the movie had been high camp, and not in the clever and amusing way of many early TV series but in a clumsy crassness that had turned all of us off totally. (Not to mention that the movie actually included a romance between Modesty and Willie which disgusted all fans since the original book made it crystal clear that this not only didn’t exist, it never would!) At the time the comic strip hadn’t (to my knowledge) reached New Zealand, and whether many of us continued to read the books, since the movie had been so unrelentingly lousy, was up in the air. It was fortunate that the second in the book series came out around then with Sabretooth, followed quickly by I, Lucifer, so that the taste of the movie was washed out of our mouths and we could settle to read happily – while mentally deciding never to go to another movie that purported to be about the characters. (I note that the O’Donnell script for the movie was rewritten and rewritten until it bore no relation to the ultimate result which was so abysmal – and I’d have loved to hear O’Donnell’s own unvarnished opinion of the film, because I’d bet it was unprintable…) 

Over 1965 to 1996 O’Donnell would write eleven full-length books and two short story collections, I have all of them, most in hardcover, having purchased them at the time and I regularly re-read them – all but the last book, Cobra Trap, which I received as a gift only recently. O’Donnell once said that with the kind of people Modesty and Willie were, it was unlikely that they’d survive into old age, and that was true. What we wanted was for them not to grow old, just to continue as they were, Modesty in her late twenties, Willie eight years older, and always a new adventure. But it may be that O’Donnell now knowing that he had Parkinson’s and might not be able to continue writing Modesty and Willie forever, did his final book, Cobra Trap, (which appeared after a gap of eleven years since the previous one) and which was a collection of five short stories, with the final one of the title telling of his characters’ deaths. It was a brilliant short story, embodying everything that they were and relating the final three paragraphs with a poignant lyricism that brings tears to my eyes, but it was still their deaths, and to this day many fans of the characters refuse to read that final story. I refused to buy the book or read the story for 17 years but finally yielded on that. And find that it’s okay, the story is so well-done that it isn’t going to spoil my enjoyment of re-reading the books still – for which I am deeply grateful. I only wish O’Donnell was still alive so that I could write and tell him so.

Films or TV attempts continue however – In 1982, a one-hour pilot (also titled Modesty Blaise) was made for a proposed television series. This aired on the ABC Network to positive reviews, (I have no idea from whom because no one that I know who loves the books would have been at all positive) but no series resulted, (thank heavens) because although the pilot was less crass and treated the characters more seriously, in this attempt the setting was moved from London to Hollywood, and both Willie and Tarrant were portrayed as Americans. (Agghhhh!) In 2001 O’Donnell retired from writing the comic strip but between 2004 and 2009 he wrote the introductions for a series of Modesty Blaise comic strip reprint volumes published by Titan Books. He was also interviewed for a special feature included on the DVD release of the straigh-to-video 2002 film, My Name Is Modesty (telling of earlier times in her life before Willie and The Network,) This movie to my knowledge has not played in New Zealand but I have heard from overseas fans who have seen it and say that it is a reasonably good depiction of the character but still fails to capture her essence.

The writer Kingsley Amis was also a fan of the characters and once said that Blaise and Garvin were “one of the great partnerships in fiction, bearing comparison with that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.”

There is an official web site – Modesty Blaise, Ltd.

O’Donnell’s stated wish was that “no one else should write any future Modesty Blaise stories.” And considering that he wrote her for thirty-eight years, and that every word on all of the strips and books was his and never delegated or collaborated, I can only say that I agree. I don’t think anyone could ever write the characters so “right” again.

The book series is –

  1. Modesty Blaise (1965)
  2. Sabre-Tooth (1966)
  3. I, Lucifer (1967)
  4. A Taste for Death (1969)
  5. The Impossible Virgin (1971)
  6. Pieces of Modesty (1972) (short stories)
  7. The Silver Mistress (1973)
  8. Last Day in Limbo (1976)
  9. Dragon’s Claw (1978)
  10. The Xanadu Talisman (1981)
  11. The Night of Morningstar (1982)
  12. Dead Man’s Handle (1985)
  13. Cobra Trap (1996) (short stories)

However while those were the actual written books, Titan Books (UK) published eight volumes of reprints of strips featuring art by Holdaway and Romero, covering the period 1963 to 1974. These appeared between 1984 and 1988, and starting in March 2004 Titan have also  launched a new series of reprint comic strip volumes. I am told that these new versions use larger images and come from better source material than the earlier editions. As well as an introduction to each story by Peter O’Donnell for books 1 to 16, and by Lawrence Blackmore for books 17 onwards, most books include articles about the series. These appear to be currently available via The Book Depository UK that I know of, (because I looked them up and plan to buy one to evaluate it – and buy the remainder, if the evaluation is favourable) and probably from Amazon as well and other possible outlets as well.

I read the first Modesty book in 1965, and the last in December of 2013. I have currently been a fan for forty-seven years and expect that enthusiasm to continue. If you liked Emma Peel in The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and others of that ilk, you will probably love Modesty, Willie, Sir Gerald, and the works in which they appear. Run, do not walk, to the nearest place you can buy, or let your fingers do the running, and start buying on line. I can only say – recommended.

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