Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Sailor in the Desert

David Gunn, Sailor in the Desert: The Adventures of Phillip Gunn, DSM, RN in the Mesopotamia Campaign, 1915, Pen & Sword (2013).  

The Mesopotamian Campaign is an interesting one.  The Royal Navy, having made the decision to move from coal, it was necessary to protect the oil supply through the Persian Gulf.  To this end, three Royal Naval sloops were sent to the Gulf, supported by Indian Army contingents (in those Suez Canal days, the Gulf falling within the remit of the Indian Government as far as British policy was concerned) with the aim of  removing Ottoman troops from the Shatt-al-Arab and occupying Basra.

Initial operations in 1914 and '15 were so successful that mission creep developed and the Indian Government and the army sought a way to capitalise on these successes.  Accordingly, an over-ambitious plan to advance (some 500 miles) up the Tigris as far as Baghdad was developed.  More-and-more troops were sent up-river despite limited transport, resulting in over-stretched supply-lines.  After capturing Kut, the expeditionary force failed in the final 100 mile push to Baghdad and were besieged until they were forced to surrender in April 1916.  Some 23,000 British and Indian soldiers died in the attempts to relieve Kut, and over half of the surrendered force died in captivity.

This book isn't the one you want to read to get all the details, facts and figures of the navy's role in the campaign - that's Wilfred Nunn's Tigris Gunboats, reprinted a few times since it's first publication in the 1930s.  Nunn was the Senior Naval Officer, Mesopotamia, during the campaign, and to be frank, his book is a dry read.  On the other hand, Sailor in the Desert is written from the view-point of an 19 year-old Ordinary Seaman.  Gunn* wasn't particularly ordinary though. 

*'Nunn' and 'Gunn', it's annoying, I know!

After serving on HMS Clio during her defence of the Suez Canal and in the occupation of Basra, he volunteered for 'hazardous duties'.  He then, quite literally, found himself at the pointy-end of the advance up the Tigris - ahead of the main force in a steam launch taking soundings to check that the river was navigable for the vessels commandeered down-river to act as troopships. 

Later in the war, the Fly Class of gunboat was developed for these riverine operations, but at this time, two steam launches each towed horseboats which carried antiquated naval ordnance.  Gunn lashed a ladder to his cabin to accommodate a Royal Artillery spotter.  The launch also served to ferry senior officers up- and down-river.

For his services before he was invalided out, Gunn was awarded the DSM.  His obvious merit is reflected in the fact that he ended his career as Captain, RN.

All in all, this is a good read, but I found it slight and a little disappointing.  I gave it Three Stars out of Five.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

I am a Character from an HP Lovecraft Story!

I'm sure that there is a genre of fiction (meta-fiction?) in which characters in a story realise that that's just what they are.  I'm equally sure that there is a psychological disorder (The Matrix syndrome?) in which people think that they and everything around them are fictional constructs.

As I've been lying in my bed (it's now 3am) I have come to the conclusion that heads this post, and which compels me to write (while I still can!).  Let me provide the evidence:

  1. For many years I practised the profession of archivist.
  2. During that time I worked in the archives of a (notorious) religious order; a university; a 300 year-old bank that had interests in the Caribbean and Africa; and the museum of a port town that contained the records of many seafarers and the artifacts they brought back from their travels.
  3. Following a sudden collapse and almost three weeks in a coma, I withdrew from the profession and now trade in rare and hard-to-find books.

Madness and the void surely await me!

This line of thought was initiated by an interesting Kickstarter - 'Welcome to Miskatonic University', which sets out to publish an anthology of short stories inspired modern life in that ancient establishment.

One of the features backing is that one is invited to submit one's photo and up to three key details about oneself.  On the basis of this, the creators will have a pool for designing characters to populate their Arkham, incorporating the character into My Miskatonic, a guidebook to Arkham and the university.  

From such innocent requests can darkening realisation grow...

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

AHPC 'Ate Update #2: Crawlers

My submission date for Painting Challenge entries is Wednesday, so I've been intending Thursday to be my regular spot for an update...


As I mentioned the other day, I broke my duck with an entry for the BFG bonus round.  It can be seen here.

Following that, I had the rest of the Terminators from the Warlord Games box which I submitted in my Wednesday spot.  

These are tending to merge into their bases, but that fits in with the post-apoc style of the Terminator movies and they fact that the 'crawlers' are sneaky buggers who grab you even though you've already 'killed' them once.  Their resemblance to the crawlers in Warlord's Project Z game is uncanny - I'm just awaiting crawling Ood in their Doctor Who range now.

These were all the usable Terminators from the second-hand box I acquired (it was obviously one of 'those gifts' - someone had tried to assemble the minis, broken several and then given up).  I've saved the broken ones in my gash box, just in case I ever do a Mad Scientist's workshop. 

I also have a batch of Future Resistance fighters, but no plans to paint them during the Challenge.

Work in Progress

The entry for the 'Music' bonus round on 3 Feb is on-going and on-target.  I've decided to press on with my (non)-entry for the 'Flight' round and submit it in the ordinary way.  I like the concept, it fits in with my existing minis, and I'd like to see how it works out.

Other than that, I've two large(ish)-for-me groups planned (both Pulpy) and the other bonus rounds sketched out.  If I complete those, I'll be happy with the output of this year's Challenge.

Monday, 22 January 2018

AHPC 'Ate Update #1: BFG

Well, I've made a really bad start to the AHPC 'Ate.  This was going to be the year when I had everything organised,  submitted for each of the bonus rounds and met my target.  Ha!

I missed the 'Flight' bonus round (I had a Canard I was going to submit).  But in making this submission, I've avoided the automatic disqualification by a hair's breath.  It wouldn't have been the end of the world, but I enter the Challenge because it makes me sit down and paint (which I do enjoy).  I just feel guilty taking up a slot on the roster.  Perhaps things will be better if I get my new glasses this month.

Anyway, here's my quick-and-dirty 'BFG' entry...  To see everyone's entries (and to vote), go here.

'BFG' Bonus Round Submission

The Terminators have done it again!  Skynet has sent a whole squad even further back in time than before in order to kill the ancestors of the leaders of the Resistance (Skynet's forte has never been originality).

With Sarah Connor less than a twinkle in her grandfather's eye, who is going to step up to save the future, and possibly even delay Judgement Day once again?

Here were have eight 28mm Terminator Endoskeletons from the Warlord Games/River Horse Terminator Genysis miniatures game.  These are described in their blurb as being in "two different posses, advancing and… relentlessly advancing!".  In practice, this means that some of the Terminators carry their BFG in their right hand and some in their left (which made them easier to put together once I'd realised that!).  Box sets can now be picked up cheaply, and for me the Endos will serve as generic BFG-Wielding Robots.

Queen Victoria is from Westwind Productions'  Empire of the Dead range.  A nice, fun sculpt.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Some Reading

I’m not one for writing blog posts at the beginning of the year which lay out a grand plan or scheme of things.  This is probably because I don’t like creating hostages to fortune and therefore, more generally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  However, when I sat down after Christmas to choose the top-ten books I’d read in 2017, I was a little put off by how little I had to choose from.  I therefore made a sort-of resolution to read more and to record it by reviewing the books (at least here and probably also on Goodreads*).

*I use Goodreads to track my reading.

I make not stick to this, but I’ve decided to see if it works to try to focus on particular themes to my non-fiction reading.  In doing this, I’m not putting the cart before the horse – I’ve chosen areas which I’ve been meaning to look into further anyway.  So, to begin with I want to concentrate on the naval aspects of the First World War.

In a way January has been good to me as far as that goes.  I’ve been unwell and (after the sleeping for a lot of the time stage) I’ve been able to do some reading.  I’ve also been listening to podcasts, which I may talk about another day.

So, tomorrow expect a book review.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Doctor Who Wednesday #22

Welcome to the first Doctor Who Wednesday of 2018!

In fact, this is the first DWW since August, which is far too long a gap.  Hopefully that won't happen before DWW #23 as I have some Doctor Who figures in my intended AHPC output.  Watch this space...

So, with very little to comment on, here we go.

Target Books

Yesterday I came across a whole pile of Doctor Who novelisations in a charity shop.  I've never really bothered with these because, a) many seem to be written for children, b) many are also no good and, c) there are hundreds of the buggers.   I'd appreciate feedback from people with more experience.  Are they worth bothering with when they can be picked up cheaply?  I'm wondering what inspiration they might provide for some solo gaming.

Having said this, I couldn't resist buying these Target Books.  Which have an obvious nostalgia appeal.

For those who don't know, Target Books were published from the 1970s onwards (detail can be found on Wikipedia) and include both novelisations of broadcast serials and, later, newly commissioned works.  They're sometimes useful as they can contain back-stories which have been since been recognised as canonical.

The addition of these four brings the total of my Target Books up to six, which I suppose can be considered a nascent collection.  As you can see, I'm not too fussed about condition.  I'm not going to go out of my way seek then out, but if they cross my path, I'll pick more up

For the record, I currently have

2nd Doctor
  • Doctor Who and the Cybermen (1975), based on the 1967 serial 'Moonbase'.  Apparently contains some back-story 0f the Cybermen now considered canonical.  This was one of the serials episodes of which the BBC destroyed or lost after broadcast.  It was recently released with animations filling the gaps.
  • Yetis!
  • Doctor Who and the Web of Fear (1976), based on the 1968 serial 'The Web of Fear' - Yeti on the London Underground and worth getting for the first appearance of Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart.  Also one of the 'lost serials'

3rd Doctor
  • Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters (1974), based on the 1970 serial 'Doctor Who and the Silurians'.  I'm not sure what the reason for the change of title is - Wikipedia tells me that the book avoids the name 'Silurians' but not why (rights issues?).  The answer will be out there, and I may look for  it when I read the book.
  • Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks (1974), based on the 1972 serial 'Day of the Daleks'
  • Doctor Who and the Green Death (1975), based on the 1973 serial 'The Green Death' remembered for the departure of Jo Grant.

4th Doctor
  • Doctor Who and the Destiny of the Daleks (1979), based on the serial 'Destiny of the Daleks'.  This is the only one of the six that I've read - it's a fairly ropy novelisation of a ropy serial.  But it's got Davros and marks the regeneration of Romana from actress Mary Tamm to Lala Ward.

Gratuitous Sara-Jane Smith Photo

Friday, 29 December 2017

My Books of the Year (Fiction)

For my pick of non-fiction books I've read this year, see here.

Again, these are in no particular order...

John Scalzi (ed), Metatropolis 
I'm not sure how to describe this.  It's an anthology of stories by authors who've set themselves the task of writing in a shared future - a post-urban one.  There is a heavy leaning to a world where Green Is Good. 
Like all anthologies it's a bit hit-and-miss, but I enjoyed it a lot - in no small part because it introduced me to some interesting new writers.

Jason Goodwin, The Snake in the Stone
This is the second of Goodwin's novels about Yashim the Eunuch, a resident of 1830s Constantinople who (of course!) gets roped-in as a sort of semi-official investigator when crimes threaten the status quo
In this case it's the murder of a dodgy French archaeologist who has been upsetting the city's Greek community just when the authorities don't need it (the Sultan is dying).  Can Yashim find what lies at the heart of a conspiracy that goes back centuries?  (Spoiler: Yes, he can.)
Goodwin, who's also a published historian of the Ottomans, obviously knows his stuff.  The way he describes the city, its people and its food is a real pleasure to read, and Yashim is a very engaging companion.

Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk and Moriarty.
Of course I'm cheating here counting these separate books as one  (thus turning my Top Ten up to eleven).  But I read them both in 2017, so they both fall within the parameters of this list.  Indeed, I was so pleased by The House of Silk, that I went out and got Moriarty straight away.
I've not read any of Horowitz's books before,  He's best known as the author of Young Adult books such as the Alex Rider series and as creator of the TV's Inspector Foyle.
Both books are Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  The House of Silk was apparently the first pastiche authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate.  In a way it's a straightforward  tale in the style of Conan Doyle, but very skillfully done.  As you'd expect, it's narrated by Watson and concerns two intertwined cases.  There is a nice twist at the end which I didn't see coming (perhaps blinded by the twist which I was allowed to see).
Twists are obviously Horowitz's bag, as he takes us on a much more twisty route with Moriarty.  Not so obviously a copy of Conan Doyle's model, it takes us into his world from a different direction.
In the Swiss morgue that holds Moriarty's body after his encounter with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, a Pinkerton agent meets Insp Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard.  Together they set out to stop the vacuum created by his death being filled by a new threat

Kim Newman, Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.
Talking of Holmes pastiches, here's another one. It follows one of the more traditional of pastiche styles - "Look I'm taking the Holmes characters and mixing them with other writers'.  Aren't I clever and amusing!"  In fact, The Hound of the D'Urbervilles is both clever and amusing, because Newman know's his stuff.  He also has an engaging writing style which doesn't judder to a halt and signpost every time he makes an historical or literary reference.   A knowledge of turn-of-the-century adventure literature would help, but if you've heard of Fu Manchu, Raffles and Ruritania, you'll get by nicely.
The gimmick here is that instead of the found writings of Watson writing about Holmes' cases, we have those of Colonel Sebastian "Basher" Moran writing about those of everyone's favorite consulting criminal, Moriarty.  A fun read, which reminded me of the best of Flashman.  
I hadn't read any Newman before, but I've got his Dracula books on the shelf and will give them a go. 

Peter F Hamilton, Great North Road.  
In putting this list together, I was surprised that there wasn't more science fiction.  
In this stand-alone book, Hamilton picks up some of the themes of his other works - corporate dynasties, cloning technologies and wormholes - and weaves together a story in which a murder one cold, snowy night in 2143's Newcastle turns out to be of planetary importance.  
Hamilton is, of course a master of both world-building and character creation and here we see him at his best.  If I had a quibble, I would say that at 1,087pp, it's about 150 pages too long.  
After reading this I was lured into starting the Void Trilogy.  I enjoy Hamilton's work and I have nothing against either brick-sized books or trilogies.  The problem is that they do need some investment.  The Void books require me to remember who is who in the Commonwealth Saga.  Now I enjoyed the Commonwealth Saga a lot (it's probably some of Hamilton's best work), but I read it over ten years ago and my memory isn't sufficiency good to recall relatively minor characters.  To cut a long story short, I've got stuck about a third of the way through the second book and moved on to other things.  
However, I don't want to put anyone off,  as I say, Great North Road is a stand-alone, so if you want to read 1,000 pages of great science-fiction instead of 5,000 give it a go. 

Andrew Weir, The Martian.  
This wasn't a new read for 2017.  The Martian has become one of my go-to books when I want to read something familiar.  
I suspect it doesn't need much introduction.  It's a story of exploration and survival as a lone astronaut on Mars desperately tries to live long enough to be rescued. 
Good hard sci-fi.

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