Virgin of the 7 Daggers // Vernon Lee

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Vernon Lee = Violet Paget, claimed by some to be the best writer of supernatural fiction in the 19th Century and infinitely better than Henry James.

Having read this collection of stories and having never touched a page of James, I can say this is undeniably true.

First off, when I started reading the first story I thought it was a very long opening chapter of a novel, not a short story, so the structure really blew me away. I had no idea where the story was going. It was only when the plot seemed to be reaching a dead end that I flicked forward and realised the second chapter was a whole different story.

It was a bit deflating, not enough to forget that the main character was in love with a mystical snake lady and his granddad was strangely immortal, but it still would’ve been better if the story had gone on to another location, perhaps an alternate dimension or the Oort Cloud.

In future, should I read all short stories thinking they’re novels?

It might help.

Should writers write novels as if they’re short stories?

Anything to add something new.

There’s something about 19th Century fiction, or authors, the way they write their characters. Psychologically, they’re weird and deep, they have active minds and they think in a way that seems almost like a foreign language now. Even Sherlock Holmes has this style, though most people are used to his shtick. Continue reading

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Blake’s 7 [Redux] // S01E04 – Time Squad

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INT: THE LIBERATOR BRIDGE, TIME UNKNOWN, MAYBE A FEW DAYS AFTER BRIAN BLESSED GOT BLOWN UP OVER CYGNUS ALPHA

Blake stands two feet away from Jenna, who is in front of the pilot’s console, running through the instructions to make the ship move.

‘Orbit rotation in sync,’ says Blake.

‘Check,’ says Jenna.

‘Rotate thrusters a bit.’

‘A bit?’

‘Not too much. A bit.’

‘More detail.’

Blake shrugs. ‘17 spatials?’

Jenna looks puzzled for a moment, checks the script then nudges Blake in the side. They whisper for a bit, Blake looks reluctant, then they finally swap positions.

‘Compensate for orbital drift,’ says Jenna.

‘Check,’ says Blake.

‘Align thrusters.’

‘Check.’

Jenna shakes her head and points at a different button. Blake smiles and presses it.

‘Engines present?’ continues Jenna

‘Check,’ says Gan.

‘Keyboard?’

‘Check,’ says Vila.

‘Bitter enmity?’

Avon growls.

Blake claps his hands together and looks at Avon, Gan and Villa, making sure they’re not gurning. ‘Okay, now we know how to move the ship, let’s check if there’s anyone following us. Zen, are there any Federation ships in the vicinity?’ Continue reading

The 3 Body Problem // Cixin Liu [Thoughts + Spoilers]

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Plot: The Cultural Revolution is laid out for 50 pages and characters that no one knows nor cares about die/suffer. The only one left standing is a woman who will eventually sell out humans to aliens living in the Alpha Centauri System [off-camera]. In modern times, a scientist/nanotech engineer[?] called Wang forgets his family so he can focus on a video game called The Three Body Problem. It’s not a hard game, not as hard as the original Mega Man, and he quickly comes across the alien plot to take over Earth. Luckily, it will take 400 years for the aliens to arrive. Unluckily, they’ve invented nine dimensional protons that fly to Earth and do their best Stasi impression, which in effect limits humans to doing nothing scientifically for the next 400 years, which in turn will allow the aliens to land on Earth and do what?

Subplot: Disregarding the blurb on the back of the cover, 100 odd pages are dedicated to flashbacks of the traitor scientist figuring out how to send a signal to aliens without telling us that’s what she’s doing even though we know that’s what she’s doing cos we’ve read the blurb on the back cover.

Subplot: Wang’s wife asks for a divorce.

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The above summary of the plot may come across as negative, but I enjoyed about half of this book, especially the parts focused on the video game and the three body aliens themselves.

However, it takes a long while to get there.

The biggest problem is definitely the opening 50 pages or so. If you’re gonna write a sci-fi book that starts with some historical context, at least write it well. Or organise it well. Or make it involving, either emotionally or concept-wise. What Liu has done is write a succession of scenes that involve characters we don’t get to know at all and then kill them off. Continue reading

Blake’s 7 [Redux] // S01E03 – Cygnus Alpha

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Trying to phase out the sleaze, but it keeps creeping back…

If you can’t be bothered checking the categories at the side, here’s where the other Blake’s 7 reduxes are:

The Way Back

Space Fall

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EXT: SURFACE OF PENAL COLONY, CYGNUS ALPHA

A man dressed like a monk raises a machete and chops a cooked animal in half. There’s a noise nearby and a woman also dressed like a monk appears, telling the man that the federation ship has arrived in the sky.

‘That shooting star up there?’

‘It’s a big ship.’

‘Well-lit, too.’

‘’tis true.’

The man frowns, wondering if any of the new prisoners are either a] bigger than him or b] sexier than him.

‘I guess I’ll leave dinner here and go tell Brian Blessed that the new prisoners have arrived.’

‘The new believers…’ corrects the woman.

‘Huh?’

‘They are believers, not prisoners.’

‘Right. What is it we believe again?’

‘Indulging Brian Blessed.’

The man rubs his nose bridge. ‘He did the Iago monologue last night.’

‘Soft then loud but never really soft?’

The man nods. ‘As if I  were at the back row of a stadium.’

‘You did the Lord’s work. Now go.’

‘Going.’

The woman swishes her hand leftwards and the man trots off in that direction. After staring up at the sky for a bit, the woman walks the opposite way, off the quarry set and straight into a barrage of ‘show us your crystal balls, luv.’

She shakes it off, reminding herself over and over that it’s not just here, it’s everywhere.

 

INT: PENAL SHIP COCKPIT, SAME ONE FROM SPACE FALL

The young lieutenant walks through a door with Flight Control Deck stencilled on it and tells the captain that the prisoners are all high as fuck and looking forward to Cygnus Alpha. Continue reading

Yeltsin Speaks Cantonese// the logic of messing up unexpected questions

It’s been about five days since the last dinner with the in-laws, but they were in the area to get their fingerprints done for the new HKID card, so off we went to the nearby shabu shabu place.

Shabu Shabu = 90 minutes of hot pot, all you can eat and drink

Unfortunately, I was the one who went ahead to get the ticket. Usually, when this happens, I’ll ask the staff in Cantonese how long we have to wait for a table or do they have a table straight away, but this time they sucker punched me with a ‘how long…’ question of their own.

Jung yau gei loi do?

Gei loi is ‘how long’, jung yau is something like ‘still have’, and do is a short way to say ‘arrive’…so I could understand what was said, the problem was, what did it mean?

My brain ran through the logical options: how long until the other people in your group arrive, how long are you willing to wait for a table, how long have you been in Hong Kong, how long does it take to arrive in places generally…

But none of them seemed to fit, so I replied, ‘gei loi meh?’[how long for what?] which was probably quite rude, but I didn’t have a clue what they were saying.

They said the same thing again, I stared back at them blankly, and then the ultimate frustration…a guy standing nearby stepped in and translated for me. They want to know how long your friends will take to arrive, he said.

Ah, that makes sense. Continue reading

Blake’s 7 [Redux] // S01E02 – Space Fall

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It’s been a while, but you can find the first episode redux [The Way Back] here

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INT: SPACESHIP/BBC STOREROOM, ONE CIRCULAR WINDOW TO SHOW BLACKNESS OF SPACE, LOTS OF CONVICTS SITTING ON CLASSROOM CHAIRS, NO TATTOOS

Blake sits with his back to the window, restrained by a piece of ribbed plastic tubing curving round his torso.

He surveys the convicts in front of him.

‘Who wants to join my crew?’

Half of them raise their hands.

‘Who knows how to act?’

Hands drop.

‘Okay. Jenna, Vila, Gan, young-looking student.’

Young looking student grins. ‘Hi, I’m…’

‘Should be enough.’

 

SWITCH TO: SHIP COCKPIT/DRIVE ROOM/BRIDGE/ROOM WITH 3 CHAIRS AND CARDBOARD CONTROL PANELS

An old-ish guy tells his crew of two to say some random numbers and set course for Cygnus Alpha. They repeat the numbers for a few seconds then the youngest crew member, we’ll give him the rank of lieutenant, goes back to the book he was studying. Continue reading