Archive for July, 2020

Shadow Captain

Posted: July 31, 2020 in Book reviews, science fiction

Shadow_Captain_Alastair_ReynoldsBy Alastair Reynolds

Please note, as this is the sequel to Revenger, I will discuss spoilers for that novel, so be warned!

<insert spoiler gap here>



<ok then>

It’s been months since Arafura (Fura) Ness rescued her older sister, Adrana, killing infamous pirate Bosa Sennen into the bargain. They’ve renamed Bosa’s ship Revenger and now must find a way of letting the wider Congregation know that this ship is no longer to be feared. After a side trip to raid a bauble the crew set sail for a wheel world named Wheel Strizzardy, ostensibly to resupply the ship, but Fura may have an ulterior motive. Once there they fall foul of criminal elements and discover that the Congregation has placed a bounty on Bosa Sennen and her ship. Will anyone give them the opportunity to set the record straight, or are they doomed to a life as fugitives?

The middle part of Reynolds’ space pirate trilogy is a swashbuckling doozy, with action, adventure and mystery aplenty, and if anything I enjoyed it more than Revenger, because so much of the hard work of world building had already been done, although I did have to quickly reorient myself with the nomenclature of this universe, the Congregation (millions of years ago the worlds of the solar system were smashed to create thousands of tiny worlds) Baubles (abandoned worlds protected by forcefields that can provide a treasure trove of ancient technology but are exceptionally dangerous) and quoins (the mysterious alien currency that humanity’s economy relies on).

The Revenger novels have been described by some as young adult, but really they’re for all ages, sure there’s heaps of darkness and violence, but foul language and any hint of sex is kept to a minimum.

The second book sees one major shift, whereas Revenger was told from the first person perspective of Fura, Shadow Captain’s tale is told by Adrana, which makes an interesting counterpoint to the first book, and allows us to see things from both sister’s point of view. They’re an interesting duo, with Fura the younger, yet also the one who’s taken command, however tacitly. It’ll be interesting to see whose perspective the third and final book is told from.

Other characters return like Prozor, the grizzled old hand who’s grown to be the sisters most loyal ally, and there are a whole slew of new characters, including a doctor with a secret and a nefarious crime boss who shows a glimpse of one possible future for Fura.

Reynolds’ prose is great, and his worldbuilding superb, he’s crafted an incredibly interesting universe here, and I’m almost disappointed that we’re only going to get three opportunities to visit it, though who knows maybe he’ll return some day. Yes, it’s a trifle cliched, but that is the point, this is Long John Silver in space, so the pirate clichés are kinda essential, and it all adds to the fun. And there’s a lot of fun!

Highly recommended, so go grab yourself a copy you dirty coves, y’arr!

Licence to Kill (1989)

Posted: July 23, 2020 in James Bond

1 pqYu-aVmeIFFEdK2aVMk0w

A 00 agent gone rogue, M incensed, Bond out on his own and hunted by his own side as well as the villains. No, it isn’t just the new Purvis and Wade scripted Daniel Craig Bond film, this is something altogether different, something shall we say, unexpected. Bond going off piste when Bond going off piste wasn’t de rigueur.

Don’t get me wrong, James Bond’s always bent the rules somewhat, much to M’s consternation, the classic example being assaulting Piz Gloria, that was definitely something done off his own back, but Licence to Kill is something else.

A shameful admission here, the first time I saw LTK in ’89, well I wasn’t that enamoured. Maybe I was expecting The Living Daylights 2, maybe I was just young and stupid, but this is a film that’s grown on me with each viewing. It’s a crying shame we only got two Dalton flicks, but at least we got two great ones!

The film opens with the American air force spotting that a plane has deviated from its course.

Meanwhile Bond’s on his way to Felix Leiter’s wedding, along with their pal Sharkey. When they’re waved down by the DEA Felix decides to delay the wedding so he can go after a drug dealer named Sanchez. Bond of course tags along.

Meanwhile we get our introduction to Robert Davi’s Sanchez, and what a great introduction, from him tearing down the curtain, to ordering a man’s death to exacting his revenge on poor Lupe. This is a man who considers himself above the law, and when Bond and Felix turn up he sneaks away, smugly presuming he’s safe, until 007 shows him you should never count your chickens. After going fishing for the drug lord, Bond and Felix parachute straight to the wedding. Special mention for the bridesmaids who pick up Bond and Felix’s chutes like they were bridal trains, and for Della’s father grumpily extorting “I told you this was a mistake.” Oh were you ever right, dad…

The wedding goes well, and Bond leaves the reception with a gift from the bride, a lighter. Unfortunately Sanchez has escaped, and he’s sent his goons (led by a very young Benicio del Toro) Felix is knocked out, and when he wakes it’s to find he’s the prisoner of Sanchez. He thinks he’s for the chop but Sanchez has other ideas.

licence to kill 3

Upon discovering Sanchez has escaped Bond races to the house, where he finds Della dead and Felix mauled by a shark. Incensed he and Sharkey begin an investigation that leads them to aquarium owner Milton Krest and Bond gets some portion of revenge by killing the FBI agent who helped Sanchez escape. His private vendetta hasn’t gone unnoticed though. M arrives to take Bond home, after revoking his licence to kill, Bond has other ideas and does a runner. On his own he turns to former CIA agent Pam Bouvier to fly him to Isthmus City. Outnumbered hundreds, perhaps thousands, to one Bond proceeds to take Sanchez’s organisation apart by playing on his paranoia.

A story about Bond going rogue, and about 007 thirsting for vengeance is made for Dalton. We saw flashes in The Living Daylights of the cold rage boiling just beneath the surface (look at his face when Saunders is killed) so a one man rampage fits his interpretation of Bond to a tee, especially the notion that he’s close to telling M to stuff it most of the time anyway. Don’t let anyone tell you Daniel Craig was the first gritty Bond.


Dalton is superb throughout (and he also seems to spend an inordinate amount of the movie wet) displaying a whole raft of emotions, from glee at snagging Sanchez’s plane, to melancholia when Della mentions him being married (and you have to love Felix’s line “He was married once, but it was a long time ago,” to horror at finding Della dead and Felix mangled, to rage…oh, so much rage! You have to love his accent slipping and some Derbyshire coming through, the “Things were about to turn nasty” bit always makes me smile. As with Daniel Craig he’s funnier than you think he is and if there’s a misstep it isn’t Dalton’s fault, what was going on with his hair in the casino scene?

u-g-Q1C1FM90A decent villain can make or break a Bond film, and in Sanchez 007 has a superior adversary. Fresh from his stint as Special Agent Johnson in Die Hard (and amusingly he shares screen time with Agent Johnson actor Grand L. Bush early doors) Robert Davi makes for an excellent adversary. Cruel, smug, diabolical, sadistic, yet with a curious sense of honour. The best villains are the ones who think they’re the hero of the story and Sanchez clearly thinks he’s the hero here.

A great Bond, a great villain, if only it featured a great Bond girl…oh wait it does! Carey Lowell gets a welcome amount of agency as Pam Bouvier (gotta love the Ms Kennedy joke as well). Honestly I don’t think I’d realised just how rounded a Bond girl she is. She’s tough and resourceful, yet flawed—clearly, she’s reckless, probably why she agrees to go with 007 to Isthmus— she doesn’t just follow Bond around with puppy dog eyes, she acts on her own initiative multiple times, and has her own agenda with Heller and the stingers. Given all this I can forgive her turning on the waterworks right at the end! If I have an issue it’s that maybe a stronger actress would have made even more of the opportunity, but I’m being picky, Pam is a top drawer Bond girl, proof you can give a gal agency without stepping on 007’s toes.


As Lupe Talisa Soto is perhaps a more conventional Bond girl, but kudos to giving us two Bond girls and not have one of them be bad. Soto is absolutely gorgeous, especially in the casino scenes, but it’s a shame she’s only defined by her relationships to male characters, first her unnamed lover, then Franz, then Bond and then finally el presidente! Her falling in love with Bond inside of a few minutes is a trifle eyerolling as well, as Q demonstrates.

Ah Q, always nice to see him out in the field (though something that should always be the exception not the rule, Whishaw!) and Llewellyn is good value here, brave and resourceful.


“Bless your heart.”

The film has a great supporting cast which is always nice to see. From Everett McGill as duplicitous, cigar chomping Killiver, to Vegas legend Wayne Newton who brings a welcome touch of levity as Professor Joe. The return of David Hedison as Felix is a nice touch as well, investing us in the character a little bit more because he’s familiar to us, and thankfully he doesn’t quite look thirty years older than Priscilla Barnes’ Della. She has a thankless task but imbues Della with enough warmth in a few minutes to ensure we’re as angry as 007 is. The fridging of Della just to make Bond angry could be clunky, especially given the not so subtle allusion to rape as well as murder, that it works is down to Barnes’ and Dalton’s performances (sorry Felix but you seem altogether too perky at the end) and the emotional call back to Tracy is a nice touch, Bond isn’t just angry because of what’s happened to Della and Felix, it goes deeper than that.

Special mention for Anthony Zerbe who’s wonderfully sleazy as Milton Krest, and comes to a very sticky end, and yes, Benicio del Toro is nasty as hell.


And on the subject of Dario, it’s been pointed out to me that Sanchez might be more interested in him than Lupe, and he’s certainly more touchy feely with his henchman than with his girlfriend, in fact he barely seems to notice Lupe at all, which makes you wonder if she’s his beard, and if he was gay, that makes his relationship with Bond a trifle different as well. And look at that, 20+ years before Bond and Silva started flirting. I wonder if it’s a reference to Scaramanga in the novel of The Man with the Golden Gun, who it’s implied might be batting for the other side (and I don’t mean Russia) or maybe as humans are want to do we’re seeing patterns where none exist. There are some definite references to the books of course; Milton Krest, the whip, Felix’s close encounter with a great white…

The action scenes are not only top drawer, but imaginative as well. My personal favourite is the escape from the WaveKrest, featuring some of the franchise’ least boring underwater scenes. The water-skiing escape and takeover of the plane are glorious. The whole sequence from start to finish is superb (best not to wonder why a drug dealer is buying drugs, or how Lupe gets home ahead of Krest though, eh?)

The pre-title sequence manages to go from Miami Vice serious to typically Bond ridiculousness, but it works, and the tanker chase is technically well put together, even if I can never quite bring myself to love it, though it does have its moments, and a nice finale where Bond explains to Sanchez why he’s gone to so much trouble to take him down, assuming Sanchez can read the inscription (it was quite bright out!)


Bond has some great lines (“More of a problem eliminator”) and it’s great to see him relying on his wits, until Q turns up with the gadgets—not that Bond gets to use too many of them thanks to the appearance of some ninjas straight out of central casting. Bond using Sanchez’s own paranoia against him as well is a great move, and for once the fact that his reputation proceeds him acts in his favour!

I’m pretty sure someone else will fill the void left by Sanchez so it’s hardly the happy ending it’s played as but maybe the producers figured the film had been dark enough already without delving too deeply into the socioeconomic realities of the drugs trade? And would M really welcome 007 back with open arms? He’s probably caused an international incident, and, even if only inadvertently, his attack on Sanchez may well have cost the lives of those Hong Kong narcotics agents, and an MI6 agent.

I’m being picky though. This is a great Bond film, and while people may have felt it clutching at the coattails of the 80s action boom, well, Bond’s always cherrypicked from what’s hot at the time, and despite it’s gritty tone this is still very clearly a Bond film, albeit one more suited to Dalton’s talents and I truly wish we’d got a third Dalton film.

So, its farewell to Tim, we hardly knew you but by god you made an impression…I wonder who’ll be next? Shame they missed out on that Remington Steel guy…


“I’m smoking a fag!”


The Long Goodbye

Posted: July 7, 2020 in Book reviews

417bgOVMF3L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By Raymond Chandler

After a chance meeting detective Philip Marlowe becomes friends with Terry Lennox, a drunk married to a wealthy socialite. Months later Terry comes to Marlow for help in getting out of the country, and it transpires that Terry’s wife has been murdered and the police suspect him. When Terry commits suicide in Mexico it seems an open and shut case, but despite his best efforts not to get involved, Marlowe finds himself drawn into a world of drunks and adulterers in LA’s exclusive Idle Valley. With everyone out for Marlowe’s blood, and everyone more than happy to let sleeping dogs lie, can Marlowe discover the truth behind the murder of Lennox’s wife?

I knew who Raymond Chandler was of course, writer of pulp detective novels, creator of Philip Marlowe, a character played by actors such as Bogart, Gould, Mitchum…yet I’d never read a Chandler novel before.

Suffice to say that almost immediately upon finishing The Long Goodbye, I ordered another of Chandler’s Marlowe novels online which probably tells you all you need to know.

Its odd because the novel isn’t a great mystery, the limited pool of characters means I’d worked a lot out, but it isn’t just about twists and turns, it’s about the characters Chandler creates, from Lennox, at once a lowlife drunk, yet a man with a curious sense of honour, to Candy, the Chilean servant of novelist Roger Wade. In other hands a Latino character in 1950s’ America could have been incredibly cliched, yet Chandler writes him with nuance. The aforementioned Wade is an obvious Chandler stand in, the writer of popular fiction who wants to be appreciated for his art, and another character with a drinking problem. Female characters like Roger’s wife, Eileen and Linda, the sister of Lennox’s murdered wife, are also treated as more than just femme fatales.

And then there’s Marlowe, on the face of it a tough, hard drinking PI, yet he’s incredibly thoughtful, and likes nothing more than replaying famous chess puzzles alone. And I love the fact that while Marlowe thinks there’s something fishy about Lennox’s suicide, he isn’t that invested in investigating until circumstances keep pushing him towards it.

Beyond all of this is Chandler’s prose however, which is just wonderful. Yes, it’s a trifle purple at times, but it’s wonderful, languid and heavy with atmosphere, and yes at times I did have Bogart’s voice in my head as I read. Chandler’s use of language is addictive, aso much so that even when nothing was really happening I just wanted to keep reading. It’s a long novel, yet in many ways not long enough. On the plus side, at least I have more Marlowe novels to read!