by Catriona Mills

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Three

Posted 1734 days ago in by Catriona

While sitting on the back verandah, and apropos of absolutely nothing:

NICK: Have you been sweating?
ME: Excuse me?
NICK (brushing his hand across my forehead): Oh, you have. Good.
ME: Seriously, what is happening here?
NICK: I thought it might only be me.

Moffat's Women (Via Tor)

Posted 1735 days ago in by Catriona

This never has been a link blog, but sometime I come across things that I really want to share, and this is one of them.

Thanks to a link that Matt Smith tweeted today, I’ve come across a series on Tor.com about Steven Moffat’s women.

My deep and abiding love for Doctor Who is no surprise to anyone reading this blog—or, if it is, hit the link to “Doctor Who” on the right there.

My deep and abiding love for Steven Moffat is no surprise, either.

So how could I not offer these links?

I suspect the series is incomplete: after all, Steven Moffat also created River Song.

But here are the first three parts:

Nancy.

Reinette.

Sally Sparrow.

(On a side note, I spent some time while reading these wondering if the writer had ever watched Press Gang. If you grew up on Lynda Day, you tend to expect strong women from Steven Moffat—and he hasn’t let me down yet.)

Live-blogging Torchwood, Season Three: "Children of Earth" Day Four

Posted 1736 days ago in by Catriona

I’m drinking gin tonight, in preparation for this episode. Actually, we’re all drinking gin in preparation for this episode. Except Heather.

Speaking of Heather, we had the following conversation earlier:

ME: I’m not sure about this new bra.
HEATHER: By the way, did I tell you I saw this documentary about the Hindenburg?

Did anyone read the comment thread from the live-blogging of the last episode of Torchwood? Because in line with her comments in that, Heather has also spent much of the night wandering around saying things like “Now, Nick, are you sure you’re all right with dinner? Because I am an American, and I’d be happy to tell you how to do it.”

It’s much more fun live-blogging with other people around, I can tell you.

A trailer for Torchwood comes on, and we’re all reminded that there’s likely to be more alien vomiting in this episode.

This episode contains violence. Still no nudity.

We recap the children chanting, Lois wearing the video contact lenses, Jack’s daughter running with her son, the Icy Pole of light and the arrival of the 456, and their request to decimate the children of Earth.

Credits.

We flash back to Scotland in 1965, an army jeep driving down a road to an army checkpoint. Jack jumps out, in a spiffy coat—looks like an Air Force coat, actually.

The woman whom Jack meets at the checkpoint tells him that the disease the 456 told them about, a new strain of the Indonesian flu, could kill 25 million people, but the 456 are offering a cure.

In exchange for 12 children.

Jack says it sounds like a good deal. He asks the woman if they’ve picked him to hand over the children because he can’t die, but she says no: they want someone who doesn’t care.

And Jack tells the children that they’re going on an adventure, as we see the light flash again. This time, Jack tells them to walk into the light, but Clem resists. He asks Jack if it’s safe, and Jack tells him it is.

Clem walks slowly, and the light flashes brightly before he reaches it: Jack and the others shade their eyes, and Clem runs away across the fields.

Back in our time, Clem tells Jack that he (Jack) is in every nightmare Clem has ever had. Then he grabs a gun and shoots Jack.

Ianto grabs Jack, and Gwen talks Clem down, over Rhys’s objections. Clem, to be honest, is in a mess now, crying and hugging Gwen, because he thinks he’s killed a man.

Yet when Jack comes back to life, Clem freaks out, and runs to the back of the warehouse.

Gwen follows him, saying “At least you get to shoot first and ask questions later. How good is that?” Clem doesn’t seem thrilled by the idea, though: he’s banging his head on a ladder and saying, “This is too much.”

Back at the front of the warehouse, Ianto says he can’t believe Jack didn’t mention this before. Jack says the 456 didn’t talk through children then, so he didn’t immediately recognise the pattern. Ianto says that isn’t what he meant.

MICHELLE: But doesn’t he have an extensive back story? How would he cover it all?

Then the speculation slithers into the question of Jack’s sexual history, so we won’t live-blog that bit.

Alice, being taken into custody by the Woman in Black, tells her that she better hope she’s not angered Jack.

“This,” says the Woman in Black, “from the woman who spent her life running from him?”

“Why do you think I did that?” asks Alice. “A man who cannot die has nothing to fear.”

In Thames House, Frobisher tells the 456 that they need to know what they plan to do with the children, but the 456 say that someone is watching them. (Then they vomit.)

Clem freaks out, saying they know he’s watching, but Torchwood say no, and Frobisher does explain that the PM is watching through the camera set up in the room in Thames House.

He repeats that the PM needs to know what will happen with the children.

And the 456 say, “Come in.” They tell them to bring a camera, and come into the enclosure.

So they suit a man up—not Frobisher, of course—and send him in with a camera to see the 456. He can’t see anything through the fog, but everyone’s watching his footage, including the PM.

And then the 456 is right in front of him. The man pants with fear, but he holds steady.

Decker, reading the computer readouts of the man’s safety suit, says he’s getting three heartbeats, that there are three distinct forms of life in there.

And, sure enough, there are. In a harness, attached to the 456, is a child: bald, with shrivelled skin, but still recognisably a child after more than 40 years.

And he’s awake. He turns his head to the camera, and blinks, slowly.

Lois cries, obscuring Torchwood’s view of the video footage.

Frobisher demands to know what the 456 are doing to the child, and the 456 starts vomiting again, and repeating Frobisher’s insistence from their first meeting about information that is off the record—much to the irritation of the American general who in with the PM.

The 456 tell Frobisher that they do not harm the children, who live long beyond their years. And when Frobisher tells them that is unacceptable, the 456 cut him off, telling him that they have one day to gather the 10% of the Earth’s children previously demanded.

Or what? asks Frobisher.

Or they’ll destroy the entire planet, say the 456.

In the PM’s office, the American general confronts the PM about England’s previous contact with the 456, and isn’t really interested in the PM’s insistence that he was only a child himself in 1965.

Ianto tries to talk to Jack about this, but Jack pushes him away—not physically, but quite brutally, recalling all those earlier conversations about whether they’re a couple or not.

Jack leaves the warehouse to call Frobisher. Frobisher tells Jack to give himself up so that Alice and Steven aren’t harmed, but really he’s just trying to trace the call. Jack hangs up before they can get a fix.

Frobisher, who looks exhausted, is called to a meeting with the PM, who tells them that they have decided to make the 456 an “offer.”

What about the military option? someone asks. But it’s not an option: they can’t even get a fix on the 456’s ship.

So they haggle, about where to find the children.

“It won’t just be Britain, will it?” asks a woman next to the PM.

Oh, not likely.

Frobisher mentions that they have 21 children—21 units, he corrects himself—who will not be missed: they’re failed asylum seekers.

Not enough, says the PM. Can Frobisher bump the numbers up to 60? He thinks he can, so the PM authorises him to go and tell the 456 that they can have 60 units.

Frobisher calls his wife on the way, to tell her that he loves her and the girls.

Frobisher tells the 456 that he has been authorised to offer them one child for every million people on Earth: 6,700 in total, and 62 from the U.K. alone.

“That is not acceptable,” say the 456. But Frobisher repeats the number, clearly, and tells them that’s the offer.

“325,000,” says the 456, as Frobisher leaves. “325,000.”

Then the children start chanting it, all at once. But only the children in the U.K. Children in other countries are saying a different number, which in each case amounts to 10% of the population in that country.

The terminology is spreading: the man telling the PM what these numbers mean says “That’s 10% of the children . . . I mean, the units in this country.” There’s this conscious distancing of themselves from the victims of the 456’s demands. (The man in question is Nicholas Briggs, voice of the Daleks.)

The PM tells his advisors that they are facing a “worse-case scenario” now, and there’s no time for hand-wringing. They need to know how to select the children, and how to sell it to the voters.

One man suggests a random selection, but the woman sitting next to the PM says no one will ever believe that it’s random, and, anyway, they don’t want to risk their children.

She says that if this lottery takes place, then her children aren’t in it. She says she’s simply saying what everyone is thinking, and, sure enough, they say their children warrant protection.

The PM says that there’s no debate: he makes an executive decision, and that’s that the children of everyone in that room is exempt.

“What about nieces and nephews?” the woman, Denise, asks.

The PM tells her not to push it, but she heads into a rant that I wish I could transcribe in total, but I can’t, partly because it’s too long a piece, and partly because I’m clenching my fists too hard to type.

Basically, Denise says that their responsibility is to the future of the country, so shouldn’t they be protecting the successful children, the high-achieving children? And, she adds, if they can’t identify the bottom 10% of children in the country, what are the school league tables for?

(At which point, everyone in my living room shouts “myschool. edu.au!” This is a topical time for that piece of dialogue.)

There you have it, the PM says to Frobisher. There’s your 10%.

No one disagrees.

Gwen says that they have enough evidence to convict everyone in that room. Jack and Ianto head off to convince Lois to let them into Thames House, and Ianto rings his sister on the way, to tell her that she mustn’t let anyone take her children away from her.

Rhys leaves with the computer, so there’s an off-site back-up for their evidence.

The People in Black pinpoint Ianto’s location from his phone call.

Frobisher suggests that they come up with a cover story, explaining that the children are being taken off for an inoculation, then, when they don’t reappear, blaming the 456 for double-crossing them.

The People in Black pinpoint Gwen’s location in the warehouse, just as Ianto rings to tell her that he and Jack are at Thames House.

The meeting in the PM’s room starts to break up, but Lois puts her hand up and says that she has something to say. The PM tries to shut her down, but she says she’s a voter. Then Bridget tries to shut her down, and Frobisher, but she won’t listen.

“Oh, great. A revolutionary,” they say, and when Lois says yes, she is, they ask, “You and whose army?”

“Torchwood,” she says.

Michelle cheers.

As Gwen says, “She’s doing it,” Lois tells them that Torchwood have been recording everything that they’ve been saying in this room, and that it will be made public unless they do everything that Torchwood say.

And Jack marches into Thames House, declaring himself “Torchwood.”

The Woman in Black bursts into the warehouse, and Gwen says, “We’ve been expecting you.” The Woman in Black threatens to have Gwen shot while resisting arrest, but Gwen, without flinching, tells her what they’ve been recording, and suggests she sees for herself.

The Woman in Black looks as though no one has ever spoken to her like that.

And Jack marches into the 456’s ambassadorial suite, with Ianto standing on his right.

Jack tells the 456 that they will not be getting the children. He does it in a complicated fashion, and Ianto does it more directly, but they both say the same thing: no children.

The 456 say, “You yielded in the past.”

But Jack says that this time they have recordings. This time, the planet will rise up against the 456 in defense of its children.

The 456 points out that a child dies every three seconds, and the human response is to accept and adapt. But Jack says they’re adapting right now, and they’re making this a war.

“Then,” says the 456, “the fight begins.”

Jack pauses, before he says, “We’re waiting for your reply.”

“Action has been taken,” says the 456. Ooh, nice passive voice, alien dude.

Indeed, they’ve released a virus in Thames House, which is built to withstand chemical attacks. So it’s locked down, air tight, and the occupants are screaming, running down the stairwells.

The PM turns to Lois and asks, “Happy now?”

Jack and Ianto try to shoot through the glass, but the 456 begin a high-pitched screaming, which has Clem clutching at his head.

Jack says they need to get Ianto out of Thames House, but Ianto says it’s too late: he’s breathed the air. He collapses, and Jack catches him.

Clem, screaming, has blood pouring from his ears and his nose, as the 456 say, “The remnant will be disconnected.” He dies in Gwen’s arms, and she leans him back gently.

In Thames House, people are pouring down the stairs, as Decker throws himself into a biohazard suit. But the people find the doors locked against them, and they die piled up against the glass of the doors.

In the 456’s ambassadorial suite, Jack says, “It’s all my fault.”

Ianto says, “No” but Jack tells him to save his breath.

IANTO: I love you.
JACK: Don’t. Stay with me.
IANTO: It was good, yeah?
JACK: Yeah.
IANTO: Don’t forget me.
JACK: Never could.
IANTO: In a thousand years’ time, you won’t remember me.
JACK: I will. I promise, I will.

Ianto dies.

Well, I hope everyone else in my living room is crying, too.

The 456 say to Jack, “You will die. And tomorrow, your people will deliver the children.”

Jack shows no sign of hearing this: he leans over, kisses Ianto, and crumples to the floor.

We pan back from the bodies on the floor of the ambassadorial suite to the 456 watching from behind the glass.

In the PM’s office, the PM breaks the silence by asking what they do.

They have two choice, says a man: they go to war against the 456 or they go to war against their own people.

Their own people it is, they decide.

In Thames House, Gwen walks past rows of shrouded bodies to kneel between Jack and Ianto. She pulls the shroud from Jack’s face, but has to pause and take a deep breath before unshrouding Ianto.

Because Jack comes back to life.

But Ianto doesn’t.

Gwen puts her hand against Ianto’s heart, and weeps. Jack embraces her, and he weeps.

The camera pulls back to show the room full of bodies again, as Gwen says, “There’s nothing we can do.”

Conversation With My Nintendo Wii Balance Board, Part Two

Posted 1737 days ago in by Catriona

We’ve neglected the Wii Fit over Christmas, so this morning I had the following conversation.

BALANCE BOARD: Good morning, Treena! Were you busy yesterday?
ME: (ignoring the passive-aggressive balance board)
BALANCE BOARD: By the way, what do you think of Nick’s fitness?
ME: (selecting “the same” from the limited options)
BALANCE BOARD: Oh . . . change is always more exciting, don’t you think? Maybe you just haven’t been paying enough attention to Nick!
ME: Excuse me?
BALANCE BOARD: On a side note, did you know that dogs become more motivated when their owners pay more attention to them?
ME: Oh, Nick is going to be happy that you said that.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Two

Posted 1737 days ago in by Catriona

In which, during a nice pub meal in a nice pub, the iPhone rears its head again, and Nick belatedly learns wisdom:

ME: Doesn’t look like we are getting any of that rain.
NICK: Do you want me to check?
ME: What do you think the chances are of me saying yes to that?
NICK: I’d say “cloudy with a chance of some slight shouting . . .” Ooh, that’s not a good look.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-One

Posted 1737 days ago in by Catriona

Via instant messaging:

NICK: iPad! Wooo!
ME: Dear god. No one else is excited. No one.
NICK: Except everyone on Twitter.
ME: Um, everyone on Twitter is bitching about it.
NICK: There is bitching and excitement and all the other emotions.
ME: iBored.
NICK: iGo. iBye!
ME: That’s just stupid. It doesn’t work if it doesn’t naturally have “I” in front of it!
uStupid.
NICK: eWhatever.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty

Posted 1738 days ago in by Catriona

Discussing the MySchool website (my school trends well, but was still a fascist hellhole, for the record) and Nick’s perceptions of its egregious design flaws, including using red/green differentiation for data displays:

ME: Well, the colour-blind issue is a big one. Don’t they have to be compliant in some way?
NICK: Yeah, a website built with government money needs to be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992.
ME: Exactly! Is it compliant? With that distinction [between the green and red]?
NICK: Not enough by my reading.
ME: Send them an angry e-mail! Do it!
NICK: Yeah. OK.
ME: Hurray! Fight the power!
(Long, long pause)
ME: Ooops, must be your lunchtime. Or you died. Either or.
NICK: I’m fighting the power!
ME: Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean during the conversation you were already having.
I meant “fight the power after you’ve finished chatting with your girlfriend.”
NICK: Sorry. OK.
ME: It’s hard to have a revolution and a conversation at the same time.

Watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince With My Father

Posted 1738 days ago in by Catriona

A flashback to the Christmas holidays:

MY FATHER: Are those dark wizards flying around?
ME: No, that’s a train.
MY FATHER: Oh, well, that’s all right then.

And slightly later:

MY FATHER: Did that house just appear out of nowhere?
ME: No. They just walked up to it.
MY FATHER: Oh.

There’s something to be said for retaining a childlike sense of wonder, after all.

Re-reading Part One: Being Annoyed By David Eddings

Posted 1741 days ago in by Catriona

I’ll be completely honest here: I have no particular hatred for David Eddings.

I first read Eddings in my early teens. I’d read many, many fantasy stories as a child, all the (cliche alert!) old classics: Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, and so on.

But I’d slipped away from fantasy for a while, and I came back to it through David Eddings—to Nick, I call him “gateway fantasy,” though I know other readers who’ve done the same through Robert Jordan (whom I’ve never read) or Raymond Feist (whom I’ve never finished).

I read Eddings (specifically, The Belgariad) when I was staying with my best friend at her father’s house up on the Northern Beaches. She’d been reading them over a previous visit, so she lay on one bed with book three and I lay on the other with book one, and we worked our way through the series like that, reading the funny bits out to each other.

And they did seem funny, at the time.

But the problem, for me, is that they don’t bear re-reading. I’m a big re-reader—hence this new series for the blog.

And Eddings doesn’t have any re-read value for me: when I re-read them over this Christmas break (out of desperation, since no one bought me any books for Christmas. Not one!), they just irritated me.

In fact, it was only sheer stubbornness that got me through The Mallorean, in the end.

So, do you want to know what really bothered me? And do you want it in list form? Of course you do.

1. Casual sexism

This is the big one, for me. Yes, there are powerful female characters in Eddings’s books, but their roles are severely restricted: they’re queens, sorceresses, witches, mystics, and priestesses. Not warriors. Rarely scholars. (And Eddings’s seeming contempt for academia is another big issue for me.)

They’re infrequently rulers in their own right and, when they are, they’re often ineffectual or powerless rulers like the drug-addled Salmissra.

There are some politicians, but they tend to manipulate their domains in much the way as they manipulate men. Because the sexism doesn’t just work one way in these books: women get their way by fluttering their eyelashes, and men are helpless to resist them.

It’s a wonder that anything ever gets done, really.

Somewhere in the depths of Polgara the Sorceress—though I can’t locate the actual page reference at this moment—Polgara mentions that she enjoys politics, but not in the sense of how kingdoms operate internally or externally. No, she likes politics according to the definition of politics that means (thought I’m paraphrasing here) “manipulating people into doing what I want them to do.”

But, then, if women understood politics, the male characters of The West Wing wouldn’t have anyone to info-dump on, would they?

I’m not even going to discuss the time that Belgarath says he’s jealous of his daughter’s suitors because all fathers are jealous—that’s just too Freudian and, frankly, creepy for me.

I wonder, too, why it’s necessary to protect the child-like Queen Ce’Nedra from any mention of anything to do with sex, when she’d been married for years and has a child. Yes, I agree you might not want your wife going into that brothel, Garion, but when it gets to the point where you can’t even mention in front of her that two secondary characters are lovers? Well, no wonder it took you so long to conceive an heir to the Rivan throne: it must be much harder when you can’t tell your wife what you’re doing.

But, you know, it’s not the sexism that bothers me so much as it’s the casual assumption of authority for the most dismissive and sexist of claims. So many sentences include some variation of the phrase “All women are” or “All men do” that you’re tempted to assume that, impossible though it is, the authors have never actually met anyone of the opposite gender.

I would write more on this, but when I got to the passage in Belgarath the Sorcerer where he apologised for calling his daughter extremely intelligent and then told her it was nothing to be ashamed of, my head exploded.

2. Casual racism

Actually, there’s nothing casual about the racism in these books, not when the plots are almost entirely driven by superficial but apparently extremely important racial differences. And while I’ve been drawing most of my examples from The Belgariad et al., this casual racism carries over into the later Elenium and Tamuli series, as well.

Add to that the general muddiness of definition between “race” and “culture,” and the whole angle of racism in the books becomes more confused. What we would often describe as cultural characteristics—such as the Arends’ overwhelming nobility—seem to be categorised as racial characteristics, which I find bewildering and just a little lazy. I’m also confused by how racial (or even cultural) traits work here: is it really possible for every single Arend to be as thick as two short planks? Every single one?

Still, the important point is this: for the life of me, I can’t figure out why it’s so important to the books that the bad guys are swarthy foreigners with almond-shaped eyes.

3. Casual cruelty

There are two key examples of this in the first hundred-odd pages of Belgarath the Sorcerer alone.

My first example is this: at one point just after Beldin—the deformed disciple of the god Aldur—arrives in the Vale for instruction, he’s telling Belgarath about how he was left exposed to die shortly after his birth, though his mother fed him until just after he learned to walk, when she either died or was killed by her people for sneaking out to sustain him. Thereafter, he learned to feed himself by following carrion birds and eating what they ate.

At which point Belgarath calls him an animal.

Well, possibly, Belgarath. Or possibly he’s a toddler who is trying to eat whatever he can find. Did you consider that possibility?

The second example is when Belgarath eviscerates an Eldrakyn (I’ve never been quite sure what those are, but something like an orc and something like a troll: intelligent creatures with the power of speech and the ability to domesticate other animals) and then laughs as the creature tries to hold its intestines inside its abdominal cavity.

But he feels “a little ashamed” when the creature starts crying, so that’s all right, then.

4. Idiot plotting

Here’s my favourite example: after the dragon-god Torak cracks the world in half during the War of the Gods, he is safe on the far side of the Sea of the East with Aldur’s Orb, his theft of which is the cause of the war. The people of the west spend two thousand years trying to cross the ocean before Cherek Bear-Shoulders and his sons find the land bridge.

But then they don’t cross the land bridge, because that’s the way Torak’s Angaraks will expect them to come. So they just walk across the frozen ocean instead.

I may have groaned out loud when I read that.

Was it a particularly cold winter? We’re not told that. But, then, the main characters do spend much of the books commenting on how stupid everyone else is. Perhaps that explains why crossing the ice never occurred to them in two thousand years.

Oh, but there are more examples. How about the fact that Chamdar the Grolim spends a thousand years searching for the heirs of Riva. He finally manages to get his hands on the newborn heir, burning the baby’s parents to death in the process. So this infant is the sole remaining heir of Riva—he will not have any brothers. He is the Godslayer whose rise Chamdar and his Grolims have spent a millennia trying to prevent.

But when Belgarath catches Chamdar at the burning house with the infant in his hands, Chamdar throws the baby at Belgarath so he can escape quickly.

No wonder it took him one thousand years to locate him in the first place.

On a sightly related note, I often wonder about the argument that since the books relate to two Prophecies (Eddings’s caps, not mine) divided by an accident in the distant past, the same events are going to keep recurring until one Prophecy is chosen over the other. Really, that’s just a retroactive explanation for why the plot of The Mallorean is largely identical to the plot of The Belgariad, isn’t it?

In fact, I know it is, because the characters keep pointing it out during The Mallorean.

5. Fondness for slavery

Do you know, I can’t even bring myself to discuss this, and yet it’s such a central part of his writing that I can’t delete the item, either. I’ll sum it up like this: even if slavery is codified within a society, it doesn’t necessarily follow that slaves are happy.

6. Confusing attitude towards racial purity

I think what confuses me most in Eddings’s attitude towards racial purity is that he places great emphasis on racial differences that are, at their heart, ambiguous. Take the Alorns, for example: four different peoples—Drasnians, Chereks, Rivans, and Algars—descended from Cherek Bear-Shoulders and his three sons.

The kingdom of Aloria was only divided into the four separate kingdoms three thousand years before the events of the main story, but that’s fair enough: even the descendants of full brothers can deviate widely after three millennia in vastly different climates. So we know the sneaky Drasnians differ from the silent Algars, the sober Rivans from the carousing Chereks.

But then at other times—many, many other times—characters will sigh “Alorns!” regardless of whether they’re speaking about Drasnians or Rivans, and the question of racial difference becomes muddied again.

Not too muddied, of course, because we have to remember that the bad guys are not of the same race as the good guys. That’s the important point.

And that’s not even considering how one keeps the line of the Rivan King essentially Rivan for one thousand years, when you’re marrying the various heirs off to Cherek, Algarian, or Sendarian girls constantly. Of course, with the exception of Sendars, those girls are all still Alorns, but the books don’t say they keep him Alorn; they say they keep him Rivan. The Rivan blood would become diluted after a short while, wouldn’t you think? Not that that’s a problem—unless you’re in a fantasy world obsessed with racial purity.

Of course, if I were to consider how the term “race” is apparently synonymous with “religion” in these books, we’d be here for the rest of the day.

Live-blogging Torchwood, Season Three: "Children of Earth" Day Three

Posted 1743 days ago in by Catriona

So, I’ve been called into this by Nick shouting “It’s starting!” while I was on the verandah with Michelle, so there’s some connubial irritation right now.

[Note: is “connubial” even the word I meant? I really need to rethink my “not live-blogging Torchwood sober” rule. And also my new “not commenting on my live-blogging of Torchwood sober” rule.]

Also, Heather has just updated both my Facebook page and my Twitter, so there is that.

Actually, the episode is starting, so I should talk about that now.

We start with the explosion from the week before last, then Lois in the cafe with Rhys and Gwen, and then Decker emphasising that they’re coming for Britain.

Credits.

Aerial shot over London. Heather bemoans the lack of parking garages, Nick bemoans the lack of weevils.

But Ianto cuts the lock into a warehouse, which will be the new Torchwood.

The news networks are going nuts, because now is “tomorrow,” when the 456 said that they’d be coming.

In the garage, there’s a sofa and a drum full of fire. Jack is mostly worried about the fact that he’s wearing tracksuit bottoms, while Gwen is worried that they have no resources.

Jack indicates that he knew that Gwen was pregnant before Rhys knew, which pisses Rhys off, though Gwen says “He just happened to be there.”

PRIME MINISTER: In light of what is happening, we’ve temporarily closed all the schools.
HEATHER: And shot all the children.

The Prime Minister makes a public statement.

ME: What did I miss?
MICHELLE: Oh, the girl. In government. With the gorgeous lips?
ME: Yes?
MICHELLE: Oh, she just looked at someone. I was looking at her lips. I didn’t really see.

Ianto’s sister is running a daycare, since the schools are closed, and Jack’s daughter still can’t get through to his mobile phone.

In the Torchwood Warehouse, they don’t have enough equipment. But Gwen says that she trained with the police, and she knows all the tricks. So they just steal whatever they need, including cars, briefcases, and computers.

Alice, Jack’s daughter, runs across the road to borrow someone’s mobile phone. We have a brief but complicated discussion about whether her pants are too tight. (The consensus, if you’re interested, is that too tight around the bottom is fine.)

Her call is traced, because of the key term “Jack Harkness.” This is her, not the woman whose phone she borrowed. And so they know that her parents are “placeholder names,” people who never actually existed.

Ianto comes back into the Warehouse, with food and clothes for everyone including “army surplus” clothes for Jack, who strolls in saying, “I’m back” to overwhelming support.

Gosh, he’s pretty.

Clem, in a pub, has another meltdown and a flashback to the other children walking into the light. Police come into the pub and try to grab him—we know, thanks to our subtle Wikipedia searching last week, that police are under the control of the Home Secretary.

That’s lucky, because Gwen now approaches Lois, who works for the Home Secretary.

Lois is reluctant to help, because she says that this is treason. (Sorry, got distracted by a conversation about whether Gwen’s hair colour is natural or not.) But Gwen is convincing Lois to wear contact lenses that will, basically, allow Torchwood to see through Lois’s eyes.

Lois says that this will put her right in the front line and, she adds, she can’t get onto floor 13 (where they’re building the cage for the 456) even if she does get into Thames House.

Jack, looking on the computer, says that Frobisher (John Forbisher, Permanent Secretary to the something that passed too quickly for me to read) is the key, but he’s a nobody. Then Ianto distracts him (firstly) by asking about whether Jack felt the explosion and then (secondly) whether Jack will just watch Ianto age and die, and just move on.

The distraction is Ianto finding out that Clem has been arrested. He sends Gwen off—“You’re a policewoman”—to get him out.

Meanwhile, Jack has what Heather has called a “lightbulb moment,” realising that he knows the three other people who were killed the day he was blown up.

In the Black Ops Secret Computer Room, the Woman in Black has found out that Alice Carter is Jack’s daughter. She calls Frobisher, who says to “bring her in.” Frobisher tells Bridget that they’re transferring to Thames House, and Lois, in desperation, says that Frobisher asked her to come to Thames House.

BRIDGET: What for? Why on Earth would he need you?
LOIS: It was a . . . private conversation.
(Pause)
BRIDGET: You’re not the first, you know. Don’t go thinking you’re the first.

We debate whether Bridget is in love with her boss (me) or just jaded about politics in general (Nick).

Gwen rings Andy, and has him, basically, lie to Camden Police to have Clem released. Clem cries when she arrives, and we all feel sorry for him.

Alice, meanwhile, is not stupid, and realises that someone has come for her. She grabs her son, and a gun, and legs it. (We have another brief discussion about how unflattering her pants are.) But she’s trapped by the Woman in Black, who talks Alice into putting down her gun by pondering whether Alice or her son are as immortal as Alice’s father.

But while Alice puts down her gun and the kitchen knife she stashed in her (unflattering) waistband, she realises the her son, Steven, is pointing at something in the sky. The Woman in Black turns to see what.

But all the children are pointing.

As is Clem.

NEWSREADER: Once again, all the children have stopped. Every child in the world.
MICHELLE: You don’t know that!
HEATHER: Yeah, there are probably some children in a cave somewhere.
MICHELLE: What about children without arms?

The news reader points out that everyone is pointing to London, and children in London are pointing to the centre.

MICHELLE: Where are children in the centre of London pointing?

They’re pointing, as it turns out, to a fiery spike of energy (which Michelle describes as “an Icy Pole of light, but not icy. You know, fiery”), which shoots from the sky and down into the cage in Thames House.

The children intone, “We are here.”

In Thames House, Frobisher tries to speak to the alien, but there’s just a lot of screaming, thrashing around, and what looks like vomiting.

(HEATHER: Space travel. Upsets my tummy.)

We might not quote Heather much in the rest of the episode, as she has a real talent for making the upsetting seem funny. Case in point: Frobisher asks what the 456 want, and Heather responds, “No more vomiting,” to which Michelle adds “And maybe something with electrolytes.”

What the 456 actually want is the chance to speak to the whole world. Frobisher points out that it doesn’t work like that, and in fact they’d only be speaking to elected representatives.

The 456 agree to that, which is a relief to Heather, because, as she says, what would they have done if the 456 didn’t agree?

The 456 do agree, and they further agree to keep the “previous encounter” with Earth (namely, with Great Britain) be kept secret, for the sake of future agreements with humanity.

Frobisher leaves the room, and slides down the far wall as though his legs are rubber.

The PM, meanwhile, is being reamed by an American general, who accuses them of establishing “the sovereign court of Great Britain” and hosting an “alien ambassador” on British soul. Apparently, the American President is quite furious about this.

The PM offers to step back, and let the civil service take charge.

I call for another glass of wine.

The American general says the civil service are still British, but the PM says they’re not elected, so there’s no accountability. Plus, he says, Frobisher is expendable.

Frobisher knows that that means, and rings his wife. His wife says she’ll be fine, and drops her phone—whereupon Jack sneaks in, picks it up, and leaves.

The media are calling it “the so-called pillar of fire,” and Michelle says that that’s what she meant, a “pillar of fire” not an “Icy pole.” I say it’s too late: “Icy pole” is on the blog.

Jack rings Frobisher on his wife’s phone, and Jack says this is 1965 all over again. He asks Frobisher if they’ve “come back” and Frobisher says “yes.”

Jack says that he can blow this sky high (his words: the cliche is not mine), but Frobisher says that they have Alice and Steven, so Jack will do what they say.

I ask Nick if there’s a possum rummaging in our rubbish bin. There isn’t.

Jack threatens to grab Frobisher’s wife, but Frobisher says that Jack is a better man than he (Frobisher) is.

Back in the warehouse, Clem is drinking tea and eating heartily.

He points his tea mug at Ianto, and tells Gwen that Ianto’s queer: he can smell it. Slightly problematic, perhaps, but he could smell pregnancy.

In Thames House, Frobisher is counting down, and Lois excuses herself to put the contact lenses in after all. (Rhys and Gwen reveal that they took the lenses home “for a bit of fun”—Rhys says that it took him a while to get used to it—and Ianto says, “Yeah. Well. We’ve all done that.”)

In the elevator, Bridget points out that history will says that, whatever happens here, the PM was not at fault. Frobisher already knows this.

(Matt? Stop tweeting! It’s distracting!)

Through Lois’s lenses, they can see the tank.

(No one is feeding me Wagon Wheels this week. That’s disappointing. Technically, no one fed me Wagon Wheels last week, but there was the promise of Wagon-Wheel feeding, and that was sufficient.)

Lois angles herself around so that she can see Frobisher’s lips—as he offers greetings from various countries—because the software Torchwood are using for voice recognition isn’t so good in profile.

Apparently, Australia sent greetings.

For shame.

The 456 respond with more apparent vomiting, which, really, is kind of foul. Frobisher holds himself upright. He says “I’m sorry, but I can’t help being concerned. Is there a problem?” They mimic his words back at him, so he simply asks if they should continue.

His main point is that they ask the 456 not to use their children for communication. Everyone is hanging on the answer to this, but the 456 simply say “Yes.”

The American general, in the PM’s office, tells them to ask why they came to the U.K. The PM says that probably isn’t important, but the general says, “Ask them.”

HEATHER: And the U.S. steps in!

Frobisher asks the question, though he isn’t happy about it. But the 456, in line with their previous agreement, says that the U.K. has no significance: “You are middlemen.”

Sure, but have you seen The Middleman? Because that was awesome!

The 456 ask for a gift.

Of course, says Frobisher. What would they like?

Your children, says the 456.

HEATHER: Yeah, see, well, probably best to find that out first.

Clem, of course, freaks out at this. He says they’re coming back, just as they did before. And he loops: “He’s coming. He’s coming. He’s coming.”

He means Jack.

Frobisher, in shock, asks what they mean by “children.”

“Your descendants,” say the 456.

How many? asks Frobisher.

“10%,” say the 456.

ME: They’re going to decimate them!
HEATHER: Decimate!

Back in the warehouse, Gwen disputes Clem’s response, saying that Jack fights aliens.

“Isn’t that right?” she asks Jack.

“No,” says Jack.

And he says that in 1965, he gave them twelve children.

“Why?” Gwen asks.

And Jack says, “As a gift.”

Credits.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Forty-Nine

Posted 1743 days ago in by Catriona

What happens when you ask a geek/web designer not to raise his voice during an IM conversation?

NICK: I’m not shouting! I just like the way Helvetica looks in all caps.
ME: Idiot.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Forty-Eight

Posted 1747 days ago in by Catriona

Nick has viral gastroenteritis, and is lying in the bedroom feeling sorry for himself. (Poor love.)

I am in the study, checking my e-mail.

And, suddenly, up pops an instant-message window.

NICK: I think I could manage some honey on toast.
ME: Oh, you did not just do that.
NICK: You know I did.
ME: I was giving you an out.
NICK: I mean, no it was an accident.
ME: What was an accident?
NICK: Whatever you were giving me an out for.
ME: Instant messaging me to ask me to make you honey on toast, when you are just down the hallway. That is all kinds of wrong.
NICK: I didn’t wish to shout.

Nicholas

Posted 1747 days ago in by Catriona

Lifeline Bookfest 2010 (Part One)

Posted 1747 days ago in by Catriona

I know you’re all just dying to see what I bought at the Lifeline Bookfest. Aren’t you?

According to the omniscient Wikipedia, Howard Pyle was an American illustrator and writer of children’s stories, which explains how, despite my fascination with Victorian children’s fiction, I’ve never heard of him: I have read American nineteenth-century children’s fiction (Susan Coolidge and, of course, Louisa May Alcott), but not with the same assiduity that I read English nineteenth-century children’s fiction.

Or, at least, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

Apparently (and by “apparently,” I mean “according to Wikipedia”), The Wonder Clock was published in 1887, and is based on European fairytales. That makes it right up my alley.

I’m also fascinated by the (it seems to me) particularly Victorian fascination with round-robin stories and long stories linked only by a single theme. Eliza Winstanley, for example, wrote one of the latter in the 1860s called “Voices from the Lumber Room,” in which various pieces of discarded furniture and accessories (a mirror, a chair, a fan) told stories about past members of the family.

Of course, “Voices from the Lumber Room” ended in a horrific holocaust, in which all the discarded but sentient furniture was chopped up for firewood, but they don’t all end so disastrously. Bow Bells used the idea of a round-robin story (in which various authors each wrote a chapter of a longer tale) or the loosely linked theme story (such as the one above) for their Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day special issues for years.

The Wonder Clock is along those lines: one story for each hour of the clock.

So let’s just say that this book, which I picked up entirely at random, hits a number of my fangirl buttons.

Now, the Jenny Nimmo book, Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, I’m partly really excited about, because it has the word “Academy” in the blurb, and that’s (excuse the cliche) a red rag to a bull for me. But I’m partly also rather annoyed, because it’s the second book. I couldn’t find the first book, and when I nipped into Angus and Robertson in desperation, I found it’s the second book of eight. So I’m in a for a serious commitment there, it seems.

The Garth Nix Keys to the Kingdom series I’m slowly picking up one book at a time, because I can’t face buying all seven at once. But I really enjoyed the Abhorsen trilogy, so I want to read them. I now have the first four, so I won’t have to put off reading them for much longer.

I also found a copy of Nix’s The Ragwitch at this sale, so there’s much Nix-reading in my future.

I bought the Carter Dickson book despite a vague sense that I already have either this exact book under another title or another book by Carter Dickson with a disturbingly similar plot. Eh, c’est la vie.

I’m also fairly sure it was a Carter Dickson novel—but not, alas, one that I own—on which I saw the greatest blurb I’ve ever seen in my life: “He took his whisky straight, his women curvy, and murder in his stride.”

Genius.

That skinny little book on the bottom? That’s a facsimile reprint of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Nothing but the text and a two-page essay on the reproduction and original conditions of publication. Just lovely.

Does anyone else have very fond memories of Dick King-Smith? The Sheep-Pig (now, sadly, generally published as Babe, as my own copy is) is still one of my favourite books, though I am well, well, well past the age when you’re supposed to read it. And, when we were children, we used to listen to books on tape on long car trips, and one of our favourites was The Fox Busters, about chickens who fight back.

(Hmm. It just occurred to me that enjoying both The Fox Busters and Fantastic Mr Fox should have made me one confused child, at least as far as foxes are concerned. Still, it doesn’t seem to have had any lasting effects.)

I haven’t read The Queen’s Nose in years, and I’m really looking forward to reading it again.

Buying The Catalogue of the Universe is part of my ambition to have a comprehensive Margaret Mahy collection, an ambition stemming from when a friend made me read The Changeover, about which I have written elsewhere.

Irritatingly, the one book I haven’t managed to find yet is The Changeover.

One book I am excited about in this pile is The Indian in the Cupboard, because, embarrassing admission though this is, I’ve never actually read it. Isn’t that shameful?

On a similar note, I’ve not read Bridge to Terebithia for years. I’m not even entirely sure that I want to read it again: it’s a lovely book, but a distressing one. But I saw it on the table, and suddenly thought I really wanted a copy of it on my shelves, just in case I did want to read it again. Or maybe just for the feeling of actually having it. I’m not sure which.

This last little pile is a bit of a mixed bag, isn’t it?

I’m not sure where the impulse to buy Betsy Byars came from. I used to read her books assiduously when I was about . . . what? Maybe eight? Or ten? (There’s a branch of Internet bragging that would have me strung up by my heels for admitting that, you know: I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen discussions of literacy devolve into an exchange of “Oh, well, I’d read the complete works of Shakespeare by the time I was twelve”/“Twelve? I’d read them by the time I was eight!” Well, I hadn’t: I was reading Betsy Byars.)

I haven’t read Byars in years, but these three were together, and I suddenly couldn’t resist them.

And at least this pile puts me that much closer to my ambition of a full series of Billabong and Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

No, I don’t know why I have that ambition. I just do.

Dante's Inferno: The Book of the Game of the Book

Posted 1749 days ago in by Catriona

You know, I don’t often use this blog as a response to things I’ve read on the Internet: it’s generally much more solipsistic than that.

But, do you remember, once upon a time, when I linked to the news about Dante’s Inferno becoming a video game?

And then I linked to the news about the rebranding of Wuthering Heights in line with Twilight?

Well, this post is something of a meeting of those two: meet the official tie-in version of Dante’s Inferno.

Bear in mind, though Kotaku are calling this the “novelisation” of the game, it’s not: it’s the original poem, in a nineteenth-century translation, in that cover.

Yes, that’s a half-naked man with a cross painted on his chest.

Yes, he’s holding a scythe made out of vertebrae.

Yes, it does say that it “includes an exclusive 16-page full-colour insert and a special introduction from [noted Dante scholar] the game’s executive producer.”

Yes, it is translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which means many people who buy this on the basis of the cover are going to be awfully disappointed when they open it up and find the poem inside.

Yes, it is tagged “the literary classic that inspired the epic video game from Electronic Arts.”

And, no: this is not a joke: here’s the Amazon page.

I shall leave the last word, as always, to Penny Arcade.

(But, just secretly? I almost think this would be worth having on my shelf just to boggle at occasionally. After all, I don’t have the Longfellow translation . . .)

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