The things you learn while researching something entirely unrelated #1

anna-karenina-ekaterina-pozdniakovaand so anyway it turns out that the Anna Karenina Principle, which never having read Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies I had not even heard of until today, does not – as it should – mean:

sooner or later you are bound to throw yourself under a train

I cannot believe the contortions Jared Diamond puts the opening of Tolstoy’s novel

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

through to make it means what he wants it to mean. But kudos, I guess, for coming up with a forced literary allusion rather than naming it after himself, because as Principles go, it is far from being a Diamond one.

See also: the Principle of Fragility of Good Things (which is not something I just made up).

 

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You’ll never guess what arrived in the post today

sk1You probably think getting hold of an old omnibus of Edmond Hamilton’s Star Kings books is not much of an accomplishment. Nothing to boast about.

But you are wrong.

Here, in full, is the epic story of an improbable quest. All it lacks are those certain elements you need to market a film successfully: suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings, especially happy endings.

Call me Bibliophile. Some months ago –  never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would order a copy of Edmond Hamilton’s Chronicles of the Star Kings. Reading old space operas is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get me some Hamilton or Williamson or early Simak, some Brackett, perhaps, or some Moore, even some Dickson or early Brunner, as soon as I can.

Why Chronicles of the Star Kings? I was working on something tangentially related so it seemed an ideal opportunity to pick up the cheapest copy I could find of this omnibus volume that I repeatedly looked at on the shelf but never bought back in my teens (I was having too much fun devouring all the Philip E. High published in the same series). So I checked amazon marketplace sellers and abebooks. Amazon was way cheaper so I ordered a copy. Little did I suspect I  was merely ordering my first copy.

The parcel arrived on 11 September. My eager little hands tore it open and found inside:
sk2Now, I have nothing against East End Sagas, whether gripping – as it claims – or not. But it was not what I wanted. So I set the returns process in motion and requested they replace it with the book I ordered. They acted with unexpected promptness, dispatching a replacement the same day. Of course, instead of replacing it with a copy of Chronicles of the Star Kings, they replaced it with a copy of Carol Rivers’s gripping East End saga Lizzie of Langley Street.

So I set the returns process in motion again, advised them of the glitch in their inventory system, requested a refund and checked for the next cheapest copy. Which again was from amazon. I ordered it, and waited.

And waited; and waited.

Then a week or so later got an email telling me it had been damaged in the post and returned to the seller. They could not provide me with another copy so gave me a refund.

I checked for the next cheapest copy. Which again was from amazon. And this time was next day delivery. I ordered it, and waited.

But nothing happened.

I left it an extra day but still nothing happened.

I checked the online tracking. Apparently it had been delivered.

Only it hadn’t.

A trip to the local sorting office ensued. The guy there explained that he could not search for the parcel without the notification card I had been left by the postman. Only I hadn’t been left a notification card, which is so unlike Colin, my lovely postman, that I knew something was rotten in the state of Denmark. (Rottenness! thy name is Barry, the lazy substitute postman! But I’m getting ahead of myself.) The best the guy could offer to do was organise a redelivery, and hope that would magic my parcel into being.

The mention of Colin’s name, however, prompted the woman behind the desk to leap into action. Colin would not make that kind of mistake. She asked if I had the tracking number – I did – and after a couple of minutes on the computer was able to confirm that indeed my parcel was lost in some peculiar back-eddy of the postal system. She went to check out back to see if the parcel was there – it wasn’t, but even if it had been, she wouldn’t have been able to hand it over since I did not have a notification card. “I’ll have a word with Colin when he gets in,” she said. “He’ll know what happened.”

A brief aside on Colin. He has been my postman since I moved here fifteen years ago, and somehow he has survived the deliberate sabotaging of the post office by successive governments – running down its services, forcing them to deliver mail below cost for the private carriers competing with them for business, prioritising business deliveries over private mail, etc, etc –  as they sought to privatise it, which they eventually achieved a few years ago, since when £500,000 per day has been paid out in dividends to hedge funds and city shareholders. Somehow, through all this, Colin has retained a sense of the role of the postman in the community, as part of the glue that holds a place and its people together. We are not just streets and doors and letterboxes to him. In this, he reminds me of my milkman grandad. Unlike lazy Barry.

Later that morning, Colin knocks on my door.

“Oh,” he says, ‘it was Wednesday. Barry did the route on Wednesday. He’s dead lazy. If it’s not at the sorting office, he’s left it with a neighbour. Won’t be any more than two houses away. I’ve got a couple of packages, so I’ll ask at those houses. If I have no luck, I’ll catch up with him later, and come back after my shift to tell you what he did with it.”

That’s Colin for you.

No way he needs to come back after his shift; he can let me know tomorrow. In the meantime, once I’ve finished my coffee, I’ll knock on some neighbours’ doors.

Colin was right. It was with a neighbour two doors down. I sought out Colin to let him know. Went home. Poured another cup of coffee and opened my parcel. To find within it a copy of:

sk2

So the glitch in the inventory was definitely an amazon problem, not an individual seller’s problem. I begin the returns process, ask for a refund, and this time inform amazon rather than merely the seller of the problem. And by good fortune, a couple of cheaper copies of Chronicles of the Star Kings have appeared on abebooks, so I order one.

And nothing happens.

Except the last amazon marketplace seller tells me to not bother returning Carol Rivers’s gripping East End saga Lizzie of Langley Street – and in addition to refunding me, they will try to locate a copy of Chronicles of the Star Kings in their warehouse for me, free of charge, for all the comical inconvenience to which I have been put. So for a moment there it looks like I might end up with three books in total, rather than the single one I first ordered back in the mists of time, around the dawn of man.

But phew! they can’t find a copy.

But I don’t fucking believe this! my parcel containing – at last, I hope – Chronicles of the Star Kings has been damaged in the post and returned to the abebooks seller, who arrange a refund as they do not have a replacement copy in stock.

Back to abebooks. A sixth attempt to buy this fucking book.

And today this arrives:

sk1The only problem is, I no longer have any fucking clue what I wanted it for in the first place.

So, no, despite appearances, not even a happy ending.

Holiday reading 3: what I read on my holiday

books2books1

What I didn’t read on my holiday:

books

Poor Caine Mutiny has now traveled over 20,000 miles in my luggage since December and is still unread. Maybe next time.

What only got as far as Manchester because the case was too heavy when Andrea selfishly packed her stuff in it:

books1

And, okay, the books I bought in Malta:

books2In my defence, they were both remaindered, I’ve never seen a copy of the Lotz, and the Winslow was because when we were mis-sold bus travel credit, they refused to refund but would exchange, then mis-sold us different bus travel credit but on leaving the shop we checked online what they’d straight out lied to us about, and still they refused to refund, so we bought the correct bus travel credit and then spent ages finding a bunch of things we did not really want for them to have to ring up on the till (though, that said, the Winslow sounds like a great piece of trash, and so no doubt it will find itself packed in the luggage for another trip some time. But not until I’ve finally read The Caine Mutiny).

Holiday reading 2: making the cut – some guidelines

There were some changes.
books

Guidelines:

  1. Nothing bigger than B format (goodbye, for now, The Book of Night WomenFour Hands and Plowing the Dark)
  2. Only one book larger than your head (hello The Kills)
  3. One book that is vaguely related to work so that when you start to fret about work you can read it until the feeling goes away even though it is not really work (hello When Harlem was in Vogue, even if you do break guideline 1 by about 5mm)
  4. At least one Eric Flint, cos he writes the buggers quicker than you can find time to read them even though they are quick reads
  5. At least one omnibus (hello Crumley), cos if you start one at home you only ever get through the first book in it and put it aside to read something else and then a year later find it looking rather forlorn under a stack of other books (also,  you can count it as reading three books if you are at all competitive about that kind of thing, like Andrea is)
  6. No book that might start a fight if someone sees you reading it in public (so no Dick Gregory autobiography (he called it Nigger then dedicated it to his mum, saying that whenever she the heard the word she could imagine it was just someone advertising her son’s book))
  7. At least one biography (hello Pamela Marvin’s book on Lee, because guideline 6.)
  8. At least one book you have been meaning to read since you bought it 25 or more years ago (hello Madison Smartt Bell)
  9. The final volume of the trilogy you don’t exactly like but don’t dislike either and have been reading during long flights this year just so it is done with (hello Zindell)
  10. An old thriller you’ve now carried on several trips because it is densely packed and you only had hand luggage (hello Wouk) but never got round to reading cos the other books under 9 were kinda longer than you thought
  11. At least one book by that author you really like but who you kinda stopped reading several years ago when you kinda hated the middle volume of his last trilogy (and then the last volume too when you finally made yourself plough through it)
  12. A fat collection of short stories cos you never read those thing when you are at home, well, you start off meaning to read one story a day or something like that and then manage to keep it up
  13. Several others
  14. Something by Peter Van Greenaway
  15. The book Andrea has been nagging you for a couple of years to dig out of whatever box it was stored in (hello Luther Blissett, now Wu Ming)
  16. The smallest book you own not written by Mao or published on Bible paper

 

 

Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006Frustrated at repeatedly missing out on the chance to film one of Ballard’s novels, Stanley Baker optioned a number of his short stories through his production company Oakhurst Productions, including ‘Track 12’ (1958). Of the intended anthology picture, only one, the 22-minite ‘Track 12’, was completed, shot by Joseph Losey from a script by Harold Pinter, during a break in production on Accident (Losey 1967). 

bf65b22ea58a62662420952923502ec196986099Dirk Bogarde is chilling as the diffident biochemist, Sheringham, avenging his cuckolding by Baker’s robust Maxted. An unbilled Julie Christie was persuaded by Bogarde, who had worked with her on John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965), to provide the glimpsed fragments of Susan Sheringham’s face and body – and the overwhelming, screen-filling kissing lips of the film’s startling conclusion, an image that had a profound influence on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983).

Christie would, of course, go on to co-star in Losey’s Palme d’Or-winning The Go-Between (1971), his fourth and final collaboration with Pinter; and Ballard later scripted the contemporary sequences that saved Pinter’s adaptation of John Fowles’s 1969 The French Lieutenant’s Woman, directed by Karel Reisz in 1981, from mere historical pictorialism.

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974)
The Drowned World: The Director’s Cut (J. Lee Thompson 2015)
El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Frank Pavich 2013)

Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Frank Pavich 2013)

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006Broadcaster David Frost and his partner Hazel Adair, perhaps best known as the creator of the long-running soap opera Crossroads (1964–88), bought the rights to adapt The Drought aka The Burning World (1964) in the late 1960s.

Frost knew little if anything about science fiction, but Adair was no stranger to the genre. She was the author of one of the first sf television shows, Stranger from Space (1951–53), and of an ultimately unproduced Doctor Who serial, Hexagora. However, despite her many television successes, the state of the British film industry at the end of the sixties meant her career as a film producer had rather ignominious results: some sex comedies, a horror movie and a lethargic international adventure movie.

It remains unclear whether it was Adair or Frost who commissioned Ballard to script the adaptation himself, and it is possible it was actually intended for television rather than film. There is no copy of the script or the contract in the Ballard archive at the British Library, and Ballard’s scattered interview comments do not give a very clear picture. (In 1979, Adair commissioned Ballard to adapt his 1974 Concrete Island, although this too went unproduced.)

George Harrison was one of several producers to approach Frost over the rights to The Drought only to be put off by his extremely high price. In a famous prank, Peter Cook ‘let slip’ during a television interview with Frost that he was partway through filming the novel with himself in the lead role. For half a minute, the usually unflappable Frost became extremely flappable. Bizarrely, this incident brought the novel to the attention of Dino De Laurentiis, who hired Alejandro Jodorowsky to direct it – a doomed project, the story of which is told in Frank Pavich’s celebrated documentary Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Pavich 2013).

1*3OHBjoKNUmNX31Zz8itLAw
Conceptual art for Jodorowsky’s doomed adaptation of The Drought

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974)
The Drowned World: The Director’s Cut (J. Lee Thompson 2015)
El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)