Friday, 9 April 2021

Alrightreads: TV IV

Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman, The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family

1997 / Paperback / 249 pages / USA

**

This was one of my most desired books around the time it appeared in shops, but was always slightly out of my budget or usurped by more bloody Star Trek. It's so cheap on eBay now that I picked it up for family viewing in the future, but while I appreciate its arbitrarily correct golden-age cut-off point, its bland, official gloss is less interesting than a tatty and opinionated programme guide would be. Or, you know, a blog.

 
Joe Nazzaro, The Making of Red Dwarf

1994 / Paperback / 95 pages / UK

****

I didn't really know about this nicely specific tie-in to the most nostalgic era of my favourite TV series until I was living outside of British eBay range, so it was a treat to finally get around to it. The daily fly-on-the-wall approach is nicely intimate, and while something more definitively exhaustive would have been preferable, padding out the page count with exclusive photos is a fair exchange.


Paul Alexander, Red Dwarf Space Corps Survival Manual

1996 / Ebook / 185 pages / UK

**

I was in the market for Red Dwarf books when this was still in shops, but even as a less discerning primary school pupil, a quick flick through was enough to decide that my limited funds would be better spent elsewhere (and I was mainly looking at the flip book). The psychotic guidance could be funny on its own ("just think of it as biting your nails taken to its logical conclusion"), but having the Red Dwarf characters provide one-dimensional commentary isn't any funnier than the previous Christmas' lazy stocking stuffer.


David Bassom, Creating Babylon 5

1996 / Ebook / 128 pages / UK

***

I was never going to be as immersed and obsessive about this series watched as an adult over a few months as if I'd tuned in for five years as a junior Trekkie, but I'm giving it my best shot. This bogstandard behind-the-scenes guide can stand in for the monthly magazine my mum was spared from buying.


Jane Killick, Babylon 5: Signs and Portents

1998 / Ebook / 196 pages / UK

***

Combining illuminating interviews with the opinionated commentary of an astute fan blog, these season-by-season, episode-by-episode guides could have been the perfect companions to watching the series for the first time, if only they'd been published in real time without the irresistible hindsight of four years' worth of spoilers. Maybe I'll save up the others to reminisce with some Jovian sunspots when it's all over.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

On the Omnibuses: March

Various, A Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural

Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764) ****

Like Poe doing Shakespeare. I couldn't pin down precisely how far this pioneering pastiche's tongue is meant to be jutting out to the side, but even if it's all sincere cheese, it's still a riveting classic that doesn't outstay its welcome.



H. P. Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927) ***

Lovecraft's single longest work is more unadventurous homage than ultimate statement. The restraint makes it more tolerable than the stream-of-consciousness dream rambles, but these ponderous fictional biographies are hardly worth your time when you could fit in a few of the pacier classics instead. Especially since it's so unmemorable, you're liable to forget all about it and make yourself read it again a few years later.

The Shadow Out of Time (1936) ****

Another one I didn't fully take in when I went through his stories chronologically, being one of his last and mainly reworking familiar themes. Taken more in isolation it's a well-balanced sci-fi horror that's as imaginative as Wells, if not as eloquent. The sceptical spoilsport in me appreciated the ambiguity too.



Various, Modernism: An Anthology

Mina Loy (1914–25) **

I'd admired the futurist lunacy of The Lunar Baedeker previously, but this tiny sampling of works doesn't have a chance to bear out the lofty ideals of the manifestos, which subsequently can't help coming off as naive fancies.

H. D. (1913–33) ****

High-definition snapshots of nature and rehabilitating the women of mythology.

Dorothy Richardson (1917–39) ***

More immediate observation and introspection in unfettered prose, then it's time for the frivolity to end and on to obsolete political musings.



John Milton, The Poetical Works of John Milton

Paradise Lost, Books VII–XII (1667/74) ***

The diabolical prequel and worlds-building over with, we're now into the elaborate illustrated edition of Gen. 1–3, the poet's brush skilfully illuminating the complex contradictions and straight-up sexism before closing weakly with a stripped-down summary of coming attractions. My appreciation for this work is mainly back in the first half, I was always more into spectacle than character.

Paradise Regained (1671) **

Better treated as minimalist coda than a disappointing sequel, the lack of artistic embellishment in this tribute and the absence of any stakes or drama makes it largely a waste of time, but fans of the Bible franchise might get something out of it.



Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Original Illustrated Strand Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, cont. (a.k.a. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1892–93) ****

The back half of the original series contains fewer classics and more anticlimactic filler, but also completes the canonical cast. It was admirable of the author to kill off his pop culture sensation before it got stale. Since this is as far as I'd read previously, it remains to be seen whether the resurrection was worth it.



Grant Naylor, Red Dwarf Omnibus

Red Dwarf (1989) *****

Many people have a favorite book they can re-read endlessly, and I guess this is mine. I have such long-standing love for the TV series that it's a harder decision than something like Hitchhiker's Guide, but I think the novels are the definitive take. Best read when you have some familiarity with the characters to care, but ideally haven't seen the early episodes so your imagination isn't restricted by a 1980s BBC budget. It did the trick for me. I'd love to write the book on this book, if only I could be bothered.

Better Than Life (1991) ****

Mirroring the progression of its television counterpart in real time, the second book is heavier on plot than character and downright heartless at times before the reward of a characteristically unconventional happy ending. It doesn't dazzle as literature like the first, but it's still funny and full of great comic sci-fi ideas, the central set piece particularly.

Extras (1984–92) ***

As if collecting the two classic novels weren't enough, we get 35 pages of variably insightful special features that were especially interesting before we were spoiled by the DVD archive – one of the proto-Dwarf Dave Hollins radio sketches, the first draft of the pilot episode (if you really need a third version of the story), and a joke beer mat destined to be taken seriously by the type of fans who contribute IMDb "trivia."

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Alrightgames: Travel Monopoly

Travel Monopoly

1984 (2014 edition) / Portable economic board game / 2-4 players / UK

****

Tedious, overlong, but about as classic as anything gets, buying everyone's favourite boring board game was an unexciting inevitability, but I at least managed to surprise myself by going for the portable version. When I saw them reduced to Alibaba-style prices in Morrisons – without the associated guilt of supporting criminals and the carbon footprint – I ultimately decided not to resist.

It's all a bit fiddly and cheap, especially the mini money and unnecessarily tiny dice that are just going to get lost, but the practical downsizing is generally done well. Maybe we'll even use it in its intended travel capacity to help induce sleep on cross-country train journeys in the future.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Alrightgames: Yahtzee

Yahtzee

1956 / Dice game / 2-10 players / USA

***

I'm done with buying games for a while, so it was nice to learn that I'd accidentally picked up another one already when buying a set of nice dice for the sake of having dice. Transcribe some messy score sheets and you've got everything you need to run the forgiving gauntlet of tactical dice rolls, where leaving things to chance is sometimes better than overthinking.

Like most games, traditional and modern, purpose-defeating online versions are a lot snappier.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Alrightgames: Fighting Fantasy – Starship Traveller

Steve Jackson, Fighting Fantasy: Starship Traveller

1983 / Adventure gamebook / 1-3 players / UK

***

I wasn't expecting this sci-fi stretching of the fantasy gamebook format to be all that good when rounding out my genre trilogy, but I was hoping it would be a good retrofuturistic wheeze at least. Finding out that it was straight-up Star Trek fan fiction with the proper nouns changed was a bit disappointing, but it's an easy shorthand (and light years better than the official gamebooks they put out). You can even recruit subordinate siblings to handle the tedious dice rolls of your away team if they want to feel useful and you need someone to blame.

These mini episodes aren't especially compelling, but the arena's large enough to welcome return treks to seek out new varieties of premature death every time like a maddening arcade game.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Alrightgames: Fighting Fantasy – Deathtrap Dungeon

Ian Livingstone, Fighting Fantasy: Deathtrap Dungeon

1984 / Adventure gamebook / 1 player / UK

*****

It's Knightmare, it's great. The gamebook was the peak literary movement, why am I wasting my time on schmoes like Dickens and Shakespeare?

Some of these are available as apps, but that's hardly in the spirit. Second-hand scribbled-on paperbacks won't set you back too much.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Alrightgames: Fighting Fantasy – House of Hell

Steve Jackson, Fighting Fantasy: House of Hell

1984 / Adventure gamebook / 1 player / UK

****

I used to see these gamebooks in Oracle Books about 25 years ago, when they were already a decade out of date, but would've been right up my street. Alas, unadventurous 10-year-old me plumped for Sonic gamebooks instead, only to wind up trapped in a poorly playtested maze every time. Served me right.

This horror-themed one would have been particularly affecting for playing into my recurring haunted house nightmares, and wandering the wallpapered labyrinth, opening foreboding doors against my better judgement, brought that all back. Even if it's just retheming the usual dungeons with four-poster chambers of horrors, it does the trick for me.

This was an indulgent purchase for myself, but now it's high on the list of things I'm looking forward to scaring the shit out of my daughter with in the future.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Alrightgames: Hanabi

Hanabi

2010 / Cooperative card game / 2-5 players / France

***

Another bargain fake, the Chinese characters on the box are even unintentionally thematically appropriate this time. The focus on basic numbers and colours and the atypical cooperative approach should make this a fun family game in the future, unless the escalating stakes will just make the inevitable slip-ups even more explosive.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Alrightgames: Little Master Chef

Little Master Chef

2019 / Collecting card game / 2-5 players / India

***

The insultingly cheap price, slightly out-of-place financial element and my own racism suggested that this was likely a well-conceived retheming of an existing format before I read that it's basically Monopoly Deal for people who aren't quite boring enough to want that in the house.

Seems like a reasonable game, though in order to understand how to play it, you need to be too old for the patronising packaging. This makes its target audience parents or other well-meaning relatives buying it "for the children," like you've claimed for about half the things on the shelf.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Alrightgames: Love Letter

Love Letter

2012 / Deduction card game / 2-4 players / Japan

***

Another arbitrary favourite of Alibaba and the forging intellectual property thieves (probably because there's not a whole lot to print), this took some rumination even at £3.41, but its girly fairytale kitsch won out over the tiresomely dystopian Coup. I've got a daughter, I might as well embrace princesses.

It kills a few minutes if you can't be arsed to set up Cluedo. Two players will rarely get all the way through their ten-card deck. Even if you don't like it, the handy bonus pouch is cheaper than buying a dice bag off eBay.