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The incomplete Pete: Tragically, I was an only Twin by Peter Cook

Why this is subtitled ‘The Complete Peter Cook’ I don’t know. Unless it’s like an epithet, as in ‘you’re a complete twit’; I mean, Peter Cook was clearly a complete Peter Cook, but this book is not the complete Peter Cook, not even close. It admits as much itself. Anyway. If you don’t know, Peter Cook was the funniest man alive until he died, after which he became the funniest man dead, an even greater achievement. By the age of 30 he had had successful reviews in the West End and on Broadway, had starred in movies, started a nightclub and was owner of Private Eye, the satirical newspaper. By the time he was 40 we was kind of over it, and seemed to only bother to exert his still-remarkable talents when there was a point to prove or some pompous public figure to deflate. That his powers remained undimmed until his untimely, alcohol-fuelled death in 1995 is apparent. Perhaps the flood slowed to a meander, but even a cursory look (for example here, at Alan Latchley) shows that the brilliance was still there. John Cleese has come in second on lists of (Brit) ‘comedians’ comedian’ type polls, always to Cook, and he said that whereas it took he and his contemporaries six hours to produce a three minute sketch, it took Cook precisely three minutes, or so it seemed. More than one person has said he seemed to turn on a tap, tune in to some amazing stream of logical absurdity, and just let it flow.

<i>Tragically I was an Only Twin</i> by Peter Cook.

Tragically I was an Only Twin by Peter Cook.

This book samples most of the more significant corners of Cook’s career. From before Beyond the Fringe (he was writing West End shows for Kenneth Williams while still an undergraduate, sharing the writing duties with Harold Pinter and others), through the Fringe, through Not Only…  But Also… and Private Eye, on to the depths of Derek and Clive and the last flashes of genius. The book is… amusing. Very funny in a few places. Would it have been as funny were I not familiar with his work? I don’t know. I’ve heard or seen quite a few of these pieces, especially the Pete and Dud and Beyond the Fringe stuff, so I hear the words in my mind’s version of his voice. Most of what he wrote was not written to be read. Indeed, there are often no ‘standard’ written versions at all. Some of the sketches reproduced here were taken from scripts but many were transcribed, because he would improvise and invent. He got bored with fixed material and would change it every night during a run on stage, though there were ‘bits’ that tended to stay.

The book is uneven, of course, because it is a book of bits, (though not bits of a book). Often the funniest stuff is the stuff that works least well on paper. Pete and Dud in the Art Gallery needs to be seen — or at least heard. Even though there are relatively few visual gags and the sketch is essentially a conversation, the gleam in Peter’s eye as he tries to make Dudley corpse, the little smile when he says, “you didn’t spit sandwich at him, did you?” or whatever it is; only when you can see those things does the relationship really come alive and then the lines come to life. The brilliance can be seen on the page, but not fully appreciated without the video. You tube, it’s all there these days.

The Private Eye stuff I did not much like. That and Derek and Clive are probably the low points. I know Cook and Moore busted boundaries and pushed back the borders of the possible with Derek and Clive. I know some people think it’s great. I don’t. The rudeness does not bother me, but the nastiness and the lack of actual humour does. This book does a decent job of selecting the few bits of Derek and Clive that are actually (mildly) witty. It always seems to me that if an artist is going to throw off strictures, if they are not going to be bound, then they need to be better than usual. Just busting limits is not funny of itself. Shocked people might titter nervously, but a good comic is, I think, not aiming for that laugh. Broaching topics and images that have been taboo is all well and good, but that needs to be a path to something. It needs to say something that is worth saying that could not be said otherwise, or at least make a joke that could not be made otherwise. It needs to be more than ‘aren’t we shocking! Tee hee hee!’ Derek and Clive fails as comedy for the simple reason that it is not funny; there were some jokes and as I said this does a decent job of picking them out. That work was the end of Cook’s partnership with Moore. He was relentlessly nasty to Moore during the taping of the last album, and drove him away. Moore was breaking into Hollywood at that time and was soon to star in 10 and Arthur, and he never worked with Cook again, apart from bringing out some old material for Galas and the like.

The work does noticeably thin out after 1980. Cook was only in his early 40s at that stage, but decided to slow down lest he fulfil his potential. You might know him as the ‘Impressive Clergyman’ in The Princess Bride, who talks endlessly about ‘twoo wuv’, as Nigel in Supergirl (unlikely — no one likes that movie. I’ve not seen it) or … no, he’s pretty much invisible these days if you don’t go looking for him.

This book is not the place to start. But for the Cook fan it’s a nice little compendium.

 

Inessential, but funny.

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Productive For Whom? The Productivity Commission and Copyright in Australia.

So some months ago the Productivity Commission of the Australian Government released a draft report on ‘Intellectual Property Arrangements‘. The summary of recommendations can, as of October 2016 when I write this, at least, be found here: http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/intellectual-property/draft/intellectual-property-draft-key-points-recommendations.pdf.

It suggests that copyright should expire much sooner…

DRAFT FINDING 4.2 While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.

Many books are still valuable properties of the authors at 15 years out. An author writes a book at 25 and loses their own rights to it when still only 40 years old? Under such a recommendation, once a book is 15 years old, the publisher (any publisher?) can make money from it, a bookseller, a wholesaler, Amazon (poor, living-on-the-breadline Amazon) can make money from it, but not the person who wrote it. Madness. At least let them own it until they die. I agree, 70 years past death is a bit generous (is that the Walt Disney provision?) but at least let an author own their own work while they’re alive.

How about this one:

DRAFT RECOMMENDATION 5.2 The Australian Government should repeal parallel import restrictions for books in order for the reform to take effect no later than the end of 2017.

So while the UK and the USA and nearly every other major market in the world has such restrictions, we should remove them, handicapping our own industry. This one does make sense in one perverse way; we have already killed off manufacturing in Australia, and are currently in the process of killing off agriculture, by opening up our market to other countries who do not open up to us. No, of course I am joking; this one does not make sense. It might make books a little cheaper (though I doubt it. I can’t see the handful of big publishers (who such a change would put in an even more powerful position) passing on any savings; I don’t think there is real competition), but it will mean that Australian stories are harder to find at any price. Now, a significant amount of what the report suggests is not unreasonable, but some things are untenable. I wrote a submission to the commission, on the draft report, which I discovered is available freely on the web http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/199478/subdr165-intellectual-property.pdf. Please ignore the typo in the second paragraph (winces). Since it is freely available, I reproduce it below, because I can.

 


 

May 23, 2016

To whom it may concern:

I’d like to address the issues of copyright and parallel imports, though I am not a commercial author, editor or publisher or working in the industry at all.

Lifting of parallel import restrictions will reduce the number of locally made, written and published books. The case of New Zealand makes this clear, where multinational publishers have closed NZ offices. Since major players like the USA have parallel import restrictions, it is not like we are even creating a level playing field. It may be time to open an international dialogue about PIR, it is not time for self-destructive unilateral action. Unless we like the idea of local voices being even more maginalised.

As to ‘DRAFT FINDING 4.2’, this is clearly a discouragement to create. It is also absurdly inequitable. It may be true that most works have a short commercial life, but this is far from universal. How can the commission simply assume that all books have the same pattern of sales? Many books go through multiple editions over twenty, thirty or more years, especially in technical fields. Successful books by living authors remain in print for decades. Why after 15 or even 25 years is it acceptable for a publisher to make money from a book but not the author? What gives the publisher more rights than the actual originator and creator of the work? This priorities are, well, backwards.

And if an author does not want a book back in print, they need to keep that right, too. An author’s reputation is a major asset. Allowing publication of early, inferior works, or of works that the author no longer believes in, against the author’s wishes, has the potential to damage their reputation and hence livelihood. One can easily imagine a well-resourced publisher putting a non-copyright version of an early work up against a newer book by the same author, capitalising on the publication of the new book, but paying no royalties and possibly muddying the waters and reducing sales of the new book, which after all has to pay royalties where the out-of-copyright edition does not. That is not equitable. Maybe it is or is not a bad financial decision for an author to not allow a work back into print – but it must be their decision.

Just because it is easy to reproduce a work, especially in the electronic age, does not make it right. It is easy to slap a baby; that does not make it right. We download stuff for free all the time, legally and easily. We must guard against the attitude that we should get stuff for free just because it is easy.

Productivity includes ensuring that the creators have a position from which to create, otherwise there is no industry, no productivity. While it may be true that artists and writers are driven to express themselves, that does not mean laws should be changed to make them easier to exploit. If they cannot make a living from their work, they will do it part time or not at all, and we will all be the poorer.

Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing, but in this case it is swinging too far.

Best wishes

Darren Goossens

 


 

Shouting at the void.

In Your Face, a not-quite impartial review.

First, a statement of conflict of interest: I have a story in this book. Having said that, I can easily talk about the strongest stories without mentioning my own…

The front cover of <i>In Your Face</i>. Yes, it's ugly.

The front cover of In Your Face. Yes, it’s ugly.

The book sets itself to tackle potentially distressing subject matter, things that challenge what we think is ‘right‘ by showing the justification for the dark side, for example. Or just hideous mental images. It contains the long and somewhat contentious ‘Wives‘ by Paul Haines, and it and some of the other pieces (‘No Fat Chicks‘ by Cat Sparks, the story that triggered off the whole book, for example) ask us questions about the fundamental nature of human beings.

We are animals. For tens of thousands of years, might did make right. The ancient Greeks for all their civilisation kept boys for their pleasure — not something acceptable where I live. Mores change. What is universally ‘good’ or ‘bad’? The man who rapes a lot of women will ensure that his genes stay in circulation, and is thus anything but a perversity when viewed against the imperatives of survival and evolution.

We’ve been civilised for the blink of an eye. We have decided that some of these things are wrong only yesterday, in evolutionary terms. We have to try to control ourselves using our intellects, but should we be so surprised that it so often breaks down? No, not really. Should we think about this when we punish people – men – for crimes? Hard questions to look full in
the face.

Is tolerance really a virtue, or just the top of the slippery slope, asks Ian McHugh, in ‘Tolerance’, a story that opens ‘The paedophiles are protesting again’. ‘Home and Hearth’ by Angela Slatter is one of the most powerful pieces. It asks unflinchingly about the limits of parental love.

A clutch of stories look at the unseen implications of leaving our children a world in dire straits, when we are fighting the planet itself and there are no spaces left for niceties. And some, like Alan Baxter’s ‘Bodies of Evidence’, conjure up some gruesome scenes, enough to make me (not the toughest of mind’s eyes, I must admit) squirm.

I’m extremely pleased to be in this book. Not just because for me any story that sells is a minor miracle, but because the quality of the company is so high, the production values are so high, and the book aims to do something more than the already-tough-enough task of assembling some worthwhile reading material. Nearly every story worked for me (the strike-rate is very high), and every single one made me think about my assumptions, about maybe how I was, despite my best efforts, still a creature of the darkness as well as the light. We all think about doing wrong. We all act out of base motives sometimes. It’s hard to look that in the face.

The editor, who set out to confront, trigger off new, challenging thoughts, and at the same time to entertain, has succeeded, and succeeded comprehensively. Even if she was silly enough to buy one of my stories…

Available as ebook and large format paperback in most of the usual places, but here is the publisher page.

Born to be mild…

A little script to scan and OCR a bunch of pages

So this little script just uses scanimage, tesseract and vim to scan and process pages from my typewriter. It tries to produce sensible paragraphs, and outputs the results of multiple pages to a text file which can be read in and formatted using a word processor, such as LibreOffice.

It is an interactive script because I do not have a scanner fitted with a sheet feeder. To make it non-interactive, modify the scanimage line after reading the scanimage man page, and remove the line read Response. Nothing fancy, no error checking, no clean-up afterwards, no niceties. But it works pretty well, so far. If you want to use it, install any packages you need to to get scanimage, tesseract and vim to work, and cut and paste the below into a file in your path, and make the file executable.

cat type_ocr.sh
# /bin/bash
#
# type_ocr.sh v. 1.0
#
# Script to scan, ocr, process and concatenate pages, e.g. from a
# typewriter.
#
# D.J.Goossens, 14 July 2016. darren.goossens@gmail.com
#
# Start at 1001 so we can be (pretty!) sure all filenames have 4 digit
# numbers
#
# Create the output file.
echo This is type_ocr.sh v. 1.0
echo
echo Make sure you give it the output filename as a command line argument.
echo Ctrl-D escapes from the scanning, Ctrl-C quits elsewhere.
echo The resulting images and text files are not deleted.
echo They are of the form outXXXX.pnm and outXXXX.pnm.txt and
echo may be quite big.
echo
echo Hit Ctrl-C to exit now or Enter to continue.
read Response
echo 'Text file from type_ocr.sh v. 1.0' > $1
echo Processed `date` to $1 >> $1
echo 'Note: When it says "document 1001", treat it as document (page) 1'
scanimage --batch --batch-prompt --batch-start 1001 -p --mode=Gray --resolution=600
# Outputs are of the form out????.pnm. Loop over them
for f in out????.pnm;
do
tesseract $f $f
# The above produces out????.pnm.txt, which we can process,
# where first we replace double occurrences of newline with a placeholder
# string, then replace single occurrences with a space, then replace the
# placeholder with a return character (it is a trick of regular
# expressions that we search for \n (newline) but write \r (return) when
# we mess with the file).
vim -c "%s/\n\n/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/\n/ /g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/\r/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
cat $f.txt >> $1
done
echo Try typing libreoffice $1 to see what you have got.
echo Setting paragraph formatting to indented and one and a
echo half space is a good start.

Your mileage may vary. Buyer beware. You get what you pay for. No guarantees implied or given. No warranty as far as possible. (Add here any other escape clauses you can think of.)

Because.

Quote of the day

Eighty-five to ninety-five percent of my work is rewriting and revision.

Samuel R. Delany, in Paris Review

No connection.

My Fiction on the Web

Some of my stories are available in webzines that make the material available freely. This little post is just a repository for those links.

Every Useless Parameter‘ was published recently in Kaleidotrope and is the subject of a post on this blog.  It is available here.

‘Unfinished Projects’ came out a couple of years ago in Interstellar Fiction.  That website is now dead.  Blog mention here.

The ‘Complete History of Science or whatever I called it is available on this blog (five parts, each worse than the last, though only if you line them up that way), but was originally published when I was much younger (young, in fact) in Ron Clarke’s fanzine, The Mentor, and the relevant issues plus a bunch of others are on the web at this link. Below I’ve pasted in a masthead from one of the PDFed versions from the website — it really does have some good contributors (Congreve, Williams, Darlington). Worth a look even all these years later.

Masthead and some contents for <em>The Mentor</em> number 75.

Masthead and some contents for The Mentor number 75.

 

 

Complete and utter something or other…

A foolish impulse: Impulse magazine Vol 1 No 1

In 1966 Science Fantasy magazine was a relatively venerable publication of 81 issues, having gone from a pretty flaky beginning to becoming an interesting, if erratic, magazine that operated at the edges of SF, fantasy and literature in general. Edited in its later days by the enigmatic, and some say lazy, Kyril Bonfiglioli (though apparently mostly by Keith Roberts) it was a successful little corner in the genre fiction landscape.  Its history is laid out in some detail in Strange Highways: Reading Science Fantasy, 1950-1967 by Damien Broderick and John Boston.

Cover of <em>Impulse</em> Vol 1 No 1.

Cover of Impulse Vol 1 No 1.  Note the coffee-cup shaped mark, the creases, and the scrawled in ’50c’; clearly this is in mint condition.

Perhaps life was too simple.  Perhaps Bonfiglioli needed a challenge, or perhaps it was just a thought bubble, but the decision was made to retitle the magazine.  To make it longer, more expensive and with a new, vague name that didn’t really tell the reader what was inside; thus was born Impulse.  The idiocy was later dulled by trying to call it ‘SF Impulse‘ but the damage was done, circulation fell, and when the distributor went under and the publisher came under pressure, Impulse had made itself vulnerable and had to go.

That is all not to say that the magazine was not interesting.  As you can see, it was in a paperback format (as was New Worlds), thus pre-empting a number of other efforts at paperback periodicals over the years, including one (Destinies) that made some claim to have invented the format even though it only came along in the late seventies…

Editorial...

Editorial…

Anyway, this ‘sort of first issue’ of Impulse makes for above average reading, though not far above, despite the big names (for the time) on the cover.  (Indeed, it is a measure of ‘the time’ that of the significant contributors only Aldiss and cover artist Judith Ann Lawrence remain with us.)  The Aldiss is more melodrama than anything else, the Anderson is a vignette about a man who has to betray Earth to save it, the Blish (‘A Hero’s Life’) is a rather nifty if overcrowded story on a similar theme, set in a ‘sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic’ mileau that would not have embarrassed Iain M. Banks; it later was reworked as ‘A Style in Treason‘.

The stories by Richard Wilson and Jack Vance are quite minor (though apparently the Vance was thought lost and even Vance was surprised when he found out  — years later! — that it had ever been published [see Strange Highways by Boston and Broderick]), and the last piece is the first instalment of Pavane by Keith Roberts, a minor classic.  It’s very atmospheric but probably does not deserve the number of pages dedicated to it.

Interesting is the Ballard, ‘You and Me and the Continuum’.  It is the first published section of what would become another classic of its kind — The Atrocity Exhibition.  This is the ‘New Wave’ in all its interesting, obtuse, experimental and pretentious glory.  In 8 pages he whips through 27 alphabetically arranged sections, ticking off a checklist of Ballardy images (lists of 20th century objects, quasars, someone called ‘Dr Nathan’, etc).  It seems to be about something — apparently a second coming that never quite came off.  There’s an extensive critical literature on this sort of thing.  I liked his slightly earlier work that was just a little more coherent, if just as fixated (‘Terminal Beach’ for example).

So we have here a volume that does one of the wonderful things that a periodical can do so much better than an anthology; we have a snapshot of the times.  The volume is poised between the new world of Ballard and the space opera of Anderson.  The Aldiss is minor but nevertheless is pushing SF away from outer space and towards inner (it is called ‘The Circulation of the Blood’), while the Harrison is a hard-nosed version of ‘The Cold Equations’ and the Roberts is lyrical alternate history, both well-established forms by the time of writing.  There is no agenda here.  Yes, Bonfiglioli did commission some of these works around a theme of ‘sacrifice’, apparently, although interestingly more of the stories would fit more snugly under ‘betrayal’.  But he had no preferred mode or style or world view.  Apparently if you want a copy it’s worth around 10 squid on Amazon, or was when I searched just now.

What can I say?  If I saw an issue of Impulse/Science Fantasy/SF Impulse/New Worlds at a car boot sale/trash & treasure/flea market/thrift store/opp shop for a dollar or two, I would probably pick it up — exactly because I would not know what to expect.

PS: Yes, I know there is little or no point ‘reviewing’ a book that nobody is going to be able to buy.

 

Exactly because.

‘Wynne Egan’s Fake’: Or How I Got Something Out of James Joyce.

This is a little post about how my story ‘Every Useless Parameter‘ got written.  It came out in the Winter 2016 edition of Kaleidotrope, which I consider to be a very fine venue and I couldn’t be more pleased.

"Cover

Cover of Kaleidotrope Winter 2016.

 

Finnegans Wake is perhaps the classic example of a book more known about than read. Well known for being a complex string of puns and allusions, it’s been called everything from a unique masterpiece and cornerstone of 20th century literature to an elaborate joke to pointless self indulgent nonsense. Anyone who writes anything for publication is assuming that their thoughts and words are worth someone else’s time. Joyce’s assumption is that his thoughts and words are worth the time to not only read but to then study and decode.

Maybe they are.

Anyway.

One day I was looking at my shelves. I have a copy of Finnegans Wake, but I must admit only because it was cheap and I was curious. I have read bits of it, and if there is one thing it is good for, that is reading aloud. It’s a bit like Mick Jagger’s singing on Exile On Main St — I often can’t understand it, but it sure sounds good. I was thinking about writing and jokes and stuff, and playing with words; and my brain recalled that there was an Australian writer named Wynne Whiteford, which lead to ‘Wynne Egan’s Fake’ which seemed too neat to ignore.

I decided to try to use more than just the title from the Joyce novel as a jumping off point; I started flicking through it for images and phrases. But in the end the idea that struck me was this: What if you met a being who natively thought in a language like Joyce coined for his book? Such a creature would be expressing multiple ideas and meanings with every phrase through puns and neologisms and allusions. Then I needed a place in the story for my character Wynne Egan — how about the linguist charged with decoding the language?

And thus, after much assembling of bits and rewriting and cutting and a conversion into present tense (much overused these days, I think) and back into past tense, and changing of titles (‘Wynne Egan’s Fake’ is too cute, or perhaps too smartarse, really) I sent it to Kaleidotrope, and to my great pleasure they took it and (after some very wise edits) it came out earlier this year.  Writing the alien’s dialogue was a lot of fun.

They paid me a bit more than I paid for my copy of Finnegans Wake, so I figure I’m ahead.

 

Insert Link Here.

Slave to a Pleasing Pattern: A review of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

Slave to a Pleasing Pattern: A review of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

HarperCollins 1993, 464 pages.

If the title of this review sounds a bit negative, let me say right off the bat that I really enjoyed this book. It is supremely entertaining. The Anubis Gates is probably one of the better-known standalone fantasy novels of the 1980s. (Copyright date is 1983.) It follows Brendan Doyle, Coleridge expert, as he joins an expedition to use mysterious gates to travel back in time to meet Coleridge and hear him speak. Of course, nothing goes to plan and Doyle ends up travelling through time, space and the underworld, having innumerable adventures, meeting a panoply of monsters and magicians, and in the end becomes somebody else.

Front cover of <em>The Anubis Gates</em> by Tim Powers.

Front cover of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

For breathless adventure, little beats it. There are the excessive coincidences that such a plot needs; London in 1810 was not as big as it is now, but it was a city of a million or more people, and even though the story is restricted to a few localities within the metropolis, key characters still cross each others’ paths with plot-driven regularity. Similarly, there are times when the actions of the protagonist do seem to grow out of the needs of the time travel paradox plot more than out of character, but that is often a problem when time travel crops up and Powers deals with it as well as anybody — partly by the simple expedient of not letting history change. More than once Doyle uses the fact that he knows when he is going to die to convince himself to take some action — well, he thinks, I might as well just let this guy take me prisoner, since I know I won’t die for 30 years yet. So the story takes place in the gaps in the protagonist’s knowledge, with a few episodes here and there acting as fixed points because they are known to have happened. In that sense it it the kind of ‘secret history’ that so beguiles; the idea that there is much more in the world than we know is more convincing and pleasing if it can be made to fit, and contribute, to the history we know, and contradict nothing that we (think we) know. At this Powers is a master.

In general the logic is solid, the action described evocatively and effectively, the writing economical and rises to the heights required at the climaxes.  Magic proves costly to the practitioners — always a good sign in a fantasy, where if magic is too easy and has too few rules then anything can happen and so the story suffers. There are no longeuers to speak of — Doyle seems impossibly resilient — and I’m not sure this is to the story’s benefit. But any quibble is minor in the face of the extraordinary invention and the cavalcade of adventures and marvels.

This is a must-read book for anyone who thinks they like fantasy. Further, if you have read some Powers but just the books that seem fixated on California (Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather… others), this is a welcome change of scene and pace, and in my opinion better for it I must confess.

I read it for the first time twenty years ago and then again just now, and it is odd what I recalled compared to what is really there. The wonderfully horrible Horrabin the clown and his spoon-sized boys, and Doyle’s journey through the underworld, loomed much larger in my memory than their page-counts warranted, while of many other characters I recalled nothing at all, though they played key roles in the plot and in one case married the hero.

Oh, and why not google ‘William Ashbless.’ He’s not the worst poet. (Wink.)

This is how it all ends.