Sunday, April 12, 2009

The 'cold war' between Light and Dark

Imagine a Moscow in thrall to a very different type of Cold War. A world where 'good' and 'evil' jealously guard their respective spheres of influence. A world where two rival agencies constantly vie to extend their power. A world where the conditions of a delicate Treaty is all that stand between an outright battle between 'good' and 'evil'. Welcome to the wainscot vision of Sergei Lukyanenko.

The novel, Day Watch, comprises of three more or less self-contained but interrelated novellas. The first story centres on Alisa Donnikova, witch and Dark Other, who was once a favorite of Zabulon, the head of the Day Watch. By the way, do not let the terminologies confuse you. The Day Watch is an organization made up of Dark Others, who monitor and oppose the Light Others. The Night Watch is its inversion. Alisa, drained and incapacitated in a battle with Light others is sent to a youth camp to restore her inner reserves. Here she meets and falls in love with Igor Teplov. Unable to use her magical abilities, she does not discover, until it is too late, that he is in fact her sworn enemy, one of the battle mages who contributed to her injuries in the first place.

In the second story, an enigma Vitaly Ragoza, is drawn to the scene of several killings in Moscow. He also appears involved in the search for a missing artefact Fafnir's Claw, stolen by an obscure sect who call themselves the Regin Brothers.

The third story links to both the second and the first. The Inquisition, a watchdog organization, sits to determine whether the all-important Treaty between the Day Watch and Night Watch, had been violated by the fatal duel between Alisa Donnikova and Igor Teplov and also which measures should be taken against the Regin Brothers for their recent activities.

Day Watch the novel, should not be confused with the very popular Day Watch the movie, which was produced more as a sequel to the Night Watch movie, and bears little resemblance to the plots of the book. Two novels follow Day Watch - Twilight Watch and Final Watch.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dead Things That Have A Life of Their Own (perhaps not for sensitive readers)

In fairy tales, little girls bravely face hungry wolves, get picked on by vindictive old ladies who do magic or ogres with attitude problems and somehow still manage to live happily ever after - usually without needing so much as a plaster, never mind trauma counseling. In comic books, they are sometimes not quite so lucky. Especially not when ill-fated by a creator who takes his inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe. I'm talking about Lenore. You have to admit, she is cute, despite the skull shaped hair slides and her morbid little circle of accomplices such as Ragamuffin and Mr Gosh. Which just goes to show. In the world of graphic novels, being dead doesn't necessary stop you getting around and having fun.

Roman Dirge, Lenore's creator is, however, not the only one who draws inspiration from a slightly icky subject.

A certain British manufacturer specializes in a line of toys that might well belong within the pages of the latest issue of Lenore. They call their product Road Kill Toys. Although still fluffy and sort of huggable, road kill toys are designed to look, well, battered, with bloodshot eyes, and innards that can be zippered up or left hanging out.

If you want to get serious about the subject of earthly remains, you might want to explore a little book entitled 'Stiff' by Mary Roach. It explores what happens to dead bodies after the souls that drove them have departed. The book makes fascinating, if gloomy reading. You will learn, for instance, about the Egyptian pharaoh, who was himself an enthusiastic dissector of the bodies of executed criminals and the surgeon who dissected both his father and his sister in the name
of science. The author reports on her visits to an embalmer, a medical school and an educational facility that studies the process of decomposition. And then there is the anecdotal story of a well-known artist who alleges to have dined on human flesh with a group of fellow students. True or false? I'm not sure I particularly want to know...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rare and extremely collectible vinyl

Well, friends and friends-to-be, my blog is alive.

Those who know me well will be familiar with my ability to come up with something totally random and unrelated to whatever everyone else thought they were talking about. Which is roughly what you can expect from this space. Random things. A niche that is decidedly non-niche, so whether I get away with breaking that cardinal rule of blogging, remains to be seen.

To begin with, a tale of two highly collectible vinyl recordings. Music for Supermarkets by Jean-Michel Jarre, or to use its French title, Musique pour Supermarché, has intrigued me for years. Released as a single copy to be auctioned to the highest bidder, it was made to be a very deliberate statement.

Although all master tapes were destroyed, fragments of the album survived as bootleg recordings - it was played once in its thirty-four minute entirety on Radio
Luxembourg - and segments that resurfaced in later albums.

What the record is worth today, can only be estimated. There is however one recording that may rival or even eclipse Music for Supermarkets both in rarity and current value.

In 1957, a group of youngsters from Liverpool who called themselves The Quarrymen, made a cheap recording of Buddy Holly's 'That'll be the Day' and a second song “In Spite Of All The Danger”, which was written by two of the members themselves. Short of cash, the band opted to record straight onto vinyl and, as "In Spite Of All The Danger" was hastily decided on, some band members had to learn it on the spot.

Today, the single copy made of that session is considered one of the most collectible vinyl recordings. Why? Because three of the members, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison went on to form the Beatles.

An interesting coincidence links these two highly collectible vinyl recordings. 'Music forSupermarkets" was first auctioned off on 6 July 1983, twenty-six years to the day after Lennon met McCartney at Woolton Parish Church Garden Fete in Liverpool.