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Well, this has been a fairly peaceful weekend. I was off at SJA duty… - John C. Kirk

Jan. 22nd, 2006

07:48 pm

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Well, this has been a fairly peaceful weekend. I was off at SJA duty on Friday night (football), which has left me Saturday and Sunday to hang around the flat. Mind you, one thought I did have on Friday: in theory, people aren't allowed to smoke inside the football stadium, but in practice the stewards don't enforce this (and in fact some of the staff smoke). Similarly, staff often turn a blind eye to smoking on public transport. So, if the national smoking ban does become law in the future, will that actually change anything? Ah well, we'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

My main attempt at (vague) productivity has been to clear some of my TV backlog off the Digibox, and to file away the last n months of comics that have been piled up on the floor. That makes the lounge look a bit tidier, although my filing cabinets are now almost full. I think it's reasonable to stick to the two cabinets as an upper limit on storage space, rather than expanding into a third, so I've been identifying duplicate issues. Basically, there are some series where I buy the monthly comics and then buy the paperback collections later (e.g. Astro City, Fables, and Lucifer). I haven't counted, but it looks like I've got about 200 duplicates (almost a drawer full), so I'll try to sell them off to one of the second hand dealers. I don't think I'm going to make a fortune out of this (if I'm lucky, I'll break even), but I don't realistically think I'll ever re-read them, so I'd rather have the space.

I've also been watching the first two episodes of "Johnny and the Bomb" on BBC1 (adapted from the Terry Pratchett novel). They've changed a few things, and I prefer the book so far, but I think that the series is still worth watching. This is my favourite book out of the three, and I keep hoping that Pratchett will write a fourth, so if this series does well then hopefully that will influence him.

Firstly, I think that the series has been well cast. The kids aren't quite how I imagined them, but I think that they are probably a better interpretation of the books than I'd thought, so that's fair enough. It's similar to the way that my default "reading voice" has an English accent, so it seemed strange to hear Dilbert and co speaking with American accents in the cartoon, even though that makes sense.

I think that some of the changes were inevitable, either because the book version would take too long, or because it would be complicated to film. E.g. Mrs Tachyon's cat isn't essential to the plot, and I can understand them not wanting the extra hassle of needing a trained animal. There are some other changes that made it a bit more topical (e.g. mobile phones), and that's fair enough too.

The biggest change is that in the book they're changing history to make it better (i.e. the original history involved everyone dying), whereas in the TV series they're correcting their own mistake (i.e. everyone was supposed to survive until BigMac managed to screw up the alarm/car/bike for the air raid siren).

This does remind me of Quantum Leap, and more specifically a discussion that I had on Usenet about 10 years ago. If you view this thread, my first comment is number 14. Basically, I said that I'd prefer Sam to make a positive difference, rather than being some kind of cosmic janitor. By contrast, someone else felt that I was being mean to janitors and that I was solely responsible for stranding Sam in time... (My response is comment number 20 in that thread.) Anyway, there's a similar issue here. I think it's good that they are taking responsibility for their actions, but it does imply that the end result will be "Ok, we're right back where we started".

I suppose that one advantage of the TV approach is that they can side-step some of the ethical questions. For instance, Starfleet are famous for their Prime Directive, whereas the Doctor (in Dr Who) is almost the polar opposite, since he makes a career out of interference. (Mind you, the most recent series did suggest that this is less haphazard than it appears, i.e. he knows what he's doing because he's a Time Lord, whereas it would be very dangerous for other people to make random changes.) I think that causing paradoxes is basically a Bad Thing, but aside from that I agree with the principle from the book - "Everything we do affects the future! It always has. It always will." I.e. We're always having a butterfly effect on the world around us. Yes, it turned out that when Kirk saved Edith Keeler this caused long-term problems for the world, but I'm not going to worry about that if I see someone who's about to be hit by a car.

There was one scene in the second episode where Johnny met his mother in the timeline where he'd never been born, i.e. she wasn't his mother after all. This confused me at first, since I was thinking that she was his grandfather's daughter, and therefore wasn't supposed to have been born either, but then I remembered that his grandfather is on his father's side (so it's a bit odd that they share a house, but fair enough).

Just after that scene they had everyone else freezing in place, while Johnny continued walking at normal speed. It looked quite impressive, and they were able to show him standing in front of his "other mother", staring at her without her seeing him, but again I don't think that it made sense, so I'm inclined to write this off as some kind of daydream/hallucination rather than something that actually happened. This basically comes back to the book - the idea there was that he doesn't have superpowers, but that he was able to tap into something (like the "Speed Force" in The Flash) when he really needed to, and it was just a one-off feat that he wouldn't be able to duplicate. I've found that concept to be quite inspirational, and it is diminished by seeing him use the same trick to wander aimlessly around. (Similarly, the "bullet time" effect in 1941 seemed gratuitous, if none of the characters who were present actually experienced it.)

Finally, there's the issue of Johnny's grandfather. I'm inclined to say that this was quite a subtle point in the book (since I missed it on my first reading), although that could just mean that I wasn't paying enough attention, and that it was blatantly obvious to everyone else. Basically, at the end of the story Johnny is talking to his grandfather, who pulls out a medal from his box of souvenirs (awarded to him for his actions during the air raid) and says "Come on, I must have told you this story before?", but Johnny says no. ("Before, his grandfather had always told him not to go on about things.") Obviously, the reason that his grandfather (Tom) hadn't told the story before is that the relevant events hadn't happened in the original timeline. However, this then made me think about how things had gone instead. Tom was on duty in the Home Guard, and it was his sole responsibility to warn his friends and neighbours if they were in danger from bombs. The town was only bombed once during the entire war, but when it happened Tom couldn't warn people about in time, and they died. It wasn't his fault, but I can imagine that it would be a hard thing to live with, so it's understandable that he wouldn't want to talk about it. So, as well as helping the residents of Paradise Street, Johnny was also able to lift a weight from his grandfather's shoulders, and set his mind at rest for the next 50/60 years.

As I say, this didn't all occur to me the first time I read the book, but I now find it very moving, and it would be a pity if it was missing from the TV series. It is possible that they're going to make it more explicit, since the next episode is going to have Johnny talking to the alternate version of his grandfather, so that could be interesting (and encourage viewers to read the book more carefully, if they'd missed this nuance too).

Anyway, having said all that, the TV series is still a work in progress, and I am intending to watch the remaining episodes.