June 7th, 2008

Horses for courses

Today I was out on SJA duty, for Trooping the Colour. That went pretty well: there were no casualties, and it was nice weather to stand around and watch the parade go past. Some of the soldiers on horseback were playing musical instruments, and I was particularly impressed by the people playing trombones, since they had to rely on their knees to guide the horse (rather than using the reins).

There were lots of police on duty, and some of them were on horseback too. This gave me an idea: maybe there should be a mounted division of St John Ambulance. I'm not talking about carrying people to hospital, so this would be the equivalent of our cycle responders; the idea is that you get to a casualty as quickly as possible, carrying an AED and oxygen tank with you, then start treatment while you're waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Particularly in rural areas, if you had to reach someone in the middle of a field then a horse might be faster than a bike. I quite like the idea of galloping to the rescue, but my colleagues weren't entirely convinced.

Following on from that, another approach would be a hang glider squad. If you have a wide area to cover, you just need to find a suitable high point near the centre, then you can launch in the appropriate direction. Or maybe a microlight...

Library books

I really ought to make more use of the local library: they have a pretty good selection, it's free, and it lets me try out things that I wouldn't normally read. The only snag is that it can be difficult to get there during opening hours. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the books I borrowed recently.

Superman: Critical Condition (J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Mark Schultz). This was pretty dire, and it felt like a chore to finish it. Most of the writers have done far better work elsewhere, so this may be an effect of "writing by committee". This paperback is a reprint of some comics from 2000, but Supergirl bears very little resemblance to the way she was portrayed in Peter David's series at that point.

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel (Brian Azzarello). This was better, since at least it tells a coherent story, although I'm not a huge fan of Azzarello's writing. (I bought the first volume of 100 Bullets and it didn't inspire me to read any further.) This TPB collects a series from 2005, and I think I would have got more out of it if I was familiar with the context, i.e. current events in Metropolis from other comics.

The Book of Fate (Brad Meltzer). This was my attempt to diversify a bit, since it's not science-fiction. Admittedly, I picked it up because I liked Meltzer's writing in Identity Crisis (a comic), and I was amused when he included Noah Kuttler ("The Calculator") in his acknowledgements at the start. This book is a political thriller, a bit like some of Clive Cussler's novels, although it's clearly been marketed as if it's the type of thing that Dan Brown would write. Collapse ) My main problem with this book is that it shifts back and forth between 1st person and 3rd person; it would have been much better to write the whole thing in the 3rd person. However, that's something that I'll elaborate on in another post. Aside from that, it's ok if you accept it as a trashy novel to take on holiday with you, but it's nowhere near as good as Identity Crisis. I have no intention of re-reading it, but I'm willing to try another of his novels if I can find one at the library.

Angel: image (Mel Odom). This is the first Angel (as in Buffy) novel I've read, although I previously read one of Mel Odom's short stories in the first "Tales of the Slayer" anthology. That story was ok, although I think it squandered its potential. It involved a German who became a Watcher during the Great War, and I'd be interested to know how the Watchers handled their divided loyalties, i.e. loyalty to their countries vs their shared cause, but the story didn't address that at all.

As for the Angel novel, I think the basic story could have been made into a reasonable episode of the series; not one of my all-time favourites, but something that I'd be happy to spend an hour watching. However, it was let down by sloppy writing, so I get the impression that everyone concerned just wanted to shove this thing out of the door as soon as possible, rather than taking the time to proof-read it properly.

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I realise that I'm nitpicking, but if there are enough small niggles like this then they do add up. Overall, I may read more of Odom's short stories if they come up in anthologies, but I'll give his novels a miss from now on.

Star Trek: Vulcan's Glory (D.C. Fontana). This is one of the "old school" Star Trek novels (published in 1989), i.e. it's independent of all the other Trek novels, but you're expected to be familiar with the TV episodes. This book is about Spock's first mission on the Enterprise (under Captain Pike), and it's a decent enough story. It's been a while since I've seen any of Fontana's episodes, but I remember seeing her name in the credits for some good ones, so I was willing to try out one of her novels, and I think she did a good job with it.

My only real criticism is related to context. For instance, you will benefit from watching the TOS episode "The Cage", so that you can picture Pike and Number One while you read the book; however, if you haven't seen that episode then you can make something up, and that will still work. By contrast, this book has a sub-plot with T'Pring (Spock's fiancee), which is resolved in the episode "Amok Time"; if you haven't seen that episode then it will just seem like a dangling plot thread, and there's nothing in the book (e.g. an afterword) to say "Watch that episode to find out what happens next". Similarly, the book mentions the mystery of Spock's cousin Selek, but never resolves it; you need to watch the animated episode "Yesteryear" (also written by Fontana) to find out who Selek was. I think the best approach would have been to include an appendix with the necessary references; Kurt Busiek did that with some of his comics that were very continuity-heavy (e.g. Avengers Forever), and that worked well.