coldglass

Month: April, 2012

Shadowrun – The Old Days

Inspired by the current Kickstarter campaign to fund Shadowrun Returns I stumbled across this, the promotional video FASA made to promote the game at GenCon 1990. If you’re at all interested in Shadowrun, ’80s cyberpunk, or charmingly amateurish films I highly recommend watching it. If you don’t – have we nothing in common?

Quite something, I think you’ll agree. I have to say I don’t remember my games having so much of the ’80s Porn Aesthetic – that’s a lot of big hair. The line “They said there weren’t any guards!” sounds awfully familiar though. Really, the whole thing fills me with a pleasantly warming sense of nostalgia, makes me want to dig out my battered copy of 2nd Edition after all these years. Man, Shadowrun is a great game, urban fantasy before it was cool. At least for certain definitions of urban fantasy. And cool.

There’s still a couple of days left on the Kickstarter, so why not get in on the ground floor? Sell your organs, or for that extra touch of authenticity, sell someone else’s. In the meantime, queue this up on your telecom, put on your talismans, check the load on your smartlinked Predator-II, brush up on your ridiculous slang (chummer), and wait for the call from Mr Johnson.

Record Store Memories

In honour of Record Store Day, three memories involving music shops. Admittedly, only one of them involves an independent store, and not in a particularly positive way, so maybe I’m doing more harm than good. Still, it’s the thought that counts. These are all as true as I remember them, though maybe exaggerated. Memories usually are, really.

I
Over a decade ago, I was in the Virgin Megastore in Cardiff, a shop that played a small but significant role in my personal growth when I bought a VHS copy of Ghost In The Shell there. Also memorable for the fact that I always, without fail, got a static shock if I touched the handrail whilst walking down the stairs. Whilst browsing through the racks a particular CD caught my eye; one entitled Elder Sign by Endura. Or ENDVRA to go by the cover, as it used Roman lettering. As a die-hard fan of HP Lovecraft I naturally wondered if the title was a reference to his Cthulhu Mythos tales, and indeed my suspicions were confirmed when I saw that one of the tracks was named ‘Ubbo-Sathla’. The title ‘Nailed To The Cross Of Pluto’ stuck in my mind as well. I didn’t buy it, but ever since I first saw it I occasionally wondered about that mysterious Lovecraftian CD. This was back in the dark ages of the Internet when finding information on niche subjects meant trawling through garishly designed fansites, and all I could discover was that it was a compilation of tracks from now out-of-print albums. Every now and then through the years I’d wonder what it sounded like, but somehow never bought it even after eBay and Amazon made getting such obscurities child’s play. The memory of happening upon that jewel case amongst the rest of the ‘Rock & Pop’ section has remained with me clearly to this day. Really, this story should end with me emulating the doomed protagonists of Lovecraft’s stories, my obsession wearing away my sanity until I end up scrawling crazed lyrics on the walls in broken Enochian. What actually happened was that it became available on Amazon in MP3 format and I downloaded it. It sounds exactly like I imagined it would.

II
November 2002. Post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor release their third (and as it turned out, final) album, Yanqui U.X.O.. GY!BE had a serious counter-culture image, what with the hand-pressed sleeves made from untreated cardboard and the refusing to sell merchandise and so on. This image was from my perspective probably somewhat exaggerated due to the lack of solid information about them; again this was in pre-Wikipedia days when information online was not only unreliable but scarce as well. I remember someone telling me once that the band lived communally in an abandoned railway station; of course I didn’t believe them, but it didn’t sound that implausible to me. Anyway, I decided that this was the perfect time for me to put my money where my mouth was and support an independent record store rather than a giant corporate chain-store. So I went to the nearest indie record store in Hanley, I omit the name because I’ve forgotten it to protect the relevant parties. No sign of it, so I went to ask the man behind the counter if they had it, or would have it later. He turned away from his copy of Mixmag long enough to favour me with the kind of expression I imagine noblemen in pre-Revolutionary France used on inconvenient peasants. “No” he said, turning back to his magazine. I went to HMV instead. They had a stack of copies displayed in the position of honour right inside the door. When I got it home, I saw that the artwork for the back cover of the album consisted of a diagram purporting to show how five major record labels were linked to weapons manufacturers. I’d like to say I felt guilty. I didn’t.

III
That same branch of HMV in Hanley, on a Saturday afternoon. You know the kind, when the place is absolutely rammed with people, half of them in a tearing hurry and the other half trying to kill time. The air is unpleasantly warm and muggy and there’s always someone bumping into you. Whatever rack or shelf you want to look at has at least three people already standing in front of it, and if you manage to get through them you keep having to move to let someone with a pushchair through the aisle. In any case all the stock is jumbled up so even if you’re in the right place, whatever you’re looking for probably isn’t. The staff are all visibily sweating and bear that expression that suggests they’re moments away from either bursting into tears or running amok. I managed to find something I wanted, I don’t remember what, and was standing in the lengthy queue. A group of teenage boys in front of me spent the whole time arguing over whether Tupac Shakur was really dead or not. One side insisted he’d faked his death, presenting as evidence the (quite true) fact that by that time he’d sold more records and made more money whilst dead than he had whilst alive. The opposing party’s main counter to this was the belief that Tupac would “never abandon his people like that”. It was only five minutes or so, maybe ten at the most, but by God I thought I’d never get out of there with mind and body intact. Tupac was recently resurrected in hologram form to perform at the Coachella festival, a fact which to me is far weirder than any conspiracy theory.

Dwelling On The Deep

When I first heard about the Titanic memorial cruise it seemed morbid, but the more I thought about it, the more things started to feel weird. Two ships, one retracing the original course, the other coming in the opposite direction, meeting at the site of the wreck. Slowly circling the area, a century since the RMS Titanic went under the bitterly cold and lonely Atlantic. The place where one hundred years ago the height of luxury and technology was pulled into the black with 1,512 people aboard by something as cruel and mindless as an iceberg.
And what’s down there? Things that have never seen the light of the sun or the stars, gliding through the crumpled remains. An ecosystem centred around this alien vessel, one that sprang into life and thrived on the sudden bounty drifting down from above. Supposedly there are things down there that have never been seen anywhere else. Of the dead, there are no bodies, not even bones – only some of their possessions remain. Fifteen hundred people, rich holidaymakers, poor immigrants, couples happy and sad; all gone. Sublimated into an oasis of life nearly 4 kilometres below the surface. The ship will be next, though as befits its stature it’ll take longer to vanish. Most of the wood went first; eventually even the iron of the hull, which feeds countless billions of tiny organisms, will have been devoured. Nothing but ghosts and scattered, meaningless artifacts.
Up above they cast wreathes onto the sea and pray, more life from the land thrown to the waves. What are they thinking about? The dead? The survivors? The ship? The colony of stories, symbols and myths that grew up around the Titanic are as tenacious and fertile as the things that live on her broken hull. And maybe as destructive; are we really remembering an awful accident with a monstrous death toll? Or are we thinking about a myth of thwarted hubris, a parable of class division, a romance of doomed lovers, a nostalgic fable about women and children first and the band played on? We use their memories as the raw material for the narratives we wrap our lives in, until there’s nothing of the original left.
It’s a strange world.

Music I Bought In the 1st Quarter of 2012

Weissensee – Sternrekorder
Treats – Sleigh Bells
Black Eden – Endura
Teenage Color – College
The Best Damn Thing – Avril Lavigne
Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash
Exile In Guyville – Liz Phair
Escape From Earth – Thomas Barrandon
Sucker Punch – Various
Entroducing. . . – DJ Shadow

Are we really a quarter of the way through the year already? When did that happen?1
Only just occurred to me that these are all digital releases; I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD, other than picking up cheap compilations in Tesco to listen to in the car. I still like having a physical object, but finding space for them is a problem. A problem I went too far in fixing it seems, Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Exile In Guyville I used to have on CD but can’t find anymore. They must have gotten accidentally taken to Oxfam when I was having a clear out last year. I notice from the Avril Lavigne2 artwork that they’ve managed to replicate those ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers in the digital realm. Exile In Guyville achieved a similar level of irritation by including [Explicit Content] in the album and track titles until I went through the tags in iTunes. Actually, [Explicit Content] wouldn’t have been a bad name for the album. Several tracks on Entroducing . . . have been used so often in trendy documentaries that listening to the album is like being inside BBC4. My interest in European retro-synth music continues, largely due to Valerie Collective. Now that I finally hear it, Endura is as doom-laden and epic as I thought it would be when I picked up that CD all those years ago. Sleigh Bells are LOUD, which is good except when you’re listening on headphones and they come on unexpectedly. The Sucker Punch3 OST is rather good, mostly sort of spaced-out covers of psychedelic classics and a great version of Search & Destroy by Skunk Anansie.

——

1 April 1st, obviously.
2 Look, just shut up, alright?
3 A good, if flawed, film.

Whilst Playing Saints Row: The Third I Have

Stolen an entire bank vault, whilst disguised as the man standing next to me
Fallen out of a plane and fought off dozens of goons in freefall, passing through the plane a second time mid-way
Parachuted into a penthouse full of eurotrash gangsters whilst listening to Kanye West
Stormed through a skyscraper full of cloning vats alongside a giant naked man
Taken part in a running battle with all combatants in rickshaws pulled by gimps
Driven a convertible with an angry tiger in the passenger seat, with vans full of animal rights activists in pursuit
Stolen a National Guard Humvee, painted it gloss pink, fitted it with NOS and driven the wrong way down the freeway blasting the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme tune
Kidnapped a terrible actor from under military guard whilst disguised as a slutty vampire nun
Entered a Tron-style neon wireframe world to battle an army of New Romantics
Repeatedly flown a speeding hoverbike into bridges
Fought off waves of corporate mascots with an enormous dildo
Fallen out of another plane, this time whilst in a tank, fought off dozens of plummeting commandos, some of them in their own tanks, bailed out and hijacked a second tank before landing
Blown up an aircraft carrier
Destroyed a zombie plague to gain the respect of Burt Reynolds
Used a chainsaw in a wrestling match
Blown up another aircraft carrier, this one a Skybase/Helicarrier-style flying one
Declared my turf an independent sovereign nation

April 3rd, 1982

Thirty years ago today, I was born. About four weeks ahead of schedule, as it turned out – not that being early is something I’ve made a habit of. But what else was occuring in the wide world back then?

As you’ve probably noticed from the recent parade of speechifying1 on both sides of the Atlantic, the Falklands War was just kicking off. A sidelined former global power and a brutally repressive military dictatorship fighting over a handful of weatherbeaten islands with no natural resources – an inspiration for us all. But what exactly was happening on my birthday?2

The Battle of Grytviken
While the Falklands themselves had fallen the day before South Georgia, a small island 864 miles to the SE remained in British hands. At the dawn of April 3rd, 60 Argentinian marines, several helicopters and the corvette Guerrico prepared to assault Grytviken, the main settlement on the island and the location of the 22 Royal Marines defending it. The Argentinian commander began by demanding the British surrender, telling them either incorrectly or dishonestly that the previous day’s surrender of the Falklands Islands had included it’s dependencies. When that failed they began the attack, which didn’t quite go to plan. After the first group of marines were landed, the second wave was sent to a location in full view of the defenders and their helicopter was shot down. The Guerrico was sent closer to provide fire support; rather too close as it turned out. Subjected to a barrage of small arms fire and 84mm Carl Gustav shells, the corvette was damaged and forced back out to sea, which must have been pretty embarrassing. After a while the Guerrico got it’s main gun working again and forced the defenders to give in. A small affair as these things go, though no doubt big enough for the 3 men who died.

Resolution 502
Meanwhile, far from the front lines, the UN Security Council was meeting in New York. The resolution in question, tabled by Britain, demanded an end to the fighting and an immediate withdrawal by the Argentinians. Unfortunately for them, the head of the Argentinian delegation had only just arrived and was woefully unprepared; the junta also seem to have assumed that Britain would not get enough votes to pass the resolution, or if they did the Russians would veto it3. In the end, only Panama voted no, with the Soviet-aligned nations preferring to abstain, and Resolution 502 passed 10 to 1. Naturally no-one expected Argentina to comply, but the resolution did put Britain in the right under international law. Equally, I doubt anyone expected that failing to pass would prevent the fleet sailing.

The lesson we learn from each of these? Always prepare thoroughly before going in. Well, all this fighting and dying and political horse-trading is getting me down; let’s see what was entertaining people when I fell into the world. What was the UK #1 single thirty years ago?

Goombay Dance Band – Seven Tears

Oh dear. That’s kind of disappointing. As German bands with UK hit singles in 1982 go, I would definitely have preferred it to be Kraftwerk. Well, never mind4. But this is the early ’80s we’re talking about, let’s see what was at the top of the indie chart.

Anti-Nowhere League – I Hate People

Well, it’s an improvement at least. Not a big fan of Oi!-style punk, and it’s a bit ‘FUCK YOU DAD!’ for my tastes but still. Not too shabby. And over in America, what was #1 outside that UN building?

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock & Roll

Now that’s more like it! Joan Jett is awesome. Potentially the only thing that could make me wish I was born in Los Estados Unidos.

So far as I can tell there don’t seem to be many celebrities turning 30 today, a quick look reveals precisely two. And I’m not sure one of them really qualifies as a celebrity, at least in this part of the world.

 

 

 

 

 
Cobie Smulders
Canadian actress, most famous for being in the sitcom How I Met You Mother. Which I’ve never watched, other than brief glimpses of it on the staff-room TV. Actually I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything. She’s in the new Avengers film, so I guess I’ll probably see that.
Kasume Nakane
A Japanese bikini model. I’ve never heard of her5 and I suspect neither have most people. Perhaps she’s more famous in her homeland. I’m resisting the urge to make the obvious ‘big in Japan’ joke, so maybe I’m getting more mature with age.

At the opposite end of life’s journey – celebrity deaths! Just the one though.

 

 

 

 

 
Warren Oates – Who I definitely have seen. And so should you have. Otherwise, The Wild Bunch is probably the best place to start.

——

1 Including the priceless spectacle of Argentina and Great Britain accusing each other of colonialism.
2 Well, more or less – the time difference means some of them might actually have happened the previous or following days depending on your perspective. Trying to work it out only confused me.
3 Despite the fact that Moscow policy was to use the veto only in cases directly affecting their interests.
4 I suppose at least this way I know it wasn’t playing whilst I was concieved.
5 But then I would say that, wouldn’t I.

Books I Read In March 2012


The Passage – Justin Cronin
Apparently this epic (post)apocalyptic novel got quite a lot of hype when it came out a year or so ago, I seem to have missed that. Perhaps I’m just out of the loop. The first, shorter, part of the story is set in 2018, in a United States ravaged by terrorism, natural disaster, foreign war, economic collapse1 and turning into a militaristic police state. A secret Army biological research unit is experimenting with a potent mutagenic virus recovered from the jungles of South America, using as test subjects a group of death row inmates and one little girl. Oddly enough, things don’t go as planned, and pretty soon society is collapsing into chaos and civil war as swarms of blood-drinking ‘virals’ overrun the country. The narrative then moves ahead 90 years to a small self-sufficient colony isolated from the world around them. The arrival of a very odd little girl, attacks by unusually organised virals, strange dreams, internal conflict and failing resources leads to a small band of survivors setting off on a long journey across the blasted, vampire-infested countryside to where everything began. More or less all the elements of the story have been done before, from the vampires themselves to the post-apocalyptic wilderness and the bands of scavengers and survivors. There seemed to be some pretty strong parallels with the Fallout series, though it could easily be coincidence. In any case, although it isn’t especially original, it is executed very well. The plot is sweeping and the action scenes are great, as is the motivation and psychology of the characters. The only real complaint I have is that the ending doesn’t provide enough closure and is an obvious set-up for the sequel. Still, it’s not a major problem and in any case I’m definitely going to read the next one when it comes out. Highly recommended.

Austerlitz – W G Sebald
Jacques Austerlitz is an architectural historian who discovers that he was adopted at the age of four, a refugee sent to Britain by his Czech parents ahead of the Nazis. His attempts to discover the truth about his past and the fate of his parents intertwine with his studies of European architecture and eventually obsess him completely. The narrative is wandering at best, going off on detailed digressions and tangents about 19th century fortifications, the Theresienstadt ghetto, the Bibliothèque nationale de France. . . It revolves around the impossibility of truly recalling the past and the way that our attempts to force order onto the world, whether Austerlitz’s obsessive research, gigantic fortress complexes or Nazi paperwork all end up taking on a life of their own, spiralling out of control and never fulfilling their original intentions. I’m not really sure how I feel about this book; as much as it’s clearly well written, very intelligent and heartfelt, I never really felt involved with it. Perhaps Sebald’s excellent reputation made me expect something else, or maybe it lost something in the translation from German. I’m certainly not sorry I read it, I just don’t know. . .

Rule 34 – Charles Stross
The time – the near future. The place – Edinburgh, capital of a (mostly) independent Scotland. A sudden Europe-wide rash of murders is causing some serious headaches for the authorities and the underworld alike; people involved in illicit social network marketing, i.e. spammers, are being murdered in a rather baroque fashion. There are three main characters whose paths cross and intertwine, though they rarely meet directly; the head of the underfunded ICIU Division, charged with preventing the internet’s cesspool of lunacy leaking into the real world; an ex-con recently employed as the Honorary Consul for a tiny Eastern European republic; and a highly organised Gangster 2.0 who has to keep taking pills to ward off the lizard men and the rape machines. It’s written in the second person, which is unusual; off the top of my head I can’t think of another book written that way, it takes a little getting used to but after that it works well. The thrust of the book is the way the online world interacts with the physical one, what with the ubiquitous surveillance systems, augmented reality applications, expert systems, home fabricators and social networking tools. In common with his Laundry novels there’s also rather more attention to the arcane details of management theory than you’d usually get in a thriller; I can only assume Mr Stross was menaced by a rabid org chart when he was little. Even by his usual standards, this is staggeringly inventive, very funny and far too plausible.

HebrewPunk – Lavie Tidhar
A set of four supernatural short stories, each a pastiche of a particular genre and each featuring characters drawn from Hebrew/Jewish mythology and folklore. The first, an Ocean’s Eleven style caper about breaking into a highly secured blood bank, is probably the weakest – it captures the light tone of a heist film well, with plenty of slick patter from the protagonists, but there’s not really much to it. Their plan isn’t particularly complicated, which is a drawback in this sort of story. Still, it’s entertaining enough. The second I thought much better; during World War 2, Jimmy the Rat, possibly the only Jewish vampire, is working with a band of partisans in occupied Romania. Things become complicated when Dr Mengele shows up with a company of SS Werewolves and heads for Bran Castle, former abode of a certain Vlad Dracul2. . . Nazi Occultism has been thoroughly worked over by now, but the take on it here is pretty good. None of the supernatural happenings are allowed to overshadow the all too real evil of the Nazis, and the distinction drawn between the brutality and greed of ‘traditional’ villains and the calculating, bureaucratic genocide of Mengele and his ilk is an interesting one. The third story, an alternate/secret history tale about a 1903 expedition to East Africa sent by the Zionists to explore the possibility of founding a Jewish homeland there. I found this one a little difficult to follow, mainly because it uses a lot of historical and mythical characters and events and in places I wondered if I was missing a reference or something. The final story was easily the best in my opinion, a Noir-style tale of a fallen Tzadik who becomes involved in the underworld of 1920s London. An actress is dead, and someone wants her back. . . Featuring Kabalism, Voudoun, Daoism, and blizzards of cocaine, it nonetheless feels very human; love, loss, and betrayal. Overall a good set of stories, each of them well written and worth reading.

God’s War – Kameron Hurley
Visceral, richly inventive sci-fi with a fascinating setting. The isolated just-about-habitable planet of Umayma is riven by centuries of constant warfare between it’s two major powers, Nasheen and Chenja. Nyx used to be a Bel Dame, an assassin for the Nasheen government, but her prediliction for black work caught up with her and now she’s just another bounty hunter trying to scrape together a living. The setting is richly developed and strikingly different from the usual genre conventions; Islamic societies where constant conflict has led to some serious gender issues, on a planet where almost all technology is based upon insectile bio-tech wielded by ‘magicians’. Nasheen is a gynocracy, where all men are conscripted and sent to the front at age 15 and women hold all authority. When Nyx and her team are employed to recover an off-world scientist they rapidly get in over their heads and find themselves tangling with her former employers. Nyx is pretty full-on; hard-boiled to the point of being nihilistic, pragmatic and cynical, prone to heavy drinking and empty sex, she’s not exactly likeable but she certainly makes an impression. Given that, it’s impressive that she doesn’t simply come across as a caricature, but as a person who acts the way she does for a reason. The other main character is Rhys, a mediocre magician who as a Chenjan refugee in Nasheen is a second-class citizen by nationality, ethnicity, gender and religion. The rest of the team aren’t quite so well fleshed-out, but are by no means one-dimensional. The action is relentless and absolutely brutal, Nyx isn’t at all reluctant to hurt people and some of the antagonists are outright sadistic. There’s certainly no shortage of violence, what with people getting shot, cut, beaten, tortured, mutilated . . . although thanks to the aforementioned bio-tech some manage to survive an awful lot of punishment. Probably the best sci-fi I’ve read in quite some time.

Big Boy’s Rules – Mark Urban
A comprehensive overview of the use of the SAS in Northern Ireland between 1976 – 1987. I bought this from a charity shop because I remember seeing it referenced in a book I read at university on the SAS in popular culture3. Does a pretty thorough job considering the dense veil of secrecy lying over the whole affair, although of course an awful lot remains in the realm of allegations and conjecture. There’s a refreshing lack of the rah-rah jingoism that usually afflicts discussions of this nature and neither is there the uncritical hero-worship you often get when dealing with elite military units. The evidence is laid out clearly and generally seems to support Urban’s argument that the SAS were used to deliberately ambush and kill IRA terrorists when there were practicable non-lethal alternatives. It equally makes it clear that this was done in such a way that the authorities could deny it without technically lying, and that the command structure is set up in such a way that nearly everyone involved could genuinely think it was someone else’s responsibility. An interesting, concise treatment of what is obviously a niche subject matter.

Age of Ra – James Lovegrove
Unashamedly silly military fantasy. The ancient Egyptian gods have destroyed all rival divinities and now rule over humanity with the Earth split between the younger gods, whose constant squabbling leads to constant war. But in Egypt, now the worlds only secular state, a rebellion against the gods is beginning; a British soldier falls in with these rebels and their leader, the charismatic Lightbringer, whilst Ra tries to persuade the rest of the gods to stop their infighting. Fast-moving, knockabout action, the literary equivalent to one of those mid-range action films that has a someone you vaguely recognise as the lead and decent enough special effects, but isn’t big enough to be a proper blockbuster. Turned out not to be as derivative of Stargate as I’d assumed it would be from the synopsis, also the identity of the Lightbringer wasn’t what I was expecting. Clearly has no pretensions to be anything other than empty, disposable entertainment and does a perfectly acceptable job of it; about as substantial as candyfloss. I suppose I wouldn’t really recommend it, but I’m not sorry I read it – after all, it isn’t every book that features a brief section on the military usage of mass-produced mummies.

Nothing Lasts Forever – Roderick Thorp
Joe Leland, ex-NYPD, is in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve for a big party hosted by his daughter’s employer. Midway through, a group of heavily armed terrorists sieze control of the skyscraper and take all the employees hostage; Joe is forced to worm his way through the building trying to fight the terrorists whilst the LAPD lay siege to the place. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this 1979 novel was later adapted into the all-time classic Die Hard4. I was surprised just how close the adaptation was, with most of the major elements and set pieces in the movie coming directly from the novel. There are some important differences, such as the protagonists history and the bad guys motivations, but most of the changes are pretty much cosmetic. The core of the story is the same, that of a man hunting and being hunted through the corridors, elevators and ventilation shafts of the tower, trying to outwit his ruthless enemy. Leland uses his surroundings, studying the building and trying to work out how he can use it against his better armed and more numerous opponents; in this situation it is the cop rather than the terrorists who is the real ‘urban guerilla’. A lot of time is spent on his psychological state, and as time goes on his struggles wear him down both physically and mentally. The way he swings between fear, cunning and sheer rage feels convincing, as does his ever increasing exhaustion. He may be an ex-cop, a counter-terrorism expert and a great shot but he’s not the walking badge-and-gun that you often get in this kind of story. A good read, especially if you’re a fan of the film.

Rape of the Fair Country – Alexander Cordell
Classic historical novel set in South Wales during the 19th century, when the forges and furnaces of English ironmasters dominated the area. The plot follows the trials of the Mortymers, a slightly-better-off working class family, as tensions between the ironmasters and the new trade unions grow. Meanwhile, the Chartists are arming and calling for a rising against the aristocracy. Cordell wastes no time showing the brutality of the world they live in, where working meant backbreaking, dangerous labour and strikes meant starvation. Hardly a chapter goes by without mention of someone being crippled or killed in the mines or the blast furnaces, or of wages falling and prices rising. As the title suggests there is also a recurring image of the naturally beautiful countryside being despoiled and desecrated by heavy industry; the same is true of the people who have been brutalised by their surroundings, with men drinking away their wages and beating their wives. The characters aren’t quite so well realised, and occasionally they come close to being stereotypes – the men are strong, lusty and stubborn whilst the women are either beautiful and passionate or gossips and sluts. Also nearly everyone is a natural singer. In parts I did think it laid the ‘Welsh-ness’ on a bit thick; though sorely oppressed by the English foreigners they stick fast to their rights, and with the sun rising over the mountains they’ve a song in their hearts. . . Perhaps it’s just me. And of course there’s always the fact that if you’re familiar with the relevant history you’ll have a good idea how it ends. Still, these are minor quibbles and overall it’s a moving portrait of people struggling for their dignity in the face of oppression.

——

1 Yes, but more so.
2 Who, sadly for them, was not a vampire.
3 Why I was reading that book, I’ve no idea.
4 If it doesn’t sound familiar, you should be ashamed of yourself!