Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episodes 10 & 11

It's kind of fortuitous that I ran out of time to review Episode 10 before watching Episode 11, because they really are one episode screened over two.

Having the name of Tyler Gray really doesn't help Michael that much. The man is a ghost who doesn't really work for any one employer, he may not have even been using that name when he went after Anson. Fortunately Tom Card has access to all sorts of footage and technology and he's got a picture of Tyler Gray, he also knows where he can be found. Panama. Card gives that intel to Michael and tells him that it's his operation if he wants to take Gray out. Michael insists that because of their connection to the case he be allowed to take Sam, Jesse and Fiona with him. Card agrees, but also adds a CIA agent by the name of Brady Pressman be added to it. He had a vested interest in the Anson Fullerton case. Michael protests, but Card overrides him and says that Pressman is already in Panama City and will be waiting for them there.

It's a running gag in the show that Michael doesn't like working south of the border, he never even learned how to speak Spanish, despite growing up in, and now operating out of Miami. Fiona seems to have an even bigger issue with it, though. She was very whiny in a Season 5 episode when they did a job there and she's doing it again almost as soon as wheels are down.

Pressman is initially treated with suspicion as an outsider by the group. Jesse, himself an outsider to an extent, cuts him a little more slack, and is friendlier. Fiona is particularly hostile towards him, although Michael after hearing about his background and his reasons for joining the army and then the CIA warms very much to him.

Maddie meets with Card and manages to get some time alone in a room with Michael's file and the details of the Fullerton case. Maddie doesn't seem to buy Card's nice guy act, but nor should she, because his smiles don't ever reach his eyes.

Before the team in Panama can move on Gray they're ambushed and wind up stranded in a strange city with no support, largely useless weapons and Jesse is doing a John McClane and walking around without shoes, he even gets glass in his feet.

Despite the setbacks they do corner Gray and Michael gets up close and personal with him. Gray tells Michael that he was working for Card when he shot Anson, and if he doesn't believe him to ring Card and he correctly predicts that Card will lie about where Gray is and tell Michael to stay put.

Sure enough Card gives Michael false details about where they've tracked Gray and to stay where he is. Michael, already suspicious of Card, leaves the phone there and gets out of the building, just in time to see it bombed by a US fighter jet. They're now on the run from their own forces.

Pressman feels more betrayed than anyone and sacrifices himself to allow Michael, Fiona, Sam, Jesse and even Gray to live and go after Card.

So they're stuck in Panama City with no back up and no real way to get back home, plus they have a hostile prisoner in Gray with them.

Fiona manages to get a local cargo pilot interested in her and they concoct a plan to get on his plane and smuggle themselves on board and force him to fly to Miami.

Back home, Maddie receives a phone call from Michael on a neighbour's cell phone. Michael uses a payphone in Panama and identifies himself to the neighbour as Maddie's nephew. He tells Maddie about Card's betrayal and asks her to contact a hacker friend of Sam's who can fix the FAA records to allow them to fly into Miami.

The hacker; Dixon, who we have seen before, has only just gotten out of house arrest and is rather reluctant to do another illegal favour for Sam, that is until Maddie gives him an ultimatum. If he doesn't do this and Michael somehow manages to get home he'll kill Dixon. If Michael doesn't get home, then she'll kill him. Maddie is very believable, and she does some wonderful distracting of the security guard at the FAA building to allow Dixon to work his magic.

The problem for Michael and Co south of the border is that the pilot is the cousin of a drug kingpin and flies cocaine across the border. They all get successfully on the plane, then Gray throws himself off, taking Michael with him, and the pilot can't abort his takeoff.

So Michael and Gray are prisoner to a vicious drug lord who wants to know where his cocaine is and will torture his captives to find out, and the rest of the gang are stranded somewhere in the nearby vicinity with a plane full of cocaine.

Sam and Jesse barter for a cell phone with a local kid and call the drug lord. They'll give him the GPS location of the plane once he leaves their friends safe and sound at a local hotel.

Gray, who still believes what he read in Michael's file, turns on Michael and agrees to help their captor find his plane and kill the rest of the thieves. Michael tells Gray he knows how Card operates and that he can understand why he's fallen under his spell, but the man will turn on him. Then under torture he refuses to give up his friends, the drug lord starts kicking Michael to death and Gray demands to be let loose so that he can operate effectively. Once loose he kills a a guard, takes his gun and shoots the drug lord. When Michael refused to roll over on the rest of the gang, Gray knew that he wasn't the same heartless bastard he'd read about in the file, and while he doesn't say it, he does have his doubts about Card.

Jesse and Sam get Michael and Gray out and they all fly back to Miami. Michael then has to work out how to break the news to his mother that instead of killing Nate's murderer, he allied with him. Everyone is together on operations Get Tom Card, though.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 9

It's a little like it took the show a few episodes after Nate's death to kick start itself again. Everyone knows that the shooting of Anson and Nate wasn't just some random thing done by some one with sniper abilities, so why dick around trying to make the audience think that it was.

The information Jesse and Pearce (still really pissed off that they wrote her out) got indicates that Myers sold a special military rifle to a private security firm. Michael has to get into that firm and find out who used that gun. 

The problem there is that firms like this guard their information jealously and they don't just talk to anyone, much less a part time CIA operative who has been on a burned spies list.

So Michael poses as wealthy businessman Kruger, who wants to hire the firm to guard interests he has in some of the worlds hotspots. Sam is his 2IC. However they're a harder nut to crack than he first thought and it won't be easy to get the intel he wants.

Problem no 2 comes in the form of Agents Bailey and Manaro from the CIA. For anyone who doesn't remember them, they're incompetent desk jockeys who nearly got Sam killed in The Fall of Sam Axe, and they've held a grudge against him about it ever since. Because Fiona signed an agreement to be a CIA asset to get out of jail, they're calling it in and want to use her on a sting going after an Eastern European gangster who they think is selling secrets to enemies of the state.

Michael insists on being part of that mission. Bailey and Manaro protest, but they're both terrified of Michael and are forced to go along with him on that.

Sam drafts Jesse in to help him with the other job. By offering Pryon's go between a job with Michael's 'firm' in Dubai they gain access to the records. They pinpoint the user of the gun to one operative, someone who goes only by the initials of T.G. They can't get anything else, so Michael has to ask specifically for someone who matches T.G's skill set.

The other job that Fiona was working on was interesting. It turned out to be a con. The girlfriend who advised Bailey and Manaro about her sugar daddy's activities was actually pulling a con of her own. She was the one selling information, but she had to get someone else to get the data for her, so that she could hide it. A bluff from Fiona is what saves them all. Michael and Fiona agree not to report Bailey and Manaro's gross incompetence to their superiors as long as this job cancels out Fiona's agreement, and she's free to go back to living her normal life without further CIA interference.

The head of Pryon meets with Michael and warns him off. He knows what Michael's trying in asking for someone matching T.G, and he doesn't want any part of it. Just before he's shot and killed by an unseen sniper he gives Michael the name Tyler Gray (it even sounds like a badass name), unfortunately he can't answer the question of who Tyler Gray is. This will be an interesting manhunt and was Gray the guy behind it all, or was he just acting on someone else's orders, and who was that? I do like the way they've started to set these things up at the end of nearly every episode since 6.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (G)

The cupboard was looking a bit bare early on. I could only find one real standout, but a think and a sane of the bookshelves gave me some inspiration, and here are the G authors. I think they cover a fairly varied range of topics, too.

Parke Godwin - January 28, 1929 - June 19, 2013. Not a lot of people really know about Parke Godwin, and in these days of high profile authors, he was very much the opposite. He wasn't just a writer, and had worked as a radio operator, research technician, an actor, an advertising man, a dishwasher and a maitre'd. Really the full gamut of jobs that often seem to be attributed to authors after they're published. He was active from the early 1970's, however the 1980's is when his career really took off. His short story The Fire When It Comes won the World Fantasy Award for novellas in 1982 and it was also nominated for the Hugo. He's best known for his reinterpretation of the Arthur legend in Firelord and Beloved Exile in the 1980's. The Last Rainbow is sometimes referred to as the 3rd volume of that series, but it's a separate novel about the Saint Patrick legend. The only thing it really has in common with the other 2 is the presence of the mythical Prydn. The Lovers: The Legend of Tristan and Yseult published in 1999 under the pseudonym of Kate Hawks is another of his novels to deal with the Arthurian mythos. He also had some success with versions of the Robin Hood legend in Sherwood and Robin and the King. He was the guest of honour at the 2011 World Fantasy Con. In 2012 he had problems with a declining short and long term memory and had to be placed under care. Parke Godwin passed away in 2013 at the age of 84.

It was a no contest when I had to think of my favourite Parke Godwin novel. Firelord won hands down. It's not only my favourite Godwin book, and my favourite Arthur book, it's one of my all time favourites. I often describe it as Arthur as he never was, but probably should have been. It reimagines Arthur as a Briton chieftain at the end of the Roman power in Britain. There's almost no mention of Merlin in it, and it reads as quite historically accurate, which I suspect it was in most parts. One exception is the Prydn, these were an invention of Godwin's. They seem to be what the people of the British Isles based their legends of the little folk on. The way Godwin writes about them, they're some sort of missing link, who have always inhabited the British Isles, even before anyone else settled them. They predate the Celts and the Romans. Morgana le Fay is Prydn, and at one point Arthur is one of her husbands, they practice polygamy, but only women are allowed to have multiple husbands. It's just such a wonderful epic story full of all that makes the Arthur legend such an enticing and exciting one. Godwin's take on things is different, but it's one that stays with the reader long after they close the book.

Further and related reading: Godwin has plenty on his catalogue, as well as his quasi historical epics there are science fictional works like Waiting for the Galactic Bus and it's two sequels (The Snake Oil Wars and The Snake Oil Variations), they're more satirical than anything, and rather like the works of Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) use humour to poke fun at modern American pop culture. The second of the Arthur novels (Beloved Exile) follows Guinevere after the fall of Arthur and details the end of the age of legend and the rise of the Angles and Saxons. While The Last Rainbow is also set in a very early Britain and is often thought to be part of the Firelord series, it isn't. It's about Saint Patrick of Ireland, and covers the years before he went to Ireland, and details his experiences with the Prydn. Godwin was also interested in the Robin Hood legend and wrote two books on that as well. He uses the name Robin Hood, but they take place just after William the Conqueror came to England, not during the reign of King John.

Arthurian fiction is almost a subgenre unto itself. It of course begins with Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory. That started and popularised the legend and everything else came after it. T.H White's The Once and Future King is one of the best known retellings, and it was some of that book that Disney adapted into their animated version The Sword and the Stone. The 1980's seemed to see a resurgence in Arthurian fiction and in that decade as well as Godwin's Firelord, there was Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, which retold the legend from a feminist perspective. Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle first came out in the 1980's, it was completed in the '90's. Popular historical novelist Bernard Cornwell wrote The Warlord Chronicles which are a mixture of historical fiction and Arthurian legend.  There's so much written and so much to choose from that it's an impossible task to list it all in one blog post.

William Goldman is better known as a screenwriter than a novelist, and not many of his films feature fantasy, but one very important entry does. He first achieved success in films with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which netted him his first Academy Award. He followed that up with the commercially successful The Hot Rock, The Stepford Wives and The Great Waldo Pepper, he then adapted The Marathon Man from his own novel and garnered another Academy Award for All The President's Men. A Bridge Too Far and Heat were also commercial successes, as was cult classic The Princess Bride, which was also adapted from his novel, and is far more different than The Marathon Man was from the source material. He had further success with Misery,  A Few Good Men (he consulted on that), Maverick, The Chamber and Good Will Hunting, which he also consulted on. As he's aged, he's slowed down, mostly working on works from Stephen King (he's been involved with at least 4 films made from works by Stephen King), and his last project was Wild Card, also based on his novel, in 2014.

There are more than a few people who don't realise that The Princess Bride was a novel before it was a film. It's a really clever idea from Goldman, and while the film itself breaks the 4th wall, the book takes meta to a whole new level. Goldman invented a different persona for himself as the author of the book. He gave himself a wife who was a psychiatrist (he was married for 30 years, but I don't think his wife was a psychiatrist) and a son (Goldman has two children, both daughters). He then invented a fairy tale written by someone called S. Morgenstern. He claims that his book is that fairy tale, but with all the boring bits removed. He went to great lengths to actually make this appear as real as possible, to the extent of inventing the mythical country of Florin, from which Morgenstern hailed, as well as the fictional Goldman's ancestors, which was how he got told the story in the first place. In anniversary editions of the book he claimed that he had wanted to adapt Morgenstern's sequel Buttercup's Baby, but was unable to do because the writer's estate had wanted Stephen King to write the adaptation (this may be a reference to Goldman's own success with adapting works written by Stephen King). The story itself is the classic fairytale and peopled with the characters that suit that story: the vengeful swordsman Inigo Montoya, the loyal, strong giant Fezzik, the beautiful, plucky, but distant princess, the lovelorn Wesley, who pulls double duty as the Dread Pirate Roberts, and the villains: Count Rugen, the six fingered man, who also killed Inigo's father, and the sneering Prince Humperdinck. It's just great fun and by reading the novel and seeing the film you get a more complete experience.

Further and related reading: Goldman only wrote two fantasy novels, but he does have other work in print aside from The Marathon Man. He got his start writing novels, his first book The Golden Temple came out in 1958 and it wasn't until the late 60's that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid launched him into the upper stratosphere as far as screenwriting went. Magic, which came out after  The Princess Bride (it was originally published in 1973) is horror. There was an unusual piece called The Silent Gondoliers in 1983, which is also written under the S. Morgenstern pseudonym, and it too is fantasy.

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels break the 4th wall in the way that characters enter other works of fiction, not seeming to realise that they themselves are fictional. Jim Hines' Magic Ex Libris series also has characters pulling items from fiction, and he also references his own work by having his main character make a pet of the fire spider Smudge, who first appeared in the same author's Jig the Goblin series.

Kenneth Grahame - March 8, 1859 - July 6, 1932. You wouldn't think that a man who wrote one of the most loved and whimsical books for children of all time, would have spent most of his working life as a banker, but Kenneth Grahame did just that. By the time of his retirement in 1908, Grahame had spent all of his working life at the Bank of England, and he had risen through the ranks to become the institution's secretary. His retirement allowed him to pursue his real passion, which was writing. Even when at the bank he had contributed stories to various London periodicals. A number of the stories were collected and published in Pagan Papers, The Golden Age and Dream Days. Rather like Richard Adams and Watership Down, The Wind in the Willows began it's life as stories that Kenneth Grahame told to his young son, Alastair and it was actually the boy's headstrong nature that was transformed into many people's favourite amphibian, the reckless, boastful, wasteful idler Mr Toad. Unfortunately young Alastair was plagued by health problems throughout his life and committed suicide on a railway track while an undergraduate at Oxford (Grahame himself had wanted to attend Oxford, but financial pressures forced him to forgo this for his banking career). Grahame lived for 12 years after his son's death and will be forever remembered for the bedtime stories he told the boy.

There could be no other book than the much loved The Wind in the Willows. It's a lovely book, and you get that same sense of lazy summer days spent by the river, just enjoying life, when you read it. It's not all about that either, with the made adventures of Mr Toad and the confrontations between the wealthy amphibian and the band of villainous weasels that covet his wealth and lodgings in the sumptuous Toad Hall. It's a book about friendship and pastoral life. It pokes gentle fun at the society of the day and the people that inhabited it. It made timeless heroes of the likes of Ratty, Mole and Badger. A book to be read for the fun of reading.

Further and related reading: Grahame was not prolific and much of his short fiction before The Wind in the Willows really hasn't lived on. One possible exception is The Reluctant Dragon, which appeared in the Dream Days collection. Like The Wind in the Willows, it was also adapted into a film by Disney. I don't think I've seen the animated version, I can only hope they did it better justice than they did with The Wind in the Willows. In the 1990's William Horwood wrote a series of sequels. Horwood was already known for his Duncton Chronicles (Watership Down with moles) and other books featuring animal protagonists by that stage. 

Two novelists that are known for writing books that feature animals as the main characters, and ones that act and dress like people of the day are Beatrix Potter, and she predates Grahame by a few years, so may have proven to be an inspiration of sorts. The other author that springs to mind is Brian Jacques with his long running Redwall series of books. I also should mention Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series, although that takes place on a secondary world where animals are the dominant life form.

Ken Grimwood - February 27, 1944 - June 6, 2003. Ken Grimwood worked mostly in radio, while he wrote fiction on the side. He mostly edited news, but the success of his 1987 novel Replay allowed him to move into writing full time. Grimwood had 3 published novels under his belt by the time Replay broke through in 1987, it also won the World Fantasy Award in 1988, beating out some impressive competition, including Stephen King (Misery), previous winner John Crowley (Aegypt), Tim Powers (On Stranger Tides), Orson Scott Card (Seventh Son) and Clive Barker (Weaveworld). Grimwood continued to write after Replay, developing an interest in the environment. He unfortunately died of a heart attack at the tragically young age of 59, and was working on a sequel to Replay at the time of his death.

I'd actually passed Replay over on more than one occasion, it always looked like a science fiction book. The cover above is one of the best I could find. It's suffered from some truly horrible covers. It's a fantastic book. It's rather like Groundhog Day or even the time travel show Quantum Leap. The book's protagonist keeps dying at the age of 43, no matter what precautions he takes, and is doomed to restart his life 25 years earlier. He keeps trying to live it differently, to make a difference, to himself sometimes, to the world in others, and has just about given up when he meets a woman who has the same curse. It's not a normal novel, either about time travel or in terms of fantasy, but it is one that once you've started is hard to stop reading. The film rights were sold, and it's a great premise for one as TV shows like Quantum Leap and films like Groundhog Day and Back to the Future have proven, but it was never made, and as that all took place nearly 30 years ago, I think it's unlikely that it ever will.

Further and related reading: Ken Grimwood has 5 other books of note: Breakthrough,  Two Plus Two, Into the Deep, The Voice Outside and Elise. They're all different in terms of what they speak about and over the genres that they cover. Replay is the only genuine fantasy though. 

It's rather hard to recommend anything like it because I haven't ever read anything else that quite matches it. The idea behind the TV show Quantum Leap was similar, but that was straight science fiction. The 2nd Back to the Future Film could almost be accused of ripping it off, because the protagonist of Replay does on more than one occasion use his knowledge of future events to make himself a very wealthy man, although I think that instalment of Back to the Future probably owes more to It's a Wonderful Life than Grimwood's book. One that does spring to mind is Wesley Chu's science fiction The Lives of Tao, which gave me a rather Replay as I read.

That's it for the G's. I'm looking forward to the H's, because while I can only find one genuine contender it's one of my real favourites.

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 8

Now that Rebecca has been cleared of any involvement with Anson's killing and Nate's, that character presumably rides off into the sunset and the appropriate authorities look into the incident. Only the FBI don't seem to be progressing to Michael Westen's schedule. I was rather interested that the matter was being looked at by the FBI. Given that it happened during a CIA sanctioned operation, both Michael and Pearce are CIA agents, and they were overseeing it, I would have thought that any investigation should be undertaken by the CIA.

Michael approaches one of the FBI agents looking after it with a loaded gun and demands answers. The agent says that they were told not to look too hard and to shut down the investigation. Pearce, while scolding Michael over his approach, confirms that the FBI have shut down their investigation and that the order came from within the CIA, which explains why the Agency didn't handle it. Pearce seems to have become a default member of the team now. She hangs out at the loft eating Michael's yoghurt with Fi and watching Sam drink beer. She regularly teams up with Jesse (Coby Bell and Lauren Stamile really did make a great couple). She's pretty much one of the gang.

Sam uses one of his FBI contacts (I thought it may be one or both of the agents that they've dealt with in the past, but it wasn't) to find out a little more. He can get them the file, which has information that they can use, but he'll want a favour for it.

The favour involves keeping a witness who can put a major crime boss away, alive. To do that Michael has to pretend to be a Boston based criminal who has just been taken into custody by the FBI. The agents are the one they're doing the job for and Agent Finley, Sam in his Chuck Finley persona, he does get to slam Michael's head into the headrest of a car, personally I think that was payback for some of the things Michael has put Sam though so far this season. Fiona insists on being involved. She bigs up her hair, puts on an accent and comes across as a believable modern day gangster's moll. That particular storyline is very standard for the show. Michael and Fiona get in car chases. Fiona seems to have traded in her blue Hyundai for a newer red model. Obviously Hyundai still had a product placement contract with the show. They get separated, into dangerous situations, stuff blows up, and ultimately they deliver the bad guy into the hands of the FBI.

Jesse and Pearce get information from the report that has the make of bullet used to kill Anson. It's something that's only used in a particular rifle and normal civilians shouldn't have access to it. It's a government issue thing and that means they're looking for an unethical weapons supplier. It isn't one of Fi's people, it's someone higher than that. Everything points to a hard partying government supplier by the name of Wayne Myerson. Jesse puts on a sting, Pearce is meant to remain in the background. However when push comes to shave with Myerson and Jesse, the salesman calls Jesse's bluff and threatens to bring his politician father into the mix, until Pearce shows herself and uses a counter threat. They get what they want.

Pearce arrives at the loft, but can't really join in the celebrations. Myerson's father made a complaint, and when the CIA stacked that up against some other things Pearce had done since joining up with Michael (getting Max's killer aside), they decided that she was a liability as long as she was of use to Michael, she's been reassigned to a dead end job in Mumbai. She has no hard feelings about it all though and actually tells Michael that he can pay her back by getting Nate's killer. I'll miss Pearce, but she really was too ethical to be a CIA agent. She'd be better off going into law enforcement, maybe even the FBI, or customs, possibly private security. Be interesting to see if whoever takes over from her puts Michael on a tighter leash and it was a good way to mark the halfway point of the season.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 7

I really do think that the first 6 episodes of this season were a hangover from Season 5, and had they been able to do it, most of what took place (Fiona's incarceration, Anson's death, and the shooting of Nate Westen) would have happened at the end of Season 5, rather than kick off Season 6.

This is the first REAL episode of Season 6, and it concerns itself largely with the aftermath of Nate's death. Not just how badly Michael's relationship with his mother has been damaged, and the funeral (that actually comes at the end of the episode), but about who killed him and why.

The most obvious suspect is Rebecca. She had motive (hated Anson as much, if not more, than anyone else) and she's shown in the past that she didn't care about collateral damage, which is really what Nate was. He wasn't the target, he just had the misfortune to be standing next to Anson and whoever shot him used a high enough calibre bullet to make sure that the job was done, and that passed through his body into Nate's.

Michael doesn't want to believe Rebecca was playing him, but when they go to where the tracker Sam planted on her directed them, it appears that she was. The tracker was in the room (Sam still doesn't know how she worked out it was in the heel of her shoe, however she was a pro) and she was long gone. Long enough to get to Atlantic City and kill Anson.

Sam gets a call from Elsa and asks if he can take off and let Michael and Fiona deal with chasing down Rebecca. They say yes.

We finally get to see the mysterious Elsa. I'd always got the impression that she was blonde (maybe it was the name, and this was before Frozen came out), and a sort of Real Housewives type, a lady who lunches. She's brunette and a high powered executive. She also has a son, a borderline juvenile delinquent. Evan (her son) is why she called Sam.

He stole a diamond bracelet from her, but that's not the issue, she does want it back, but she's concerned that he may be in serious trouble. Sam takes Jesse with him and they try to overwhelm him. It turns out he's in debt big time. To a vicious thug called Morris played by Richard Burgi, with a mixture of menace and sleaze. Morris won't break Evan's legs if he steals a truck, Sam (called Chuck) and Jesse are his accomplices.

The truck is of course a mobile drug lab, that belongs to one of Morris' competitors. Jesse gets to make bombs in the back and hurl them at the pursuers while Sam and Evan try to escape. Michael eventually steps in, plays a crooked cop and pits Morris and his gang against the competitor, all of whom are armed with Mach 10's.

Sam reunites mother and son, advising them to patch up their differences over a bottle of tequila.

While this was happening Michael and Fiona were tracking down Rebecca. She was still in Miami, waiting for fake id. In a chase Michael manages to wound her, and she winds up at his loft. She didn't kill Nate, she wasn't in Atlantic City and she didn't have the means to hire someone else. She just wants to find her own brother and disappear. No one is any the wiser as to who killed Nate Westen, but his brother is prepared to die trying to track them down.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 6

This is an important episode. A very important episode. The events in Episode 6 resonate through the rest of this season and probably for the rest of the show's life. I just didn't realise it happened so early in the season.

Now let's put everyone in place here. Fiona is still in prison. The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly.
Michael is in Atlantic City with Jesse, Agent Pearce and Nate (yes, I did say Nate, it's not a typo), they're hunting Ansons hehehe!
Sam has been left at home in Miami, babysitting Maddie, and as it turns out Barry.

I'll cover the stories one by one and leave Michael's for last.

Fiona will be released. it's just a matter of timing. In the meantime some sleazy MI6 agent wants to put her in UK custody for the bombing of their embassy in Miami and her involvement with the IRA. Normally this probably wouldn't bother Fiona, but if certain people in Northern Ireland know that she's in British custody they'll go after her friends and family there to stop her from saying anything. MI6's reaction to that is along the lines of 'sucks to be you' and 'not my problem'. Fiona asks Ayn for another favour. Hide her just long enough for the CIA to spring her. However Ayn never does something for nothing. Fiona comes up with a plan to guarantee Ayn parole and stick it to the governor at the same time, by having her first hide Fiona and then be the one to find her. This works like a treat. I'm not really sure what Ayn did to get locked up, but judging by the way the governor was very confident she wouldn't be getting out until her sentence was done, it must have been something major.

Sam's not real happy about being left out of the hunt for Anson, but it's a CIA sanctioned job, with their manpower and equipment. Their only caveat was no Sam. As I've said 'sucks to be Sam Axe' this season. He and Maddie are all set to remain barricaded in her house and watch a Real Housewives marathon when they get a caller. It's Barry. I was so happy to see Barry. He really is my favourite recurring character, and he's been with the show from the start. Everyone's favourite money launderer has been shot by some of Fiona's old friends in the gun running business who are pissed off about events in the previous episode and are prepared to take it out on her associates. The FBI offered him immunity in exchange for his books, but Barry can't give them his paperwork until he clears a few clients including Michael, Sam and Fiona out of them. His books are hidden in a mansion belonging to a client (who I think pops up repeatedly in Season 7). Sam goes with him for protection. It looks like a simple in and out, until a crew of gunmen show up to silence Barry permanently. For an episode Barry becomes the client and Sam turns into Michael, holding a bunch of gunmen at bay with an arsenal composed of things people are likely to find around most households. It was fun to see the focus go on Sam like this for a while, and Renny Harlin (directed this episode) seemed to get a lot of enjoyment by having him shoot people and blow stuff up. When they get out of it all Barry said that he always regarded Sam as Michael's sidekick, but he's now his no 1 go to guy. Not sure if Sam's entirely happy about that arrangement.

While both of the ladies (Fiona and Pearce) are happy about how Michael dealt with Rebecca (Fiona's jealous and wasn't happy that Rebecca tried to kill Michael when she was working for Anson, and Pearce is annoyed that he dealt with someone wanted by the government, didn't tell her and then let her get away), they do have to admit it was in a good cause. Taking Anson down.

Michael has full control of this mission and his team consists of Pearce, Jesse and Nate. I don't think anyone is happy about Nate's involvement with it. Nate's there to drive and because he knows Atlantic City, but he sees what Michael does as a big adventure, playing at being spies, he doesn't respect the realities and the dangers of what Michael and his friends do, because big brother makes it all look so easy.

He tries hard, but doesn't cover himself in glory. He showed great initiative by getting rid of the partiers at the hotel by threatening to call the police. Michael ragged on him for threatening police activity which could have spooked Anson. He tried to help them out by ordering pizza to the room. Michael tore him a new one for ordering 4 pizzas to a room meant to be occupied by two people. Even Jesse and Pearce thought he was a bit harsh there.

As usual Anson was one step ahead, he had phones rigged to the room in the cut price motel, but wasn't actually there himself. They work out that he's near the airport, planning to flee again. Nate's on the road, upset at Michael's reaction to the pizza. Michael tells him to buy them time to get to Anson, but not to take any chances.

To make up for earlier failures, Nate sucker punches Anson and takes his gun. Anson confidently says that even if he does get taken into custody he knows too much for them to hold him. That's when a shot rings out and blood spatters Nate's face. He falls to the ground. Someone shot and killed Anson, but the bullet went through him and also hit Nate. That's about when Michael arrives and he's holding Nate in his arms when he dies.

This was the real end to Season 5 for mine. Anson's dead. And the mission for Season 6 is to find out who killed Anson and in the process murdered Nate Westen. It's a significant death. People die in Burn Notice, but they're really important to Michael on the level of a younger brother. 

Michael has to break the news to his mother. While Michael is probably her favourite, Nate was her baby and now her grandchild doesn't have a father. Her anger at Michael over getting Nate into this (while he denies it, he did do that, and he didn't really do a lot to discourage it, either) will take a long time to die and further fracture their already dysfunctional mother son relationship.

The episode ends with Michael meeting Fiona as she's released from prison and now Season 6 really starts.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 5

Just when I was getting used to the idea of Fiona in orange, it looks like they've gotten her out. And there were so many other prison storylines that they could have done. Maybe even brought in Linda Blair as a guest one episode.

Surprisingly it's Card who is the white knight. If Michael can get Fiona to turn in one of her gun running buddies, then Card will spring her and use her as a CIA asset. It is interesting that no one has ever thought of that before. With Fiona's background she could have all sorts of useful information and contacts.

Fiona doesn't much like Card. I don't think she's ever met him before, but she does know that he's guy who pulled Michael out of Ireland, which meant that he never really got to say goodbye to her or give her the chance to join him. Card tells Fiona that he had to pull Michael out because his cover was about to be blown (I'm not surprised, that accent wouldn't last for five minutes in a real Irish pub) and if it was then not only would Michael have been killed, so would Fiona. I don't buy it. Card is a snake.

Because it's her only way out, Fiona does do what she's asked, it's actually Michael who nearly blows it because he's working on another job. I should have mentioned this before, and it does pertain to Fiona and Michael's relationship (Burn Notice's secondary function is as the love story of Michael Westen and Fiona Glenanne), but in the opening credits he's amended his introduction of Fiona from trigger happy ex-girlfriend, to trigger happy girlfriend (it just doesn't sound right to me).

The gang seem to have teamed up with Rebecca, to help her find her brother and then roll over on Anson. No one wants to work with her directly. Jesse even takes the job of working with Nate over it. So Sam gets to be her 'handler'. Yes, in Season Six of Burn Notice it sucks to be Sam Axe.

Rebecca believes that a gangster thinks her brother did the dirty on him, so he's gone to ground. If they can get the guy off his case, then he may resurface. If Team Westen do that she'll give them what she can on Anson.

Michael pretends to be a twitchy ex-con who served time with the gangster's father and helps him get information that points to the gangster's girlfriend being the snitch. It's because he's doing this that he almost misses the meet that will get Fiona her ticket out of prison orange. Relations with he and Card have cooled, they seem almost civil when they first meet at the start of the episode, but they're snarling at each other by the end. It's an odd switch and doesn't really seem to have a reason.

There's an excellent car chase with Sam and Rebecca. Bruce Campbell's comic timing really makes it, and his conversation with Jesse to get him come help was one of the highlights of the episode for me. Rebecca holds up her end of the bargain and gives them some dirt on Anson that should help them get him. I'm a little annoyed that they're not going to keep Kristanna Loken's Rebecca around. I liked the way that she and Bruce Campbell worked together.

So the gang's all together to go get Anson Fullerton, and I think for better or worse, Nate is now part of the crew.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (F)

This time I was able to find more than one author, so that's good news. No need for me to prattle on here, so let's get to it.

As Raymond E. Feist graduated from college in 1977 and had his first book, the best seller Magician, published in 1982, his career has pretty much always read 'best selling fantasy author'. In between graduating and publishing Magician he did dabble a bit in role playing games, but I don't think it was ever a serious career path for him. The setting of Midkemia (where most of Feist's Riftwar books are set) was originally worked on as part of a role playing game that he and friends played during college.

Originally I don't think Feist wanted to get locked into writing endless Riftwar entries. After completing the first trilogy (Magician, which can quite easily be read as a standalone, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon) he moved away from it with Faerie Tale, a rather Stephen Kingish horror that also dealt with congress with the world of the fae in a similar way to Tom Deitz's YA Tales of David Sullivan. Readers wanted more Riftwar, though, and while Faerie Tale is now regarded quite fondly, Raymond Feist was steered back to the Riftwar. With Janny Wurtz he wrote the Empire trilogy, which is set on the Asian influenced world of Kelewan and only deals peripherally with Midkemia. That too was rather ground breaking for the time as Kelewan is clearly medieval Japan and not many fantasies at the time used that sort of setting.

Over the years he continued to churn out Riftwar books (at one point he did admit that he was writing them purely and simply to finance an expensive divorce). He did write some other non Riftwar work, but continued to be mostly known for that. His most recent book Magician's End (2013) was the 30th Riftwar book, published 31 years after Magician and as the title suggests it brought the saga to an end.

He doesn't have anything upcoming, but as far as I know is still an active writer and keeps a presence online at Crydee.com.

While Magician definitely has flaws (the storyline is rather cliched, the elves, dwarves and dragons are rather derivative of Tolkien, there are almost no important female characters and it could have been edited more ruthlessly) it's still a cut above what was passing for epic fantasy at the time.

While the storyline follows the orphan boy Pug growing up on the frontiers of the Midkemian empire, and there are strong hints that he has a great destiny, and the elves and dwarves stepped straight out of the pages of The Lord of the Rings, Magician still has some brilliant originality in it. That originality is the concept of the 'Rift'.

The Lord of the Rings, The Sword of Shannara, The Thomas Covenant Chronicles and The Belgariad all concerned themselves with magical artefacts and a struggle against a dark lord. That's not the case in Magician. A mad wizard opens a rift between the world of Midkemia and the world of Kelewan, and the Midkemians are fighting to keep their world free of the warlike Kelewanians. The dark lord stuff creeps into it in later volumes, but the idea of the rift really set Magician apart at the time.

While it is referred to as the first book of the Riftwar Cycle, and is called a trilogy along with Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon, it can be read as a standalone book, without needing to read the other two, which largely deal with different characters and tie up a few loose ends from the first book.

The characters had more depth than other fantasy epics and they were different in that they didn't follow the standard tropes. Pug's journey both on Midkemia and in Kelewan is different as he learns two types of magic and goes from unremarkable anonymity and slavery to unimaginable power on two worlds. There's the honourable Prince Arutha, the pirate Amos Trask and the cheeky young thief Jimmy the Hand. There are very few female characters of note, but Feist rectified that with Janny Wurtz in the Empire trilogy which is entirely about a young woman fighting to keep her house afloat in the dangerous and deadly games of houses on Kelewan.

It's an excellent entry into the world of epic fantasy and has more meat on it's bones than The Belgariad, and is less derivative than The Sword of Shannara.

Further and related reading: Raymond Feist wrote 30 Riftwar books of varying quality (some of the smaller standalones when he was doing it purely for the money are to be avoided I've been lead to believe. I did read one of them, Murder in La Mut, and that wasn't an experience I'd be eager to repeat) over the years. He managed to get some variation in them too, despite the familiar setting. The Empire trilogy in particular sets itself apart by being set entirely on Kelewan and being based on medieval Japanese culture and politics. Rise of a Merchant Prince is, as the title suggests, largely concerned with the trade and banking in Midkemia which appears to be based more on the mercantile Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries rather than the faux medieval Europe which most other epic fantasies of the time dealt with. Faerie Tale is a contemporary fantasy/horror, which is totally different from anything else by the same author.

As a result there are plenty of places readers can look to find similar works or those inspired by his writings. Even now the concept of the rift is uncommon, but a recent example that uses a similar concept is Kameron Hurley's ground breaking and gender fluid The Mirror Empire. Writers are starting to break away from the medieval European influenced settings, but there aren't many Asian ones like the Empire trilogy around, one that does use medieval Japan as it's setting is Lian Hearn's five book series Tales of the Otori. That one's partly about ninjas, so you know it must be good. The author of The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch, has admitted to being influenced by parts of Rise of a Merchant Prince when writing the book and creating his setting of Camorr. Faerie Tale always reminds me of Stephen King, but I think that's got a lot to do with the setting of contemporary East Coast USA. The closest thing to those is Tom Deitz's David Sullivan series which was coming out at about the same time. Both Feist's book and Deitz's series dealt with incursions of the fae into our world. That's also a theme of Seanan McGuire's October Daye urban fantasy series.

Prior to working out that what he really wanted to do with his life was write silly books for smart people Jasper Fforde worked in the film industry, mostly as a focus puller (I had to look it up, too, they maintain image sharpness on what's being filmed). One of the films he worked on was the first Pierce Brosnan Bond Goldeneye (if anyone's read my James Bond series of posts they'll know that I find that one of the series' superior entries). However I digress. Jasper Fforde is also the cousin (by marriage) of popular 'chick lit' author Katie Fforde.

In 2001 The Eyre Affair came out. People loved it, and it was followed by 6 novels starring the literary detective Thursday Next. Along the way Fforde also managed the Nursery Crimes duology set in the same alternate universe as the Thursday Next books. The first of those, The Big Over Easy, was actually a reworking of his original novel that failed find a publisher. There was also the rather dystopian Shades of Grey: The Road to Saffron. That was the first of a planned series, but it came out in 2009 and while sequels have been mentioned the release dates seem to keep getting pushed out with no sign of them. He also completed a YA trilogy: The Dragonslayer.

The last Thursday Next novel (The Woman Who Died A Lot) was published in 2012, and the third book in The Dragonslayer series (The Eye of Zoltar) came out in 2014. In rather Piers Anthony or Douglas Adams fashion, there's a 4th book in the 'trilogy' planned for 2016. Followups to Shades of Grey keep being mentioned for 2016 and 2017, but I wouldn't hold my breath. A standalone called Early Riser is planned for 2015.

Jasper Fforde maintains an active presence online at jasperfforde.com, and the Fforde Fiesta is held in Swindon every year where fans celebrate the chaotic mess that is the alternate 1985 Thursday Next inhabits complete with reenactments of the game show Name That Fruit, Hamlet speed reading competitions and interactive performances of Richard III.

I probably could have put the entire Thursday Next series here, and while they were all highly entertaining (a sequence towards the end of the second volume Lost In A Good Book still brings tears of laughter to my eyes) the others didn't quite have the same spark of originality and unbridled lunacy that the opener did. It's hard to classify The Eyre Affair, it defies categorisation in that way.  It reminds me of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, but at the same time it's totally different. It's set in England in an alternate 1985 where the Crimean War is still being fought, Wales has seceded from the UK and runs a thriving black market in cheese. The Beatles still broke up, but we never discovered bananas. DNA sequencing has been perfected to the extent that people keep extinct animals as pets (Thursday herself has a pet dodo called Pickwick) and neanderthals walk the streets. Croquet is a full contact sport and people worship books. That's just a sampling. The fun really kicks of when the arch villain Acheron Hades finds a way of actually getting into books and threatens to alter much loved classics, and Thursday has to go after him. A lot of the action takes place in the pages of Jane Eyre and forever alters the ending. You don't have to have read all the works of fiction that Fforde mentions in this and the other Thursday Next books to enjoy them, but it does help. Especially Jane Eyre, without that knowledge it's kind of like reading a joke that you're not quite into. However the book is worth it just for the performance of Richard III that Thursday and her boyfriend Landen Parke-Laine attend, which is a Shakespearean version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show audience participation screenings.

Further and related reading: Fforde has a bit to choose from. Lovers of literature and fiction in general will get a kick out of the Thursday Nexts. Nursery Crimes is set in that universe, but is totally different. It's a police procedural with nursery rhyme characters as the principals, to give an idea, Jack Spratt is a jaded detective. Shades of Grey was rather dystopian, and set in a world where colour means everything. The Dragonslayer series is aimed at a YA audience, but can also be read by adults. The series' main character Jennifer Strange, is rather like a young Thursday and the setting feels like his alternate 1985 from the Thursday Next series, but without the ability to enter works of fiction.

Because of the way he moves around it makes recommending similar works fun. He writes on totally different subjects than Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, but has a rather similar style. Pratchett was also fond of co opting other fictional concepts and lampooning them in his Discworld series, and people should read him just because anyway. The idea of taking well known works of literature and having fun with them isn't new and Quirk Classics have had fun with it in recent years, rewriting such classics as Pride and Prejudice (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and Anna Karenina (Android Karenina). Lev Grossman looks at his characters entering works of fiction in The Magicians, and there's a similar concept at work in Jonathan Carroll's The Land of Laughs. The concept is also used in Jim Hines' Magic Ex Libris series, where certain magically powered librarians, known as Libriomancers can pull items from books for use in whatever adventure they're involved in at the time. The idea of stories being real is also behind Bill Willingham's Fables and the TV shows Once Upon A Time and Grimm

Charles G. Finney December 1, 1905 - April 16, 1984. Because Charles Finney was named after the evangelist Charles Grandison Finney (sources differ on whether or not he was the evangelist's great grandson or not), it was really hard to find a picture of him, and I'm not even sure that the one above is really him or not. He spent time in the US Army stationed in Tientsin, China in 1929, before returning to the US and becoming the editor of the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, a position he held for the next 40 years. It was in Tientsin that he developed the ideas that later made it into his best known work The Circus of Dr. Lao. While he's best known for that book, it wasn't his only novel. He wrote 6 all up, two were collections and one was a memoir. His final book was The Magician out of Manchuria, his time in China seemed to have made a profound impact on him.

Even by the standards of the 1930's, when The Circus of Dr. Lao was published, at under 150 pages, it's a short book, and only takes a few hours to read. It's the story of a travelling show of oddities, and their visit to a small town in Arizona and the effect it's curiosities have on the local populace. Despite it's brevity it manages to pack a lot into it. The themes move effortlessly from dark humour to speculative philosophy, and it's the kind of book that stays with you for a long time after having read it.  It won the Most Original book of 1935. It was filmed as the 7 Faces of Dr. Lao in 1964. The film starred Tony Randall as the 7 'faces' which formed the show's attractions. The book has affected and inspired a number of writers, especially Ray Bradbury.

Further and related reading: Finney's other books and short stories also contained fantasy amongst them, but The Circus of Dr. Lao is the only one that's really lived on to the current day.  Ray Bradbury used it as inspiration for Something Wicked This Way Comes, also about a travelling circus, although rather more sinister than Dr. Lao's. Peter S. Beagle's classic The Last Unicorn also features a travelling show of oddities, and it too was influenced by Finney's book. It's actually rather surprising that circuses don't feature more in fantasy, given that they're often referred to as places of magic and mystery. Robert Jordan even included a type of circus in his Wheel of Time series, and had some of the characters travel with one as performers for a time. One of the more recent circus fantasies, which did at times remind me of The Circus of Dr. Lao was Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus.

With over 100 novels covering original material, series, standalones, collections and especially film tie ins, Alan Dean Foster would have to be one of the most prolific science fiction and fantasy authors of the past 40 years. He's better known as a science fiction author and will probably be best remembered for being the guy who novelised George Lucas' script for Star Wars. While the idea was Lucas', Foster added a lot of depth to the concept that later became accepted canon for the universe. He was also the first person to write a related Star Wars novel with Splinter of the Mind's Eye. He later returned to the franchise in the early part of the 21st century, but only remained long enough to complete one more novel (The Approaching Storm). He's also well known for his work on film related novelisations and tie ins, being awarded the title of Grand Master from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers in 2008. Most of his work is science fiction, but I include him here for a fantasy series called Spellsinger. Alan Dean Foster is in his late 60's now, and his work has decreased over the last decade, although he had the final two parts of his Tipping Point trilogy came out in 2012.

After mentioning Spellsinger above, of course that one was always going to find itself here as my recommendation of Alan Dean Foster's work. I'm going to get very specific here and only include the first 6 books of the series, and try to forget that he didn't try to revisit the concept 7 years after the 6th Spellsinger book (The Time of the Transference) with two fairly substandard entries covering the next generation. The idea behind Spellsinger is a fun one and it's sort of portal fantasy. The hero of the books is music loving college student Jonathan Thomas Meriweather, who works as a janitor or sanitation engineer part time.  A world largely composed of sentient anthropomorphic animals are under threat from the Plated Folk (insects) and a tortoise wizard by the name of Clothahump searches the dimensions for a saviour, what he finds is Jon-Tom, largely zeroing in on the college student, because his search reads the term of engineer as wizard. Fortunately Jon-Tom's skill with a magical instrument called a duar actually helps him turn the lyrics of rock music into magic. After saving his new world along with his companion the rascally otter Mudge, he has other adventures which require his unique skill. Of course Spellsinger isn't the only fantasy series to use anthropomorphic animals. but it is one of the most fun and creative, as well as exhaustive in terms of how many species it finds to populate the world with. Jon-Tom even finds love with Talia, one of the few human inhabitants. I don't think the series gets the recognition it deserves and would have made a wonderful animated series.

Further and related reading: with over 100 books to choose from it would be hard not to find something of Foster's that someone liked. They are mostly science fiction, although Into The Out Of was rather dark fantasy from memory. It was science fiction, but I saw elements of Spellsinger in some of the alien inhabitants of the ice world in the Icerigger trilogy, which was part of the author's Humanx Commonwealth series of novels, and the stranded aliens in Quozl were really large humanoid rabbits. Spellsinger shares a lot with works like The Wind in the Willows and C.S Lewis also had anthropomorphic animals featured heavily in his Narnia books, as well as Brian Jacques' Redwall novels. Talking animals are also a staple of comic books, especially things like Howard the Duck, who comes from a dimension where ducks are the dominant life form and Dave Sim's groundbreaking graphic novel Cerebus the Aardvark which centres on a barbarian aardvark.

Next up is the G's and I can already see a few authors firming for that.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 4

Although the Fiona in prison story continues, this one is more about the aftermath of the previous season and how it ties into the current storyline.

Michael takes Sam and Jesse on a road trip to the Everglades (an area I felt that they underused in the show over it's seven season run) to make contact with a crooked guard in the prison where Fiona is being held. When they arrive, he's dead, but Rebecca is waiting. Rebecca was the CIA agent working with Anson played by Kristanna Loken. I must admit when I first saw this episode I was a bit in the dark as to who Rebecca was. They run foul of so many people and a lot of them are attractive women with itchy trigger fingers that you do sometimes get confused. I understood it and why she was so dangerous this time.

She takes Sam hostage. In Season 6 a lot of bad things seem to happen to Sam. It's almost like Chin in Hawaii Five-0 (the current version). My wife and I often refer to the show as 'Sucks to be Chin' because bad things always seem to happen to Chin Ho Kelly.

Rebecca's not stupid, she puts a few bullets through the bonnet of the Charger before she leaves, with Sam zip tied to the steering wheel. It doesn't take Michael and Jesse long to fix the damage, but it does slow them down.

Sam tries to get Rebecca on his side, trying to work out why she's essentially a good agent, but working for a snake like Anson. She doesn't give anything away. They steal a truck, but Sam gets a message to the driver for Michael before Rebecca knocks him out and puts him in the boot of her car.

He's actually quite useful, when Michael and Jesse find him, not only does he relay Sam's message, but gives them a route that saves them time.

Rebecca had intended to take a helicopter, but Michael and Jesse arrived ahead of time and sent the pilot on a wild goose chase by pretending to be an FAA investigator. The change of plan sees Rebecca and Sam lob up at a meth camp in the swamp, and she's eyeing off the airboats bobbing there. They put the meth cooks to flight and while Sam is calling Michael using a phone he found along the way and then leaving a fairly heart felt message for his lady love Elsa, Rebecca points the gun at him. We're clearly meant to think she shot Sam, but there's no way the show runners are killing off Bruce Campbell before the show finishes. When Michael and Jesse find him, he's been knocked out, with a nasty gash on the side of his head, he does give thanks it wasn't his chin.

Jesse takes off on the remaining airboat. I love those things, chase scenes are awesome with them. Rebecca has used it as a decoy, though. She was going to blow them up, but Michael and Sam talk her down and find out why she's working for Anson. He's been holding her brother's safety over her. They convince her to help them and they'll get her brother out together. Anson is such a scumbag.

Fiona's trying to buy time to protect herself. A gang of two lifers have already made one attempt which she managed to fight off, but she can't keep doing it. Ayn can work it so that the cells get tossed, their weapons will be found (they use switchblades) and they'll spend a long time in the hole. However Ayn doesn't do anything for free, even for someone like Fiona, who has become a friend. If however Fiona can get someone to retrieve a package from her ex, she'll do it.

Michael and Co are down in the Everglades, so Fiona contacts Maddie. Maddie loves Fiona like a daughter and will do almost anything for her, so she goes to the exe's apartment and asks for the package. He's an unpleasant type, he tosses Maddie out and threatens to knock her teeth out if she returns.

She does, with Michael. Michael storms into the place, finds out where Ayn's package is and takes it, he breaks the guy's arm (he did bruise Maddie's face the first time) and says that's for his mother. You don't mess with Michael Westen's mum.

Ayn is true to her word, but she actually arranges the cell inspection before she received the package, so she does genuinely like the woman she refers to as 'criminal.'

The team of Michael, Sam, Jesse and Rebecca up against Anson, this should be fun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 3

This episode continues on with the format that was established in the 2nd episode. Fiona tries to make inside work for her and Michael does what he does on the outside.

Now Fiona knows someone wants to get at her inside she has to take steps to protect herself and somehow let Michael know and she what he can do about it. Enter the character of Ayn. TV shows like Burn Notice often take elements of popular films and slot them into their shows. Ayn is a female version of Morgan Freeman's Red character from The Shawshank Redemption. She's the prison fixer, if someone wants something done (like get a message to a loved one) then she'll do it, but there will be a price. As Fiona hasn't been in long enough to earn many canteen credits, then her skills will be payment. Ayn even uses the prison library as a way to circulate amongst the population and delivery system, just like Red in The Shawshank Redemption.

Meanwhile outside Agent Pearce has a dilemma. Anson's still out there making mischief. He contacted Pearce (really not happy about that, because people he contacts often wind up dead) and gave her information that the man who killed her fiancé is now a CIA asset. Pearce wants him dead or at least exposed as a traitor. Michael initially advises her to let it go, because this is how Anson works. He wants to set her up and then use her as another one of his puppets. When it's clear that Pearce isn't going to back down, Michael agrees to help her to keep her free from Anson.

It'll be a job done on the land with the asset's spoilt, entitled son and on the sea when the asset is taking a cruise. Sam says that they need at least 6 people and with Fiona in jail they've only got 4 even if Pearce helps (which she insists on). That's when Michael decides to enlist his mother and brother. Maddie goes along as she always does out of a sense of loyalty to Michael and because she gets sympathy for Pearce when she hears what the bad guy did to her. Nate on the other hand really likes the idea. He shows both an eagerness and a surprising aptitude, which can't bode well for the future.

Jesse once again steps up to the plate and does a sterling job at making the target believe he's suffering from a deadly virus, which is the key to the entire plan. Lauren Stamile and Coby Bell have genuine chemistry too. I don't think they ever did an entire episode together, but I wish they had. They're fun to watch. 

As it turns out the asset is living off the CIA, but also selling secrets to the Russians. So they get both his son and him and no one gets killed, but Pearce still gets her revenge.

Michael goes to visit Fiona. It's a nice meeting with them talking about how they first met in Ireland. That made sense, but I wish it hadn't involved Jeffrey Donovan using his clearly faked awful Irish accent. As Michael's leaving Ayn comes through and gets Fiona's message to him. Now Michael knows this, it will be interesting to see how he deals with it. It's not like he can insert himself, Sam or Jesse into a female prison. Possibly as guards, but I don't even know if that would work.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 2

Due to Fiona being incarcerated it looks like the early episodes of Season 6 of Burn Notice are largely going to be broken into two stories. One will feature Fiona and her experiences in prison, and the other Michael and the rest of the gang and what they're up to outside.

Because of Fiona's reputation and what she stands accused of, she finds herself occupying a supermax facility with some very unsavoury characters. Try as I might I could not get Orange is the New Black out of my head when watching Fiona in prison. That image was further jammed into my psyche when Taryn Manning (Pensatucky in Orange is the New Black) turned up as a prison ally. The prison sequences seemed to be an excuse to show what a badass Fiona is. She wound up taking out a gang out to get her with two rolled up newspapers. Then her 'ally' tried to kill her, because her family had been threatened if she didn't do so. I'd say Anson had something to do with that. Overall Fiona seems to be handling her incarceration better than Michael is handling being separated from her.

Michael wants to see her, but no one, not even Pearce, can help him out with that. Sam even had to pull every string he had just to get a letter from Fiona to Michael.

Placed between a rock and a hard place and desperate to see Fiona, Michael contacts someone he never wanted to see again. Enter Tom Card. 

There are some characters (Simon, Anson) that you see them and you just know that they're bad news. Card is one such character. He was Michael's trainer. It is Card that Michael gets the yoghurt obsession from. Nice touch, that.

Card is on the surface off it an old school by the book kind of agent, he's also highly placed. He can get Michael in to see Fiona, but he won't do it for free. He still holds a grudge against Fiona because he sees her as part of what ruined the glittering CIA career he had mapped out for his protege. I'd argue that Larry had a fair bit to do with that as well.

To get his access visit Michael has to agree to helping Card take down a psychopathic drug dealer. The plan is to put a transmitter in the form of a pen (and I keep thinking of Q's line to Bond in Skyfall about not really going in for exploding pens anymore) on Michael and then have he and Jesse pull the guy into the DEA's sting operation. Michael has to withdraw, because the dealer's lawyer knows him. I'm actually surprised that doesn't happen more often. Miami's underworld can't be that big.

Card wants them to pull the pin on the whole thing, but Michael backs Jesse and sends him in. The only communication Jesse has is via the pen, which he's not even supposed to be carrying. He does a damn fine job of portraying a crooked DEA agent and in the process outs and gets an actual crooked agent killed and eventually manages to blow a shipment and pull the psychopath in as a witness. Well done 'Agent' Porter. Thanks to him Michael will get to see Fiona.

On the family side Nate is back in Miami and that's because he and his wife have split. Permanent custody of Charlie can't be far behind.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 1

With the lack of closure provided in Season 5's finale, the opening episode of Season 6 of Burn Notice is almost like just watching an extended Season 5. The clues that this is a new season come in the extended wrap up at the start of what happened last season, and in the opening credits, which contain a number of new sequences from various key characters and have included Jesse as an opening credit character. I approve of this, I've always liked Jesse. The end music was also different, much more ominous and less cheesy and like something from the 80's.

Fiona is still being interrogated about her role in the bombing of the consulate. It is interesting that when she surrendered she was unarmed, but carrying a fairly large shoulder bag that could have easily contained an explosive device and while there were all sorts of guns on her, no one made a move towards the bag or asked her to drop it.

Michael is after Anson, and he's not too happy with Sam, because he now knows that had he wanted to Sam could have put more resistance to Fiona than he did. I found it odd that Michael says without Fiona he's got nothing. So clearly Sam and Maddie don't mean as much to him as Fiona. May have been nice if he'd told her that more often before this happened.

Jesse uses surveillance equipment to get a lock on Anson. They deduce he's headed for Cutler Bay to make his escape from Miami via boat. Hard to just stop Anson, but Michael never does things by halves and decides to shut down the entire highway. He steals a truck, has Sam run interference for him in the Charger. We don't often see Sam get to do the fancy driving, it's usually Fiona or Michael, but needs must and Sam isn't a novice. Michael pulls the truck across the highway then sets fire to it.

Trawling down the blocked motorway they spot Anson's car, but a teen in a yellow VW bug says that he left the car there and took off towards a power plant. Just as Sam and Michael are about to give chase Anson rings and lets him know that he can either go after Anson, or try to stop the killer he's sent to Maddie's place.

Fortunately Madeline Westen is far from being a helpless retiree, and while Michael and Sam send Jesse to help her out, she's more than capable of dealing with the situation herself, although she will appreciate the presence of Jesse. In fact it's Maddie hiding in the ceiling with a gun, who shoots the killer when he tries to take out Jesse.

Fiona's interrogator is our old friend Jason Bly (I do appreciate these little touches of continuity where they can). He hasn't changed, still sleazy and still underestimating Team Westen. Fiona's willing to admit that she did bomb the embassy, but not the ones in the lobby. Bly doesn't want to believe her, but he could very easily check if the CIA once had a rogue operative called Larry. Of course Bly doesn't really want to help Fiona. He even tries to convince her Michael is dead using footage of the truck he set on fire on the highway to sell the story. Unfortunately for him Fiona knows her explosions and the story Bly is giving her doesn't match the results on the picture. It's hard to tell from Bly's expression if he's pissed off because he couldn't fool Fiona or if he's annoyed because his own organisation tried to play him.

Michael and Sam break into the power plant and go after Anson. They also get Agent Pearce on side. So happy to see her back. I really hope she doesn't get killed. It's a shame that she wasn't brought into the show earlier. Lauren Stamile and Jeffrey Donovan work well together and the characters provide a nice contrast.

Michael finds Anson trying to cut his way through the fence to make his escape (he'd also shaved his moustache off, and Jere Burns without a moustache just looks wrong. It's a little like Sam Elliott in the final season of Justified, he doesn't have a moustache in that and he should. I have trouble watching Sam Elliott without a moustache). He puts a beatdown on the puppet master, but doesn't just kill him. I really don't know why. In this instance it's a good move because he's holding a dead man's switch wired to explosives in the plant. So if he dies then so so Agent Pearce, Sam and all the others in the plant. They guy always thinks ahead. I did wonder where he got the expertise to set up the plant and how he knew to place supplies in there ahead of time. Did he know Michael was going to block the highway with a burning truck in pursuit of him? Just a minor plot hole that bugs me on a rewatch. Of course Anson could have been bluffing, but Michael didn't want to take the chance. He wasn't bluffing because as soon as he got on his boat out of Miami the plant did go kaboom, but Michael had warned Pearce in time for her to get her people out and Sam managed to free the trapped plant worker and get himself and the guy out safely.

With that news Fiona thinks she's out, but Bly said no. It helps her case, but she is no way innocent and he may not say it, but he will relish any opportunity to put a spanner in the works of Team Westen, and Fiona Glenanne in federal custody is definitely a great big monkey wrench in that.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (E)

I did try, but look as I might, I could only find one author whose work I wanted to include in this list, who had a surname starting with E. I suspect that given later criticism of the value of the work that it will be a somewhat controversial decision, too.

David Eddings - July 7, 1931 - June 2, 2009. As she wrote most of the work with him, and I suspect, did a lot of the heavy lifting, I should also include David's wife Leigh in this. Leigh Eddings - July 7, 1931 - February 28, 2007.

Interestingly both David and Leigh had Native American blood. David was part Cherokee and his wife Leigh was part Choctaw. David was working as a clerk at a grocery store, after leaving his job as a college lecturer, and was working on his first novel High Hunt, when he chanced across a copy of The Lord of the Rings, realising that the book may have been old, but it was still popular and the copy he saw was in fact the 78th printing. This prompted him to return to a doodle of a map he had drawn, and thus was born The Belgariad.

When David and wife Leigh decided that they wanted to publish what they had written, Lester Del Rey showed interest. It was Lester Del Rey who suggested that they go with the one name, rather than a co-authorship. Leigh was credited for the first time on the cover of Belgarath the Sorcerer.

David Eddings was part of the second wave of high or epic fantasy, following Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson, along with his contemporary Raymond E. Feist. The Belgariad was a little unusual for fantasy epics of the time in that it was published as 5 books, not a trilogy as was the accepted format, ever since The Lord of the Rings was originally broken into 3 books for publishing purposes.

It was successful enough that it spawned a 5 book sequel; The Malloreon, same world and a recurring cast of characters. While The Malloreon was still being published, the husband and wife team started another trilogy; The Elenium (new world and characters, although many of them had analogues in The Belgariad and The Malloreon). In fact in a bookstore I frequented the staff had a pool going over whether the 3rd book of The Elenium would beat the 5th book of The Malloreon. They were both published in the same year (1991). The Elenium was followed by The Tamuli.

They then returned to the scene of their greatest triumph with Belgarath the Sorcerer, which basically told the history of the world that The Belgariad was set in through the eyes of Belgarath, one of the key characters in The Belgariad. Polgara the Sorceress came along a two years later and that was where the couple lost me. I have a feeling Polgara the Sorceress turned into a DNF for me. I kept getting this nagging feeling that I'd read it before, and I realised that it was basically the same story as Belgarath the Sorcerer, only from the point of view of Belgarath's daughter Polgara. I have a friend who is convinced that what the Eddings' did was run the manuscript of Belgarath the Sorcerer through a word processing program that simply replaced instances of the name Belgarath with the name Polgara.

While I stopped reading, plenty of others didn't, and after Polgara the Sorceress, they put out The Rivan Codex (also set in the world of The Belgariad), then a standalone fantasy called The Redemption of Althalus. I actually did read that one, I was hoping it was something different, alas it wasn't, and it's one of the worst books I can remember reading all the way through. The final series was called The Dreamers and it consisted of The Elder Gods, The Treasured One, The Crystal Gorge and The Younger Gods (startling burst of originality in the titling there).

They also wrote 3 non fantasy works: the afore mentioned High Hunt, The Losers and Regina's Song, which was a contemporary thriller. I did read Regina's Song, and it actually wasn't all that bad. It was clearly an Eddings' book, it had some of the same themes (a few of their books featured twins who spoke their own private language) and while the characters in the book may have been a mechanic rather than a blacksmith or a doctor as opposed to a healer, they were largely the same stereotypical characters that populated the fantasy stories. There the convenient coincidences were also in evidence; a young lady arrives in a new city and moves into a shared house, she has car trouble, but can't afford to get it fixed, lo and behold one of her new housemates is a mechanic who doesn't mind doing favours for friends gratis.

The Younger Gods came out in 2006. In January of 2007, David Eddings accidentally burned a quarter of his office, his Excalibur sports car and the original manuscripts to most of the novels, while flushing the car's fuel tank. In February of that year Leigh passed away following a series of strokes. David survived her by 18 months, and according to his brother, was working on a novel, which was apparently quite different from the works he wrote with Leigh and played a lot with the genre. A shame it was never completed, it may have been interesting to read.

With what has come since it seems to have become popular to sneer at The Belgariad as high or epic fantasy, and it is very cliched and flawed, but it's still an important work. For many people The Belgariad was their entry into the genre, a 'gateway drug'. A lot of readers seem to discover it just before their teens or their early teens and go seeking something similar. For all it's flaws it is compulsively readable and easy to read.

When I first read it I was in my late teens, and at the time there wasn't a lot else in the field. It's a very standard story. The hero is an orphaned farmboy who grows up in an out of the way part of the kingdom, finding out that he's the heir to great power and destiny. He gathers a group of singularly talented adventurers (the roster reads like a character sheet for a D&D game), and they go off to defeat an evil demigod and prevent the apocalypse. The characters are quite two dimensional and are largely defined by their talents, which are often along racial lines. There's a nation of warriors, a nation of horsemen, a nation of spies, etc... One of the most interesting characters, and my favourite, is the spoilt brat princess Ce'Nedra. She's part dryad, and when readers meet the dryads it explains a lot about her. They're largely all like her, in both nature and appearance. A lot of people don't like Ce'Nedra, but I found her more interesting and multi layered than some of the other cardboard cutouts in the series. There's a few chapters in the 3rd book (Magician's Gambit) which are from her self centred, spoilt brat point of view, they're wonderful. I found myself wishing that the rest of the series had been written from that point of view and centred around her.

If someone reads The Belgariad as a newbie or a young reader they're quite enjoyable, unfortunately because of their shallowness and being so cliche ridden, they don't stand up well to rereads, especially if someone has read further in the genre since.

Everything in The Belgariad is very black and white. No morally ambiguous anti heroes here. The good triumph and the bad lose, and that's the end of it. According to Oscar Wilde that's what fiction is, so David and Leigh Eddings weren't reinventing the wheel here.

If anyone did want to read Eddings' work, I'd advise to read The Belgariad and then stop. The rest of their work is pretty much the same story with the same characters over and over again. It reached it's peak for me with Polgara the Sorceress. They have another peculiarity in this day and age when blood soaked epics like A Song of Ice and Fire rule the genre, they simply will not allow anything that can't be fixed by application of a bandaid to befall their main characters. They're also a little unusual in that Ce'Nedra's family aside, they don't really feature magical races like elves and dwarves. The characters are largely human, and if they're not, they're not the standard races. The wizards tend to live longer and I think there's a race of snake cultists whose leader is a giant snake.

It's fun and quite easy to read, but you really don't want to think too hard about it.

I would recommend reading Regina's Song if for nothing other than the novelty of seeing how a fantasy book works as a contemporary thriller.

Further and related reading: if you did like The Belgariad, then you're in luck because David and Leigh Eddings wrote at least one five book series, two trilogies and a standalone (The Redemption of Althalus) that are almost exactly the same story with some of the names changed. I can't speak for The Dreamers because I never read it (I'm told that I'm rather fortunate in that respect). Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress are basically the same book, and I believe The Rivan Codex also covers a lot of that territory, it's described as a collection of their notes and how they built the world. Not many writers can get away with collecting those together and releasing them as a novel, which is actually a testament to how popular they were at their height. David Eddings was at the forefront of a new wave of fantasy authors. Raymond Feist's Magician is closer to The Lord of the Rings than The Belgariad, but a lot of readers seem to graduate from Eddings to Feist. The early books of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series have that group of adventurers on a quest feel to them, as does Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, although it's more of a Tolkien homage than anything else. If you can get past the awful writing (I couldn't make it through the first book) and the Randian philosophy, Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth saga has a sort of classic high fantasy feel about it. One of the closest works to The Belgariad is the original Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, although that band of adventurers did feature elves and dwarves.

Next up we have F, and I promise there will be more than 1 author.