Sunday, May 31, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (P)

Into the P's and past the halfway mark, well we probably did that last week or the week before, but anyway. I thought there may be a few more P authors than the 3 I came up with, and it's partially my bad for never having read Tamora Pierce, who my wife informs me is excellent and would totally make the list if I had actually read any of her work. For P I've got a universally loved author, one who is very little known even in his own country and another one who is well known and successful, but controversial at the same time.

Terry Pratchett April 28, 1948 - March 15, 2015. He needs no introduction, everyone knows that bearded face with the impish smile. Pratchett wrote and published his first book (The Carpet People) at the tender age of 17. It wasn't all that commercially successful and he moved into journalism as a career, but continued to write, at the time science fiction. The Carpet People came out in 1971 and Dark Side of the Sun in 1976, this was followed by Strata, about the discovery of a strange flat, disc shaped planet, in 1981.

It was Strata that would give him the idea for his greatest success. Discworld. The first Discworld book The Colour of Magic was originally published in 1983, but a wider audience discovered it in 1985 with Transworld's mass market paperback release. Following the release of the 4th Discworld novel Mort, Pratchett was successful enough to be able to write full time. By 1996 Terry Pratchett was the highest selling and earning UK author (he like many others would be eclipsed by J. K Rowling).

While Discworld itself spanned all sorts of types of fantasy across it's flat expanse, Pratchett also ventured over it's edge to write other things out of his most popular work. He collaborated with Neil Gaiman on Good Omens, a humorous spin on the popular Omen books and films.

He wrote the Johnny books for teens and the Bromeliad trilogy for younger readers. There was a rerelease of The Carpet People, in which Terry Pratchett fixed what he saw as problems with it, most of them being caused by the fact that he was 17 years old when he wrote it.

He wrote a few standalones, two of which were the successful Nation and Dodger. He was working on a science fiction series with Steven Baxter at the time of his death. The final book in that series will be completed by Baxter and published later this year, as will the final Discworld book, which follows the character of Tiffany Aching.

Terry Pratchett's contribution to literature and society in general earned him a knighthood, which he treated with the same gentle, slightly mocking sense of humour for which he was rightly famous. He passed away at home, aged only 66. It was a sad day for the world when Sir Terry Pratchett left us.

Terry Pratchett wrote so many books on such a wide number of subjects that it's an impossible task to choose just one, so I decided to go with Discworld as a whole. Discworld is an unmatched feat of world building. Clearly the idea for the setting came to Pratchett when he wrote Strata, which although it's not classified as a Discworld novel, is where the concept was born.

The first official Discworld novel follows the adventures of the inept wizard Rincewind, as he attempts to guide the naive tourist Twoflower around the parts of the planet he is more familiar with. I liked The Colour of Magic, but I didn't love it. I think I picked up the second book The Light Fantastic because of The Luggage, which to this day remains one of my favourite Discworld characters. The Light Fantastic was, in my opinion, a better book than it's predecessor. It was with Equal Rites that I believe Pratchett took everything to a new level. He wasn't the only funny fantasist around at the time, but Equal Rites dealt with a different cast and another part of Discworld that audiences had not yet seen. The others either wrote standalones, or used the same characters over and over, which meant that the jokes quickly became stale and overused. Then with Mort, he threw another curveball. Most people have a favourite Discworld novel, and for me, it's Mort. I found the first three entertaining, but a bit hit and miss, however Mort consistently hit it out of the park. By that stage Terry Pratchett had three separate types of Discworld novel: Rincewind, the Witches and Death. He later developed the City Watch books, the Wizard books, the Tiffany Aching books (which are in part aimed at younger readers, although adults read them and find plenty to like) and the Moist Von Lipwig books. He also wrote the occasional standalone, which doesn't fit in with the other established themes or characters. Things like Pyramids or Small Gods, these tend to be defined as the Discworld Cultures books.

Because of the diversity, its hard to actually have a reading order for them, and if a reader encounters a particular stream that they don't like, they're bound to find another that they do. The books are more satire than out and out comedy, although that is also present, and it's a hard grim person who can't get at least one good belly laugh out of each novel in the series. I read them as they were published, and despite that, and it was the 4th in a series that totalled over 40 books I still regard Mort as my favourite.

I can't speak about Discworld without also mentioning the two best known cover artists. Josh Kirby was the original cover artist, and his chaotic, cartoony style just suited Terry Pratchett's writing about Discworld. Kirby was so beloved and so successful that the author and artist actually released a lavishly illustrated Discworld book called Eric. It was later published as a mass market paperback without all of Kirby's art work, and it suffers for that, it needs the artwork to work properly. When Josh Kirby died in 2001, the covers were taken over by Paul Kidby. Kidby's style is totally different to Kirby's. He often uses an iconic image or painting to match the story, but it still suits the books perfectly.

Further and related reading: I covered most of what Terry Pratchett wrote besides Discworld, but just Discworld is enough to satisfy most readers and it covered all sorts of subjects and territory. Pratchett's earlier science fiction is very reminiscent of Douglas Adams, especially Dark Side of the Sun. Funny fantasy was a thing in the early 80's, so Pratchett wasn't alone there. However not much of it was as good. I remember authors like Craig Shaw Gardner as well as Robert Asprin and Tom Holt and Robert Rankin. Gardner and Asprin in particular got hold of an idea and ran it right into the ground. The influences for a lot of the other Discworld work came from everywhere, Shakespeare was a popular source, but Jane Austen and the Brontes came into play, as did Charles Dickens, and he regularly poked fun at the sword and sorcery genre, one character was even called Cohen the Barbarian.

Otfried Preussler - October 20, 1923 - February 18, 2013. I did promise a not so well known author, and that is Otfried Preussler. While I say he's not that well known, he's been quite successful, selling over 15 million copies of his works in German and being translated into 55 languages. He's best known for The Robber Hotzenplotz books and The Satanic Mill (also known as Krabat). He spent five years as a POW during WW 2, and most of his working life after the war as a primary school teacher and school principal. The majority of his work was children's books, although he had plans for a memoir of his experiences as a POW to be published after his death.

I've only read one Pruessler, and it's the one above. I found it as a preteen in a library and took a chance on it. I read it multiple times before I had to return it, and then tracked down a paperback copy, with the same cover as above in a second hand store. It's largely an old fairy tale featuring mills, evil millers, the dark arts, boys being turned into crows and young love triumphing. It was also called Krabat in Germany, because let's face it not too many kids are going to be attracted by a book called The Satanic Mill. I read it many years ago, more than once and it's stayed with me ever since.

Further and related reading: as well as The Satanic Mill, Preussler also wrote the much lighter hearted The Robber Hotzenplotz series, which had three books in it, and 10 other children's books, although he remains best known for The Satanic Mill. It's actually an old Wendish legend, so if someone liked The Satanic Mill they may want to look up the original folk lore and go onto many of the other fairytale and legend retellings that have become very popular of late.

Philip Pullman is best known for His Dark Materials trilogy, but has quite a body of work behind him both before and after that trilogy. He, like a number of authors who write for children, was a teacher originally. His first successful series about the young female detective Sally Lockhart was as much historical fiction as anything. It was later made into  TV series starring former Doctor Who companion Billie Piper as Sally. That same series also featured actor Matt Smith, who would later become the 11th TV incarnation of Doctor Who

In 1995 the first book of His Dark Materials, Northern Lights hit the market and things really took off. This book and the series as a whole captured imaginations and got people talking and thinking about the themes in it. The first book was filmed in 2007, but didn't achieve the success that the film makers had hoped for, and it's unlikely that any of the other books will be filmed.

Pullman has continued to write since the trilogy, and is still writing, he recently adapted classic fairytales for a modern audience, and he speaks out on a number of social, cultural and religious issues. He's become known for his controversial stance on religion, being a committed atheist and one of the themes in His Dark Materials dealt with religious beliefs and faith.

The opening line from Northern Lights ('Lrya and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.') is to my mind an absolute classic. It immediately hooks the reader and it's the word daemon, that jumps out smacks them in the face. Lyra and her daemon'. What is a daemon and why does Lyra have one? That line hooked me and made me buy the book, then of course once I'd read the first story I had to read the rest. It's a great adventure and how can anyone not love Lyra's daemon Pantalaimon? In fact the whole idea of daemons is just brilliant. Consciences or souls given physical form. Able to change to almost any form when the host is young, but then taking on a permanent form once the host becomes an adult and loses the wonder of childhood. Lyra's also a wonderful heroine and great role model for children. The books are aimed at younger readers, although there's plenty for adults to enjoy and ponder on. Because of the author's religious beliefs or non beliefs they have copped some criticism, and I'm sure someone somewhere wants them banned, but I think beliefs are there to be challenged and should be, blind faith is simply that blind.

Further and related reading: As I said Philip Pullman has written across genres. His Sally Lockhart books, while not fantastical, are good rollicking historicals, and Sally is another great heroine and role model in the Lyra mould. It sounds odd, but I'd recommend reading the Narnia Chronicles, because many see His Dark Materials as a direct rebuttal to C.S Lewis' classic series. There is also elements of Paradise Lost in the trilogy, again with that atheist viewpoint of Pullman's. The idea of a conscience taking on a physical form was also something that Carlo Collodi explored briefly in Pinocchio, but the Jiminy Cricket in the book as opposed to Disney's film version is very different, he dies fairly early and is more of an actual cricket, than the dapper, singing anthropomorphised version that Walt Disney imagined.

I may have to move directly from P to R. I can't think of a Q author at present, but we'll see what I can dig up over the week.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Port Adelaide V Richmond 24/05/2015 (Adelaide Oval)

Despite Port Adelaide being one of the newer AFL clubs (last to enter before the expansion teams of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney. The SANFL outfit it grew out of have over a century of history, but that's another story altogether) there's still some history between it and Richmond.

I don't think I'll ever forgive Mark Williams who was coaching them when Jack Dyer passed away. They didn't wear black armbands to honour him and they beat us one time that season and he wouldn't even let the players sing the song (it sucks anyway) because it was 'only Richmond'. He is now an assistant coach at Richmond, and two of the players who played in that game: Damien Hardwick and Brendon Lade are our coach and assistant. Football, it's a weird game at times.

Despite the win against Collingwood the previous week, I still didn't think we had a lot of chance against Port. Yes, we won and they lost, but that to me was only fuel for the fire. Let's look at what the Tigers were up against: Port have been a contender since Ken Hinkley arrived at the club, they've gone from zero to hero in that time, we got absolutely poleaxed in the elimination final by them last year, they were stinging from the loss to Brisbane, it was at their home ground, which some call the Portress, they can play a lot better than that game, they beat Hawthorn, it was Kane Cornes' (a favourite son of the club) 300th and final game.

On the other hand Richmond obviously wanted to win. The changes we made to the team weren't forced. We had a good style going. The 2014 elimination final aside, we actually have a good record against the Power in Adelaide. Damien Hardwick has a superior record to Ken Hinkley in head to head contests. Our players were in form, theirs weren't.

We were expecting them to throw everything at us and to be honest they didn't. They did go hard, but they were all over the shop. We outscored them easily, it was almost the reverse of the elimination final. They didn't score a goal in the first quarter.

They started the second with a goal and I thought here we go, but we didn't buckle and kept them on the hop, plus continued to score. We lost Ty Vickery to a leg injury early in that quarter, which altered our 3 pronged forward attack and forced us to use the sub earlier than we wanted, but to Damien Hardwick's credit, he didn't panic and continued to pressure Port.

The 3rd quarter was where they might have pinched it. We didn't score, it was barely inside 50. Port peppered their own, but were only able to produce one major. This was largely due to Richmond pressure forcing them to take hard shots.

Sometime in the last quarter we broke their back, and fittingly local Adelaide boy Shane Edwards kicked the sealer, which put us 32 points up (we won by 33) and finished the game before the final siren.

I don't really feel sorry for Kane Cornes. He had a good career and he's never been the nicest of opponents.

I was just bloody wrapped to see the boys sing the best song in the league again.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (O)

Some letters are just difficult, I know I'm going to struggle with X and Z, O is some such letter, but I did manage to find someone, although I'm not all sure that people will agree with me here.

Eric Arthur Blair June 25, 1903 - January 21, 1950. He's better known as George Orwell, and will be forever known for two works, one which is here and was a social commentary and the other has become one of the most celebrated, studied and quoted works of science fiction in history.

Despite being quite intelligent and seeming to prefer writing to most other things he did, Eric Blair joined the Imperial Police and was posted to Burma. After contracting dengue fever, he took advantage of a leave of absence back to England, resigned from the Imperial Police and decided to become a writer. He used his Burmese experiences to write a novel and two essays.

His family wasn't poor, but Blair seemed to enjoy living amongst and studying those that did live in abject poverty. He even wrote a book about those experiences in both London and Paris (Down and Out in Paris and London).

He drifted into teaching and continued to write as he did so. He seemed to have trouble settling and found himself working at a second hand bookstore owned by friends. He left that job and was prompted by friend and publisher Victor Gollancz to investigate social conditions in economically depressed northern England. This eventually turned into The Road to Wigan Pier, which outside of Animal Farm and 1984 is one of his best known works.

Not long after this he took part in the Spanish Civil War. He was shot in the throat during that conflict. Back in England his views on the war (he fought for the Republicans) were wildly out of favour. He and his wife spent time living in France, but returned to England in 1939.

The reviews that he had been writing for many years got him more journalistic work during the war. He wrote Animal Farm towards the end of the war and it's success got him more journalism work and he wrote 1984 after the war, it was published in 1949.

George Orwell, as the world now knew him, had struggled with health for many years and he was rarely in the best of health from the time that he returned to England after his time in Burma. The amount of time he spent living rough and his wounding in the Spanish Civil War didn't help. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1947 and his health declined steadily from that point onwards. He passed away in his sleep in early 1950.

His two most famous works have earned him undying fame and a place amongst the most highly regarded literary figures.

I know Animal Farm is an allegory for the decline of Marx's communistic ideal under Joseph Stalin in Russia, but it is also a fantasy. Unless that is of course there really is a farm somewhere that is run by pigs who keep the rest of the animals under iron control and lie to them about their actual intentions. It's a wonderfully written book, and despite the very serious message in it's text, it can also be looked at as a fantasy about anthropomorphic animals. It's not uncommon for authors to use animals to illustrate very human events, people have been doing it since the days of Aesop and his fables. While it can be read as just a book about anthromorphised animals, and I'm sure plenty of people do (the cartoon version I had to watch in high school certainly seemed to see it that way, it even had an annoyingly cute little duckling and changed ending to feature a 'peasants revolt' let by Benjamin the donkey), it's a brilliantly told look at one person's view of the communist revolution in Russia and it's rather tragic aftermath.

Further reading and related work: If you read Animal Farm, you should also read 1984. Totally different, but at the same time going over similar ground. Orwell based his future on what he saw happening around him in England following the war. It didn't turn out that way, but to a certain extent 1984 is the real version of what happens after Animal Farm. There's also the non fiction Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in London and Paris, as well as numerous essays, reviews and articles.

Along the same lines as Animal Farm there's Richard Adams' Watership Down. Adams doesn't look at political views with his rabbits, but one of the final battles is based on the Battle of Arnhem, a WW II action in which Adams served. At times I almost felt Orwell was using the style of Beatrix Potter with his farm animals to reach as wide an audience as possible and make his story easier to understand.

Next week the P's. Should be a few more of them and far less controversial.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Richmond V Collingwood 17/05/2015 - MCG

The badge above sums up Collingwood's relationship with not only the supporters of the Richmond Football Club, but with supporters of every other club in the AFL. You either barrack for Collingwood or you totally hate them. That's just how it is. Jack Dyer once stated that he hated Collingwood so much that he wouldn't even watch black and white TV. I've been brought up to hate them. I tried to support them once. They'd made the Grand Final and were playing Brisbane. I was viewing it at a friend's house. He's Richmond, too, but the rest of his family are Collingwood, and I'll never totally forgive Brisbane for their part in the murder of the Fitzroy Football Club, so I thought I'd barrack for Collingwood. I lasted for a quarter, and then like everyone else at the MCG and around the country watching TV sets, I wanted Collingwood to lose again. It's ingrained.

A lot of that is probably why it galls me so much that we hadn't beaten them forever. Well, at least the last 7 matches, which is forever in AFL terms. Of the team that took the field against the Pies on Sunday, only one player had played in a winning Richmond side against Collingwood, and that was Brett Deledio. I believe he kicked 5 goals in that win. Great night. Richo took one of the marks of the year and Graham Polak helped Lids, with 5 goals of his own.

I went to the game without a lot of hope. There were probably two reasons I even turned up. One was that I have a membership, I paid for it, and I'm determined to try and get my money's worth out of it. The other was that Richmond had decided to debut young forward Liam McBean, as well as give Todd Elton and Corey Ellis the second games of their careers. The whisper was also that Shane Edwards would be a late withdrawal, and 2014 draftee Connor Menadue would also make his debut. (This did happen and Menadue played the last quarter as the sub. He replaced McBean on the field).

The fellow supporters who sits in front of me mirrored my mood. He's one of a bunch of people that turn up, week in, week out. This day it was just he and his daughter. The others had better things to do. Despite that general feeling among the supporters, the game still drew a shade under 60,000. It was an odd time (3:20), but very nice weather.

I haven't gotten this pumped at many games recently. The first quarter was more of the same old, same old, but then in the 2nd quarter it looked like a different Richmond. One we'd seen far too little of in recent times. They kicked 8 goals for the quarter, and turned a quarter time deficit of 4 goals into a half time lead of 2. A litany of turnovers in the 3rd quarter saw the Pies regain the slimmest of leads (1 point) into the last quarter. That was a seesawing event, with the lead changing multiple times. The Pies held sway by 2 points with 7 minutes on the clock, and our leaders (especially captain Trent Cotchin, and vice captain Brett Deledio) stood up. A Trent Cotchin inspired run got the ball to Ty Vickery, playing at centre half forward, and the much maligned big man kicked truly to give the Tigers back the lead. A couple of minutes later Jack Riewoldt kicked his 4th for the game and it was over. The Woods got a late goal to cut the margin to 5, but then the siren went and we'd won a famous victory.

There are still plenty of problems, but this week is a sweet one. It always is when Richmond beat Collingwood.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (N)

After a bumper crop of M authors last week, the N's were a little thinner on the ground, but I did find a couple.

Katherine Neville's bio reads almost like a best selling novel in it's own right. During the 1970's she was working in the computer field and did consulting work for the Algerian government and worked for the US Department of Energy's nuclear site in Idaho. She also worked as a model and portrait painter. In 1980 she moved to San Francisco and became a vice president of the Bank of America. Her debut novel and best selling one The Eight was published in 1988. She drew on her personal experiences for that and some of her other books. Calculated Risk clearly used information she had learned when working in the finance industry.

I don't think many people would regard her as a fantasy author. Calculated Risk isn't a fantasy on any level. The Magic Circle could be regarded as alternate history, because one of the characters is a major historical figure, but her view of him and his background aren't even remotely close to the truth. The less said about the sequel to The Eight, The Fire, the better. That's one of the worst books I have ever read, and tarnished The Eight somewhat for me.

It's really hard to find a good cover of The Eight now, and that one doesn't do it justice either, but it was the best one I could see. I'm not sure how The Eight is classified, but you can't find it under fantasy. I'm not really sure why, because a large part of it is about the secret behind eternal youth and to the best of my knowledge that's not a real thing.

It's hard to describe the book accurately, and at the same time give anyone a clue how wonderful it is without spoiling it. My best shot is: the French Revolution, Charlemagne, chess and the secret to eternal youth.

I haven't had a serious go at listing my 10 favourite books for some time. If I did it now, despite having been some years since I read it, I still think The Eight would make the cut.

Further and related reading: Katherine Neville herself wrote 3 other books. Calculated Risk disappointed a lot of people, I think that may have been because they expected something like The Eight, and it's nothing like that, it's largely a heist or caper novel set in and around the world of high finance. The Magic Circle sort of went here there and everywhere in history, like The Eight, but seemed to lack a point. I got to the end and honestly couldn't tell you what the focus was or what I'd even been reading with any surety. She went to the well again with The Fire, but that was a horrible mess of a book. The Eight seems to have been lightning in a bottle for Katherine Neville. I can't honestly recommend anyone else, because while chess features in more than a few fantasies, as does the French Revolution, Charlemagne and the secret to eternal youth, nothing else combined them in the same way The Eight does, it's kind of unique in that way. The closest I can come is the 3rd book in Jim Hines' Magic Ex Libris series; Unbound. That has Ponce de Leon as a major character. The main character also enjoys chess, but it's not a focus like it was in The Eight, where one of the major characters was a participant in high level chess tournaments.

Naomi Novik began her career as did more than a few fantasy authors as a game designer. She found that while working on Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide, that she preferred writing her own fiction, rather than trying to create games based on someone else's vision.

Naomi Novik's idea was to concentrate on the Napoleonic Wars and add dragons. In that respect her Temeraire series is an alternate history. It's quite a clever idea, and it really was surprising that it hadn't been further mined before she got to it. The Temeraire books are often described as Patrick O'Brien with dragons, and that's a very apt description. The first one in the series: Temeraire: His Majesty's Dragon, is a pure delight from start to finish. Ultimately the series will have 9 books, and 8 have already been published. The final book is due out in 2016. Unfortunately I felt that they lost the spark of the first few in the series a few books ago and characters don't seem to have developed and have relied heavily on the audience's toleration of their quirks as entertaining rather than tedious. I also think the last two books have suffered heavily from a lack of ruthless editing.

Novik isn't a one trick pony, and has recently released Uprooted, a YA fantasy, which does feature dragons, but from the released preview excerpts seems to have more a fairy tale feeling to it, than Temeraire's stylised 19th century.

Having come from a background of game designing it's no surprise that Naomi Novik keeps a rather slick looking website at

Given what I said above, and Naomi Novik's bibliography thus far, it's no surprise that Temeraire gets the nod. When I first discovered the book it was simply called Temeraire. The extra bit of His Majesty's Dragon got added on for the US publication, and also applied when it became obvious that it was a series and the series itself was named Temeraire.

The idea is fairly simple, but it's executed so well that you can't help but be enchanted by it. A British naval captain captures a French ship that is carrying a dragon's egg. When the egg hatches the dragon immediately bonds with the captain and so becomes his dragon. This requires a virtual demotion for Captain Lawrence from the Navy to the Flying Corps, who are not well regarded by the rest of the British force. Both dragons and their pilots and crews use a rather faux Austenish way of speaking and observe the same behaviour. Because of the type of dragon he is, Temeraire proves invaluable in the battle against Napoleon's forces. Since that first adventure, Temeraire and Lawrence have journeyed to China, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and South America. The last published book found them in Russia.

Further and related reading: there are 9 books in the Temeraire series, the last book League of Dragons is due out in 2016. Over their length Novik has gone all over the world and tried to cover the period and the war from every possible angle, always featuring the change that the existence of dragons have wrought on it.

The master of alternate history Harry Turtledove wrote a series called Darkness which featured a magical war similar to WW II, in which creatures like dragons and sea serpents were used as weapons by the sides. The Bazil Broketail series by Christopher Rowley was about a sentient dragon who travelled with a boy who was his rider, but the dragon of the title was the one who ran the relationship. The closest to Temeraire in style and idea was Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw. This is a Jane Austen style novel, only featuring dragons, not people.

Next week, the O's and I even surprised myself in finding a contender there.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Richmond V Geelong & North Melbourne

No, we didn't play both teams at once. At present the Tigers would be flat out playing either of these outfits VFL affiliate. In fact I think the Cats VFL team would beat our AFL one.

Just to clear up some small details, we played both teams on Saturday afternoons at 1:45 (football games used to always start at 2:00 or 2:10, now 1:45 is the new 2:00), the Cats at the G, and North Melbourne the following week at their adopted home of Blundstone Arena in Tasmania, it used to be called Bellerive and it's better known as a cricket venue.

Haven't beaten Geelong since 2006, since then they've gone on to win 3 Premierships and become a fixture in the top 8. In contrast the Tigers have managed to make finals twice (lost in the first week both times) and gone through two coaches (mind you Geelong are on their second one, too, but he left by his own choosing, not because the team's continual poor performances prompted him to ensure that his contract would be paid out as long as he offered to resign with a few games left to run in it).

This particular game was our best chance since that time. Geelong were in trouble, stars have left or retired and they'd had a shaky start. However Richmond rarely take advantage of opportunities, and they didn't this time either. The Cats were 5 goals up by the main break. After that Richmond improved and managed to cut the final margin to 9 points, but we do that all the time. Wake up and actually start playing something resembling decent football when it's too late to do more than make it look respectable.

North aren't exactly what I'd call a bogey side, or rather they weren't until last Saturday. We did beat them in 2012, but that was it, and they lick their lips at the prospect of playing us and banking an easy win. I turned on the TV without much hope and Richmond repaid me in kind. North scored 92 points from Richmond turnovers. That's simply not acceptable for a team full of professional athletes who actually get paid to play it. Mind you the lack of direction or confidence from the coaching team doesn't help.

Yeah, the Tigers are back to where they always have been since 1982. Out in the football wilderness. Damien Hardwick may coach out the year, but then he'll be gone, replaced with the next victim, and in a few years time we'll be back here again, wondering exactly what went wrong this time.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (M)

I initially thought the M's were going to be disappointing in terms of numbers, but then I had a rush of inspiration and the list climbed rather rapidly. There's also an honourable mention at the end of this one.

Roberta Macavoy, or R. A Macavoy (her middle name is Anne) as she tends to be better known was very popular in the 1980's as a fantasy author. She's best known for Tea with the Black Dragon (her debut), and also the book that enabled her to leave her job as a computer programmer and devote herself to writing full time.

The same year that she published Tea with the Black Dragon she also began a trilogy set in a sort of renaissance Italy, the book was Damiano's Lute and it was followed by Damiano and Raphael.

The Book of Kells followed the Damiano Trilogy and where Damiano was an artist, The Book of Kells was about the famous Irish manuscript. The Book of Kells is a beautifully illuminated manuscript, it's the gospel and Damiano also had strong religious undertones, with the third book being about the archangel Raphael.

There was a big gap in her writing between 1993 and 2005. Her work post 1993 seems to have been aimed at younger readers and she hasn't published anything new since 2011.

I adored the Damiano books when I first read them. I read them before Tea with the Black Dragon, and while that too was an excellent book, I preferred the Damiano ones. The first two books follow the sensitive musician and artist Damiano. He's a real renaissance man, and the books are very much set in Italy during that time, although the reader suspects that the world is not quite real, as not everyone's dog could talk (and a cheeky little thing it is too), nor did they have conversations with their guardian angel, who did turn out to be real and was the focus of the 3rd book. They're a wonderful look at the genre before it became obsessed with assassins and thieves. They make you long for those days back again.

Further and related reading: while Tea with the Black Dragon and it's sequel (Twisting the Rope) are very different to Damiano, they're still well worth reading. I couldn't get into The Book of Kells, something about it just didn't grab me, although thematically it has something in common with the Damiano trilogy and I never tried what Macavoy wrote afterwards.

Religion was a popular topic to write about at the time. Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books deal with this, although I've never actually read them. Clive Barker's Weaveworld deals with fallen angels, and they've become a popular UF protagonist, especially in Tad Williams' recent Bobby Dollar trilogy.

Alan Marshall - May 2, 1904 - January 21, 1984. Australian author Alan Marshall is best known for the autobiographical work I Can Jump Puddles, which was followed by two sequels (This Is the Grass and Mine Own Heart). The first book was highly praised and the entire trilogy was adapted into a 9 part TV series in the 1980's. Those books, especially the first one deal with the author's childhood and how contracting polio affected his life. He also wrote an extensive amount of short stories and tended to write for younger readers. He makes this list because of a marvellous whimsical Australian fairy tale, but his descriptive powers were awe inspiring. I once read a short story of his about 2 young girls and their dog crossing a busy suburban street somewhere in Australia in the 1950's and it remains to this day one of the best short stories I have ever read, despite the subject's seeming mundanity.

This one simply doesn't get enough attention, it's not even that well known in Australia. It's a pure fairy tale, it even has the old young farm boy goes to rescue captured princess trope at it's heart. Accompanying the gallant young Peter on his quest to rescue a princess, kept captive in a tower by a dangerous bunyip (we don't have dragons in Australia, we've got bunyips, they're far more effective), accompanied by his horse that can outrun the rain, a kangaroo that can pull anything she or Peter need out of her pouch and also given occasional help by the wind and the canny old stockman Crooked Mick, who proves to be especially useful during the Lying Contest. It has everything a good fairy tale needs and then some. A true shame that more people don't know about it.

Further and related reading: There are Marshall's many other works. I Can Jump Puddles and it's sequels are easily available and I'm sure there are collections of his short work. The stories which are often about Australia and the bush may contain clues as to the inspiration behind Whispering in the Wind.

It's a fairy tale and there are plenty of those to choose from as well as the many reworkings. It does in some parts remind me of The Magic Pudding, but that's mostly setting and origin. It follows the famous fairy tale trope and for that particular storyline it's hard to go past Alan Dean Foster's novelisation of the first Star Wars film, replace the bunyip with Darth Vader and you're almost there.

A. Lee Martinez struck the jackpot fairly early. His first published novel Gil's All-Fright Diner won awards and became a best seller. Since 2005 he's gone on to publish 9 other novels. He tends to average one a year. He also runs the gamut of fantasy sub genres and has also dabbled in science fiction. Most of his work tends to veer more toward the comedic side of things, and is more urban fantasy than any other sub genre. In this day and age of the sequel and series, Martinez is remarkable in that not one of his novels is a sequel. Gil's All-Fright Diner kind of cries out for one, but thus far the author has resisted the temptation to do it, although he does have a 3-part short story online, however registration to his forum is required to access it. He's also unusual in that his books are relatively short, many authors seem to think more is better, Martinez doesn't. His most recent book Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest (that title gives you some idea of what his work is like, another doozy is Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain) came out in 2013, so he's probably about due for another release.

I just fell in love with this when I first read it. It takes a bunch of UF tropes and has a whole lot of fun with it. I think at the time I said if you think of Valentine (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) from the film Tremors and make one of them into a vampire and the other a werewolf then you've got a pretty good idea of what you're in for in Gil's All-Fright Diner. There's an amorous ghost, complete with ghost dog and a teenage mean girl witch who uses the Necronomicon as a grimoire. Seriously how can it miss? I've seen a few try to hit all the bases like this one, but they tend to fail rather spectacularly. There was talk that this was optioned as a movie and the plan was for Dreamworks to do an animated version, but even the author himself said as recently as 2013 that anyone's guess was as good as his regarding the project.

Further and related reading: there are 9 other Martinez books to choose from. They're all entertaining on different levels. The two closest to the feel of Gil's All-Fright Diner are Monster, about a guy who makes his living capturing and getting rid supernatural type infestations, and Divine Misfortune, about a couple who employ their own personal god without reading the small print.

There are plenty of other comedic fantasy writers, but not many do it quite the same way Martinez does. You can't go past Sir Terry Pratchett for comedic fantasy, but he's nothing like Martinez in either concept or execution. I find that Gail Carriger seems to delight in taking aim at the same UF tropes as Martinez does and making them seem very silly, this is particularly evident in her Parasol Protectorate series. It's a little like a collaboration between P. G Wodehouse and Jane Austen, with some steam punk thrown in, because why not? Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International books, while not intentionally funny most of the time, do have some very amusing ideas: gangsta gnomes, trailer park elves. There is however only one A. Lee Martinez.

After years of writing fanfic and attending conventions and making music, Seanan McGuire finally broke through into the world of mass market publishing in 2009 with the publication of Rosemary and Rue, the first book of the October Daye urban fantasy series (that series is now up to it's eighth book The Winter Long, with the 9th, A Rose Red Chain due out in September of 2015). Rosemary and Rue won Seanan the John W. Campbell award for best new writer at the 2010 Worldcon, she was the first urban fantasy writer to do so. In 2010 she put out 3 books, 2 October Daye's and Feed, the first of a zombie apocalypse trilogy (Newsflesh) under the pseudonym of Mira Grant. in 2012 she started a second urban fantasy series (InCryptid) and that is now up to its 4th book, with a 5th due early join 2016. From the time she first published Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire has kept up an insane publishing schedule. She guarantees 3 books a year: one InCryptid, one October Daye and one under the Mira Grant pseudonym. She also puts out a number of short stories, as well as working on music and a podcast. Up until 2014 she did this and held down a full time job. She regularly publishes free fiction on her website (often a story about her superhero Velveteen, two collected books of Velveteen fiction have also been released, or background for the InCryptid series, very occasionally something related to Toby). There have been a couple of standalone short fiction collections: Indexing and Sparrow Hill Road (although Sparrow Hill Road shares a universe with InCryptid). She keeps a very active presence on Twitter and Livejournal and her OCD forces her to attempt to reply to every single comment left there, unless she declares a comment amnesty.

I'm a big fan of McGuire's (did it show?), so I was always going to include her in here, it was just what to include. I do like the Toby Daye's, but they're not quite like the Dresden Files in the way they're constructed, and it's the same with the InCryptid's. I went with Sparrow Hill Road. Rose Marshall began her life as the Pretty Little Dead Girl in a song that Seanan wrote and performed. She then wrote 12 short stories about the dead girl who travelled the highways of the afterlife and guided others to their rest. These were published one a month on the website Edge of Propinquity. I always thought that they'd make a really good book all collected together, obviously so did the Powers that Be at DAW. Sparrow Hill Road is those 12 short stories cleaned up, reordered and given a linking thread, with one added to make it into a baker's dozen, or lucky thirteen. Rose's story is remarkably affecting, she made me laugh and cry, occasionally at the same time. She's the realest ghost I've ever encountered.

Further and related reading: I covered most of what else Seanan has done or does. The InCryptid books are particularly related to Sparrow Hill Road, because they share a universe. None of the InCrytpid family actually feature in Sparrow Hill Road, but they do occasionally mention Rose, who I think the younger members of the family refer to as Aunty Rose.

Ghosts are becoming more popular in fiction these days, but they're still not really making it as major characters in books overall. Gail Carriger includes them peripherally in her books, mostly in the Parasol Protectorate. They featured quite heavily in the Harry Potter books, especially Moaning Myrtle. The only one that made them major characters was the criminally underrated and often forgotten Thorne Smith in his Topper series.

China Mieville burst onto the scene in 1998 with King Rat and was almost immediately anointed the high priest of the New Weird, even if no one seems to be able to quite agree on exactly what New Weird is. I think the title came about with Perdido Street Station. Mieville himself has a stated intention of wanting to write a book in every genre possible, and he's gone a long way to achieving that aim. For that reason you're never quite sure what you're going to get with a Mieville book, although you can guarantee that it probably won't be what you expected. He's quite well beloved of those who nominate and vote for the various SFF awards with Locus' and Hugo's in his trophy cabinet as well as nominations for any genre award you care to name. Mieville is quite well known for his Socialist political views and even ran unsuccessfully for the House of Commons in the British 2001 elections. He's quite active online and keeps up a prolific publishing schedule, although 2016's The Census Taker will be his first published novel since 2012's Railsea.

I attempted to read Embassytown some years ago when it was nominated for the Hugo and it turned into a DNF for me. It wasn't that it was a bad book as such, just that I couldn't connect with it on any level. I was told that it wasn't the best of Mieville's works to begin with, and I eventually found my way to Perdido Street Station. I won't say it's an easy read, because it isn't, but my God it's good. You occasionally hear someone say that their mind is blown by a particular book, it doesn't happen often to me, but Perdido Street Station did that. The depth of imagination and sheer oddness of the world it presents is astonishing. For me it's become one of those must read novels if you're into the genre at all. I don't think you can attempt to have a true understand of what fantasy can do and can be if you've haven't at least attempted to read Perdido Street Station, it is that good. It seems to be the most popular of all Mieville's works and he's released The Scar and The Iron Council, which are part of the Bas-Lag (the setting) series. All his other work is standalone.

Further and related reading: aside from the aforementioned other Bas-Lag books, Mieville has plenty to choose from in his standalone catalog from his debut King Rat which is a kind of urban fantasy in a similar vein to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere to Railsea, a dystopian young adult offering. There's a number of things in between, Un Lun Dun, Kraken, The City and the City and Embassytown. They run the gamut of styles and genres.

I found some of the same elements in Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur as was in Perdido Street Station, and Mark Charan Newton may have drawn inspiration from Mieville. Up until reading Perdido Street Station I thought that Clive Barker had the creation of an alien world to himself in Weaveworld and then Imajica, Mieville knocks him into a cocked hat. People keep saying they want alien cultures and diversity in their fantasy, they need to try Perdido Street Station.

In 2011 a book called The Night Circus hit the shelves and became an instant world wide best selling success. I'm still not sure if Erin Morgenstern is a pen name or her real name. It just conjures up images of the fictional author of The Princess Bride. Before landing a deal with her current literary agency, Erin Morgenstern and The Night Circus had been rejected by over 30 agencies. It really does make one wonder exactly how much they know, or what they're looking for in an author and a work. To date The Night Circus is Morgenstern's only published novel, although she does write a lot of short work and publishes it online for free. She's also been a participant in National Novel Writing Month since 2003, and what became The Night Circus started as a Nanowrimo project in 2005.

Isn't that an absolutely gorgeous cover? I will admit that the cover was what originally attracted me to this book, it's since been rereleased with something bland and hideous that wouldn't have ever caught my attention, however in the same shop I did see the original cover only it was shelved in the YA section for some reason. After seeing that cover I heard some buzz and eventually picked up and read the book. I was entranced from start to finish. The story moves in and out over the history of an extraordinary magic circus and dips in and out of the lives of it's performers and even it's audience over that period. The descriptions are so good and so real that you're surprised to realise that the things described within it's pages never actually existed. Reading The Night Circus is like having an extraordinarily vivid dream, and there's a tangible sense of loss when you turn the last page and realise that it's time to wake up.

Further and related reading: for more of Erin Morgenstern's work you can try her website which has a lot of her short fiction, although it's not all related to the novel. In fact I think very little of it is.

Despite circuses being so popular in fiction they don't often feature in fantasy. There's Charles Finney's The Circus of Dr Lao, the circus in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn and there were a few books in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series where a group of protagonists joined a travelling show. There's also Robert Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle, where the protagonist travels across his world, masquerading as a juggler with a troupe of performers.

Honourable mention: I'm sure there are people reading this and asking where is George R.R Martin? His name starts with M, doesn't it? Are you some sort of philistine that doesn't like A Song of Ice and Fire? Have you been living under a rock and never heard of Game of Thrones. Well, yes, no and no.

There's George, wearing his trademark sailor's cap, and there's a collection of his phenomenally popular epic fantasy series. I do quite like A Song of Ice and Fire and the HBO show that is based on it. I've been reading it since 1996 when the first book came out. I've gone through all the angst around when the next book in the series is coming out. I have a signed copy of A Dance With Dragons. I met George at Worldcon in 2010 and was lucky enough to have a chat with him. So with all this and obvious affection for him as an author and given that he kind of started the ball rolling with grim dark being on every publisher and agent's wish list, why didn't he get a start on my list?

George didn't just write A Song of Ice and Fire. He's got a body of work behind him before anyone had read the word Westeros. There's the long running shared world series of Wild Cards, which was his brainchild and something that he still edits and occasionally contributes too, and there's his vampire classic Fevre Dream, and his children's story The Ice Dragon. However, while I have my own feelings on those (I've never been able to fathom the appeal of Wild Cards and I liked Fevre Dream, but I didn't love it) I couldn't include him for anything other than A Song of Ice and Fire, and it's not like The Lies Of Locke Lamora, in that it was self contained. A Song of Ice and Fire is one book, broken into however many volumes it takes the author to tell the story, as yet it is incomplete and therefore my opinion of its quality may change. He deserves a mention for what he done for the genre, but I can't put him among the best until he finishes the series and the rest lives up to the first five.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7. Episode 13

I feel kind of like I should be having a party, or a cake, or some sort of celebration, because this is it, the last episode of the show. After this there is no more. I don't really know what the major cast members have done since, with the exception of the legend that is Bruce Campbell, who always seems to be doing something. Most recently an Evil Dead TV show, in which he reprises his character Ash Williams. However Burn Notice went for over 100 episodes and it did finish relatively recently, so I'm sure people like Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar and Coby Bell will pop up various places.

The episode begins where the last one left off, on the roof of a building, with the CIA converging and James choppering in. Sonya realises that Michael won't shoot Fiona, so aims her gun at the Irish girl. That decides Michael and he shoots Sonya dead. This of course means that all hell breaks loose. James turns the chopper around and puts out a message to all his people that Michael Westen and his people all die.

Michael and Fiona get away from both James' people and the CIA. He and his friends and family are all public enemy number 1 now. When they stop to get supplies at a convenience store, Sam and Jesse had guns pulled on them as there was a price on their heads. Michael now has a bit of a death wish and crashed the car that they'd just hot wired into the store to get Sam and Jesse out. He took a bullet in the shoulder, it bled a lot, but he claimed it was only a graze. The last time a Burn Notice character said that, it was Sam, and he'd been gut shot.

Michael says that he, Sam and Fiona will go after James and take him down, they're going to try and cripple his communications network. Jesse gets information from an old contact on that, then he goes to protect Maddy and Charlie, because Michael knows that James will go after them.

Strong's already told Michael that he's also number 1 on their shit list after failing to bring James in.

While Michael, Sam and Fiona try to take out James' communication network, which he has set up in an old abandoned news building, James rings Michael and tells him that he's going after Maddy and Charlie. He doesn't know Jesse is with them, but Jesse can't take out James' team all by himself, even if Maddy is loading for him.

Maddy knows that she won't get out of this alive, she can't do that and also protect Charlie, so she sets up an explosive device and tells Jesse to get Charlie out, she'll stay and hold off the team and take a few with her. Her revelation to Michael and that he knew there was no other option was heartbreaking. I even teared up, Maddy has come so far since that first episode.

Jesse hides Charlie in the bathtub, James' men storm the house and there's Madeline Westen in an armchair, smoking a cigarette. She smiles, and says that this is for her boys, then presses the trigger. The house goes up and takes most of James' men with it. Jesse grabs Charlie and shoots a path clear for him to get out.

Back at the comms building, they've got everything they need to take James down, but then he storms in with his people. Sam makes a break and Fiona and Michael cover him. They stand side by side, facing down the mercenaries. Fiona says to Michael 'Shall we shoot them?' echoing the comment we hear episode after episode in the opening credits. They grab their guns and start.

Eventually they get pinned down. Michael tries a desperation move to get James and Fiona shoots his men. Michael takes James down, and that's when he pulls out a deadman's switch trigger device and lets it go. Sam sees the entire building go up in flames. It's over. No one was getting out of that alive.

Strong cleans up the aftermath. Both Sam and Jesse were taken into custody (there's no mention of what happened to Charlie). Strong manages to get them both a release, because they provided valuable intelligence and Michael is now dead. Even so he says some wanted to keep them locked up forever, to which Sam replies, 'You know spies, bunch of bitchy little girls.' Which is another reference to the opening credits and the very first episode. Strong does however get Michael a star on the wall at Langley for agents who die in the line of duty, and a military funeral.

Sam and Jesse see the coffins for Fiona and Michael laid to rest beside Maddy and Nate. Barry shows up at the funeral, and that was a nice way to use him in the final episode, because he was a big part of the show, probably the most important recurring character left alive.

As the funeral happens, Michael monologues for one last time and we see he and Fiona at the end after James' drops the dead man's switch. They ran together, and they out ran the explosion, landing in the water at the edge of the building. A tad unbelievable true, but having them die would have been a really sucky ending.

Sam and Jesse talk about doing a job together. Sam's met someone who really needs their help. So they're going to continue Michael's work, and they wonder where Michael and Fiona are, they know that they got out alive.

The focus is on a cottage somewhere in Ireland. Fiona and Michael are curled up by the fire. Charlie asleep in Michael's lap (exactly how they got him out of the country and from Jesse is never explained). Michael asks Fiona how does he tell Charlie about everything, his Dad, his grandmother and even who he is. Fiona thinks about it and says 'Tell him the truth. You could start with my name is Michael Westen. I used to be spy.'

What a perfect ending.

It really is one of the best endings to a long running show that I've seen. We had some death (Maddy), all the storylines were neatly tied up, there was plenty of fan service (the 3 lines from the opening credits and Barry), but not too much, and they left it open if they ever want to return to it. I can see a show with Sam and Jesse would be fun, as would one with Michael and Fiona trying to escape their pasts and raise Charlie.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7. Episode 12

The penultimate episode. I knew this was going to be a cliffhanger episode and I did consider doing the two as one post, but I figure I may have a bit to say about the final one, so I decided to post them separately.

Michael wasn't shot by Sonya, she didn't even wound him, although she did slap him hard enough to give him a cut on his nose. He was held in the dungeon in James' house in Mexico. It was probably a wine cellar or a basement of some sort, but it really does look like a dungeon. Sonya asks Michael how much of what he felt for her was real, was any of it? He gives her a rather cryptic answer that says that for some part of him, the part that believed in what she and James were doing, that was real. I find it hard to take Alona Tal really seriously in the role. She looks too much like all American cheerleader Meg Lanning from Veronica Mars for me to see her as Russian killer and stone cold terrorist Sonya.

James wants to know why Michael did it and how he managed to fool him so completely, and then he comes up with a plan, once Michael confirms that he has switched sides. He'll give himself up, let Michael take the credit for the capture, and hand over leadership of his organisation to he and Sonya. What could be better than having a trusted leader inside the CIA itself?

Strong's hauled over the coals by his superiors at Langley and Michael steps in to help him out and guarantees that he can deliver James to them. No one there knows who he's really working for, at this stage I wasn't even sure what game Michael was playing. It's a good job by the writers and Jeffrey Donovan to sell it this well.

Fiona can see what others can't, Michael's drunk the kool-aid, he's on James' side. She has a meeting with Sam and Jesse. They decide to effectively kidnap Michael and deprogram him. They'll take Maddy and Charlie too. She's not happy about it, but she'll do it. Fiona torches Madeline's house (I was sad to see the old place go, it has so many happy memories for viewers), that brings James' minders running from their car. Fiona pulls up beside it in her zippy red Hyundai, throws a molotov cocktail out the window and takes off.

Sam and Jesse tail Michael to Fort Lauderdale and see him meeting with James. They now know he's lied to them and to the CIA. Sonya tells Michael that Fiona is a problem and has to be neutralised once the news about how she's spirited Maddy and Charlie out of their grasp reaches her. Michael says he'll deal with Fiona and warns Sonya off.

Sam tries to get Michael to the intervention. Michael works it out on the bridge and takes the wheel, making Sam pull over to the side of the bridge. I noticed that it was raining during this confrontation. Having experienced Florida's sudden tropical downpours it's amazing that they filmed as much of the show as they did without this becoming a factor before.

Sam and Michael fight, and Sam knows that his best chance of taking Michael Westen, who is younger, fitter and better trained, in a fight is to go to his element of the water. Being an ex Navy SEAL, water is where Sam can get the upper hand. If he'd been a current SEAL and in shape, he may have had a chance, but he's been out of the game and he's not all that fit now. Michael does escape.

Just when James is choppering in and the plan is about to come off, Fiona arrives. Sonya is there too. This could be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Michael won't kill Fiona, but will he kill Sonya?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 11

The 3rd last ever episode of Burn Notice is structured oddly. There are two storylines happening. One concerns Michael and his mission with James and also features Sam and Jesse, and the other takes place in Miami and is mostly Fiona with Maddy. However both are part of the same story and take place concurrently.

Michael has gained enough information from Sonya by sleeping with her that Strong and his team, which now seems to include Sam and Jesse, despite them having no affiliation whatsoever with the CIA, can finally grab James and hopefully Sonya.

Strong either can’t, or won’t, protect Maddy and Charlie and Michael knows James has them watched and uses them as insurance. He asks Fiona to do it for him, because there’s no telling what may happen when he betrays James. Fiona sets herself up in a car outside the house, armed with a sniper rifle.

The CIA ambush James, along with Michael and Sonya, but he slips it and escapes with some of his team by carjacking a couple of Mexican locals. The CIA use the phone Michael took from the person he carjacked, to track him. Then James and Sonya split from Michael and agree to rendezvous down the track.

Fiona goes in, but doesn’t enter the house, just booby-traps it, but tells Maddy by pretending to be a neighbour calling her. Maddy plays it well, but all the while they’re hoping nothing will happen. Charlie is still in the house and vulnerable. Before Fiona can set off her explosive and go in guns blazing, the guards in the house receive a call telling them to back off. Fiona quickly hides behind a tree so that she isn’t spotted.

At the boat house Michael goes to, the CIA extraction team go into action and after Michael has disabled one of James’ people, tell him that he can come out. Only one member of the team is still alive, he turns around and he’s Simon.

Acting under Simon and Strong’s instruction, Michael calls James and Sonya and gets them to meet him. Michael and Simon talk. Simon was let out to do CIA dirty work almost from the moment Michael delivered him to them. He sees his situation and Michael’s as similar. They’re both weapons that the CIA or someone else takes out when they’re needed and use. The difference is that Michael’s friends and family give them leverage against him. With Simon they use the fact that he’s not locked up, and that he actually enjoys killing people.

Michael actually realizes that Simon is right. The two of them fight and Michael kills him. It was one of the best choreographed fights in the show thus far. I know Jeffrey Donovan has martial arts experience. I don’t think Garrett Dillahunt does, but he still looks to have moves, and he does often play that sort of role.

Instead of letting the CIA take James, Michael helps he and Sonya get away. At his safe house, a palatial mansion, James wants answers and blood.

As an aside I do often wonder where James gets his money, or if he’s being bankrolled by someone. He has all sorts of expensive equipment and toys. He razed a $10,000,000 mansion to the ground in Miami to avoid detection, and yes real estate in Mexico isn’t as expensive as in Miami, but it still isn’t thrown away, then he also pays the mercenaries he hires and they don’t come cheap.

James wants to kill Sonya, because she was the only one who knew his movements. Maybe she broke under torture and rolled over on him. Just when the trigger is inches from being pulled, Michael confesses. He was the rat, he’s been the rat all along.

He then makes an impassioned speech about how he believed in the CIA and by using someone like Simon they betrayed him and all that he stood for, so if James wants to now kill him, go ahead. James gives the gun to Sonya, she thinks about pulling the trigger and then lowers it. So who’s killing who now?

Sam and Jesse are incensed with Strong for using Simon.

It’s all up in the air for the big finale, which will more than likely run over two episodes.