Housekeeping Dept. There has been a surprising run on back issues following my announcement last time that they were getting scarce. Accordingly, I can now only supply issues 7, 8, 9 (at £1) and 10/11 (at £2). Any previous issues are either down to singles, tatty or, apart from my copies, completely gone although I am holding a few in reserve for those that have asked. Reprints are probably not on, but I may reconsider it if enough order. Judging by a recent auction, the collectors price on issue 1 seems to be £7-£8. Slightly foxed, one staple tending to rust, otherwise fine. Actually, I'm lying at this point. By way of compensation, for those that haven't seen it, Sumo Retro is now available which is a selection of most of the reviews and articles from issues 1 through 8. It is big, at nearly eighty pages, and will cost you £2.95 inc p&p. I have printed a fair number but over half have sold already which means there are almost certainly people buying it who already have the back issues - thankyou kindly, but I don't understand why! Retro can then, for the time being, be supplied from stock and, probably, even by return.
The Rules Bank has caused me no end of torment - should I burn it, suspend it or pass it on - but it is effectively back in business until the next bozo rings me up and moans. Jeez, I'm turning into an editor with attitude. As far as I can see, all outstanding requests have now (4th July) been dealt with and if you are still waiting could I apologise for losing your note and ask you to re-request? Thanks. The terms are as before with some slight tweaking: 10p per page paid for with an open cheque ('Not to exceed Five Pounds') payable to M Siggins along with an addressed envelope with two first class stamps. Please put all requests on a separate piece of paper (so I can keep letters elsewhere) with your address at the top. However, please do not make requests for 20, 30 or even 47 sets of rules as I have had recently - why could anyone want this many at once? Moderation in all things, please. Thanks as always to those of you who have kept the rules coming in especially on floppies - the disk based library is now growing steadily.
I thoroughly enjoyed the New Illustrated Rock Handbook (Salamander) which scores not only on its commentaries that pull no punches but also by virtue of having a selection of those fascinating rock family tree diagrams. Inevitably there are omissions (Bachmann Turner Overdrive for one - wise words, mate) mainly because of size restrictions and because the editions get chopped around over the years, but it is very much one of those top notch reference books that you dip into for some information and end up spending an hour or so jumping around the various bands saying ooh I didn t know that. An excellent read, and there really must be a decent game waiting to be done on this subject - didn't Mick Haytack do one? The editor and author of much of this, by the way, is Mike Clifford who you may have spotted appearing in these pages. It's a bind, but we have to let our writers have their head from time to time.
Other reading. Mmmm. Well, I know how to use the most useful bits of Corel Draw, Excel and Access now, and I'm fully boned up on loan covenants, though I suppose that doesn t count much towards cultural advancement. I must own up to having fallen for the Donna Tartt hype (admit it Siggins - she's a Babe!) and bought Secret History (Penguin), an excellent story about a New England college murder. I think the hype is necessary because it is a bit arty and highbrow, but it's a cracker and an imposing first novel. I did enjoy dipping into The Shorter Pepys and will get back to read the rest of it at some stage. David Lodge s long lost first novel, The Picturegoers, is now out again in Penguin which completes my set. Despite being an early work (an apprentice piece as Lodge himself says) I thought it far better than his recent stuff and reminiscent of British Museum and Ginger, You re Barmy. Oh for another Small World. Another book from Lodge is the Art of Fiction (did I mention this before?), a rehash of his Sindy articles that I missed because I can't stand that newspaper. There are over forty chapters discussing, and clearly explaining, the parts of the novel, writing styles, symbolism, experimental fiction, tricks, literary allusion and so on; in fact, the whole works. Despite the sometimes highbrow themes, Lodge is never stuffy and it is a breeze to read in one go or to dip into for individual chapters. This is excellent work and I've never read anything quite like it. I also have to say that English Lit would have been a whole lot more thought provoking taught this way.
Steven Levy's first book Hackers is one of the best books I've read on the computer subculture so it was with interest that I purchased his latest, Artificial Life. Against all odds, this is not yet another book about virtual reality (thank goodness) but concentrates more on the fields of artificial intelligence, creating life on a computer and working towards Hal status. Not as good as Hackers, but still a very good read. Linking neatly into Artificial Life is the best piece of software I have bought for ages. I am aware that I said I haven't bought any games, but I feel El Fish is very much a 'software toy' and its creators, Maxis and a Russian outfit, would agree having trademarked the term.
On the surface, El Fish looks a lot like those After Dark screensavers that show tropical fish swimming around your monitor. Ultimately it does perform that function, albeit to a far higher standard, but it is the background substance that really scores. Basically, El Fish is a bottom up treatment of artificial life. Whereas artificial intelligence aims to simulate brain functions and work down to create lifelike actions, El Fish lets you play around with creating the lifeforms and, much like the Sims in Sim City, gives them a believable veneer of sentient behaviour. The program allows you to catch fish at random, evolve them in seconds rather than years, breed any two fish to make a third and then you render them in high resolution graphics to create the stunning animations. The process of breeding is fascinating as it allows you to introduce degrees of randomness into the gene pool, allowing some weird and wonderful creations and colour combinations. It even allows you to go for broke and create mutants (or mules) which can't breed but tend to be the most spectacular in size, shape and colour.
Best of all, once your new creation pops out, you can name them, create a tank for them to live in, feed them and then even swap fish with other users. The end result is excellent, and of course environmentally sound (and no need to clean out the tank or have the buggers die on you). Applying this level of artificial life realism to other fields really starts me thinking about what might be possible in the future - imagine breeding horses that would then race realistically or creating commanders (with career histories) who would go off to fight their own simulated battles. Mind boggling.
One of two failings is that although you can import user designed graphics (a film of pollution, say, or a Russian nuclear sub) into the tank, there is no mechanism to scan or draw a Clown Fish and load it in for cross breeding or simply to add it to your collection. You are therefore stuck with what you 'catch' from the program and can I catch an orange fish for my gene pool? Can I heck. The other, rather greater, drawback is the almost essential requirement for a maths co-processor and a Priapic PC with man-sized Mhz. Even a fast 386 will take some hours to render the complex images and each fish might take a worrying half a meg or more to store on disk - given that I have about twenty breeds already, you can see the problem. Despite its hardware guzzling properties, I have no higher recommendation than to say that, on showing a friend of mine how it worked, we sat for best part of two hours of a game session (!) creating the most exotic and beautiful breeds of fish. With effort and patience, and careful use of the genetic sliders, we even managed to produce a flying fish - an uggo to be sure, but a flyer. I have heard a lot of complaints about Maxis' other efforts post Sim City (ashamedly, I've not tried them), but when they hit this sort of form I have to say that, to me, they and Microprose still seem to be the only companies capable of pushing out the envelope. Can't wait for Sim Farm.
Longer standing readers (I can do all the magazine cliches, me) may have noticed that I am rather susceptible to short term fads. For instance, I have dived off into interactive fiction for, oh, a month or so, then it will be something like DTP or NBA (or acronyms), then perhaps a short dalliance with heraldry or flag design. Weird? Undoubtedly. At the moment I've gone a little bit Arabian Nights. No particular reason, just a build up of interest in the subject and a desire to find out a bit more. I've always enjoyed the genre, particularly West End's excellent Tales of the Arabian Nights, so this has been out recently causing much amusement, mainly because I always seemed to end up lost, lovelorn and crippled. Scanning my bookshelves I came across Arabesques (recent short stories in the style of the Arabian Nights) which is generally hogwash and the Oxford Classics version of the tales themselves, heavily cut down to fit into one colourful volume. This was okay, but heavily sanitized for the kids I feel. A visit to Al Hoda in Charing Cross Road soon produced a far better volume which is, er, rather spicy in places as I suppose it should be. Scouting wider, I quickly came across the GURPS sourcebook written by one Phil Masters (why do I know this name?) and the stunningly presented Al Qadim series from TSR. These latter are a range of sourcebooks and adventures that are superbly done and have come as close to getting me back to running an AD&D game as anything in the last eight years. Not sure when this fad will pass, but you should be safe holding your breath.
There is a saying that there is nothing like being at an event live, and if the Historic Car Festival at Silverstone was anything to go by, it's one of the great truisms in life. While a big fan of old motor racing footage on TV, I have never been to a Grand Prix race of any era. However, I can safely say that I now have no inclination to go - I shall simply add this event to my not-to-be-missed list. Sod Prost and Senna, this is the real thing. Once again in my life, I envy the older generation who could have watched Fangio, Moss or Nuvolari in their prime. But enough of that, what about the hardware? Unsurpassed, is all I can say. The chance to see a BRM V16 (with its amazing engine noise), a 1959 Dino in superb tune, a Vanwall, a 1968 Cooper, a couple of ERAs, no less than seven Maserati 250Fs, a bevy of Can Am racers and an Eight Litre Bentley among hundreds of classic cars was just trouser wettingly good. I sat entranced through six races and, with just £12 asked for entrance, this was the bargain of the year.
The staggering fact is that while I had known these cars were going to 'race' round Silverstone, I was not prepared for the flat out, even reckless, nature of the competition. I must admit I expected a rather more gentlemanly, scarf and goggles approach, but if you can imagine two D Type Jaguars and a Maserati 450 hurtling into a corner three abreast, you will have some idea of the balls on show. Some would call it sacrilege, but I have to admire these people's commitment to the sport. They could take the dusty museum route, but choose to get them out on the road and thrash them. Given that some of these cars are worth millions and, more to the point, irreplaceable, I have to say I was overwhelmed. Also impressive were the driving skills on offer - there are no traction control systems or fat slicks on these beauties, just four wheel drifts round the corners. This was a brilliant day out, full of gorgeous ear bashing engine noise, wonderful smells and a race atmosphere that is hard to convey. Marvellous stuff.
The PC is going well thankyou, aside from the fact that Tiko kindly went under a month after delivery, neatly scuppering my three year warranty. You know, I somehow felt there was something wrong there - a hunch inspired by a large chunk of my money being in their hands I suppose (even with Visa insurance). My general thoughts? Still glad I went the PC over the Mac route (for economic and power considerations), despite occasional misgivings. Anyway, I can always get a Powerbook.... As usual, however powerful a PC might appear on day one, within six months it appears slow at certain jobs, leaving me craving a Pentium and S3 graphics. I can dream. I should definitely have gone for 8Mb ram and and thanks to bloated software and my penchant for graphics, my 210Mb disk has filled up very quickly. I expect the Font Police to call any time now, "400 fonts eh sir? Just a little over zealous I think. But glad to see you have wiped the vile Dom Casual." I somehow can't bring myself to use Stacker or similar doublers as the idea of compressing valuable data (or even programs) on a 'virtual' disk leaves me cold - the real ones are worrying enough..... WordPerfect meanwhile have bundled Grammatik which proofreads Sumo for me and offers pompous advice concerning use of the passive voice and overlong sentences. It's like an old English teacher I knew who used to squawk "More Plums, Less Custard" for most of her waking hours. That said, a quick run through Grammatik is useful for picking up the odd howler, though I don't let it anywhere near my letters as its concept of 'informal' is rather distant from mine...... Last night I shelled out into Dos for the first time in weeks and yes, it felt a little primitive. Apart from games and El Fish which still run from DOS, I suppose this means I am something of a Windows convert after all, despite its predilection to crash (six major bombs since November), but my concerns remain if this operating system is really seen as something a beginner can understand and use. I concede they'll understand it better than C:>, but this is not a forgiving or intuitive cushion by any stretch.
TV viewing has been increasingly selective due to time pressures. So selective in fact that I now watch just half a dozen programmes devoutly and most of those are on Friday night. These are, in case you were wondering, LA Law (nyahh to those who took the mick out of satellite dishes), Grand Prix (two and four wheels), Horizon, Roseanne, Have I got News for You and One Foot in the Grave (incredibly, this was even funnier than the last series.). If I am slumped in front of the telly with a book, I ll watch some cricket, Hill Street, the NBA highlights programme, Star Trek:TNG (occasionally highly imaginative) and Sounds of the 70 s, but apart from that five or six hours worth, I am practically off the stuff which is no bad thing. Given that I am usually multi-tasking when I m watching it (reading, painting, doing admin) I don t feel too guilty about the time allocated. The ultimate sacrilege was giving up on the Five Nations after we lost to the druids. It didn t quite seem the same after that, and this from someone who hasn t missed a game in ten years. What I did enjoy was the options bourse run by Societe Generale on the France England game at a slick London hotel - I did rather badly on England calls but learned a lot and had a great day out. What I have been watching is The Tour de France which really lived up to the very best action of recent years. The Isola 2000 stage was outstanding entertainment. For me, along with The Masters, this is now the sporting highlight of the year. Equally good were the two attempts by Obree and Boardman on the world 1 hour record, which having stood for over a decade to Moser, was broken in successive weeks by British amateur riders. It may be some indication of the esteem that cycling is held in this country that while the continental papers gave this front page news status, it was difficult to even find a mention here, The Independent being a notable exception. But such moans are probably applicable to any number of minority sports. I can't wait for the reaction to The Tour appearing in the UK next year. I can just see the Angry of Brighton letters, protesting that his road was closed for a whole three hours and he couldn't get to Sainsbury's! See you on Ditchling Beacon.
It was a bit much to have to suffer the end of two of my favourite programmes within a week of each other. The Wonder Years has, despite a patchy phase in the middle, rarely failed to entertain and there is really nothing more to say about Cheers. In fact it is hard to recall a duff episode among the classics, the standouts and the sheer brilliance of the middle series (the ones where Woody had just started to flower). It is always good to quit at the top, but lets face it this could have applied at almost any time throughout the run. That said, I thought the last episode a bit of a let down and slightly in danger of becoming maudlin - the last thing it should have been. Having Diane back looked like a mistake and she really didn't fit, which surprised me. If you ever need career advice, Shelley Long is not the woman to talk to. Finally, the end didn't really do much to say how it finished - I suppose you either take the 'Sam went on to be a Benedictine Monk' route or do a Hill Street where things just end suddenly with nothing special occurring. This fell uncomfortably between the two. Who was the man at the door? Whatever the feelings, I can be pretty sure that repeats of these two will seldom be off our screens.
According to a comment I overheard, the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles are the most expensive TV programmes ever put together. Judging by the first few episodes, I can well believe it. Absolutely no expense has been spared on the sets which, as one might expect from George Lucas and his pals, are superb. The general idea is much the same as the Young Sherlock film in that we go back in time, to 1900-1918, and call in on Indy as he grows up, safe in the knowledge that he won't be killed (as if he would in the films). Along the way we should find out why he is called Indiana, where he got the hat and quite why he uses a whip. Where it scores is the rich period of history Lucas has set himself up to exploit. Given the emphasis, I have my suspicions that our George is a keen historian and a military one at that - Indy boldly discussing whether the ACW was the first modern war in last week's episode was a bit of a giveaway - but am I going to complain about this? So far we have had Mexican revolutions, the Somme, the Belgians in the Congo, Albert Schweitzer, spy jaunts in the Austro-Hungarian empire, escape from a Colditz style castle and even a hunting party with a US President. This is all good stuff, and well worth watching, but the stories are occasionally a little dull (and often moralising) and perhaps overlong at an hour each. Lucas also seems to have changed a bit since the squeaky clean, blood free Star Wars - an episode on Verdun was particularly gruesome. In comparison with the films, they don't come anywhere close in excitement, but I can see that something different, and definitely more serious, was probably the intention. They work, and I'm always looking forward to seeing where they get to next week.
Such is the speed of my life that, at Christmas, when I saw that Central TV had dramatised the first two Sharpe books I made a mental note to write to some subbers in the midlands to ask them to tape it for me. By the time I had got round to doing anything, it popped up in the Radio Times and was there to be watched by everyone. All things considered, I have to say I was impressed, particularly by Sharpe's Eagle - the French attack was very atmospheric. It is traditional for us train spotter types to say this rather grudgingly, which I do, but given that it had to make prime time and appeal to all types of viewers, it was done as well as it could be. I thought it a bit corny in parts, but that is true to the books, and there was an odd section where, entering a town, the rifles were made out to be SWAT team trained, but this and a slight concern over uniform accuracy (he said adenoidally) were the only very minor failings. Overall, a lot more fun than reading the books and, assuming they have been popular enough to get the funding, I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
Given that it must be over three months since I last wrote anything on the subject, it is quite surprising how many films mount up, most deserving at least a short comment. I enjoyed Blade Runner: The Director s Cut but nothing like as much as the first time round - it is very much a film that loses its impact both on the small screen and on repeated viewing. To be honest, apart from the lack of a happy ending, the voiceover removal and the odd (and I use the word advisedly) few seconds of extra footage, I was not too sure what all the fuss was about. Perhaps people were seeing it for the first time. Nevertheless, still a classic.
TV films at last provided a lot of recent French stuff (Channel 4, who else) which really do hit the mark. When you analyse a super little film like La Gloire de mon Pere, Nikita, La Lectrice or the outstanding Delicatessen there is really very little in the 90 minutes but the slightly strange storyline, the stunning cinematography, the beautiful actresses and, oh alright then, the potential for imminent kit-off action. However, unlike many subtle Hollywood films (Mystic Pizza for instance - so subtle it almost wasn't there), the French equivalent somehow keeps me fascinated and impressed. It is almost certainly illusory and sometimes unsatisfying, but boy can they make movies. One exception to the Hollywood norm was House of Games which I caught on TV recently. Now that I enjoyed. Great story, some brilliant lines, a feeling of unreality created by the staccato dialogue and even remotely linked to games. Excellent stuff.
You may well laugh, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Bodyguard. Despite having a rather shallow and at times obvious plot, I found it involving, full of suspense and I was able to empathise with the eponymous job which must be virtually a no-win occupation. And the soundtrack is a cracker as well. Kevin Costner meanwhile grows on me by the month. This shift from my usual neutrality was helped by the marvellous Film 93 interview wherein not only did our Baz reduce the fawning to an acceptable level (attractive women seem to bring out the worst grovels, especially The Pfeiff) but Costner proved beyond doubt that he is a mensch.
Better still was Groundhog Day which is an outstanding film. Worryingly slow to start ('I knew we should have gone to see Indecent Proposal'), it builds steadily into one of those movies that you greatly enjoy at the time, enjoy even more as you think about it and then realise it was so well executed that someone (Harold Ramis probably) deserves something large and shiny for his mantelpiece. The plot is one that holds a particular appeal for me as it concentrates on the chance to live a section of one's life over and over until, in this case, you get it right. Basically, Bill Murray (a small scale Siggins hero) gets stuck in the same day in Smalltown USA, a place he hates, and has to come to terms with the people, the change of lifestyle, boredom and ultimately 'life' in the sense of 'what it is all about'. It makes for an excellent film - schmaltz with an edge, if you like. It serves up all sorts of philosophical questions and made me want to go out and do positive things, which can't be bad. A life-affirming, feelgood movie to rank with the best and it can only be a matter of time before someone decides to film Ken Grimwood's Replay, in which the protagonist runs most of his life each time rather than just one day, and then I'll be a happy man.
Anyway, good as this one was, film of the month goes to The Last of The Mohicans which is a cracker of an action film. Considering I sat glued to the old BBC Sunday afternoon serial, I was surprised at how little of the story I remembered. What's good? Well, pretty much everything. The acting is impressive and natural, great story, marvellous scenery and photography, some of the best battle scenes I've ever seen and a general saturday morning pictures feel that carried on all night, even to the post-film discussion. It even showed me how mortars worked in the eighteenth century which had been a big hole in my knowledge. I suppose the only adverse comment would be the squeaky clean actors (Daniel Day Lewis looks like an ad for Salon Selectives) but this is Hollywood, not gritty realism. A great movie. Jurassic Park next week!
Musical purchases have been minimal I m afraid due to a newly introduced iron will policy when CD and book buying, though the latter fails more often than not. The musical lowpoint was a friend of mine phoning to tell me that Paul Weller was on Saturday Zoo, singing live. I quickly switched on to catch most of an embarrassingly bad funk version of A Town Called Malice featuring the former Spokesman for a Generation bouncing around with a ludicrous basin haircut. His pseudo-woofter phase (poseur with a pack of Gauloises) and the pretentious jazz aspirations I can almost forgive, but screwing with one of The Jam s best tracks was the limit. This is probably exactly why he did it. Another hero of my youth bites the dust. Actually, I haven't got any left apart from Terry Bradshaw and Woody Allen and I'm not even sure about them.
On the upside, I have belatedly discovered Tori Amos, who grew on me, hit full time play status and then oddly faded away, while typing this lot I have been enjoying the Pet Shop Boys, Soul II Soul, The Jam, Ivor Cutler, Nirvana, Freddie Hubbard, Tracey Thorn and X Ray Spex. I even, in a dark moment or two, dusted off my old Joy Division and New Order vinyls and once again realised why they were one of my all-time favourites. Best of all though, I have been re-running all my Festive 50 tapes featuring our greatest DJ, John Peel. Strange how many memorable records of my early twenties never became known beyond these classic sessions. Remembrance Day by B Movie ring bells with anyone? Back in March, I saw the B52s live which was probably the best concert I ve ever seen (topping even The Style Council at the 100 Club and Tom Waits at The Dominion, though these are hardly fair comparisons) and I have been playing a lot of their stuff recently. The Greatest Hits of Dance has also been getting played, which I guess sounds a bit naff even by my standards, but it is good to type to while on shuffle repeat. At least I m off Kylie for the moment. And that is about all.
On to the review of Letters or back to Two Pairs of Trousers for £3.
Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information