Inside Pitch

I am pleased to announce that there is at last a sports replay game available on the subject of cycling (though Six Day Race, Homas Tour and Ausriesser fans should note that it is strictly replay and solitaire). Mike Clifford did the clever bits and I did the development and layout, so there is a vested interest which I declare manfully. The result is a gamekit dubbed The Tour which enables you to replay the 1991 Tour de France, with all the stages and all the key riders, in about two hours. As for production, you get full colour counters (which need mounting), a race display, lots of data charts and a concise rule book that seems to have been generally understood. This wondrous product costs just £4.95 from Mike at 48 Maberley Road, Upper Norwood, London SE19. Cheques payable to Mike Clifford. In the interests of impartiality, I will be running two independent reviews of the game this or next issue (depending on copy and space) by a sports replay gamer (Roger Seaman) and a non-replay gamer (John Harrington).

Mike Clifford has also been appointed European distributor for the excellent Face Off ice hockey replay game which, in my experience, has always been very difficult to get hold of over here. Face Off has now been bought out by Land Games and is being actively marketed with something of a facelift in the shape of new rules, card layout and so on. This should mean that the game, rightly regarded as the best available on the topic, should be well supported in the future. Mike is also working on obtaining a German rule set for those interested. Anyway, Mike currently has some special double card sets (including the 89-90 and 90-91 player ratings) available for £39.95 including UK p&p which is a big saving on normal prices - take my word for it. Cheques payable to Mike Clifford, address as above.

Next up on the Sumo Studios production line was another gamekit, Grand Prix Manager, designed jointly over the course of this year by Mike and yours truly. This is, if I say so myself, a rather neat system that gives accurate results yet offers good gameplay as well (even solitaire is acceptably good). The game is unusual in offering a system that supports a full grid of 26 F1 cars yet which plays in around 30 minutes per race, sometimes a little more. Entire seasons can be run with no great drain on time and all the highlights of the Grand Prix race scene are reproduced. Grand Prix Manager comes with ratings and colour components for the 1991 season and, because of a high 'bits' factor sells for £7.95. Expansion kits for past GP seasons, bikes, sports cars and related racing areas should surface in time if we sell enough of the basic kit. Address as above. Future releases from Lionel Games could well include Le Mans and Rally replay systems, a rugby card game, possibly a soccer game and eventually some non-sport subjects, he said cagily. Right, that's the shameless plugs done with.

For those of a nervous disposition or who are easily bored, I'll warn you now that I've managed to convince my firm to let me go on holiday again so comments are likely to be numerous on the subjects of California, its weather, Yosemite, baseball, gameshops and, possibly, food poisoning from ballpark hotdogs.

Starting with gameshops, I believe I may have found the best in the World. This is an assumption based on a visit to Gamesmanship in the South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (a few miles South of Los Angeles on 405). I went on the recommendation of Michele Montagni (see Sumo 4 letters for the address) and Steve Owen, both of whom were lucky enough to get there before me. The shop is impressive in two ways; range of products and presentation. The shop is large and features glass cabinets, low-level shelves and neat wooden magazine holders on the walls. As a guide to the remarkable stock, the sports section featured not one sailing game (AH's Regatta is standard) but four, three of which were new to me.

Even I, a hardened game shopper, spotted in excess of thirty games I'd never seen before which thankfully were either not my subjects or too expensive, but I still came away with some recent items plus The Baseball Card Game (which uses your Topps cards), Silverton (a very obscure narrow gauge railway game - a shock purchase this!), Prospecting (the Two Wolf production rather than the elusive Lynn Berg game) and The Winery Game that has a wooden box and lovely little barrel counters. Add to this lot a range of dice, counters, chips, cards, boxes, chess and backgammon sets, books and magazines that would make your eyes water and you can say goodbye to an hour of fevered shopping at the very least. The staff are knowledgeable, their investment enormous and I believe they must cover just about everything in the games market that you could resonably expect. It is a long way to go for a visit, but so is Mecca. If you are visiting the West Coast, don't miss it.

The game collectors and acquirers who would adore Gamesmanship should also not miss Eamon Bloomfield's auction which is due to take place on December 7th in The Friendly Hotel, Norwich. Eamon is selling off 5,000 items of his extensive collection to raise cash and I would imagine you won't see more variety, rarities or bargains anywhere for some years to come. In fact, unless we see posthumous sell-offs of some of the German or US collections, I suspect this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity given the owners' tendencies to retain these hoards once accumulated. The catalogue prepared to accompany the sale is apparently quite a collector's item in itself and as I'm sure a few of the items will sell for big money, it may be the closest you and I will get to owning some of the pieces. I'm sure James International, the auctioneers, will be pleased to offer advice and details of the proceedings on 0603 624817. Viewing is on Friday 6th and accommodation can be booked through Jenny Owen on 0603 625369.

Tim Cockitt asks me to comment on the Manchester auction held in March. As I didn't go, this is a little difficult but we'll see what we can do based on Tim's feedback. Apparently the auction was enjoyed by those who managed to get there, it turned over £1,250 which is very respectable and the best angle is that none of the games were sold for silly prices. This keeps the turnround of games high, the club makes a small turn, the buyer gets something of a bargain compared to buying from the sharks and the seller gets something towards his next game. That seems to cover everybody. What they need to watch is letting dealers into the proceedings but I suppose that is difficult to stop. Tim also tells me that the 1992 Auction is go and that it will be held in Manchester on 7th March 1992, so stick it in your filofax now. Further details can be had from Tim at 9 Tenby Avenue, Withington, Manchester, M20 9DU.

The late Summer and Autumn is very much the season for games events of all descriptions. For us sportsgamers, the place to be in early October is Lambourne's now well-established Gamesday held at Ipswich, deep in carrot-crunching territory. On the day, nearly forty people turned up from all parts of the world to see Terry's new game releases, Long Distance Double and Devil Take the Hindmost. The former is a 5,000m and 10,000m system with enough Metric Mile features to appeal instantly and which also includes an impressive plastic track that will solve your Metric Mile and other numbered track problems. The latter is a Sporting Deals card game based on the eponymous track cycle race and is in the German thoroughbred school of simple to play but difficult to master race games. Both games appear up to Terry's high standards on first playing and with his newly acquired laser printer, the presentation is coming along nicely. With the usual supporting cast of the latest Valgames, the nutty Professor Lark and of course the official Lionel Games launch, I think the day was enjoyed by all.

Also pleasing was Terry's move away from 'secret' future releases which was frankly a bit of a pain; having bought most of the range, I'll buy all the new ones that interest me regardless! Anyway, Terry told the assembled sportsgame media (well alright, Mike Clifford and I) that his forthcoming publications would be Sport of Kings (the fabled horse racing game) and a Ryder Cup game which will presumably handle golf tournaments in a macro-level, quick replay format. Finally, I quizzed Terry on the whereabouts of the much-awaited soccer card game and rally system but these are still in the works. We await them with interest.

While making one of my rare ventures North of Watford, I turned up at the Manchester Board Wargamer's late Summer do in sunny, downtown Warrington. Might I suggest a less urban and industrial location next year chaps? I'm sure there is some scenery up there somewhere - and they have stations too, I understand. Although my weekend was unfortunately curtailed, I had a chance to see what was going on in one of the last bastions of hardcore club play. There was a good turn out and Andy Ashton arrived with the latest imports making it an expensive weekend as usual. Personally, I had a good time playing, among others, Attack of the Mutants and Coup Sticks (a figure game) but I now hear on the grapevine that these and other non-wargames drew some flak later in the proceedings.

The argument was the old chestnut that they aren't proper wargames and thus shouldn't be allowed at a wargame club. Quite where they draw the line would make for an interesting discussion - Britannia or Civilisation anyone? Whatever, I find this an incredibly pompous and narrow-minded view of life, but then the bozos promoting their exclusion must either be acutely lacking in sensibility or are two sandwiches short of a picnic, so I won't trouble myself unduly. By comparison, the GLC club manages to get on fine while covering everything from hardcore boardgames to Ninja Turtle roleplaying with no real worries on anybody's part. And if I can put up with people playing Drive on Stalingrad or ASL all weekend (let's face it, this isn't exactly a major strain on my tolerance) then I would expect the same courtesy extended to my gaming tastes. Any other reaction must be considered ill-founded and liable to send the club and boardgaming hobby the way of the dodo.

AH's Advanced Civilisation was spotted at Essen sporting a £20-odd price ticket (though it was a grey import), a near-zero heft factor and a bookcase box bearing the immortal words 'Not a Complete Game'. I said a rude word under my breath at this point. As a non-owner of Civilisation, I know I am one in several thousand but I do not relish going out to buy the basic game just so I can play the hopefully improved advanced version. ASL doesn't suffer from this marketing ploy does it? A game that I expected to set me back £18-20 is now going to cost nearer £40 and, to be honest, I don't think I'll bother until I've played it. This may be regarded as unusually picky, but that's where I stand. Worse still was the rumour that the game has been shortened to a manageable level (ie five hours) by simply saying that the game will end after five hours have passed or by playing to 1,000 points - options that have been available since day one. Is this really good enough? What is wrong with designing in a realistic game length to bring the game out of its convention-only status?

For those fortunate enough to have acquired Ludodelire's Formule De, the latest Casus Belli (the impressive French gaming magazine) has a colour pull-out board with a couple of alternative tracks. These look as though they have been done by the same artist, so the quality is high. In the game I bought, there was a flyer from a supplier offering every Grand Prix track. I will be investigating this, but I think they will come in black & white. Casus Belli are at Excelsior Publications, 1 rue du Colonel Pierre Avia, 75015 Paris and issue 65 is the one you want. 35 or 40F should cover costs. Of course, in true Sumo style, I don't know what the game is like yet but the buzz is all positive so far.

I recently took delivery of David Watts' latest game Winchester, reviewed as a playtest copy last issue. Unbelievably, the game comes with an individually numbered and named board, tailored to its purchaser. Without getting too excited about this, I can only conclude that David must be hand preparing each sale and then covering the board with a plastic coating. Is this economically feasible for a game costing little more than a fiver? To add to this, the production values are now much better and the box is the best I've seen in a budget-priced game. As I said last time, Manchester is an impressive abstract game and you should go and buy your copy immediately. David is, as ever, at Rostherne, 102 Priory Rd, Milford Haven, Dyfed SA73 2ED.

It is a bit late to announce (because everyone probably knows by now) that Drunter & Druber won Game of The Year '91. This prompted lots of blokes dressed as jesters at the Hans im Gluck stand at Essen, though strangely they didn't appear to have a new release this time round - resting on the laurels for a bit probably. This means that Klaus Teuber has won three of the last four awards (at least I think he has) and can presumably name his price for his next game. Good to see a small company winning as well, proving that not only did the jury choose the right game, they occasionally resist big company pressure as well. If they had only included Airlines in the short list, I would have forgiven them completely for choosing Adel Verpflichtet last time.

I was chatting recently about copyright on Monopoly and other old games and there seemed to be some confusion as to whether the copyrights are still valid. I am sure I remember reading that Parker got a settlement out of a Mexican rip-off a couple of years ago and Spears still seem to actively dissuade obvious copies of Scrabble, so this would imply the copyright is renewable or is very long lived. In Gamesmanship, they have a large series of games called variously USCopoly, Bamaopoly, UCLAopoly and so on, each being a not very subtle copy transferred to the respective campus location. I doubt Parker are unaware of this range, so why action on some but not others? Any ideas?

Lurking on a shelf in Waldenbooks, La Jolla, was a pack of AD&D collectors cards. At the price (60c), I had to see what they were like and the result was surprising. Apart from the magic item cards that are poorly done, the artwork is excellent and each card carries some info or rule explanation on the back explaining how the picture fits into the many realms that now seem to be a part of AD&D. When I were a lad you were happy with Greyhawk and the City State, you had none of this fancy Forgotten Realms stuff unless you made it up yourself. Speaking to my card adviser, Mr Moon, he tells me that the second series of cards has hundreds of such pictures and it struck me that they would have made an excellent play aid back when I played AD&D a lot. You could just give the player the items they'd found, show them the monster, character or whatever and the whole thing would come to life. OK, so some players like to do their own imagining, but I knew a few that would welcome them. Anyway, just a thought.

The unfortunate crew of GamesMaster International have come a cropper once more. Having died and been reborn a year ago, they now find their publisher has gone under again (this time it's Newsfield), taking them with it. As a profitable enterprise, it can only be a matter of time before they pop up again, but what a way to have to run a business. Although it may not appear to be exactly my field, I admit to buying GMI on the basis that it has some reasonable writers (including Dave Langford and Andrew Rilstone who are both good value) and it is at least independent. Nevertheless, they cover 99% RPG and all that silly rubber sword nonsense, so I read it to keep in touch with the Cthuhlu releases more than anything but the biggest reason it is worth my hard earned is that is has the best games news column anywhere. This, for some reason, covers boardgames as well as RPGs and is written, without pretence, by a knowledgeable American. I therefore hope to see it back soon.

For those interested, Kennedy Brothers (who put out the excellent annual Tour book giving in-depth details of the Giro and Tour de France) have a sale of old stock at quite ridiculous prices. For £3 or £4 you can pick up nearly all the Tour books from 1981 onwards, specials on Roger de Vlaeminck and various races of the 70s and back issues of International Cycle Sport, one of the magazines I wished I could afford when I was riding in the seventies. All this is available by post from Kennedy Brothers Publishing, Healey Works, Goulbourne Street, Keighley, West Yorks.

The August Bank Holiday weekend was spent in Stuttgart, experiencing as a spectator my first top-quality cycling event - the World Championship road races. Sure, I've seen the Milk Race, the Kelloggs and some circuit racing at Eastway when Moser came over years ago, but this was something of an order of magnitude more special. The atmosphere was quite remarkable, the viewing was surprisingly easy (I can truthfully say Lemond & Co passed within a foot) and the speed was staggering. Like tennis and other fast sports, you have to be there to appreciate the sheer pace of events. Accordingly, the initial passing of the amateur peloton on the Saturday afternoon was as close to a religious experience as I'm likely to have this year; the pros on the Sunday were hardly a let down either.

Essentially, the average speeds of the two classes are broadly comparable (that is, dangerously quick) but the pros seem to manage it all without as much effort and for half as long again. The rapidity with which they took descents and the long, steep climbs took the breath away and I now know why they have to stick a large mountain in their way to slow them down at all. The fact that we managed to whizz home late in the race to catch the TV coverage of Bugno winning the final sprint made for a near perfect day and a great weekend. Thanks to the Knauths for the excellent hospitality.

I must say the Tour de France action was as good as I can remember. I spent most of the early race watching C4 wondering what the hell would happen next; gruesome crashes, amazing solo breaks, frighteningly chaotic sprints and the annual dopey drop-out, this time by Stephen Roche who, if you read between the lines, was in the loo when he should have been setting off for the time trial. It seems obvious the great gamer in the sky was flipping an awful lot of Z cards that week. An interesting aspect was that I watched each stage with reference to my half-finished cycling game design to see if it could simulate what was happening. Suffice to say, after stage six, I had decided to scrap it completely and go for a much more dynamic and unstable system that allows riders to emulate Thierry Marie by riding alone for 200km+ if they so wish! I think it fizzled a bit after the mountains, but even so it was quite an amazing tour and the final stage crash by 'Abdu' (pick a spelling guys) was quite unnerving. I really must get over next year to see something of it.

Considering it should have been a highlight of my year, the Rugby World Cup was looking a bit grim as we approached it. There was no prospect of hearing the outrageously parochial but excellent Bill McLaren, I assumed the ITV and Boughie would be putting on a poor show and there was no sign of an England/All Blacks ticket for under £175. Consequently, I had resigned myself to watching the odd match and the final on TV just as things started to pick up. I got an England/USA ticket from a friendly banker (great atmosphere, good game), the towering lighthouse of Bill McLaren surfaced on the radio (ideal for the live matches with TV pictures) and ITV and their commentators didn't do too bad a job after all.

In fact, the biggest let downs were the play in early games and the refereeing. I can only guess at how such decisions are made (by a bunch of senile wrinklies who never stray beyond the VIP boxes), but whoever decided to have the whistle blown more than ever deserves to be thrown into a maul and stamped upon by that nice Mr Dooley. As a result, the running game all but disappeared, the kicking duels predominated and the already stop-start nature of the game got worse and worse. They didn't even curb the vicious play that is never a pretty sight. For me, only the Western Samoans brightened up the first week. Quite what it did for the sport on the worldwide stage, I dread to think. After that, with the need to win the sudden death matches, things thankfully improved. I thought France v England and Ireland v Australia excellent games and the Irish deserved to win and once we got to the semis, well it all got a bit too much for me. Overall it was highly watchable but I enjoyed Italia '90 more, probably because of the less fragmented match schedule.

No comments on the atmosphere or view of the London Basho at the Albert Hall because I watched it all on Channel 4 like most other Sumo fans. Although I knew it was coming, by the time I'd phoned in for tickets they only had the £60 seats left. I passed, as one would, and cursed corporate hospitality and Japanese banks in general. Does this make me a hypocrite? Of course, especially when the bouts were the best I've seen, someone got the lighting spot on and all the big names were there - in just the smae way that Greg Lemond always comes to big British cycle races. On balance, I wish I'd paid the £60 and I'll kick myself until they come back again.

The Sky dish has now been installed for a good few weeks and I have had the chance to assess it more objectively. The big attraction for me is of course the sports coverage but, on balance, the presentation is very much akin to the curate's egg. There can be no complaints about the range of coverage. All the jokes about Peruvian Soccer, synchronised swimming, truck racing and teenage Scandinavian speedway are spot on; it's all there. Not that anyone watches this stuff, it's simply there to fill up the schedules.

Where it really scores is the in-depth coverage of those obscure sports I have an interest in; baseball, cycling (tours, track and mountain bikes), motorcycle racing, NASCAR and so on. This coverage though has a drawback - there is almost certainly too much of it. It seems the average length of programme is 90 minutes to two hours, often longer at weekends or when a notable event is on. This can create either frightening drains on time (not an option for me at the moment) or a video backlog that makes my existing one appear trivial. I never thought I'd say it, but really an hour of highlights is more than enough for all but the very special events.

Another weakness is the standard of commentary. It, and the associated background knowledge, are generally poor. There may well be cycling footage on offer good enough to make you want to design games, but if the commentator is unaware of the nationality of Eddy Merckx (slight giveaway in the spelling, there), you really have to wonder. One particular twat who was covering the track at the World cycling managed to rename a German rider no less than six times within one race and still didn't get it right. And as for Colemanball production, all bets are off with these boys. Come back Murray Walker, all is forgiven.

The final gripe is the adverts. You thought Radion, Ford and the horribly arty building society ones were bad, but Sky really scrapes 'em up from somewhere very nasty indeed. By far the worst are the German Magic Doormat ads (I strongly suspect the Germans are ten years behind in ad technology) but even those are passable compared to the extended-repetition approach used elsewhere. This water torture is so bad that you are tempted to buy the bleedin' Car Wax or Ultimate Synthesiser Compilation Not Available In Any Shops in the vain hope that they will take the advert off your particular screen as a reward. Compared to the occasional brilliance of your Black Label or Liquorice Allsorts ads, the producers of this lot should be shot at dawn. Of course, with experience, you video everything and fast forward them out of your life.

Back on the proper channels, I thought everybody's talking point of the Summer, G.B.H., was good in parts (especially the Dr Who convention) but generally much overrated by critics, media types and yer average bloke down the pub. Yes, the acting was excellent and the story intriguing but was it really a patch on Blackstuff as a dramatic spectacle? I think not. To dampen my enjoyment still further, the final episode was probably the most predictable ending I can recall seeing in a TV drama and I speak as someone who has no capacity for spotting likely plot developments. B+, could do better.

Interestingly, I watched the Sunday repeats of GBH so as not to miss LA Law which has been the real highlight on the small screen recently. One wonders how they keep coming up with the goods - some programmes at the end of the series were staggeringly good. More than anything, it is impossibly clever at times, so much so that you have to assume they are relying on real life anecdotes for inspiration. What with the Channel 4 re-runs, we fans are in hog heaven.

Friday night TV has been looking a bit useful recently, which is a pain because it means extensive video-timer-setting, clashing as it does with either being out or games night. Not only do we have the ever reliable Cheers (the latest series spotted in the States is as good as anything we've had before) but also Mosimann, Dream On, Power and the Glory and, of course, Thunderbirds.

It seems wholly appropriate given my luck that I should buy the last of the sixteen Thunderbirds videotapes to complete the set of Anderson's finest, only to find it repeated almost immediately on TV, without adverts. Has it lost anything with passing years? Not really. Much like Tintin, one sees different things as you get older, the unintentional humour is priceless and the Crablogger, Sidewinder, the Sun Probe and those giant alligators are just as much fun at thirty as they were at eight years old. What's more, The Hood still has his complete lack of dress sense, those plastic hands remain remarkably adept at picking up small objects and poor old John is still wanking himself to death up in Thunderbird 5. Magic. Shame there was never a decent boardgame or RPG with all the bits. A Mole counter, now there's a thought.

Dream On has been an interesting exercise in programme making. I would say the inter-splicing of the black&white is sometimes clever rather than funny (in much the same way Zelig was) but the overall result is well worth watching for the adult humour (some of the one liners are great) and naughty bits alone. The Power and the Glory has been a revelation. One suspects a BBC big cheese sat down after the success of Supercharged and decreed that a 13 part series on motor racing would be a good thing. It is.

We received a quite remarkable chain letter at work last week. It is remarkable not for its existence but for the select clientele it has touched en route. It proves, if nothing else, that superstition is alive and well at Stanford, MIT, Yale, half the New York investment banks and insurance companies, media and advertising houses and lawyers worldwide. It was about 60 pages thick and is multiplying by a factor of five each time, less those received by the likes of my boss who have cut it off in its prime - I suspect it is still somewhere near the bottom of his in-tray along with my unread investment recommendations. Those whose sums are up to something can work out how many of these things might be floating around by now. Apparently it has featured in the Sunday papers and I can understand why - it must be a substantial drain on resources. Each person sent it on it's way with a little witticism of which by far the best was 'This Chain Letter is in aid of Xerox Corp.' I doubt this is original, but it made me laugh. There was next to no reaction either way to the techno-bore section of last issue wherein I warbled on about the Z88. I take this silence as an indication of grudging acceptance. This month I have another new techno-toy for I am typing some of this issue on Word Perfect 5.1 for the IBM during my hot (it's still August, just) but thankfully free lunch hours. This is a newly acquired piece of software and boy does it hum. I thought 4.1 was good, but this one fairly boggles the mind. There are just two drawbacks; firstly, unlike the Amiga version, it has no mouse and drop downs, so I keep reaching right for the rodent only to find the stapler. Secondly, it has so many commands it is no longer easy to use as a 'simple' word processor - it enforces a steep initial learning curve and maintained familiarity. The commands to set margins or move a block of text, for instance, have to be seen to be believed. But when it gets to work, mamma.

Fortunately, the trade off for this complexity is an excellent range of new features such as an enormous multiple-level thesaurus, fast word count, basic DTP, graphics inserts and so on. In fact, I can't imagine anything else you would need short of a full DTP package. Frankly, it will be a major factor encouraging the long term relegation of the Amiga to games machine and the purchase of a 386 PC (probably a Tandon or Amstrad with, of course, super VGA for Mandelbrots) in the next year or so. A lot of the decent strategy games now come out for the IBM first and it really is the machine to have for running databases, WP and so on - it's the speed and the hard disk that swings it really, and on the Amiga these upgrades are still far too expensive for what you get.

I had an absolute corker of an evening recently. As is usual once or twice a week, I spent a couple of hours checking all the second hand bookshops in the Charing Cross Road and somebody somewhere must have decided to make me a happy man. Often I will find nothing at all apart from the latest magazines or yet another cheap copy of Maiden sneering out at me (yes, lacking foresight, I paid full price), but last night I struggled home with a dozen books, all at bargain prices. I suspect the recession is partly to blame here. Four of the books (including the new Woody Allen biography) were very recent publications and saved me a good 40 off what I could expect to pay new in the shops nextdoor. I can only assume that a reviewer or two had hit hard times and dumped them as quick as he'd read them.

That theory doesn't explain finding no less than three history books I've been tracking for years plus half price copies of Callwell's Small Wars, Nature's Chaos, The Oxford Guide to Card Games (see letter column) and a £45 book on Faberge for just a tenner. Sometimes it just goes that way and it makes the effort worthwhile - by the end I was in that floating 'Shopping Nirvana' which leads one to fully expect a complete run of The General and a couple of shop-soiled Homas Tours for sale in Virgin Games, 'Oh alright, make it a tenner the lot then'. There is, of course, a downside to all this. It is now increasingly common to buy a new release at full price (scarily, now £13-£17 for hardbacks), only to see it next day secondhand for half that. Given the initial weakness of the 'all the dirt' Herge biography in question, I wish I'd waited.

Stop Press: Dillon's and Books Etc are, true to their word, knocking 20% or 25% and 33% off some hardbacks and up to 40% off paperbacks in the style of the US multiples. Looks a bit like the old 'put the prices up and then discount' strategy to me but it is welcome nevertheless. Other smaller shops are doing it as well, with up to 33% in some cases, but a little more discretely if anything. Nothing doing at WHSmith though. When I worked in a bookshop, 33% was the retail discount for a small store, so these must be loss-leaders or the discounts have gone up in the last ten years. We must now wait to see if the gloom and doom merchants are right about the future of small shops and the selection of books being published. Anyone care to comment?

Book of the Month is The French Foreign Legion by Douglas Porch (Harper Collins $35 and Macmillan (or Methuen? - a big M on the spine) £25). I have thoroughly enjoyed the Porch books I've read so far (Conquest of Morocco & Conquest of the Sahara) so the latest one on a topic of great interest to me was an absolute must buy. Porch has an easy to read style (useful, as this is a big book) and is not noticeably 'American' in his construction, a plus point for me. The general pattern is to describe a feature or battle of the legion and then analyse a particular aspect such as desertion, fighting spirit and so on. In this way, he works through their history from inception to the present day, illustrating their marvellous record with relatively neutral and measured reports of last man stands, incredible marches and the usual stuff of the films. Where it differs, and scores, is that the book doesn't attempt to glorify the actions in Tony Geraghty style, though even the unbiased descriptions are glorious enough. A fascinating read.

I have the lingering suspicion that Colin Greenland is one of those beardy intellectual types who try very hard to give SF a highbrow literary profile by writing articles for Interzone using long words and far too much gas. The trouble for snidey old me is that he has just written a superb book that puts paid to that theory completely. The book is Take Back Plenty (Grafton, £4.99) and it is the first SF book in a long time, since Bear's Eon in fact, to make me lose sleep in an effort to finish it. It is a lot of fun, humorous, original and is essentially space opera cleverly updated for the nineties. The plot may well be riddled with cliches and enough aliens to fill a cantina, but it is so well done that one doesn't even question the absurdities and the occasional drift into adjectival orgasm. Best of all (in the same way Red Storm Rising is Harpoon made interesting), Take Back Plenty represents a ripping Traveller/Elite/Star Wars adventure written up in some style, though I doubt Mr Greenland did this intentionally. 500 pages have seldom gone so quickly - I recommend you try it.

One benefit, in fact the only one, of long-haul flights is the chance to watch four movies. In the past, you could rely on British Airways to show at least one recent blockbuster each way, but on the evidence of my London-LA trip they seem to have gone for the B Movie option. This is sad because if nothing else I rely on the movies to take my mind off the second half of a ten-hour flight and to keep me awake when my body insists it is 3am but the watch reads 11am. Accordingly, I was treated to four movies I'd never heard of. Two of these (The Maid and FX2) were pretty appalling, one (What about Bob?) was acceptable and True Colors was a pleasant surprise. I see from Empire that What about Bob is not yet released so perhaps I complain too much.

Terminator II is an excellent film. It blasts all the myths about inferior sequels, actually looks worth the budget and apart from a slow bit in the middle is about as much excitement as you can have in the cinema - the pace and suspense are first rate. Big Arnie is Big Arnie and everyone has a great time with computer graphics effects that just keep going (they usually stop when the cash runs out) and a storyline that makes as much sense as any time travel plot is likely to. While just as violent as the earlier film, possibly more so, it manages to cleverly keep the body count acceptably low and injects enough humour to make it less dark than its predecessor. This last point may be how it wangled a 15 certificate, but apart from a complete absence of sex scenes, this is an 18 and no mistake. I suspect large amounts of moolah changed hands somewhere along the censorship line. Film of the Month is perhaps too small an accolade.

I enjoyed Arnie's latest rather more than Silence of the Lambs, which is saying something. I thought this an excellent film but there is no doubt edge was taken off it by already having read the book. Even so, the closing sequence had me squirming and the portrayal of Lecter was masterful. It seems like everyone is agreed on the latter point anyway. There has been talk of Demme's input as being the deciding factor in making the film such a success. I would have thought the rather impressive screenplay and basic storyline would represent the big draw, but I concede that the potentially 'nasty' bits were handled well. I doubt anyone fainted from seeing the bodies, it was more likely to be from the building suspense. Either way, not to be missed.

Not quite so good as Arnie, in fact bloody useless, is Edward Scissorhands. No, I don't know why I went either - as I said to my friend as we went in, it was either going to be one of those very good films or very bad. So now we know. The film has two laughs in it, some humorous observations and Winona Ryder playing Winona Ryder but that is about it. A modern fairy tale? Well, yes, but who cares?

Album of the Month? Tough call. Split it between Prince's Diamonds & Pearls, The Best of REM, Sounds of the Suburbs and KLF's The White Room.

Happy now Mr Oakes?

On to Letters or back to Wargames Developments.

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