The Simpsons – Series 13, Episode 18

“I didn’t lie, I was writing fiction with my mouth.”

Homer Simpson

I recently received a request for a post about the Simpsons. So here it is. This is one I watched last night. For some reason best known to Matt Groening, it is called Hunka Hunka Burns In Love. And I’ve just realised why that’s funny. It’s a pun.

You see, this is one of the “vindicate Mr Burns” episodes. Mr Burns, the archetypal evil millionaire figure, goes through most Simpsons episodes being, well, evil, dredging the sea bed, poisoning fish, sacking staff randomly, etc. But just occasionally you get an episode where he comes out quite well. Like this one.

Something I’ve always liked about The Simpsons is the elaborate sequence of events leading to the main storyline of the episode, so the story often ends up in quite a different place to where it started. For instance, in this one, a visit to Chinatown leads to a meal in a Chinese restaurant, which leads to the Simpson family’s complaints about the rubbish fortunes in the fortune cookies, which leads to Homer writing his own fortunes, including this one: “You will fall in love on Flag Day.” Mr Burns picks this one up and…well, you can see where this is going. Mr Burns goes on the pull and tries to impress a younger woman.

This isn’t one of the best episodes ever. The best ones have some kind of message, like the ones where Homer declares his love for Marge. Or they have a political comment to make, like the one where Bart’s behaviour gets corrected by big pharma in an experiment that goes wrong.

But it was OK. I particularly liked the bit where Kent Brockman, the TV anchorman, said “two citizens have been missing for over 20 minutes”. Which is more of a satire on plot devices than anything else. But you know. There has to be some satire, or it wouldn’t be The Simpsons.

Oregon Settler

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

Yesterday I downloaded a new game onto my Android phone. It’s called The Oregon Trail – The Oregon Trail - American Settler gameAmerican Settler and is, apparently, a follow up to a game called The Oregon Trail, which I never played.

Anyway. It seemed a particularly apposite game after reading The Long Earth, which I reviewed yesterday, which is partly about resettling and pioneering. And since I’m a sucker for tie-ins…well, here we are.

And I’m addicted to this game.

It’s one of those real-time games where you have to build a town, earn money, farm etc. There are lots of quests to complete, and random events crop up when you have to make a decision – pay money to avoid flood damage, or accept the damage, for instance.

The game works quite well, although there are some annoying points, like when you’re trying to tap something specific, and there are other things in the way that you can’t move…and farm cash.

I hate farm cash, and all similar concepts.

Farm cash is different from farm coins in that you have to pay for it.

With actual money.

My question is: why would anyone want to spend £3 of their hard-earned money on something that isn’t actually real and is of no use whatsoever anywhere except in an online game? The mind boggles. It’s bad enough paying 50p or whatever for a whole game, but stuff in it?

But the really annoying thing about farm cash is that there are things in the game that you can’t get unless you use farm cash, that is, unless you pay for them.

Now, this game is supposed to be free. Free to download, that is. But it’s not actually free, not all of it, and for the best stuff you have to be prepared to pay.

I don’t want to pay. That is the reason why I downloaded a free game. I did not download a free game to pay for things in it. And it is annoying.

So I won’t pay. I’ll just keep playing with the free things, because, as I said before, I am addicted to this game.

But when I have stopped being addicted, which may be quite soon, I shall stop playing and delete the game. So there, Mr Expensive Online Game Designer. You’ll not get anything out of me.

The Long Earth

“Until the sun itself dies there will always be other worlds, and mankind will persist.”

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Well, this is my first book review. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is billed as “the first novel in an exciting new collaboration between the creator of Discworld Terry Pratchett and thThe Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxtere acclaimed SF writer Stephen Baxter”.

And, yes, it is quite exciting, especially for a loyal Pratchett fan like me. Even though it is a collaboration, the standard of his other collaborations, Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman, the Omnipresent – he seems to get everywhere) and The Carpet People (with his 17-year-old self – only half a collaboration, really) is high enough that a new one is still exciting.

And the premise is really excellent. You know the many-worlds theory of quantum physics, where every event causes the universe to split, so that everything that could have happened happens somewhere? It is much beloved of SF writers, from Philip Pullman to Stephen King. Well, TP and SB have taken this theory quite literally. There is a possibly infinite series of Earths, all ever-so-slightly different, spread out like a pack of cards – this is the Long Earth. And you can “step” between these worlds, but you can’t take iron or steel across. Oh, and there is a significant minority of people who can’t step, can’t take advantage of the Long Earth and the resources and opportunities it offers. What, the novel asks, would be the consequences, social and economic, of such a situation?

These consequences are admirably developed and explored. The sheer detail of them is astonishing, and seems completely plausible. For instance, the vast migration of people into the Long Earth causes a global recession; non-steppers are abandoned by their families seeking a new life; thieves and terrorists become a lot harder to deter.

As well as exploring these consequences, the novel also follows a pair of unusual explorers of the Long Earth: Lobsang, a computer who apparently used to be a Tibetan motorcycle repair man, and Joshua Valienté, who makes Daniel Boone appear pathologically gregarious. And this is really where the novel falls down slightly. Much of the first half of the story follows these two drifting across myriad worlds, watching films and…not much else. Talking. There are plenty of references to other SF and fantasy – The Lord of the Rings, for instance, comes to mind – but this is not really enough, I feel, to keep a plot going. And even when it does get exciting, there are other failings. At one point two minor characters have a “conversation” that sounds as if they are both talking to the air and not each other. (Although I do like the way the Archbishop of Canterbury is referred to as “she” at this point. It’s a double-take moment: you won’t notice it if you aren’t paying attention.) And the answer to the mystery of what is at the end of the Long Earth is ever-so-slightly anti-climactic, and the danger too easily dealt with.

The biggest problem for me with this book is that it is nothing like anything else of TP’s work. That is, it is not Discworld, and it is not remotely funny. It is just possible to determine TP’s hand in it – his wit, his humanism, his slightly different way of looking at things – but it doesn’t feel like Good Omens or The Truth. It just feels like a straight SF book, albeit somewhat more interesting than many SF novels.

But the ending, the real climax to the book, does feel like a TP ending. It is utterly unpredictable and inspiring and wonderfully dramatic, without being cliched, and leaves the book open for a sequel. And I really hope there is one.

You think it’s all over? Yes, it is.

“The thing about football is that it is not just about football.”

Terry Pratchett

As you all probably know, the Olympics are well under way in the great city of London.

So, I decided I would watch some over my breakfast (tea and toast and Marmite, obviously – the superfood trio). So I went to BBC1, where they were twittering. It transpired that nothing was on, or, at least, nothing was being filmed, so the presenters had apparently decided to talk about swimming and rowing rather than showing any sports.

Since I was not interested in watching  reruns of Famous (and probably Not-to-be-Repeated) Victories, I switched to BBC3 instead, where they were showing badminton, which is a good deal more interesting. The British Mixed Doubles team, consisting of Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier, were playing the Germans: Birgit Michel and the unfortunately named Michael Fuchs.

There I was, watching the second set. And as the Germans won point after point, I sat there thinking: we British are really not very good at sport, are we?

Think about it. We’ve just lost the badminton. The last time we won the football World Cup was in 1966, and we’re still going on about it. This year, in the Euro 2012, we at least got to the quarter-finals.

And then we lost. Despite the efforts of the lovely Joe Hart in goal, we did not score once. But then, neither did Italy.

And you know what? For about ninety minutes, I really did think we could win. I dismissed the negativity of Hiking Friend and Hiking Friend’s parents as cynicism, I cheered every saved goal and sat in happy confidence, waiting for one of our people to score. (I should make it clear that I am not a football fan. But the combined efforts of Hiking Friend and Joe Hart appear to have made me one. At least for England games.)

But we did not score. Not one single measly goal. And we lost on penalties. Hiking Friend, sadly, turned out to be right.

So why do we call ourselves the Home of Football when we can’t even score against Italy, who were all over the place and fouling like crazy?

And then there is Tim Henman, who has been trying for years to win Wimbledon and has never managed it.

And Andy Murray, who, my mother assures me, is very inconsistent in his play, and who recently lost badly to Federer.

This is why I do not watch sport. Because we are rubbish at it. So it is just as well that we are so brilliant at pageantry. Because the Opening Ceremony is the only thing we can excel at in these Olympics.

Welcome to my world

Well, hi there!

So this is my first blog.

This blog is going to be about…well, a little bit  of everything. Books (plenty of those), telly, films, maybe even a play or two if you’re lucky. Music. Stuff that annoys me or makes me laugh. Life, I suppose is what I mean.

Not very exciting, I hear you cry. Too much like many other blogs. And you might be right. But I am going to be as sarcastic and cynical as I like. And hopefully that will be different.

As well as my Quote for the Day. Another day, another quote. Hopefully some of them will be relevant. I’ll start you off with one that sums my attitude to life up quite well:

“Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated.”

G.K. Chesterton

Did you like that? I did.

Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.