Friday, June 25, 2010

Combination Plate 15

Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements and the endings.

Anthony Boucher: The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, a mystery novel

Avatar: an SF Film

Brian M. Stableford: The Paradise Game, an SF novel

Martha Grimes: The Black Cat, a mystery novel


Anthony Boucher
The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, a mystery novel
Type: accidental detectives (I guess)
Setting: Hollywood in the late 1930s

I first encountered Anthony Boucher as an SF writer. He had written a novel, I think, and numerous short stories, and hundreds? of columns as a critic and commentator, as well as being one of the founding editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well editor of several anthologies of SF.

So, when I ran across this novel, I had to get it. First, I was curious about Boucher as a mystery writer, and second, I'm a fan of Sherlock Holmes from way back. I recognized the name, The Baker Street Irregulars (BSI), in the title as having appeared in several of the Holmes stories. The BSI are a group of street urchins who occasionally worked for Holmes. Since they were children and ignored by adults, they could go anywhere and not be noticed. Holmes used them for information-gathering and for keeping track of some individuals when Holmes wanted to keep of.
The Baker Street Irregulars is also a real group, comprised of admirers of Holmes, one of whose members was Anthony Boucher.

Consequently, I did a little digging myself. and I was surprised, therefore, when I discovered that he was even more well known in the mystery genre as a writer, editor, and critic.
The annual Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention is named in his honor as are the wards given out at that convention for the best mystery writing during the previous year--the Anthony Awards.

In the novel, Holmes does not appear, except indirectly as the star of a new film. Metropolis Pictures has decided to make a film of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." In a letter to the film company, the BSI can only applaud this decision to bring their hero to the screen once again, but, on the other hand, they are incensed that the "responsible task of transferring this adventure to the screen has been entrusted to the typewriter of Stephen Worth." Worth writes mysteries, but of the "hard-boiled" kind and also "has many times expressed in public print his contempt for the exploits of Holmes and his desire 'to show up that cocky bastard for what he is.'"

The studio invites the BSI to come to Hollywood and act as expert consultants for the film Five do take advantage of the offer (none of whom, of course, are real members of the BSI). They have barely arrived and settled in when Stephen Worth is murdered. They, naturally, are among the chief suspects and decide that their only course is to solve the case themselves. This is when the fun begins.

As each of the five go out on their investigation, they encounters strange people and events, each with an unique adventure of their own. However, the adventures are not that unique, for Boucher has taken five of the Holmes cases and skillfully adapted them to the mean streets of Hollywood and surrounding environment during the 40s. False clues and leads only add to the fun and confusion, before the mystery is solved to everybody's satisfaction.

While this novel is straight fiction, Boucher hasn't forgotten the other half of his life--the SF half. While there are no SF elements in the story, the SF reader familiar with Boucher's stories will recognize some of the characters.

One is Maureen O'Breen, the company's chief publicist. Her younger brother is Fergus O'Breen, a private investigator who appears in a number of Boucher's SF stories. He specilizes in cases that have an SF flavor--time travel, ESP, werewolves, magic. Sometimes his clients come to him, and in other cases, Lt. Jackson, a member of the LAPD, brings him in as a consultant whenever there appears to be something unusual or bizarre about the case. In fact, she says she would recommend bringing him in but says that he's out of town on a case right now.

The other is Lt. Jackson himself, who gets involved with Worth, and finds himself lumped with the other suspects, or so the suspects think. In his postion, Jackson obviously can't take part in the official police investigation, so he joins up with the BSI and Maureen O'Breen in their unofficial investigation.

Did I solve the mystery early on? No. I spotted some clues, but I got so involved in picking out the references to Sherlock Holmes, that I just went along for the ride.

Overall Rating: good solid mystery, enlivened with all sorts of stuff from the Holmes stories, including various incidents, cases, and codes. It's an enjoyable, lighthearted read.


Avatar (2009)

I guess that the latest SF film to be highly publicized and talked about is the recent Avatar. What few negative comments I've seen or read were mostly in the political vein. But since I'm not one to bow down or even bow my head in the presence of companies or corporations, the "message" of the film didn't bother me. Frankly, the message wasn't a shocker for I was already aware that companies or corporations, as well as individuals, groups, and governments, do stray from the paths of righteousness now and then and therefore can legitimately be cast as villains.

I didn't see it at the theatre but on a DVD at home. Even on the small screen, though, it is a very good film, as far as the special effects are concerned. I haven't seen any of its competitors, but I thought that it probably earned the three Oscars that it picked up--for art direction, cinematography, and visual effects. At least, I haven't heard anybody suggest another film that was more deserving. However, I didn't find anything that could be considered innovative as far as ideas or concepts in the film, though, and I guess the judges felt the same way.

Jake Sully is a paraplegic (a marine injured in battle) who is sent to an alien planet to become part of a contact team working for a large corporation. Since the planet is inhospitable to humans, avatars (androids) have been developed. In this case the avatars are copies of the indigenous people,
of the planet, the Na'vi. The minds of humans can be placed in the avatars and can control them. In this way, Sully's injuries are bypassed. He and the others in the contact team are supposed to study the Na'vi and convince them to allow the corporation to exploit the planet's resources.

Jake and the others realize that the corporation has no intention of recognizing the rights of the Na'vi. If the Na'vi don't get out of the corporation's way, then they will be exterminated. The contact team then sides with the Na'vi, and open warfare is the result. The corporation has a trained and heavily armed military force, complete with tanks, while the Na'vi are armed with spears and bows and arrows. The Na'vi are on the verge of defeat when the planet itself decides to play a role, and the corporation's military forces are ultimately defeated.

The acting was acceptable, except for Sigourney Weaver who was excellent as Dr. Grace Augustine.

Overall Rating: an enjoyable film.


Brian M. Stableford: The Paradise Game, (1974)

A week or so ago, I was rummaging through my TBR bookcase when I came across this novel. I hadn't read anything by Stableford in at least a decade or two, so I decided to rectify that omission. It somehow seemed a bit familiar as I got deeper into the novel.

Grainger is the pilot of a starship, The Hooded Swan. It has set down on an alien planet, Pharos. Grainger's boss, Titus Charlot, has come here to act as an observer and, if necessary, a mediator between two contending groups. One is the Caradoc Corporation, which intends to exploit the planet and turn it into a paradise for humans. A second group is here to make sure that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants are protected. At the end of his stay, Charlot will make a report which will include his recommendations for the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

Grainger and Charlot soon realize that the Caradoc Corporation isn't in the least concerned about the indigenous population and hadn't even bothered to report their existence. The natives were just going to have to get out of Caradoc's way or Caradoc was going to solve the problem in its own way. It had a large battleship in orbit around the planet with a few thousand troops in full battle gear and heavily armed.

Caradoc's military forces are brought down, but before they have a chance to go into action, two people die and numerous others, including many of the troops, become ill, some with minor ailments while others are bedridden. In a sense, the planet is defending itself.

The scientific staff discover some very strange things about this planet. First of all, none of the native plants and animals seem to die. Secondly, there are no young; everything is a mature specimen, from the plants to the sentient natives of Pharos. Plants get their nourishment from the sun and soil, while the animals feed off the sap of the trees. Nothing eats anything or anybody else. However, while digging to build foundations for Caradoc's planned city, several fossils were found, with teeth and claws. This planet wasn't always this way. Something intervened in the normal evolutionary process to create the present situation.

The two humans who died were involved the death of another. Those who couldn't control their anger or hostility got sick. Those who were able to remain calm and stable didn't get sick. The fittest, on this planet anyway, meant those who were without anger or hostility or were at least able to control it successfully.

The medical researchers find a way to cure the humans (all were infected). Since their illness was contagious, it is clear that humans could not come here without putting the galactic human civilization at risk. What would civilization be like if people couldn't kill one another without dying themselves shortly afterwards or even get angry or hostile? The planet was proscribed. The corporation was defeated by the planet itself. However, there were plenty of planets in the universe and the Caradoc Corporation moved on.

It seemed clear, from comments made throughout the novel, that Grainger, Charlot, and the Caradoc Corporation had previous conflicts. I had no problem following the events of this novel though. It wasn't until I glanced at the back cover that I discovered the following inscription:
"Star-Pilot Grainger: 4"--which suggests that this is the fourth book in the series.

Overall Rating: a decent read. I'm not going to rush out and look for others in the series, but if I do come across one or more in a used bookstore, I might grab it, if it isn't too expensive.


Martha Grimes
The Black Cat
Mystery novel--police procedural
Setting: London--contemporary

I've read most, if not all, of Martha Grimes' "Richard Jury of Scotland Yard" novels, so I have a fair idea of what to expect from the series, which now extends to 20+ works. They feature a tightly plotted mystery, some red herrings, a fair number of eccentric ensemble characters, mundane or realistic events, and a variety of villains. However, the times they are " achanging," to quote somebody or other.

In Old Wine Shades, one of her most recent novels, Grimes introduces something new, or new at least for her series-a telepathic cat and dog, who, ironically, belong to the villain, Harry Johnson. While they are unable to communicate with Jury, they do manage to help thwart Harry's plans. Unfortunately for Jury, Harry is one devious character, so he manages to escape the law at the end.

Dust, the novel that followed Old Wine Shades introduced two new elements to the adventures of Richard Jury. One was the recurring villain: Harry Johnson from the previously mentioned novel. Jury has decided that he will bring Harry to justice, so he continues to go to Harry's favorite wine pub and stay in touch, hoping Harry will make a mistake. Harry, of course, knows exactly what Jury is up to and is confident that he can avoid any trap Jury may set up.

The other new element in Dust is lust, at least it's new for Jury. A friend of Jury has calls him to say that he's found a body. It isn't in Jury's jurisdiction, but a friend is a friend. The police are called and take control. However, once Jury and the female police officer in charge of the investigation meet, control goes out the window. Whenever they are alone, with a few minutes free, off come the clothes, and what results can at best be called very enthusiastic and highly energetic sex. Grimes spares us the clinical details but does tell us that the two "meetings" that took place in Jury's apartment were hard on the furniture--several of which were turned into kindling. Jury's neighbors are also curious about the source of the loud noises emanating from Jury's apartment.

The Black Cat, the novel that immediately follows Dust, and also is the most recent of her Jury works, continues the trends noted above. Harry is still around, and Jury is still trying to trap him This time, Harry, again not directly involved in the investigation, decides to meddle a bit in order to embarrass Jury once again. The animal population has now increased to three cats and two dogs, of which two cats and one dog are telepathic. The dog and one of the cats were first introduced in Old Wine Shades, so they appear to be recurring characters. I wonder what will happen if Jury eventually does trap Harry. Will they move in with Jury? For now, though, they seem to be replacing the eccentric characters that Jury spent time with in the earlier novels.

Overall Comments: Grimes seems to be moving her Jury series out of the strict police procedural category and into the cozy cat crime-solving category, or at least a blend of the two. I wonder how far she's going to go with this.

Recommendation: if you are looking for a police procedural story with some whimsy involved, try her earlier novels. If you are looking for a series that seems to be in the midst of a change, read one of the novels I've mentioned above.


  1. Fred,

    Did your Avatar DVD come with 3D glasses? If so, did the film really look 3D watching it at home?

  2. Cheryl,

    I got my DVD from the public library. It didn't come with the glasses, nor did I see any mention of them.

    I guess one might have to purchase the DVD to get the glasses.

    I wonder if there might be a public health issue with loaning out the glasses also.