Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Runes Of The Earth - by Stephen Donaldson

The Runes Of The Earth is the first volume in The Last Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson. I'd read Donaldson's first and second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever when they were published back in the 1970s and 80s so this was pretty much a "must read" for me. Here's a brief summary of the plot…
10 years have passed since the events leading up to the defeat of Lord Foul the Despiser when Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery remade the Staff of Law and saved the Land from destruction. Covenant died in that final encounter and now Dr. Linden Avery lives quietly with her adopted son Jeremiah and runs a small clinic where, mong other things, she is responsible for caring for Joan Covenant, Thomas's wife, who was driven mad by Lord Foul.

Now Covenant's son Roger has turned up and forcefully removed Joan from the clinic at gunpoint and events ensue that lead to Linden, Joan, Roger and Jeremiah being plunged back into The Land, the parallel world where Linden and Covenant defeated Lord Foul, or at least thought they had.

About 3,000 years have passed since she was last there and The Land is still recovering from the effects of the Sunbane. The Haruchai now call themselves Masters of The Land and the Staff of Law has been lost. A miasma of wrongness pervades the atmosphere and the land is plagued by destructive rifts in space. On top of all that, Linden gets messages from Thomas Covenant telling her to find him and to remember that he's dead.

The first thing to say is that you really have to have read the earlier chronicles to be able to follow this and appreciate it. There are constant references to people, places and events from those books throughout this one so I doubt if a Covenant virgin would be able to pick this up and enjoy it. That aside I enjoyed both this story and trying to remember about all of those references. It almost makes me want to read them all over again.

A couple of things annoyed me and that was Donaldson's use of certain words. One was "percipience", which I'd never heard used before in place of the more widely used "perception" but Donaldson uses it on almost every page or two. The other was "caesures". Yes it's in italics in the book and, as far as I can see, it's not in any dictionary and I tried a quite a few, but he uses it like it's an actual word and as if we were supposed to know what it meant.

The above aside, I think any fans of the original stories will like this one as well and this first volume has certainly started things off pretty well as we're left with several unanswered questions like "is Covenant alive or not?" and "what is Roger's part in this?" I guess we'll just have to wait until volume two hits the stores.

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy.
ISBN: 0-575-07612-7
My Rating: 8/10

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ghost Rider

Another Marvel comic book hero, in the form of Ghost Rider, makes the transition to the big screen. He isn't a character I'm familiar with as I grew up in the 1960s, reading comics like Spider-Man, Captain America, Daredevil, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thor and the Hulk. Here's the basic story…
In the days of the American West, the devil sent his bounty hunter, the Ghost Rider, to collect a contract for the souls of the entire town of San Venganza. But the rider did not return and instead hid himself and the contract.

Many years later, when motorcycle stunt rider Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) learns that his father is dying of cancer he is approached by Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) who promises to cure him in return for his soul. Johnny agrees and true enough, his father is cured of cancer but is then almost immediately killed in a motorcycle accident and the devil claims Johnny's soul, telling him that sometime in the future he'll call on his services as his new bounty hunter. This drastic change in events forces him to abandon his girlfriend Roxanne (Eva Mendes) just as they were about to elope.

Ghost Rider
Twenty years later Johnny is a successful stunt rider, defying death in more and more dangerous acts when he meets Roxanne again and tries to pick up the threads of their relationship. However, it's also when Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the devil's son, decides to come to earth with his fallen angels and challange his father's dominion by finding the long missing contract of San Venganza. The devil makes good on his threat and turns Johnny into the Ghost Rider with orders to destroy Blackheart and his gang and recover the contract and if he does that, he'll get his soul back.

I remember seeing a very early trailer for this some time ago and thought then that it might be worth seeing as the concept of a flame-covered, bike-riding skeleton as the hero was definitely novel. However, the movie doesn't follow true to the comic storyline, which will probably not please fans, but that is quite complicated and in-depth, which wouldn't have lent itself well to being transformed onto film, at least not a standard feature-length movie of under two hours. That said, it's a reasonable plot and we quite enjoyed it in a kind of mindless, popcorn munching way.

Ghost Rider
The hero or anti-hero of the piece is played by Nicolas Cage, who's definitely starting to look even wearier than usual so maybe his days as an action hero are numbered. Don't get me wrong, I like cage and some of his earlier movies were excellent - Gone In 60 Seconds, Face/Off, Snake Eyes, 8mm, Con-Air and The Rock are all worth seeing and he pulls off the character of Johnny Blaze quite well here too. It was nice to see Peter Fonda as the devil - we don't see that much of him at all these days. The eye-candy and love interest comes in the form of Eva Mendes as Johnny's "ex" and she does a pretty good job.

It's over the top and very cheesy in places but Ghost Rider is a comic book character after all so go in expecting just that, de-tune your movie critic mode and you won't be too disappointed and fans might even appreciate that they're planning a sequel already!

Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller.
My Rating: 6/10

Friday, March 16, 2007

Pulcinella, Hope Street, Glasgow

We've walked past Italian restaurant Pulcinella on Hope Street so many times while hunting for a place to dine for no obvious reason other than maybe just because it's in the middle, between the more obvious centres of Sauchiehall Street and Argyll Street. Anyway, this time we thought we might as well go in and give it a try as we had loads of time before the movie we were going to see started.

First off, once you're inside, it's much larger than it looks from the street. It can seat 70 so maybe that's why the window seats were always empty when we passed before, which probably didn't help make us think it was popular. There were plenty of people sitting eating but we got a table easily enough and the staff were really friendly and inviting. The decor is a bit odd as one complete wall consists of a not particularly good mural of an Italian carnival and the other has an assortment of carnival masks. Still, it goes with the theme as the name Pulcinella is a character from popular Neapolitan puppet theatre.

The unusual decor aside, we really couldn't fault the food or service as both were excellent. The menu is pretty traditional Italian fare with antipasti, pasta, carni, pesce and pizza to choose from. We'd just missed the pre-theatre menu so started with meatballs cooked with fresh basil & garlic bread (polpetinne al sugo) and deep fried mushrooms in breadcrumbs (funghi fritti). I had penne amatriciana and Lorna had spaghetti with tomato, basil and meatballs for main courses, washed down with a nice bottle of sangiovese red. We still had plenty of time on our hands so, once the wine had been polished off, we had a slice of apple pie and ice cream and a piece of strawberry cheesecake to finish.

Well stuffed and nicely satisfied with the meal, we headed off for the movies hoping that we wouldn't fall asleep in the warm and dark cinema.

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 7/10

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hedge Planting On The Greenlink

We had another day out of the office doing some volunteer work. These days always start out with high expectations and this one was billed as "Tree Planting" so that sounded quite productive and useful for the environment. Guaranteed to attract the tree huggers and enviro-junkies with a title like that.

Then we learned that we'd be doing it in Motherwell!

So, not a day out in the wilds replanting some of the mighty Caledonian Forest stripped by the greedy landowners of times past but, accompanied by visions of the massive Ravenscraig steel works that once dominated the area, we found out we'd be a wee bit closer to home. Still, maybe we'd be helping regenerate some of the devastating effects that place must have had on the land.

Then we got there and found that we'd be planting some hawthorn hedging on the edge of a council estate, and it was raining!

We were working on part of the Greenlink under the supervision of the Central Scotland Forest Trust. The Greenlink is a 5km cycleway providing a sustainable transport route through the Motherwell communities of Orbiston, Forgewood and Daisy Park, basically following the course of the South Calder Water from Motherwell town centre to Strathclyde Country Park. The local council had already done a huge amount of work clearing years and years worth of fly-tipped rubbish amounting to over 100 skip loads so it was looking pretty clean and green.

The Group ShotThe Group Shot

Our site was in Forgewood and, after a bit of health and safety instruction regarding the tools we'd be using and some of the potential hazards we might find in the undergrowth, we headed off across a very soggy footlball field towards the hedgerow on the edge of the Greenlink pathway. Our task was to clear any debris away from the gaps in the hedge and help fill in those gaps by planting new hawthorn bushes.

It wasn't really what we'd been sold on as a means of offsetting the company's carbon debt as we were supposed to be planting about 140 trees to compensate for a years worth of corporate travel and energy use. I'm not sure how many hawthorn bushes that would add up to but hedgerows provides an invaluable source of cover for wildlife like birds and foxes and they've been on the decline over the years so at least we'd be doing something positive.

Susan and Michala, our overseers from the CSFT, were great. They were very helpful and informative and got mucked in with us troops. They also laid on lots of hot tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit, which was very welcome given the atrocious weather. Anyway we stormed ahead and had planted all of our bushes by lunchtime so we headed up to the Forgewood Community Centre for some shelter from the rain and a bite to eat. Again, thanks to Susan and Michala for arranging that too.

The Greenlink and the Nine Arches ViaductThe Greenlink and the Nine Arches Viaduct

The work all done, we got treated to a guided walk along part of the Greenlink and to see how much had been done in making it a successful project. We strolled up the path from Forgewood to the Old Mill Hotel, probably a couple of kilometres, and back again and it was quite a pleasant walk as the weather had eased off a bit and the sun popped out for a while. Michala even thought she saw a kingfisher on the river, which makes a change from empty Buckie bottles.

The Greenlink, with quite a few plans to enhance it in the future by adding such things as more cycling tracks and a garden allotment area for the local residents, has all the makings of a good community project and I wish them all the best for the future.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Paperino's, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

I got taken out for my birthday a few weeks ago to Paperino's in Sauchiehall Street. We've been before and enjoyed the food so it's not like it was a new experience but more of a safe bet for a birthday nosh-up.

The food and service was of a high standard as usual and we enjoyed the meal along a with a few beers and a bottle of decent red wine. To start we had stuffed mushrooms and mozarella sticks followed by penne contadina and pappardelle alla Paperino. By that time we were stuffed and could only manage to share a dessert between us - burp!

We'd booked a table as this is a very busy and popular restaurant so dropping in on the off chance of getting a table is really not a good idea and we saw a few couples being turned away.

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 7/10