Books and movies Fun stuff

Canterbury Station, Mt Sunday and Lord of the Rings

My exceptionally ordinary photograph of Mt Sunday, which is not the mountains behind (which I initially thought) but the big rock on the left side of the picture.

So, we’re back from our cruise to New Zealand (and Tassie, because, why not stay on the ship another five days). 

Both islands (or is that all three) were fantastic, as you’d expect.

And we have internet again.  Yay.  It’s amazing the connectivity you take for granted until you don’t have it.  Or, rather, you can have it, but you have to pay a lot for it.

In New Zealand we did a Lord of the Rings theme. We took four tours, three of which were Lord of the Rings (LOTR) related. I’m going to talk about those over the next few weeks, interspersed with some usual end of the year blogging stuff.

I used my phone to take photos, didn’t wear my glasses most of the time. As a result, my photos are terrible. But I’m going to inflict them on you anyway.  If they’re really bad, I’ll get some stock photos as well, just to show how good things really looked.

Our first LOTR trip was to through the Canterbury plains and up to Mt Sunday. This was the set for the exterior of Edoras, which was where the Rohan people lived.

We were told before we booked that there was nothing left of the set there. We just wanted to see it, and to see some of the glorious scenery that New Zealand provides.  It was a nine hour tour. The ship was in port for ten hours, but you had to be back in nine, so you can imagine how tight the time was.  (Tip. For a tour like this, always book through the ship, because they guarantee to wait for you if you do. If you book it through a private operator, they won’t wait.)

The tour started at 8:00am.  We didn’t get onto the port until after 8:30.

We spent at least three hours being driven through the Canterbury plains, and getting some interesting facts about the countryside, about farming, and how it has changed.  For example, even though it looks lush and green, there isn’t much topsoil. Erosion is a real problem.  The area used to be used sheep and wheat, but then they started using those massive irrigators which is lowering the water table and doing a lot of other damage.  Who’d have thought, says me, with some cynicism, because I live in a country where we’ve done exactly the same thing.  You’d think we’d learn by now, wouldn’t you. Nowadays, it’s dairy now and grass.

Anyway, enough of that.  Back to LOTR.

After the plains our bus started into the Southern Alps. The weather was overcast, but pleasant. A beautiful day in beautiful, beautiful, country. Another guide, Cheryl, joined us.  She was a local, and she and her family had camped out in the alps all their life.

She also told us—which Barry, our bus driver hadn’t—that Barry had worked with Peter Jackson as a security person in a number of Jackson’s films.

As we went into the mountains we started to get Lord of the Rings stories. A lot from our guide, Cheryl, but some from Barry, too. 

There was the tale of the station owner, the photographer and the helicopter.  They had an agreement with the station owner that he wouldn’t let anyone on his land to view the filming, but he ended up taking a photographer over in his helicopter. The pictures were published. Jackson’s company decided to sue, because they did have a contract. But then someone let the set horses out one night, and they needed a helicopter to round them up.  Guess who had a helicopter close by?

They got their horses within a few hours and but I believe that the station owner came out on top–at least monetarily.

Why did someone let the horses out?

Ugly fandom rearing its head. Apparently some people felt so strongly that Peter Jackson shouldn’t be making Lord of the Rings they went out of their way to sabotage the filming.

We finally got to the site.  You could still see snow on the alps in the background, even though it was summer.  The scenery was breathtaking.

There was a wind.  Apparently it was mild.  Guide Cheryl showed us the picture of Eowyn (Miranda Otto) standing on the outside of the hall at Mt Edoras with her hair swirling one way and a flag swirling the opposite way.  This is not a fake. The wind really does swirl like that. (You might see it in the video below.)

We posed with swords and axes and Barry took a photo of me with a sword (quite heavy), but my phone really doesn’t take good photos. My head was blurred.  That’s one picture you are not seeing.

On the way back we stopped for lunch at a memorial hall in a country town that reminded of all the country towns of my childhood.  Volunteers fed us juice, champagne, sandwiches and cake.  It was the best food we’d had on the whole trip.  (Don’t, whatever you do, get on a ship thinking you’ll get gourmet food.  You won’t. You’ll get more food than you can eat, and it’s okay, but nothing to write home about.  You can eat all day (and all night.) By the end of the cruise I was craving some good bibimbap, or crispy noodles, oh, and a decent pasta.)  This beef sandwich, with it’s soft grain bread, pickles, and cheese, was heaven.

On the way back, Barry told us a little bit about how he’d come to work for Peter Jackson. He’d been a policeman, worked for a while in the police museum, and had collected information about a New Zealand murder case that Jackson based his film Heavenly Creatures on.  Barry’d had quite a career, believe me.

When we went to get back in the bus, we found we had a problem. The rattling over the dirt roads had loosened the ignition barrel (if that’s what you call it—it’s the thing that holds the ignition) and the ignition had dropped into the barrel.  It had dropped so far down that he couldn’t get the key in to turn the bus on.

We had a tense half hour (for Barry, not for us, we stood around and enjoyed the scenery and talked to each other) while Barry tried to get the ignition thingy back up far enough for him to turn the key.

We got back to the port an hour after the last tender was supposed to leave. But because the tour had been arranged by the ship, it waited, it waited for us.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see anything of Akaroa, which looks a beautiful little port town.

Maybe next time.

All in all, it was a wonderful day.

Edoras as it was in the movie, courtesy of YouTube.
Books and movies

Tomb Raider was worth seeing

Image courtesy of the official Tomb Raider movie site.

We went to see Tomb Raider on the weekend.  I have to say, I liked it.

I didn’t love it the way I loved, say, Wonder Woman, but I thought the movie was quite strong and I enjoyed it.  (I’m a supporting member of WorldCon this year and I already know which movie I’m going to vote for. Wonder Woman.)

The story line for Tomb Raider worked. It was solid, if a tad predictable. There were no massive plot holes where you thought what? How? Everything made sense.  I particularly liked the ending, where they solve the puzzle not by supernatural means but by science.

I preferred this version way more than the 2001 version.

Probably the silliest bits were those that obviously came from the computer game. The floor falling apart around them while they tried to solve the puzzle, or sliding under the massive metal grates just in the nick of time.  Don’t get me wrong, I love these things in computer games, but they don’t translate well to the screen. You really have to suspend disbelief to believe that someone will go to all that trouble to kill tomb robbers.

Alicia Vikander made an excellent Lara Croft.  A believable one, too.

It was rather like settling down with an author you know, who reliably always turns out books you enjoy.

They left it open for a sequel.  I’m looking forward to the next one.


Books and movies

If you don’t have a life-changing book, what do you remember reading?

I’ve been thinking the blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago, about how when you read a book at the wrong time it doesn’t appeal, but if you read it at another time, you love it.

I was a voracious reader, but I was never one of those people who as a teenager found a book that changed my life. I have friends who did, but my childhood reading was a blur.  It was a mix of the old books we had around the house—Enid Blyton, the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy boys when we were younger.

Later it was Ivan Southall, Claire Mallory, Mary Elwyn Patchett and Mary Grant Bruce.

A lot of these books were written before I was born.  I think I remember them because they were what we had on the bookshelves at home. Our whole family were voracious readers. I’m sure Mum and Dad scoured second-hand shops for us, for we had books from the early 1900s to those of the current day.  (I remember a most glorious early edition of Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians, from about the 1920s. It was a beautiful book and we read it to bits.)

As for science fiction, I read it all.  Not counting the Simon Black books (which we had at home), most of these I got from the library.  I know I read the big names. Robert Heinlein, James Blish, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, John Wyndham, Poul Anderson, Philip K. Dick, Larry Niven, but I don’t always remember their stories.

I remember pieces of them, like the start of Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky, but sometimes I only remember the covers.  The brown triffid on Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, the yellow Gollancz hard covers from the school library.

Isaac Asimov was probably the one writer I remember well, and still re-read.  Who can forget Nightfall? Or Elijah Baley in Caves of Steel? Or even The Stars, Like Dust (but don’t get me started on the McGuffin they were chasing).

What surprises me is the early books that stay in mind are (mostly) those I read as an adult.  Not only that, there’s a high proportion of women writers among them.  Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, C. J. Cherryh, Joan D. Vinge.  (Norton I read earlier.)

I’d add Asimov and Charles Sheffield in there as the only male writers whose work I actively remember from my childhood/early adulthood.

I remember a lot more of the modern stories I read.


Books and movies

Why I’ll take Wonder Woman over Sarah Connor any day

“She’s an objectified icon … to me, it’s a step backwards.”

[Cameron] believes one of his popular protagonists, Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise, sets a better example for female leading characters in movies.

“Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit,” he said. “And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!” James Cameron Slams Wonder Woman: “It’s a step backwards.”

Sorry, James Cameron, but you talk about objectified icons.

I am sure Sarah Connor is everything you say she was. Plus, I suspect, you’re talking about the second and subsequent Terminator movies, too, not the first.

I don’t know. I only ever watched the first movie. I couldn’t watch the rest.

It’s not because I didn’t like most of the movie. It was okay. And Arnie’s terminator is certainly iconic, and goes down in history as one of the great movie characters of all time.

But we spend the whole movie having the Terminator chase Sarah, only to find out that he’s after her because she’s somebody’s mother.

Sarah Connor is a victim.

Sure, she fights back. And I like it when a victim empowers her-or-himself to fight back against their oppressor. And I don’t mean to denigrate anyone who fights their way out of being victimised like that, for they are inspiring. Woman or man.

But if I want a hero—someone to hold up as an example, someone to emulate—I’ll take the woman who starts out with a conscience, and a determination to do right by the world. Someone who lives by that standard, and embodies it in everything they do and say.

Rather than someone who simply reacts to a situation they have been placed into.

So that I, and the Sarah Connor’s of this world, know we can live by those standards, too.

Wonder Woman is not about beauty. Hollywood objectifies everyone, male and female

Wonder Woman is encapsulated by the scene in No-Man’s land. Where a woman knows this is wrong, and says so, only to hear others say, “Sure, but we can’t do anything about it,” and she chooses to do something anyway.

Books and movies

Amazon’s weekly charts

Amazon has started bringing out weekly book charts.  The top 20 books sold, and the top 20 books read

They do fiction and non-fiction. You can find them at

Looking at the fiction lists, there are few surprises in the Books Sold.  These are the books you see in the display area of any bookshop.  The bestsellers are the same online and off.  Included among these are the books that have television or movie adaptions coming out soon.  Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

There is one unexpected (to me) entrant.  Dr Suess’s, Oh, The Places You’ll Go comes in at number eight.

It’s when you get to the Books Read list that the results start to differ.  Putting aside the question of how Amazon knows what you’re reading—Big Brother is definitely watching us—the results are interesting.

Here’s the full May 14 list of the 20 most books read on Amazon.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  2. The Fix, by David Baldacci
  3. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  4. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
  5. Golden Prey, by John Sandford
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  7. Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins
  8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  9. It, by Stephen King
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  11. 16th Seduction, by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
  12. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
  13. Beach Lawyer, by Avery Duff
  14. Dead Certain, by Adam Mitzner
  15. A Court of Wings and Ruin, by Sarah J. Maas
  16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  17. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
  18. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
  19. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
  20. The Black Book, by James Patterson & David Ellis

Sure, the bestsellers are in there, but look how many Harry Potter books there are.  Five.

There also looks to be a slight lag on buying books and reading them. I’m sure if we had charts from the previous weeks we’d see authors like Sarah J. Maas on the Books Sold list.

Movie/television adaptions The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods are joined by Stephen King’s It.  Again, because we don’t have the prior week charts we can’t tell if these are new readers reading books they have just bought, or if readers who already owned the book are rereading it. I suspect it’s the latter.

It’s Harry Potter that’s the interesting.  I know J. K. Rowling still sells a lot of books, but I think a lot of those reads are rereads. People who own the books already, have read them before, and are re-reading them.

It’s what we do, as readers, with a book we like.





Books and movies

Finally saw Rogue One

Finally saw the Star Wars film, Rogue One.

I enjoyed it, thought it on a par with The Force Awakens.

I’m not sure why people say it’s outside the main Star Wars series. To me, this fits right between Episodes III and IV.  Episode 3.5.  (Or is that III.V?)

The ensemble cast of characters in Rogue One was excellent.  Every single one of them could have carried their own story.

In fact, two of my favourite characters will be included in a middle-grade novel (that’s right, middle-grade) called Guardians of the Whills.

If you haven’t seen the movie, these two are the best.

(Jyn also gets her own young-adult novel, too.)

The ending (which I’m not going to talk about, because, spoilers) was the hardest part of the movie to take. I understand it had to happen that way, because this was episode III.V and it had to work in with what happened in IV, but …

It’s one of the difficulties of writing an earlier episode in an already-existing movie series. Or in a book series.

You have to work with what’s already there. And what’s not.



Books and movies

The Huntsman

Jessica Chastain as Sara, and Chris Hemsworth as Eric in The Hunstman: Winter's War
Jessica Chastain as Sara, and Chris Hemsworth as Eric in The Hunstman: Winter’s War

Yesterday we saw The Hunstman: Winter’s War.

The reviewer in our local newspaper gave it one and a half stars.

I think they were a little harsh.  I enjoyed the movie. I thought it was much better than the first one.  Sure, it probably won’t win any Oscars, and it would have benefited from a deeper story. But the characters were great.

Ravenna (Charlize Theron’s Snow White’s stepmother) was probably the weakest character (although very in character from the last movie).  Freya (Emily Blunt) was sympathetic, even if she did capture all the kids in the district and set them to fighting for her.  Chris Hemsworth (Eric) and Jessica Chastain (Sara) were great.

In this prequel to the original I really liked the way the backstory for the first movie (Snow White and the Huntsman) was fleshed out and made whole.  Great storyline, and totally believable. It all fitted together nicely.

Plus, it was nice to have a romance without all the usual angst. I mean, there was angst, but most of it was engineered by external parties, and there was a fair bit of trust in the relationship too.

And without giving too much away, there was also a measure of trust between many of the Huntsmen, who, let’s face it, had grown up together.

It was a nice little story.  Just what I was in the mood for.

Books and movies

Designing my bookstore

Now this is a bookstore. El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Image by longhorndave, orignal posted at
Now this is a bookstore. El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Image by longhorndave, orignal posted at Flickr.

Some recent tweets pointed me to two two articles from last year about designing bookstores (What makes a good bookshop? and Let’s reinvent the bookshop). I like some of the ideas, but not all of them, so I thought I would design my own.

It would be full of books

It seems obvious to say that a bookshop should have books, but to me one of the gauges of how well a bookshop is doing is how much non-book stock they are trying to sell. Before it went broke, Borders, for example, had started to get a lot of non-book stock in.

A bookshop is still a bookshop. It should sell books.

Ability to sell eBooks

eBooks are offered almost exclusively online, but I would love to see a bookshop offer the same. Ideally in different formats. A tap and load card that you could pay for at the counter or through an app on your phone/tablet.

You should also be able to order online (hard copy or electronic) and have a book mailed to you or be able to collect it from the store.

Information kiosks

While we’re on electronics, information kiosks where you can scan a book’s barcode to find out more about it. What other books the author has, volume number if it’s part of a series, how long it would take to order if it’s not in stock, even links to feedback sites like Good Reads.

Plus, an app on the user’s phone/tablet where they can do the same, only if they do it on their own device you could add links to the store to order if required.

Room to move

Aisles wide enough for people to browse but others to pass. Reading spots where a browser can stand out of the way.

Knowledgeable staff

One of the best things about a good bookstore—about any store really—is staff who know their product.

They know their books, but they’re also familiar with the standard electronic devices and can load an eBook for a customer (assuming the customer has an account).


A pleasant space serving tea, coffee, cold drinks and sandwiches and cakes. It doesn’t have to be grand, but it does have to be clean. Ideally it would have lots of seats for singles. A lot of people go into bookstores alone.

You could take it even further and get a liquor license, which could also be useful for the book launches/book talks.

Maybe even a writer’s space, where writers can bring their laptops and work.

A dedicated area for book talks

Ideally it would have tiered seating (maybe bleacher style), and a little stage area at the bottom. It should definitely have good acoustics.

Lots of book talks to go with the area. Maybe even book launches as well.

A combined cafe/booktalk area might work, provided it is set up properly. I find, however, that in many bookstores with cafes where I go to hear authors, the noise of the refrigerators tends to drown out the author.

Resident authors

I’d like to see a space for resident authors. An author promoting a new release could sit in the store mornings for a week, say, and write. Obviously, their writing would be interrupted, but it would be good PR.

The store could also hire out the café to writing groups when the bookstore was closed. The authors would pay for this (in advance, because you’d have to cover costs), but the store would provide tea and coffee and biscuits.


A print-on-demand (POD) facility, where the customer can get books printed. Again, this should be integrated into the store’s online store as well, so the user can submit their own work in to be printed and then come in to collect it.

Obvioiusly, there would be restrictions. The store wouldn’t print eBooks, for example.Plus, I’m okay with POD books being more expensive that other books in the store to prevent anyone thinking it smart to print their own copy.

There’s lots more, of course. But that’s a start.

p.s. The bookstore in the image is El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a bookstore in Buenos Aires. The building was originally a theatre. It looks amazing.

The photographer is Dave (longhorndave–sorry, Dave, I don’t know any more details) and permission for use is given under a creative commons license. The original image is from Flickr.

There’s also another article in the Guardian showing photographs of bookshops of the world.

Books and movies

This weekend it’s movies and books

The edits for Alliance are away. This weekend it’s all about movies and books (and house cleaning) before we restart properly on book three.

I’ve just finished Charlaine Harris’s Day Shift, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sherylyn’s reading Cress, by Marissa Meyer, and enjoying that. Robin Hobb’s new book, Fool’s Quest, is out. That’s on the list to read soon, and somewhere in here I hope to read John Scalzi’s Lock In and Vernor Vinge’s Children of the Sky.

Not only that, Anne Leckie has started posting excerpts of Ancillary Mercy on her blog site. One sentence a day.

We’ve a few movies to catch up on too.

Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly was rather good too.
Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly was rather good too.

Earlier today we saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was a fun movie, very much in the style of the original television series and movies.

I think both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer did excellent jobs. In fact, I liked Cavill better than Robert Vaughan in the role of Napoleon Solo.

But … growing up, David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin was one of my favourite characters. I found it hard to reconcile Hammer’s version of Kuryakin with my version.

It’s a lot like how, for some people—me included—there is only one Mr Darcy and one Lizzie Bennet, and that’s Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle from the 1995 BBC TV series. Firth and Ehle made those parts their own.

Darcy and Lizzie.
The incomparable Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennet

For me, McCallum made Kuryakin’s part his own.

Thus throughout the movie there was this strange feeling of, ‘that’s not Illya’, he wouldn’t behave like that. Yet the silly thing is, I could see that Hammer did as good a job as Cavill did, and I liked his character better. (Then, I always did like Kuryakin better.)

I’d like to see Guy Ritchie make a second Man From U.N.C.L.E. By that time I should have reconciled myself to Hammer in the role. It would be interesting to see how much that changes my perception.

Books and movies

Can’t wait for Dragon Blade

Come on Australia. When do we see Dragon Blade?