In Memoriam 2016

Robert Vaughan yelled U.N.C.L.E. for the last time this year.

Lots of people died. How do you like them apples?
Doris Roberts, a veteran actress known for Remington Steele and Everybody Loves Raymond, died this year.

Alan Rickman.

Terry Wogan. A broadcasting institution on the BBC. Gone.

Ronnie Corbett.
Fidel Castro.
Caroline Aherne.
Victoria Wood.
American democracy.

British comedy legends, one and all.

If you were to ask an English person back in the 80s to name a magician, the only one you could rely on being known by EVERYONE, died this year.
And then Paul Daniels passed away.

On the far side of the pond, Alan Thicke, Florence Henderson and Dan Haggerty were similar big-name television personalities.

Just weeks away from her third Zsa, Zsa Zsa Gabor passed away at the age of 99.

In the field of boxing, the Greatest died.

And what of the music?

Rick Parfitt of Status Quo.

David Bowie. Madonna. Leonard Cohen. Sting. Prince. Keith Richards.
Massive names. Most of them dead.

But where there is death, there is hope.

Having the prescience of a prognosis, Bowie released his final album before he passed away.

Carrie Fisher shot scenes for Star Wars Episode VIII before she died.

And - if the rumors are confirmed - we'll be hearing from George Michael from beyond the grave in 2017 too.

Magician Paul Daniels will be back in October, with a Halloween special.

In the US, Netflix shot two minutes worth of scenes of Doris Roberts earlier this year, which means that she can return for an Everybody Loves Raymond ten-episode season "if they spin it out right". And TV executives also squirrelled away so much archive footage of Grizzly Adams that they can now shoot a bear in the Yukon.

Doctors extracted genetic material from the late Ronnie Corbett's spleen - having harvested the chromosomes from his comedy partner, Ronnie Barker, over the last decade. Next year, the Internet-only BBCThree will give live-birth to Ronnie Barkett, who will start work on presenting a series of clipshows immediately. Doctors say that Ronnie will have perfect vision, but hand-eye coordination will require work: For example, he may initially struggle to hold a fork.

Medical experts also spliced stem cells from Terry Wogan's vocal cords and are currently breeding a large drove of pigs with the exact same presenter-to-audience chemistry as the much loved broadcaster. Any one of a number of charismatic piglets could undergo a brain transplant with Jeremy Clarkson, now on the waiting list for the treatment.

Finally, the Hollywood gossip mill suggests that if computer effects wizards play around with Harry Potter actor Alan Rickman's head for a few months in 2017, they will probably be arrested.

Christmas Schedule on Alibi

Over Christmas, Grissom returns to help the team chase down a Native American alternative medicine ear doctor who cured his deafness ten years ago. The shaman has turned "really alternative", resulting in the deaths of nine people through homeopathic cures. Guest starring: DB Gobbley as Ted from Cheers.

The Murdoch Mysteries
A nineteenth century American psychopath flees north after breaking out of jail because of fewer guards at Christmas, where Murdoch Mysteries and the Scottish police chief sort him out by determining that if he gets on the next train with just enough time to spare, they can send him back down Sooth.

Danny Reagan on tour

Blue Bloods
Danny Reagan reaches a personal crisis over the Christmas period as he realizes - after his years on the job - that he has killed more suspects on New York's streets than he did enemy combatants during his two-week tour of Iraq. Meanwhile, Frank visits the cardinal for a confessional handjob.

Person Of Interest:
In real life over this Christmas period, think of the Born Again brigade who believe that the man who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's Passion project is now on a show that sets the tone for an Orwellian apocalypse.
CSI: Viber:
A pervy older lady insists on sending the younger team members photos of her twat covered in Christmas decorations. Can they stop her before she continues? Guest starring: DB Boddley as Ted from Cheers.

Criminal Minds
The jetsetting team of FBI profilers are on their way to their latest multiple murder investigation on a number of US islands around Bermuda when their plane disappears under a massive bubble. Guest starring Criminal Minds veterans Shemar Moore as "Tridento", Paget Brewster as Dr Marie Moreau Maru and Thomas Gibson as the "Dharma Santa".

NCIS Los Angeles: From the wonders of technology available to the team, to the kinds of crimes they investigate, NCIS: Los Angeles is the least likely thing ever.

A chat with Ugandan journalist Sam Mwaka Karama

Veteran journalist and writer Sam Mwaka-Karama’s book The Water Trap concerns the attempts of local government in Uganda and other bodies, such as European engineering firms and contractors, to deliver basic running water resources to the people of Gulu Province and elsewhere. The book is over a decade old, but Sam has re-issued it occasionally with updates. 

I consider Sam a good friend whom I hope to meet one day, and a valuable and erudite contact whose views on literature and culture sometimes surprise me and always enlighten.
Here are some of Sam’s thoughts on where things stand today since he published his exposĂ©.

Nearly all the book’s suggested solutions have become areas of national policy shifts - for example, parliamentary and local government electoral seats were MULTIPLIED by government's creation of several smaller districts throughout the various regions of Uganda.
That is to say that where previously, only one Member of Parliament represented a wide area of locality and population, these were fragmentized so that four or six Members of Parliament emerged under the Government's Parliamentary and Councillor restructuring strategy. This therefore solves the problems by narrowing geographic outreach factors to manageable chunks.
Not only that, the Lake Victoria Basin problems among largely disagreeable country beneficiary referral members have become easier to handle. Ordinarily, people can now pull water from the lake and therefore, the Nile River without being dressed-down by observer organisations who [usually] view the waters as shared international resources and are watchdogging the Basin.

Mwaka-Karama had highlighted not only bureaucratic ineptitude, but issues such as water diversion projects which inadvertently resulted in drought in one area that rarely suffered drought, and a new route for what had been a natural waterway being unsuitable, resulting in stagnant oxbows, changed ecosystems and a lack of infrastructure to capitalise on these same new water routes in the way that had been anticipated and planned, before the new waterways dried up to nothing. It's an interesting read, and Sam sometimes writes like a Ugandan Michael Moore in highlighting ridiculous red tape or stalled projects.

The Water Trap features images, for instance, that show up the construction of treatment facilities and irrigation systems that now sit entirely fallow, waiting for water that has disappeared.

The entire book has had such impact on Uganda Government, to the point it triggered the expanding of the major districts like Gulu as fragmentized to become a subregion with numerous municipalities.
It serves as a nice template for what not to do in terms of international collaboration with government too – whether NGO or private industry.

I was like, if we highlighted this factor... it then should interest researchers - to find out how Uganda Government responded to the points of contention critically discussed in the book.
However Africa is perrenially a study area for a whole lot of students and researchers abroad... my type of non-fiction has that basic information they need.
The Water Trap also covers other subjects of concern, such as the poor hygiene standards in Uganda’s public hospitals and health centres. 

Today – although available to write, consult and chat – Sam has pulled back from active journalism and urban life, returning to his home village to build a retirement nest.
A few months ago, he apologised for his inability to contact me more frequently from an Internet café, as he was in the process of constructing his home with his bare hands alongside construction workers, making a tech-friendly home in the most sustainable of ways. He admits too that speaking truth to power through his journalism has caused some problems for him. But he is keen to return to a life of reading and academia.

It is only that I am now living in the village and I just moved into my house - I am in the bedroom while I work on the living room - after that I think solar paneling and gadgets will place me back on net from the village - I am getting there..
Public life in as far as politics is concerned was not so good for me beyond mild writing – power is a nasty business. I discovered that a spirituality flew me around and often dropped me in very uncomfortable places and, now I think my life is worth something - having traveled a bit and also gotten involved in some adventures and escapades. If I stick to books I am ok... I also want to find a tunnel into campus, better there I think than anywhere else too.

You can find Sam on LinkedIn and Twitter. His book, The Water Trap, is available on Amazon.

Claudette Melanson's Rising Tide

Rising Tide by Claudette Melanson introduces a teen, Maura - known as Mink to her mother, who wants them to emigrate to Vancouver from Pennsylvania - with skin so pale that sunlight makes her feel unwell (hence at least one reason for the big move north). Her neighbor and frenemy Katie is on the cheerleader squad; Katie's twin brother Trent is on the football team.

Katie's recent attentions towards Maura are odd, her agenda questionable. Indeed, the brilliance of these opening pages begs us to question EVERYONE's motives, including Maura's mother Caelyn, and her rationale for the move to Canada.

This vampire tale is a great opening to a series. It's permanently free here.
Claudette Melanson's Amazon author page is here!

Mixers by Jennifer Byars

The need for "clean blood" and talk of being the "dominant race" would have been typical of high society conversation in parts of pre-war Europe.
But in 1939, while Hitler breaks promises about his Lebensraum requirements, across the English Channel Nicolas and Marcus hold a discussion on similar themes for unexpected purposes. 

Two high-ranking vampires with a centuries-old bromance, Nicolas argues against the schemes of Marcus in order to avert unnecessary conflict with the humans they rely on to exist. While age seems to have brought a level of wisdom to Nicolas's thinking, Marcus's capacity for empathy has dwindled over time.

The discussion also echoes our preoccupation of "playing God" in the scientific realm, with Marcus insisting that he will go ahead with a project that involves experimentation on and turning humans into a class of slaves to serve the vampiric race. The moral discussion ends in an impasse. Will it come to blows? The work presents some thrilling background philosophy for the reader in its opening pages.

Jennifer Byars' novel Mixers is available at Amazon.

Santa's Alarmingly High Cholesterol

12:58 AM EST, December 2, 2016

            Rumors that Santa Claus has been suffering ill health in recent years were confirmed by the man himself Friday as he prepares to journey round the world later this month.
            “Yes, I’m exhausted all the time now,” he told a press conference at an undisclosed location in the Arctic Circle. “I’ve been feeling run down for the last few years. I’m more susceptible to chest infections now. I went to see a number of specialists, but none of them could figure the problem out.”

Santa makes a second run to some regions on the eve of his own feast day, January 5, and he claims that it is this subsequent trip that is “the real killer”.
            “You know, I’m wiped after Christmas Eve. But tradition dictates that some kids don’t get their gifts till early January. I just don’t have enough recovery time between the two runs. My body can’t sustain it.”
            Asked why his strength has deteriorated now, when he’s been doing the job with little complaint for the last sixteen hundred years, Santa gave an honest appraisal of modern history.
“It’s down to the spread of Western European traditions to all four corners of the globe. I can’t be everywhere at once, but the last five hundred years have been tough, and that’s down to colonization. I didn’t say anything at the time because I thought it would come off as sanctimonious. But there are more children now than ever before, regardless of what anyone says about an ageing population. And the toys are so diverse. I can’t be expected to source yak hair and goat gut for a Nepalese kid’s handmade toy and then replicate something that Hasbro mass produces in my small workshop. And the costs of paying the elves are higher now than ever. Corporate social responsibility is something that I take very seriously.”
Santa and LeAnn Rimes, 2005

Santa’s eyes then welled up, and as the press conference microphones picked up a sniffle, he turned to Mrs Claus (first name Marital), seated alongside him. She appeared to whisper a few words of encouragement before he nodded and cleared his throat to address the reporters. 
           “You know, this vocation is the most rewarding profession any man could ask for. But it’s very repetitive. It can wear away at you, year on year. I didn’t think much of myself a few years back. I got disheartened with the secularisation of society, the commercialism. I felt in part responsible. Unfortunately, my self-disgust led me down a destructive path. I was unfaithful to my wife on a number of occasions. I engaged with a multitude of women under their Christmas trees while cuckolded husbands slept soundly in their beds. And because I didn’t like myself, I wasn’t very careful.”
            The reporters’ reaction at the press conference expressed surprise at his candour.
            “I’m telling you this now because I’m afraid that the low immunity I’ve been suffering might be down to my infidelities,” Santa admitted. “I fear that I may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. And I think that this is the best forum through which I can warn my conquests about the possibility of infection.”
            He urged any of the hundreds of thousands of women who have slept with Santa during the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 holiday seasons to get tested immediately.
            “They may believe that they had dreamed it, but I can now confirm that they had an act of love with Santa. Although they were all willing, it was an abuse of my reputation rather than my magical powers. It’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, possibly alongside a sexually transmitted infection.”
            The question was raised as to why Santa himself hasn’t been tested.
            “They’ve run blood tests, but unfortunately my cholesterol was too high to get accurate readings. I was told there were too many lipids in my bloodstream to verify my condition. But I have this reputation as a jolly fat figure to maintain, so I can’t lose weight in good conscience. I’m eating well now, lots of protein, reducing my fat intake, and I hope to keep my rotund shape. And I promise that as soon as I get tested again, I’ll publicise the results to the world.”
            Santa and his wife departed the conference to warm and spontaneous applause from the reporters present. Evidently touched, he was seen rubbing his eyes with his handkerchief as he walked out the door.

Lynn Lamb's Mechaniclism: Book Review

Lynn Lamb's Mechaniclism - available at Amazon - opens with the birth of one of its characters, and describes the poor lot she has received in life. With a severe immune deficiency, Ireland Barton's life will be spent in a bubble of dustless, filtered air to prevent microbial infection and probable death. Her over-protective loving father ensures her sheltered existence. She has a hazmat suit but she spends the vast majority of her life in her room, studying, reading books and learning about the outside world via the Internet. She attains a degree via distance learning, and a PhD at twenty-six. Her scientific background gives her the skills to take on the challenge of a pandemic when it strikes - an illness that appears to wipe out the vast majority of humanity in a number of weeks. (And we can only assume the worst as international communications break down.)

Four centuries earlier, clockmaker Frederick Jori finds a patron in Lord August Godwine, who - it transpires - is a lunatic, drunk on feudal power. When Jori refuses to build the automatons Godwine demands, convinced that to create such a clockwork Golem would usurp God's role in humanity, the lord imprisons him until he either fulfils his bizarre commission or dies in the attempt. Over his years of imprisonment, Jori experiments and researches movement and mechanics to master his craft in order to create a functioning model of man.

Part of this book's beauty is the mirroring of the two lives: both Ireland and Jori are prisoners of sorts, both face seemingly impossible challenges in research and study.

In similar novels, we could dismiss the henchmen and servants who torture, watch over or look after Jori - here, their roles are more prominent, each of them seeming to have his own role in a manner similar to Batman's cast of villains. It's a shame we don't see more of them. In the present, meanwhile, Ireland and the team she brings together in her near-apocalypse bicker and argue with each other with as much vehemence.

Another inventive touch is Lamb's placing of a heroine front-and-center whose life could be snuffed out by a sneeze from her own father. That Ireland is the one who must find a cure or vaccine for the deadly plague is a delicious irony. 

Lynn Lamb's author page on Amazon can be viewed here!