Sunday, November 14, 2021

Book Review: The Pythons Autobiography

book cover for The Pythons AutobiograpyMy parents are responsible for getting me hooked on Monty Python. I remember seeing the dead parrot sketch, the lumberjack song, the Spanish Inquisition, and so much more on PBS back in the day. But what hooked me forever was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My parents had a copy of the movie on Betamax. I lost track of the number of times I'd watched the film after about the 40th time.

I even got to see Graham Chapman on a speaking tour in 1987 while I was in college. I don't recall much from it, but one thing still sticks with me. He was talking about the making of Holy Grail and confessed when he realized that he was an alcoholic. They were in the Scottish Highlands. The weight of playing King Arthur was getting to him. He desperately wanted a drink to steady his nerves, but there was nothing available. Between the cold, the dampness, the pressure, and withdrawal symptoms, he was shaking and feverish in his chain mail and wool. He was completely miserable. The auditorium had grown completely silent as Chapman revealed that he was not an invulnerable comedic hero but a human being with all the frailties of mortality.

In October of 1989 he died of cancer.

This book is an account of the group's lives growing up, their days at university, their early pre-Python work, the coalescence of what would become Monty Python, the TV show, the movies, and the inevitable end. Each of the Pythons provided the information in interview format with Chapman's parts taken from previous memoirs and from his brother and his partner. So you would get each of their recollections about events, what they were doing and thinking.

It's clear to me now that postwar English schools were horrid places. Roger Waters, Bruce Dickinson, and the members of Monty Python have all provided details about how miserable these places were. It's almost as if the adults were punishing the children for not having a dour disposition brought on by the travails of the war.

It was really interesting to see how the Python troupe came together, and I'm curious to know how well the pre-Python work holds up. Of course, with the BBC in the habit of recycling all of its tapes back then, I don't know if any of it still exists.

There was a certain joie de vivre that the group back in the days of the TV show, and it was a delight to read about it. But you could see it start to slip away. Certain members didn't want to do the TV show anymore, so others suggested a movie. And for a while they were happy again. Holy Grail was a success and then Life of Brian. They would separate to work on their personal projects, but they would always come back. But they got the work process wrong with The Meaning of Life. Lessons of creation were forgotten. The joy was gone.

When Chapman died, the unraveling of the knot that kept them together quickened. They tried to reunite, but there was always someone to veto a project, whether it be TV, movie, or tour. While they still professed their love for one another, it was clear to me by this book's publication in 2003 that Monty Python had ceased to be as a creative entity.

While there was an abundance of detailed material for their early years, it seemed like when the joy was gone, so too went many of the details. All of these non-Python side projects they were involved in left huge gaps between events in the Python history. The interview format kind of broke down with grudges and hurt feelings creeping in. Subjective accounts obscured objective reality, forcing the reader to deduce what actually happened.

I'm glad that I read it, but now it's more of a reference book than something to revisit for nostalgia's sake, which I guess is why I read it in the first place.

4 stars


Sunday, November 7, 2021

Book Review: Star in Bankruptcy

book cover for Star in BankruptcyJordahk isn't sure who or what he is anymore, and just trying to be “normal” is becoming increasingly challenging. As adulthood looms he'll face his greatest challenges yet both personally and in space.

For Janus hasn't been idle. His schemes within schemes will launch the First Cruiser into the most audacious stratagem since the Sojourners' Crusade. Perhaps only the mystic technology from that era has a chance to stop the Prime Orator's designs.

But neither Jordahk nor his grandfather can currently operate on that level. When the most eclectic space battle in centuries begins, only desperation will bring one side to victory.

This is book three in the Tethered Worlds series. With over a thousand pages published so far, this isn't a series you can pick up in the middle. You really have to start from the beginning. Here are links to spoiler-free reviews for books one and two.

If you've made it this far into the series, you're familiar with the universe that Faccone has built and the factions contending with one another for power in this space opera. You need to be, of course, as Faccone doesn't offer a refresher in what's already been published besides the occasional character reminiscing about past incidents.

Right off the bat we're back with Jordahk's family in the midst of a training exercise. But before you get disgruntled with a "not another one", Faccone throws a cyborg assassin at them. The encounter gives the reader some idea as to how far Jordahk has come in developing his fledgling sojourner skills.

After this confrontation has played out, we learn that trade negotiations are planned at Aventicia, one of the worlds in the Banking Confederation. Janus has plans in place to affect the outcome favorably for the Perigeum and himself, but the Trade Union sends a fleet of their own to provide security. And then a pirate fleet shows up to toss a match on the powderkeg.
"Sadly, war is but politics stripped of every civilized façade
While this is the longest book in the series, 569 pages, I found that it had less filler than in the two previous books. However, the inevitable confrontation that ensues when plans are set in motion takes up about half the book. While one major story arc comes to an end, it's clear that the author has more stories planned for this series.

Characterization, plotting, and world-building all remain strong. Faccone proved that in the first two books. The personalities of the various characters are well-developed and distinct. The setting is rich with detail. Unfortunately, typos remain an issue: My notes highlight misused or missing apostrophes and spelling errors.

Bankrupt Star is a fine addition to the Tethered Worlds series. While there isn't as much exploration or side quest action as the two previous works, the plot is more focused and the stakes are just as high. It's still big and bold space opera with a protagonist you can root for as he grows to fill some very big, heroic shoes.

4 stars.