All my Antics, Mostly Reviews

Category: General

Where the Terrors Keep

A Review of Edgar Wallace’s Terror Keep

John Flack – Book Cover, 1982, Goldmann

Crime stories have been a staple of my childhood, long before I picked up any science fiction or fantasy books, I was most likely engrossed in some thriller. My reading started with a lot of German books that combined crime with humorous story-telling. When I started to read English language books, I had moved on from my obsession with crime stories. Now I return to one with fresh eyes in this Review of a German translation of Edgar Wallace’s Terror Keep, which is the first entry in the series of books about the detective J.G. Reeder. The German title is John Flack.

Really in light of current events, I feel it is even more necessary to point out, that this work should at least be read with the idea of “copaganda” in mind. Terror Keep neither accurately reflects current or historic police work, nor does it offer any worthwhile views into mental health. Any story about fighting crime in the traditional sense centres a view of crime that ignores any socio-economic factors, and makes police officers into heroes as they fight “real evil”. This book offers no different perspective. It at best entertains, but you can’t escape the ideas that fiction of its kind normalises. Crime in the real world is rarely as devoid of social context as it is here.

The Physical Book

Back to the book at hand. My copy is a 1982 paperback edition hand-me-down published by Goldmann. Of course, this book has seen better times, the paper has browned with age and feels coarse, and the jacket is showing signs of wear and tear as well, but it’s holding up reasonably well for the time it’s spent being read and being stored on various bookshelves and in numerous storage boxes. It isn’t particularly long, and about 30 pages are devoted to informing the reader of various other books in the publisher’s catalogue.

The Setting

Now, Terror Keep is set in 1920s UK, predominantly in London and an imaginary town called Siltbury on the cliffed coast of southern England. Both places are treated as backdrops that only need description where it figures into the plot. Siltbury is left to the reader’s imagination and familiarity with southern English towns, and London stars as the world-famous city it is with a handful of recognisable places.

More important than Siltbury itself, however, is the mansion in which much if the second and third act of this book takes place: Lamar’s Keep. It’s a cliffside manor, with a horrifying dungeon and curious inhabitants and visitors.

The Characters

Cliffed Coast, with a wall atop and white clouds drawing over a clear sky

Most of the characters show up at Lamar’s Keep and its surroundings over time, but that’s not the interesting thing about them. Well, the interesting thing about them is that they are not interesting in and of themselves. They are pretty flat, maybe some of them are more well rounded over the entire length of the series, but they stick closely to archetypal versions of a detective story.

We have in order of appearance the mentally insane, empathyless and driven villain, who happens to be a criminal mastermind. He, fundamentally, is just an ableist trope. We have the well-experienced investigator, who doesn’t shy away from a fight. We have a love interest for the investigator, who becomes a damsel in distress. We have multiple other policemen, who are either characterised by incompetence or as mere cannon-fodder and, finally, we have multiple henchmen of the villain, who all get a weird name pointing to earlier wrongdoings.

The most striking departure from this character template has to be Miss Bellman, ostensibly the damsel in distress and love interest, who at least for first half of this book seems to hold out pretty competently and well for herself, but the realities of 1920s ideas of womanhood will get to her soon enough.

The Plot

JG Reeder fighting his way up the rigged stairs

The characters aren’t, what makes this book a gripping read though. The thing that kept me riveted to the book was the ease of how different elements of the plot flowed into each other, how the characters, setting, and plot intertwined. And lead from one page to the other.

There’s not much to be said about the plot that wouldn’t spoil it, but it’s constructed with clear intent, keeping the reader guessing without alienating them with too contrived plot-twists. Some explanations and crimes mentioned within this story fall onto the gimmicky side of plots, but they were not gimmicky enough to rip me out of the flow of reading this book. There’s a well-crafted tension that was pulling me along throughout the entirety of the book.

The Writing

Edgar Wallace wrote many of his books by way of dictation, and the casualness of his writing certainly shows, the point is not to tell a story in its most beautiful manifestation, but a good thrill and a gripping story. In this vein, the writing is mostly unremarkable.

There were a few moments and passages in this book where certain word choices pulled me out of the book, but I think I have to pin those down on the translation, which certainly seemed somewhat clunky at times. Often maybe through no fault of the translator. After all, there’s at least one passage of basically untranslatable wordplay around the suites of playing cards, which the translator solved by annotating explanations of these jokes. But there might have been more passages where the translator was considering such annotations but eventually decided against them to avoid interrupting the flow of the book.

Summary

This book certainly is a gripping read and a fun one at that, but it isn’t a book that makes a good point about life or anything. It’s not meant to be. It’s just a fun story meant to entertain a reader, sitting in bed on a stormy night, or watching the waves on a sunny beach.

There are, without a doubt, problematic parts in this book, that suggest ideas about our world that might not be worth repeating because they’re demonstrably untrue. And these parts make me question if this book is worth reading in 2020. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to enjoy it. Far from it, I enjoyed it myself, but I don’t want to recommend this book. It’s a well-crafted thriller from almost 100 years ago. It’s showing its age. That doesn’t make it a bad book per se, but there are also better books to search out. It’s probably a guilty pleasure for me.

My last book review was about Terry Pratchett’s The Long War: The Long Wait. My next review will be about the wonderful Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: Two Strands.

If you liked my review, you can as always support me on ko-fi. Or you can get prints, stickers and other items with some of my designs on redbubble, at chwiggy.redbubble.com

Critters of Light: A Message

It’s been a while since I published anything like a story on here, but this just came to my mind this morning, and as much as it’s an unfinished vignette, I wanted to share it with you. So I hope you’ll enjoy it, and if so, maybe I’ll manage to write more in this universe.

A Message

She stepped back into the shadow. Here it was dark. Here the night didn’t even see a ray of moonlight. This was nice. She felt at home in the dark. That’s where she grew up. That’s where she decided to stay. Now she was hiding and again the darkness felt homely. This was a good place to stop and rest. Here, where the eyes of the critters of light were useless. She detested those little beasts, like cockroaches, warm, quick, small and plentiful. Here in the darkness, she was safe.

She opened her coat. This had been a wet night, even under her coat her wings had gotten wet. Now the clouds had made their way for moonlight, and now the critters were back at it again.

She spread her wings and violently shook her head to dry off a bit. The coat fell to the floor. She wouldn’t need it anymore tonight. There were more important things than a piece of now wet cloth. She shook her head again to get the last drops of cold autumn rain out of her feathers.

She was an owl, and she loved the darkness. The critters, however, abhorred it. They were repulsed by it. Like a disorganised army, they surged against the terminator and were repelled by the pain the darkness caused them. Still, again and again, they tried to take the line, as if they could move the darkness further back with every surge, but they couldn’t cross it, and for now, they couldn’t move it and they couldn’t survive the shadow.

She looked at them for a moment. She looked away, with her beak she pulled a piece of dirt out of her wing feathers. Here she was safe, but she here she couldn’t stay. The rain had stopped, but her message still needed to be delivered, even if the critters now were out. She still needed to cross the river into the capital city. And her message was important. These critters weren’t after her for no reason.

Sure, critters would attack people for no reason. That definitely wasn’t beneath them, or any of the creatures of light. The light was nasty like that. Nevertheless, these critters had a goal. They needed to stop her. Their future depended on it. The news she was bringing could have meant their end.

Kathlyn the Owl new she wouldn’t have much time left to bring her message to faer majesty the Queen of Thorma – what a beakful! She didn’t even have the time for a pit-stop at her girlfriend’s treehouse. That had to wait. First, she had to bring the news, that would change this war, and, well, she would have to deal with these inconvenient critters of light now. She probably would have to fly, not an easy undertaking with her dampened feathers, and a head full of sorrows.

If you like to, I would really appreciate your support on ko-fi. A few bucks help a long way and if you want to you can find some of my art on redbubble for sale as stickers and posters

Energetic Balance

Energetic Balance of the Atmosphere in W/m²

Added the Gay in Post?

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but now with much further ado my next review of a song from early Eurovision. We’re still in 1956.

So let’s get started with this review of Le Plus Beau Jour De Ma Vie sung by Mony Marc of Belgium properly. Le Plus Beau Jour De Ma Vie was the 10th song performed during the Grandprix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne in 1956 and was the second entry for Belgium that night.

Despite the weird touch reminiscent of Chinese music the imitations of church bells, this melody starts out with, this song honestly tickles my fancy more than the winning song we talked about the last time. It at least feels more unique in this field of all too similar songs.

This song is obviously about the most beautiful day in the life of the singer. Talking about her wedding in the most cliched way possible. There’s not much that interests me beyond that face-value description, but I think I just enjoy the mood the melody sets out. Sadly this song is maybe a bit too straight for my liking. That’s why the art to the right rightfully ignores the talk about “lui” and “Prince Charmant”, and finds a way to make this into a lesbian wedding.

Maybe I’m just getting used to chanson-style songs over the course of this project. Maybe I’ve always enjoyed this genre, but I’m definitely not opposed to listening to it. And with this particular Belgian song, I’m just transported into a kitschy but beautifully nostalgic world – accompanied by a very clear voice.

There’s not much else to say about this song, nor is there much to say about its singer who has apparently kept herself out of the limelight of public attention.

As always I’ll leave you with the playlist of reviewed songs:

This is part 10 of my ESC-Reviews. If you want more feel free to check out my last one or check out my book reviews.

Dishwashing Tutorial #1

The holidays are coming up. We all know the mountains of dirty dishes accumulating on our holiday feasts. Here’s a gentle YouTube tutorial for the Nerdfighteria Discord Server’s YouTube channel, that explains to you the very basics of dishwashing.

Note that I’m already aware of the criticism my techniques have garnered. I wish to inform you that my technique is very much in need of improvement, but I’d rather put it out there to relieve people of the fear they might have of starting to do their dishes. Badly done dishes are better than mountains of filth after all. With that Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah!

A Few Changes – Mostly Widgets

This is only a short update to inform you, dear reader, of some changes to this blog. There’s nothing amiss, but because I’m at times a bit strapped of the good old cash that chimes, I added a way for you to support my work. At the time of publication, it’s a mere link to my ko-fi page, but I would be very thankful if you should decide to chip in with a tip. Maybe I’ll add some additional perks for supporters, but for now, that is enough.

Other than that I added another widget at the bottom of the left sidebar, that includes a few cover images of the books I’m currently reading grabbed fresh every time from my profile on Librarything.

Synergise to Hell!

What’s my point with this piece? I don’t know. This is more of an experiment in branching my writing out to different topics. Please leave all the feedback you have. And if you’d rather read something different, please check out the last Eurovision-Review, my first poem on this blog or my serial fiction about trees.

“This feels weird” was my first thought when I clicked on Veritasium’s video on electric vehicles. At first, I thought it was only weird because Derek had applied his lessons about clickbaity thumbnails as detailed in his latest video on viral videos and the YouTube algorithm, but that was at best only part of my spider-senses going off. The first shot of the video hit me pretty hard. Derek walking through a lobby filled with new and shiny BMW cars. Apparently, he was invited to Munich by BMW. I mean that’s fair after all, many YouTubers I enjoy get invited sometimes by companies to film their videos there. The best example of this, that comes to my mind, is Tom Scott.

Still, this felt different, but why? I don’t think sponsored content is prima facie bad, and I think there are great examples of how sponsors can bring their advertisement slots to good use, convince viewers or listeners of their product and sometimes as with the brilliant Cards Against Humanity sponsorships on the Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP), in which they made nitpicky John Siracusa review a variety of toaster ovens. This, however, is at the extreme end of toasters sponsorships working well and enriching the content of content creators. In its way, it is a best-case scenario for both the creator as for the sponsor. Normal unintrusive sponsorships maybe play off of some traits or interests the content creator has, but don’t necessarily infringe on the creators content too much. Audible sponsorships come to mind where the creator just gives a few sales arguments, maybe a book tip and the sponsor, in turn, leaves the rest of the content alone.

John Siracusa’s Toaster Reviews

The two central Veritasium videos are different in two key points: Firstly, the sponsorship isn’t contained to a bounded ad read but comes up multiple times within the video. Secondly, the content of both videos is strictly dependent on the sponsor itself. Both videos wouldn’t make sense without the sponsor setting the video up.

For the BMW sponsored video, the sponsorship seems to make sense. BMW wants to foster an image of technological advancements and hopes to sell cars in a video that is fundamentally about cars. To be more specific: electric cars.

The relation of Starbucks to the content of Liquid Nitrogen seems even more forced. No one would associate their morning coffee with science & technology videos.

This is why the Liquid Nitrogen video needs the help of a made-up challenge. Starbuck has to challenge Derek to make liquid nitrogen because there is no other way to motivate a mention of Starbucks in a roughly ten-minute science video. Showing off the tech Starbucks actually uses to make their Nitro Cold Brew didn’t even make it into the video, and even showing off the admittedly cool pattern of bubbles only made it into the video as an afterthought, even more so than Derek trying Nitro Cold Brew for “the first time” at the start of the video.

It isn’t wrong, all the elements for a good sponsored video are present and still, it feels wrong. It feels wrong because it’s forced. It is awkward to look someone in the eye who’s trying to sell you coffee in a science video without having genuine synergies with the sponsor.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective, the one of the audience. We as viewers have a gut reaction whether something feels genuine or not. That gut reaction might not be true. After all, some people can act better than Derek Muller, but that gut reaction inevitably tinges if we are more willing to get interested in a marketed product.

Sure we have to decide on how we want to be convinced to buy products. Marketing and advertisement is an old industry and I can definitely see moral gradations between someone honestly saying: “Hey I work for Starbucks. And I think you would enjoy Nitro Cold Brew” and more clandestine or covert advertisement like product placement or even non-declared sponsorships. No one wants to read fake or paid reviews for a restaurant without knowing that those reviews aren’t genuine, but as an audience, we still understand there’s a genuine need for creators especially independent creators to make money.

YouTube’s monetisation scheme doesn’t necessarily provide enough revenue to keep a channel going. YouTube’s monetisation at least to an extent keeps content and advertisement separate. Of course, there’s “advertiser-friendly content” and content advertisers don’t want to put advertisements against, but the advertiser has no direct control or influence on the content. This relationship of content and advertisement is definitely the most transparent and least misleading to the audience, but that’s not what advertisement is for.

Hence the ideas of product placement and sponsored content. Blurring the line between pure content and pure advertisement is a winner for those who seek to earn money, but it has its disadvantages for the audience. Suddenly, judgements about products within the content might not be untinged by considerations for the advertiser. Is this cold brew really enjoyable or is the enjoyment faked to appease the advertisement gods?

Certainly, there’s a path for creators to enjoy the benefits of sponsored content without losing their perceived authenticity. This path is contingent on a careful selection of advertisers. The advertisements need to be somewhat related to the actual content, but also not too related to the content. If the advertisements are too far off from the content the target audience is probably missed, if the advertisement is too close too the content potential confusion arises. This is I think the crux with a Starbucks sponsorship in a Veritasium video.

Since I started writing this piece, CGP Grey announced in a video that his YouTube content would stop to be sponsored and that he would concentrate on crowdfunding through Patreon.

A Dark Embrace

The darkness reaches out
My heart is filled with doubt.

Past mistakes,
My mind incessantly shakes.

I can’t sleep
As my brain weeps.

This is depression’s bout

Julia – 09/2019

As announced in A Few New Things this blog will henceforth be available at a new URL: chwiggys-world.de as well as on patricknwilke.de. That is all for today.

The river Dreisam in Freiburg, Germany

FIRST!!!

Well, that’s a new category. This is the first time I could have commented this on a YouTube video as a content creator and I’m proud of it. Now, this video wasn’t published on my channel, but among a series of daily videos for a project of the wonderful Nerdfighteria Discord Server. All the videos can be found on their channel. And this? This is it. This is my contribution to the 28th of July in the Secret Siblings 2.0 project:

And this is also my first published video ever. There are many things I would do differently the next time around, but this was a great experience and trial run for other video projects that I might come around to eventually.

Of course, this video has flaws incurred by the lack of professional gear, but those are minor. Yes the video doesn’t look as crisp as it could have, but calm down I shot this on the camera of my smartphone, and to be honest I don’t have a clue what half of the export setting in Adobe Premiere even mean.

I also didn’t have an acceptable microphone on location, so I had to do with voice-overs on my frankly terrible headset. Considering these technical limitations, I think the audio went reasonably well. I used Adobe Audition to record most of my voice-over lines except for those for the talking gorilla at 0:48. At this point, my lack of experience with Premiere shows again, and the audio I recorded with Premiere recorded both the input I gave but also the feedback audio it returned to my headphones. I’m sure this would be fixable with either a more sophisticated microphone or a dive into Premiere’s settings, but alas, this is how it is.

In generally this video and the Secret Siblings 2.0 project, in general, has taught me to be less perfectionist. The project came about in the spirit of Hank and John Green‘s early YouTube project Brotherhood 2.0, that started their own YouTube channel and was a jumping-off point for many other video projects amongst which there are hits like CrashCourse and SciShow (subscribe to SciShow Pee, please). In hindsight, their videos look kinda terrible, but what could you expect from 2007 camera technology? In the end, that doesn’t matter though. It is the content that counts.

Though there are some genuine things, I would do differently the next time around. And I don’t just mean throwing money at the technical problems. I mean things like filming more footage to have B-roll and to be less constricted by the footage I have. I would also like to put more time and planning into it. Though with my habit of procrastination, I am less than hopeful that I could actually achieve that, but who knows?

I’ll leave you with the words of Hank and John Green: Don’t forget to be awesome!

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