Scarface Claw – Too Serious

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Scarface Claw: The Toughest Tom In Town.

This time last year (2017) my family and I attended the book launch of the latest instalment in the Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s Dairy) series by Lynley Dodd. Hairy Maclary and his friends have been entertaining people, particularly younger people with an as yet undeveloped world-weariness, for 30 years. The latest book in the series is titled Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! and I’m left with some very important questions.

For those who aren’t aware, Scarface Claw is the toughest tomcat in the town where Hairy Maclary and his friends live. Which town this happens to be and the relative toughness of the other tomcats living there is not explored in any detail in the series, which could be regarded as an oversight. Scarface Claw has, on more than one occasion, threatened or utilised violence against the cats and dogs in town. This has seen scatters of paws and clatters of claws from Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low tum, Bitzer Maloney all skinny and bony, Muffin McClay like a bundle of hay, Bottomley Potts covered in spots, Hercules Morse as big as a horse, and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy.

Obviously, this nasty, violent, and abusive cat makes for an ideal protagonist in a children’s book. Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! marks the tomcat’s second outing as the hero.

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This adventure sees our cranky and crotchety hero sunning himself on top of Tom’s car. Somehow, Tom manages to not see the rather large black tomcat sprawled on the roof of his red car and hurries off to somewhere very important – another detail unexplored by the narrative. Since this is the inciting incident of the story, you would expect it to be more believable. Are we to seriously believe that Tom doesn’t notice old Scarface? As we soon discover, literally everyone else in the town notices Scarface Claw clinging to the roof of the car, so either Tom should be required to acquire prescription lenses for driving or he knew Scarface Claw was there all along.

That Tom knowingly drove around town with a cat on his roof is not inconceivable. Scarface Claw has a long and infamous history, particularly amongst the resident town pets, so mistreatment of the tomcat may be a common occurrence. It may be that this mistreatment is what makes Scarface Claw the nasty cat he is. Maybe with extensive therapy, Scarface Claw could become a lovable and friendly cat who would be invited to Slinky Malinky’s house in a tail waving line. We can only hope.

We also have to question why everyone in town noticed Scarface Claw clinging to the roof and wanted to “rescue that cat”. Presumably, the townfolk recognised Scarface Claw, so either they are more kind and caring than Tom – plausible given my previous points about potential mistreatment – or they are starved for excitement such that waving a sock at a driver with a cat on his car roof would make it into a lifetime highlights list. But that doesn’t excuse the next issue.

I know that many animal lovers would support the use of police and fire and rescue for animal emergencies, but you have to question Constable Chrissie’s response. Did the Constable honestly have nothing better to do with her time than pull Tom over? What laws has he broken? If Tom has broken some laws, why wasn’t he charged with an offence? And why didn’t she call for a licensed animal controller, such as the Ranger, instead of relying on the ever conveniently helpful Miss Plum?* Does Constable Chrissie suspect that Tom is an abusive pet owner and is wanting to compile a list for a potential animal welfare case?**

There are so many questions left unanswered, so many details not covered, that I am left at a loose end. I can only hope that future books in the series will address these issues in some way.

*Miss Plum has a long habit of helping the town pets out of their adventurous mishaps. She seems to always conveniently arrive in the nick of time. A more suspicious person would suspect that something more sinister is at play here. Is Miss Plum stalking the town pets? Is she behind the pets’ misadventures? Hopefully, these questions will be addressed in later instalments in the series.

**Or at least intervene where possible to stop animal abuse events.***

***And it is possible that Constable Chrissie keeps an eye on Tom and his activities – possibly Miss Plum does as well – because she suspects Tom’s animal abuse may morph into something more serious. Best to catch a killer early.

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Book review: The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

The Carpet PeopleThe Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Don’t do that! You’ll disturb the carpet people.’

The Munrungs have just had their village destroyed by fray, a natural phenomenon from above The Carpet. In the aftermath, Glurk and Snibril try to help their village flee the attacking Mouls, a people who regard all others as animals and rather good eating. It is then they realise that fray is pushing a path of destruction through The Carpet and that the Mouls are attacking every city and town in its wake. Can they save civilisation so that people don’t go back to hitting each other?

While I was reading this novel I kept having to remind myself that it was the heavily revised edition written by the 40-something Pratchett, not the 20-something of the original edition. This was Pratchett’s first novel and as an ode to fantasy fiction had just the right amounts of absurdism and humour, which I can’t see a 20-something nailing. If Pratchett was this good out of the gate then every other author would be left weeping into the keyboard. Hopefully, someone who has read both versions can point out the differences.

This is, of course, not a Discworld novel. Apparently, all reviewers have to point this out for some reason. As such, Pratchett’s style, particularly his satire, is less pronounced here. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Carpet People, for long-time Discworld fans this may feel a little light or insubstantial. Or maybe they just feel guilty about having vacuumed their house.

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Paw Patrol – Too Serious

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Recently my family went to the Paw Patrol movie. My youngest is a (relatively) big fan and as a result, I found myself finally sitting down and watching a complete Paw Patrol adventure. And I’m left with some very important questions.

For those who aren’t aware, Paw Patrol is a rescue team that spans police, fire, construction, recycling, aquatic, and aviation – with later seasons adding snow and forest services and a robotic helper. This rescue team are based in the aptly named Adventure Bay and run by Ryder and his team of puppies.

Oh, was that not clear? The rescue team are composed of puppies with a series of catchphrases and dog houses that convert into vehicles. These catchphrases are very important to the show as they comprise roughly 60% of each episode; there is very little new content in any given adventure.

Ryder
“No job is too big, no pup is too small!”
Chase
“Chase is on the case!”
Marshall
“I’m fired up!”
Skye
“Let’s take to the sky!”
Rocky
“Don’t lose it, Reuse it!”
Rubble
“Rubble on the double!”
Zuma
“Let’s dive in!”
Everest
“Ice or snow, I’m ready to go!”
Tracker
“I’m all ears!”/”Todo Oidos!”

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This brings me to the crux of the issue with Paw Patrol. Adventure Bay is riddled with people in need of rescue, and in later seasons there are even nefarious plots by royalty and rival mayors to cause havoc. So it is odd that this bustling town has decided to entrust major rescue efforts, law enforcement, and fire management to a 10-year-old and his team of puppies.

I’m not sure it is wise to allow Ryder to operate with such autonomy given his age. And as much as the pups have proved themselves capable, surely they are also too young and inexperienced for such important roles.* You have to question who allowed Ryder to establish the Paw Patrol and why he is allowed to continue.

Obviously, it helps that the mayor – one Mayor Goodway and her purse chicken Chickaletta – are often in need of assistance due to their own incompetence. This would certainly make Ryder and his pups endearing to Goodway. She seems willing to overlook Ryder’s repeated risk-taking and near catastrophic failures, even when it inspires others to wreak havoc. Would this fly in any other town?

Ryder also seems to have a suspiciously large amount of resources for a 10-year-old. The custom transforming dog houses are a marvel of technology that must have cost a fortune to make. Even if we are to believe that Ryder builds them all himself, this would require funds from somewhere, and knowledge that would have any tech company begging him to come and work for them. But new adventures see new technology introduced, seemingly overnight. Where does Ryder find time to design, engineer, and build aerial, submersible, etc, versions of equipment for his pups?** And when did he find time to be on the cutting edge of robotics and AI to create a robotic assistant dog?

I would contend that Ryder’s activities are not as altruistic as first appears. He seems to have infiltrated Adventure Bay and bribed his way to power using money and goodwill. The mayor looks the other way whilst he trains a team of puppies to do his bidding. His recklessness is all fun and games for the moment, but we will no doubt see Ryder’s true colours when one of the rescues fails and he has to show accountability.

Let us hope that on that day his puppies are able to be true heroes and save Ryder from himself.

*Sidenote: what happens when they are no longer puppies? Do they age out of the Paw Patrol team? Are they suddenly unemployed? Are there nearby towns/cities that take dogs with transforming dog houses, or are they abandoned to become strays? Will we one day see former Paw Patrol members return to Adventure Bay as bitter and twisted dogs bent on extracting revenge upon their former master who abandoned them?

**And I haven’t even touched on his ability to defy the laws of physics with some inventions. E.g. Marshall seems to have an unlimited supply of fire suppressant in a backpack that he can comfortably carry. Is it powered by as yet undiscovered physics, or does it tap into a well of magic? Why isn’t he sharing this technology with the world?

Book review: The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

The Fifth Elephant (Discworld, #24; City Watch, #5)The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do sugar lumps disappear or were they never there in the first place?

Sam Vimes is making sure The Watch is moving with the times and keeping Ankh-Morpork in line when Lord Vetinari summons him for a new job: ambassador. He is despatched to Uberwald for the upcoming coronation of the Low King. It isn’t long before he is using diplomacy to take care of bandits, solve a mystery, break traditions, and stop a coup. As Vimes says, “So this is diplomacy. It’s like lying, only to a better class of people.”

The first Discworld novel I read was Guards! Guards! so the City Watch series are always among my favourites. The Fifth Elephant is more plot orientated than some other Discworld novels, so it feels more streamlined and ordered than some others. That doesn’t mean that the humour or satire are lacking, even if they can be a bit subtle at times (e.g. feudalism vs capitalism commentary is rife but takes a backseat to the plot).

I really enjoyed this novel. Nothing more to say really.

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Explaining the joke

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Does this sound familiar? You are looking at your social media feed and spot the latest hot-take from your favourite satirical comedy site. They have eloquently broken down the absurdity of recent events with biting insight and withering sarcasm. And then you read the comments.

Okay, so that is always a mistake. But bear with me here. You could also bare with me if you like, I can’t force you to wear pants while you read blog posts.

Inevitably in the comments, there will be someone explaining to everyone that the post is satire. This is like someone standing up in front of an audience with an applause sign, just in case you missed the right moment to show your appreciation. This is the canned laughter at appropriate moments in sitcoms to point out what was meant to be funny. This is the comedian who repeats the punchline of the joke…

Worse still are the people who jump in to explain how the joke works and why it is funny. These people are the equivalent of that annoying person in the middle of the cinema telling the movie character not to open the closet door in the creepy house.

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Now I’d argue that this sort of comment is completely unnecessary. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a statistical correlation between someone explaining the joke and that person suffering a sudden and unexplained death from choking on their phone.

At the heart of this problem are two groups of people. The first is a group of people who think they need to guide us mere mortals through life. Without their input, we would be lost, society would crumble, and within months they would be explaining how Thunderdome actually originated as a means to resolve conflict and provide entertainment in Bartertown. They don’t see it as condescension, they see it as imparting wisdom to the little people.

Then there is the second group. The second group are why the first group exist.

You see, invariably on every single satirical comedy comments section, you will find someone not realising the article they are commenting upon is a joke. They may be unsure, perhaps posting something like “The Onion?” or “I don’t understand, is this meant to be funny, am I missing the joke, did my mother’s alcoholism affect me somehow?” Or they may think the article is completely serious, and comment with outrage, indignation, or a rambling string of ideas that may belong in the comments of a different article. Clearly, the first category of menaces to society are preempting these posters.

But you aren’t meant to explain it to people. These poor fools are meant to be mercilessly mocked. They are, after all, on the internet, where civil discourse is disallowed, and a Google search to fact-check or see whether the site is satirical takes seconds. A semi-literate turtle should be able to find the About page or Other Articles links and from there it should be obvious. Even for the turtle. And its illiterate brethren.

Some of the semi-literate turtles have lost hope in humanity and decided to document the downfall of civilisation. They have started entire webpages devoted to documenting people not getting the joke.

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Let us hope that satire continues to entertain and that the confused commenters adopt a pet turtle. Then maybe we will see the end of people explaining the joke. And the end of homeless turtles.

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Book review: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites (Discworld, #3; Witches, #1)Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Witches ride on brooms and wizards hold a staff in their hands. Nothing phallic about that.

Eskarina “Esk” Smith was born the eighth son of the eighth son and was bequeathed Drum Billet’s wizarding abilities and staff. Minor mixup. Esk is a girl. But too late for any take-backs, Esk’s magical talents have her training with Granny Weatherwax in witching. This isn’t enough for Esk as she is meant to be a wizard, she has the staff and everything, so she journeys to the Unseen University for training.

I’ve come at the Witches instalments of Discworld backward. The first one I read was The Shepherd’s Crown, Pratchett’s last novel before his death, in which Granny Weatherwax dies.* So to come to the first was overdue. I was somewhat disappointed with The Shepherd’s Crown – probably because it was unfinished in terms of Pratchett’s usual revision process – but not so with Equal Rites. This was highly enjoyable and tackled some interesting tropes of fantasy, as well as plotting the rise of grrl power on the Disc.

*That isn’t a spoiler, it’s pretty much the first chapter.**
**Not that Sir Terry was a big fan of using chapters, but you take my meaning.

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Book review: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wizards with synesthesia hearing octarine would be an interesting experience.

Twoflower arrives in Ankh-Morpork with his sapient luggage filled with gold. After years in inn-sewer-ants he is looking to become the first tourist on the disc. Rincewind makes his acquaintance thanks to his gift for languages, and they bumble into adventure.

Having read some of the last instalments in the Discworld novels I thought it was time to go back to read the earlier instalments. The writing in the books has changed over the course of the series. Most of the Discworld novels I’ve read so far have been directly satirising a modern-day topic or institutions, but The Colour of Magic is much more concerned with satirising fantasy novels themselves.

It is hard to give this novel a higher rating, however, as it does what all annoying fantasy series do: continue in the next book. Yes, great joke, but it does mean that until I’ve read The Light Fantastic there are no five stars from me.

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