Thursday, August 21, 2014

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY LEARNS THE MAZE

"So, your plan is for one of us to learn to build nuclear bombs, be cut up and
fed to the rest of us?... Are you NUTS?"
 
 
 

Sometimes a little factoid lodges itself so far into your psyche that-- apocryphal or not, disproved or not-- it bounces around inside your head, sparking ideas and narratives long after other, potentially more worthy ideas have long since slipped away into the darkness.

Teach a planarian worm to run a maze, then grind it up and feed it to other planarian worms an they will instantly gain the knowledge of how to run that maze, even if they have never seen the maze before.

I can't remember where I read it, and I don't know whether it's actually true or not. More to the point, I haven't bothered to find out, because I've used that little nugget on at least five occasions, and one of the stories I used it in won a bunch of awards and ushered a few cheques into being along the way so I'm hardly going to quibble now, am I?

It also inspired this thumbnail, which has never been completed, won no awards, and hasn't earned me a single cent. Circle of life, my friends. Circle of life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2014 SNAPSHOT

In happier news, the Australian SF Snapshot series of interviews is being conducted again, and once again I have been snapped and shotted in what's becoming increasingly like a 7-Up version of my again self.

This time, journalist Nick Evans has asked the questions, grilling me on the transition from adult novels to childrens works, my Australian TBR pile and just what the hell I think I'm doing with what's supposed to be my career.

 You can see my response here.

FLY, BE FREE

We lost another divine lunatic yesterday.

Robin Williams, who first helped melt my mind when I was a kid with his anarchic portrayal of Mork from Ork in Mork and Mindy, and who made regular incursions into my artistic consciousness through a series of brilliant live DVDs; early comedic movies like Moscow on the Hudson and Good Morning, Vietnam; mature middle-career performances in Jumanji, The Birdcage and others; and stunning dramatic tours-de-force in a range of intense dramatic roles such as Dead Poets Society; Good Will Hunting; One Hour Photo and Insomnia, killed himself.

For a man who had a profound impact upon my artistic, comedic and personal sensibilities, he was surprisingly young: he was only 63.

In many ways, Williams was an ever-present as I grew up. It's hard to explain the impact of Mork and Mindy on my sensibilities: with a grand total of 3 TV channels to choose from and a much higher quota of Australian programming (not to mention viewing choices controlled by conservative, British parents), there was, quite literally, nothing on television quite like it. Mork was a force of nature, a fox in a chicken coop of cookie-cutter sitcom writing, and at a time when I was already glutting my imagination on science fiction and the Goon Show, I was an instant convert, a mini-Exidor running off at the mouth and driving my parents insane.

And, then, somehow he was always just there. Within a year or two we had purchased our first VHS player--at roughly the same time he was making the transition into movies, and if there was a Williams movie on the shelf, I watched it: Popeye, The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Survivors, Club Paradise.... anyone who was surprised by his range and depth in later career movies should see these early films back to back. The depth was always there, the range always apparent. It was just the quality of production that altered, just the size of the marquee. Once I was old enough to travel the sixty kilometres to the nearest cinema by myself he became a staple of my cinema visits: Good Morning, Vietnam one of the first films I ever went to alone, without even the company of friends, the soundtrack to the movie a permanent fixture on my walkman (it still features on my iPod play list today).

When I took up stand-up comedy in the early nineties a group of comedic friends and I would gather together regularly to watch live videos and dissect them: Andy Kaufman; Richard Jeni; Steve Martin (another ever-present: when he dies, I'll be just as distraught); Emo Philips, Richard Pryor, Billy Connolly.... the list was unending. Except Williams. Between us we had a mammoth collection, stretching right back to bootleg recordings of early Comedy Store appearances. Those, we just watched, and rolled around, in tears of laughter. Nobody wanted to dissect them. We knew we couldn't learn anything, couldn't replicate what he did in any way. We watched them because we wanted to see great art, and revel in genius.

And so I stopped thinking about him. He was furniture, as much as Billy Connolly and Steve Martin and the Goon Show and science fiction and Pink Floyd and my eyesight and hearing and all the things that are woven so deeply into my being that they are little more than autonomic processes. Always an awareness at the edge of my vision, occasionally popping into full view to stun me one more time-- holy shit, the man did One Hour Photo, Death to Smoochy and Insomina in a single year-- but more often than not just slightly in the background. Let's be honest, he hadn't starred in a decent movie since The Final Cut in 2004, and even that's a flawed work. Supporting roles in Night at the Museum movies aside, it had been fairly slim pickings for a while.

But he was still there, part of my general awareness, a tightly-woven emblem in the pattern of my karass. I'd introduced him to my kids, through Jumanji and the Night at the Museum movies. We'd have gotten to Bicentennial Man soon enough, and Dead Poets Society in its turn.

I hadn't really thought about his influence on my life, my ways of thinking, my approach to art, until I checked out my Facebook feed yesterday morning and was deluged by outpourings of shock and sorrow.

Now, I don't know what else to say.

There's a huge body of work, of various quality. There are artists who have been influenced, and will carry that influence into their own work. But Williams himself is gone, and my karass is wounded.

Mork has finally, irretrievably, signed off.




Monday, August 04, 2014

Review: Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil - Volume 3


Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil - Volume 3
Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil - Volume 3 by Stan Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



The very definition of a curate's egg. One of my favourite Marvel characters, who has developed unbelievable shades and intonations over the years, and the beginnings of his complexity are in evidence throughout this volume of early stories. The art by Gene Colan is superb: clear, active, with unexpected depth and elegance.

But, oh Gods, Stan Lee is an abysmal hack. The writing is embarrassing, and the z-grade line-up of villians-- including El Matador, whose powers involve being a matador and having a skeezy Spanish accent; the Masked Marauder, who, well, has a mask that's basically a welding helmet with a mauve hanky hanging off the bottom, and arguably the worst villain Marvel have ever devised (and we're talking the company who gave us Razorback and Rocket Racer...) Leapfrog, with springs on his scuba flippers and a frog costume, whose power involves being able to jump high on his springs (I shit thee not!)-- should have been enough to kill the book dead, dead, dead. The dialogue is leaden, the misogyny oozes from each page, the majority of characters are two-dimensional at best, and some of Lee's plot devices wouldn't pass grade in a Perils of Pauline script meeting. A supposed 'bonus' feature, wherein page are devoted to a supposed meeting between Lee and Colan to work on the scripts, showing what swell and quirky fellas they are, is just teeth-grindingly awful.

The Cult of Lee has been built, over the years, on his personality and bullet-proof self-belief and love for what he does. If it had anything to do with his writing skills, he'd be long-forgotten.

Three stars for Colan's artwork, which deserves-- and, thankfully, regularly received-- a better forum. Thank God Horn-head went on to better things than this tripe.





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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Review: Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants


Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants
Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants by Matthew Inman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Hilarious collection of profane, insane and left-brain strips from one of the few online strips I follow. All the ranty, common-sense goodness that makes this strip so brilliantly funny, presented in large, glossy format. Love it.



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Monday, July 28, 2014

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, PART TEN

Over at Facebook, I was tagged in a meme that required me to list three things that made me grateful, every day for three days.

So I thought I'd list them here, too.


  1. I'm grateful for my art. It has provided me with friendships, income, travel opportunities, and was the vehicle by which I escaped the soul-destroying depths off despair I was slowly being crushed by while working in the Public Service. I'll never be famous, I'll never be remembered, and I'll never be considered at even the middle of the tree, but my art has been the thing that has kept me from disappearing into the obscure midst of my mediocre family tree, and I'm grateful.
  2. I'm grateful for a reasonable income. Yes, we struggle, and we juggle finances on a fortnightly basis, but I'm aware that we do so from a level of decent comfort. My children go to a good school, my wife is able to study, essentially, full time, and we have room to both expand our horizons and entertain our hobbies & indulgences. We never suffer, and having both come from backgrounds of grinding poverty, Lyn and I have only ever wanted our children to appreciate a good upbringing.
  3. I'm grateful for the respect of my peers. I get little of it at work, and I rarely feel like an author doing good work, so when a fellow artist expresses their respect or admiration for the work I do then it usually comes as an enormous, and humbling, surprise, because, to be quite honest, I generally don't know what I do to merit it. I've undervalued my work for so long-- it's only in the last fortnight, for example, that I've decided to set a minimum fee for appearances, despite doing them regularly for the last 12 years-- that I'm always a little stunned when others do value it. And grateful, because sometimes, I doubt I'd go on without it.
  4. I'm grateful for my readers. Despite all the mechanical hoo-ha-ra that goes into writing, ultimately it comes down to entertaining a stranger with the power of your imagination and your words. Anybody who comes back for a second helping, or who picks up my work because they like the cut of my snippets, is someone who has chosen to invest their time and imagination into my maunderings. It's a weird kind of long-distance love affair of the mind, and I'm thankful to all who take it on.
  5. I'm grateful for my children. As you've probably noticed if you've read this Facebook page for long enough-- by which I mean half a day or more-- my kids constantly entertain me, fill me with wonder, and enrich my life by keeping me innocent, impish and focused on doing good for others who need me in their life. Whether it be my naturally-arrived Miss 12 and Master 9, or my inherited bonus kids Cassie, Aiden and Blake, granddaughter Little Miss 2, grandson Little Man <1 boys="" enrich="" in="" life="" multitudinous="" my="" or="" partners="" span="" the="" they="" ways.="">
  6. I'm grateful for the quickness of my mind. I've mentioned before that my father's mind is failing, and it's killing me to watch a charming, erudite, quick-witted man struggle for words and concepts he used to fling about like gossamer. I love being funny, I love being deliberately unfunny to spark a funny exchange, I love to tease, to argue, to explain, to build worlds and concepts out of nothing more than my vocabulary and my ability to knit words into never before-seen shapes and tastes. All my other gifts belong to the people who bestow them upon me. This is the only thing I have going for me that is purely mine. If it ever begins to desert me, I don't know what I'll do.
  7. The care and love shown to Master 9 during his illness by people who have no other investment in it than they are his teachers, or our friends. From just-because gifts, to messages of support, to structuring his classroom, people have gathered round him for the 14 months of his illness and provided him with an atmosphere of caring and support that has done wonders for his morale and self-esteem. To Kris, Kim,Grant, Lilysea, Mark and countless others, my gratitude.
  8. Free education. I went to a shitty High school in the 80s, when my pre-Child Support Agency divorced mother raised two teenage boys and covered a mortgage on a single mother's pension and a $30 a month in child support payments, and thanks to a nominally free education system I still managed to claw my way through 4 years of University. Now, it's going to cost tens of thousands of dollars to send my children to a good high school. Much as I would love to do my Master's degree, I simply can't afford it. My wife's attendance at University each semester is a matter of financial negotiation. My eldest sons struggle to hold down shitty part-time jobs and find enough time to attend to their study obligations. If I were starting my educational career today, I'd be working at K-Mart full-time, because that's the best that people like me could have hoped to afford. I'm grateful that free education enabled me-- and subsequently, my children-- to escape a lower-class existence through education.
  9. A stable political system. Yes, Tony Abbott and his Ant-Hill Mob of witless cronies are a blight on our culture, and yes, we can argue back and forth about the relative merits of our chosen allegiances until we're blue in the nads. But nobody shot at me today, and I own my house, and my children are safe and my wife can wear whatever she wants and get herself a tertiary education, and any meal I've missed since I was at Uni has been by choice, and I have freedom of travel, speech, religion and thought. And I'm an artist, and a well-paid member of the permanent workforce. I've never been conscripted, I've never fought in a war, or against my own people. I've never been gaoled for my beliefs, tortured, or disappeared. My neighbours don't spy on me. I'm safe, and warm, and comfortable and educated. And I'm grateful.


And, things being what they are, here's a little bonus extra grateful content:

10. Above all else, I am grateful for the presence of Luscious Lyn in my life. We have been together almost twelve years now, which boggles me to think of, and in that time we have faced innumerable struggles, traumas and hardships, but throughout it all she has been the pivot around which our family revolves. She has brought me unparallelled joy, belief and support, and whatever happiness I have managed to gather unto myself has been, in large part, because she is beside me, pointing me always towards positivity and joy. I cope, and occasionally flourish, because of her. I am a better person because of her.

And for that we should *all* be grateful.

REASONS TO BE GRATEFUL, PART ONE

25 days? Jesus!

Agh, the time has swallowed me up. I'm in the final evening of a two-week vacation from the day job, something I've been in desperate need of for quite some time now, and quite honestly, it was a chance to forget about all my obligations and simply schlep about the house in tracky-dacks, perform some long-awaited renovation tasks, play a metric fucktonne of Baldur's Gate and generally just forget that tomorrow I have to go back to a job I increasingly consider a soul-devouring bucket of hatred and despair.

You know, work.

So, I could bang on about a whole slew of stuff that happened over the last month, but to be brutally honest, I took a holiday to get away from them all and I'm hardly in the mood to bring them back up again. So what I'm going to do instead is post pictures from 3 Lego MOCs I made during my time off, and then list 10 things I'm grateful for, because that will make me happy.

Your mileage may vary.

First up, the Tomb of the Unknow Spaceman, created for the Perth Lego User Groups 'monochrome' challenge during July:









Next, a starfighter, for no other reason that I like building space fighters, and I think this turned out quite cool:










And to finish, a build for PLUGs 'Minifig Monday' that was supposed to symbolise the second week of my vacation:






Thursday, July 03, 2014

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY HAS KRYPTONITE SHOTGUN SHELLS

"Oh, my God, Jake. What have we done?"
 
 
 
That's one hell of a hunting dog you've got there, Jake. Where did you pick him up, the lion enclosure? I'm not even going into the logic gap inherent in bringing down Superman with duck shot.....
 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Gallery of Horror


Gallery of Horror
Gallery of Horror by Charles L. Grant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Collection of very mixed quality, of which only 'Nunc Dimittis by Tanith Lee and 'The Chair' by Dennis Etchison' are of the highest quality, stretching through ordinary efforts by Stephen King, Robert Bloch and other horror luminaries to substandard efforts by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Theodore Sturgeon and T.E.D. Klein. The low-light, as seems to be the case with any anthology in which you find him, is 'Death to the Easter Bunny' by the execrable Alan Ryan. Solid, unexciting efforts by Ramsey Campbell, Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann, and Steve Rasnic Tem keep you turning the pages, hoping for something better to really knock your socks off, but it never really arrives. Readers without any previous exposure to the horror genre will find much to enjoy.



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Review: The Man Who Was Thursday


The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Utterly delightful, comic crime caper with a philosophical bent that lends the spiralling absurdity a serious underpinning that lifts it above a merely humorous work. Chesterton's mastery of language and deft characterisation makes this a wonderful read. A masterful work by one of the best authors in the English language.



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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: Promise


Promise
Promise by Tony Cavanaugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Slowly evolves into a gripping read as details and points of view begin to spiral inwards towards the final confrontation. Cavanaugh has a gift for setting and detail that can be unsettling but is never less than enthralling. His characters have a tendency to drift towards the stereotypical, including the protagonist Darian Richards, who falls firmly into the supercop-with-a-haunted-past trope, and there are occasional actions that defy the law of narrative belief, but this is an excellently detailed, engaging thriller that never lets the tension drop and is utterly bereft of fat.



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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

THIS ONE GOES OUT TO THE ONE I LOVE

My darling wife, Luscious Lyn, turns 45 today.

It's difficult for me to believe that we've been together, now, for over 11 years. Every day feels like a first. There's a freshness, a spirit, to our relationship: it constantly reinvents itself, changes shape and form and direction, so that I've never once felt any sense of stalemate, or a lack of passion.

She's a woman of immense strength, my Lyn, of intensity and lyricism and devotion. She forgives everyone, sees benevolence and righteousness everywhere, puts the whole world and its achievements above her own. She is by turns humble, empowering and sacrificial. And these great strengths are also her great weaknesses, because they drive her into areas of self-doubt and lack of belief that she doesn't, in the slightest way, deserve. She is capable of great things, and while she achieves them on a daily basis-- overcoming health issues, raising children through the onset of myriad serious, life-changing issues, coping with a past that would keep seasoned horror writers from their sleep-- she holds within her the capacity to create something that will change the way the world looks at itself, if she believes in herself long enough to do so.

She is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I fall asleep at night. She bookends my thoughts like she bookends my day-- nothing I say or do happens without her in my mind. She is the centre of my life.

Happy birthday, my beautiful wife.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review: Stone Cold


Stone Cold
Stone Cold by David Baldacci

My rating: 1 of 5 stars



There isn't a cliche in the world that David Baldacci doesn't hit in this book. Leaden prose, two-dimensional characters, the standard retired-super-soldier-with-secret-past plot.... this is Lee Child for the silver set, so greyishly familiar and just downright stupid that it might be the first novel to pass the Turing Test, it's so hard to believe it was written by a human author and didn't, somehow, write itself from a few choice prompts. Don't bother.





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Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: The Dragon Griaule


The Dragon Griaule
The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



An absolute masterpiece. The stories within this volume constitute an epoch-spanning alternative history of several hundred years, centred round the ominous and possibly-sentient presence of a mile-long ancient dragon, turned to stone and built upon by generations of settlers, and the way they interact with it as landscape, obsession, and possibly, malign active influence in their lives. Shepard paints an epic historical landscape while never letting go of the small stories and personal interactions that drive the narrative. Shepard's narratives are driven by believable, human characters, and it is that strong verisimilitude that lifts these stories above the ordinary fantasy tale. Griaule may be a complex, unknowable force of nature that intrudes into every aspect of these characters' lives, but it is the people themselves we remember. Every one of the stories in this volume is a rich, tightly woven tapestry of superb narrative balance. Taken together, they comprise a tour de force of fantasy writing of the very highest order. A superb volume.



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Review: The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 2


The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 2
The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 2 by Megan H. Rothrock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Similar in tone to the first volume in the series, this book continues with a central narrative involving minifig Megan travelling through different 'zones' in pursuit of an anti-Lego bad guy, discovering different building styles and themes as she progresses from zone to zone. It's a cute conceit, and serves to highlight the maximum number of different approaches to building in a logical and easily digestible fashion. Each section is well-designed, with a range of photos as well an instruction breakdown to help the reader build a typical example of each builder's signature model, and an engaging look at the builder in question. Th tone is pitched perfectly for both child and adult readers, with enough character engagement and plot to encourage the kids to keep turning the pages, and builds that encompass a rang of sophistication so that there's plenty to keep adult builders coming back to use it as a reference text. The ending leaves open the possibility of a third volume, which would be welcome.



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Review: Lego Play Book: Ideas to Bring Your Bricks to Life


Lego Play Book: Ideas to Bring Your Bricks to Life
Lego Play Book: Ideas to Bring Your Bricks to Life by Daniel Lipkowitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



There are a plethora of similar books on the market at the moment-- big, glossy, lightly-humorous approaches to building techniques, using a kid-friendly approach with lots of pictures and signifying real-life builders via minifigs that interact with the models thy have built. This is typical of the breed: bright and breezy, but perhaps lacking the depth of other volumes. It's aimed squarely at kids, and is enjoyable without focusing too deeply upon techniques or step-by-step instructions. Instead it serves more as an introductory tome, with the accent on fun and cramming as many completed builds onto the page as possible. It's light and frothy, but doesn't encourage repeated readings.



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THE HALL OF TEENSY TEASERS

I love working a nine day fortnight.

After a few days away from the work, I managed to sit down today and bash out 2300 words on The Hall of Small Questions, bringing the story to just over 7000 words in total. It's the first of a number of milestones for me: once a work crosses 5000 words, I know it's going to be something. It may not end up a novel, but the story has gelled enough that I know it will eventually become a complete story, at whatever natural length is right for the narrative. And so it is proving in this case: the narrative is beginning to peek out from behind the scene setting; characters have placed themselves into the setting and are beginning to direct the course of the plot; and my protagonist is starting to take independent action. Th Hall of Small Questions will be completed, in time, I now know that for sure.

So, to mark this crossing of my own personal Rubicon, here's a little paragraph from today's writing, to whet both your appetite and mine:

“We are the product of our environment, Wacian.” Broga tapped my forehead gently with his finger. “The world we inhabit is an extension of ourselves. If the world outside that window looks beautiful it is only because the people who inhabit it look beautiful. But we do not concern ourselves with elegant robes and powdered skin. We peel these things away and reveal the corruption below. We cannot immerse ourselves in that beautiful environment, not unless we wish to risk losing sight of the corruption underneath its skin.”

“Truth must remain pure,” Eadward had been waiting for me. Now he stepped forward out of the nearby shadows. “And we must remain pure in order to search it out.” 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I'M JUST GOING TO LEAVE THIS HERE...


Post photos of your treasure haul and your washing machined-cat in the comments...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

ODDS AND SODS

A few mathoms too small for their own post:

LEGO BOY SPEAKS

Over at Paul's Technic Blog he's running a series of short interviews with AFOLs of various stripes. I chat about how I got sucked in, how my family don't remember what I look like and what I like to build towards the bottom of the page.


LEGO BOY BUILDS

The Perth Lego User Group's June challenge is to build something in 'micro' scale-- that is, at a scale smaller than 1:1 with a minifig. Here's a sneak peek at what I'm building in response.




No explanation for you.
 
 
 
NEW WORK. VERILY, NEW WORK.
 
Circumstances prevailed, recently, and I was forced to release my agent. A short slough of despond ensued, and frankly, I was facing the idea I might decide never to write again without a whole lot of regret.
 
Then The Hall of Small Questions stuck its head up and forced me to put aside all that rubbish.
 
5000 words in the last 4 days is the result. I should have a new novel draft finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, I'm working towards finding a home for Father Muerte and the Divine, to make up for the 3 months I've lost waiting.
 
Here's a little peek at the progress of HoSQ:
 
"We are not a Holy Order,” he said as we stalked down yet another corridor between rooms whose function I could barely comprehend. “We are not by Royal Appointment. We do not have a board of Governors, nor do we accept patronage, donations, sponsorship or favour. Why…” he asked, stopping so suddenly that I almost buried my head between the folds of the gown hanging down around his arse. “do you think that is?”
           
I stuttered, thrown off balance by the sudden change in the flow of his oratory. “I don’t know.”
           
“Do not say that!” The anger in his voice was sudden, and fierce. “A Requester is not supposed to know. A Requester seeks. He questions. You do not not know, you shall do your best to find out!”


 
 

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY FACES THE SAME OLD PROBLEMS

"What the hell do you mean, you think we should see other people?"
 
 
 
I rather like this one. Relationships are at the core of narrative, as is conflict, so it makes sense that broken-- or, at least, breaking-- relationships are far more interesting than content ones. Plus, the idea that Adam and Eve haven't developed a concept of clothing but have invented the suitcase amuses me. What exactly does she have in them?
 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY GOES ALL SCIENTIFICK

Nothing to say about this one: a whimsy, a bon mot of momentary amusement. What's most am using to me is that the machine is obviously meant to be a labyrinthine maze of tubes and vaguely scientific falderal, and I just as obviously got bored halfway through and said "that'll give me the idea of it...".

They can't all be classics.



"I think I've found the 'on' switch!"