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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Just Finished Reading: Plato’s Republic – A Biography by Simon Blackburn

Oddly the author – philosopher Simon Blackburn – starts this discussion of Plato’s Republic with two confessions. Firstly that, before taking on the commission, he had never read the book from cover to cover (nor me yet) and second with the fact that he’s no great fan of Plato (me neither from what I’ve read). So as you can imagine I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect…

What I got was an interesting, informative and at time provocative discussion of many of the themes brought out in this seminal work. I was aware of some of the main themes of the book (even before touching on it slightly on my last University course) and was, seemingly in good company with the author, singularly unimpressed by them. Fortunately for me, because I find the whole idea bizarre and frankly boring, the author didn’t dwell on Platonic Forms. He did however spend a chapter looking at Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and had many of the same problems with it as I did. The majority of this volume, admittedly slim at only 161 pages, focused on the political side of Plato’s ideal city with its rigid caste system, lack of any kind of democratic accountability and the rather strange idea that most forms of art, poetry and theatre should be banned from any society wishing for order on the streets.

I can see why Plato has given ideas to both the far Right and far Left. He was, if the evidence presented in this book is anything to go by, a rigid authoritarian who took little account of personal flourishing, egalitarianism or any of those things we now see as so important to any kind of modern society. Plato was, of course, a product of his time but still cannot be compared favourably with his pupil Aristotle (not exactly a huge fan of Democracy himself) who was far more liberal in his outlook – comparatively speaking. I’ve had a copy of Republic on my shelf for some years but have yet to read it. I will one day but I suspect I will read the complete works of Aristotle before I do! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Psychic pair fail scientific test

31 October 2012

BBC News education correspondent

A scientific experiment has found that two mediums were unable to demonstrate that they had special psychic powers. The test by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, tried to establish whether mediums could use psychic abilities to identify something about five unseen volunteers. The results, carried out under test conditions, did not show evidence of any unexplained powers of insight. But medium Patricia Putt said this experiment "doesn't prove a thing". This Halloween challenge was an attempt to investigate whether professional mediums could demonstrate their psychic powers in a controlled setting - by inviting them to deduce something about people they had never met and could not see or hear.

The experiment, designed by Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, asked two professional mediums to write something about five individuals who were concealed behind a screen. These five volunteers were then asked to try to identify themselves from these psychic readings - with a success rate of only one in five. This was a result that was "entirely consistent with the operation of chance alone", said Professor French. But one of the mediums, Patricia Putt, rejected the suggestion that this showed any absence of psychic powers - saying that she needed to work face-to-face with people or to hear their voice, so that a connection could be established. "Psychic energy" was not likely to work in the setting created for the experiment, she said, and her success rate was usually very high. Ms Putt said the experiment was designed to confirm the researchers' pre-conceptions - rather than examine the nature of her psychic ability. "Scientists are very closed-minded," she said. She said there were fraudsters operating as psychic mediums - but that it was wrong for scientists to think that such mediums "were all the same". But Michael Marshall of the Merseyside Skeptics Society, who helped to organise the test, said it showed that claims to have special abilities "aren't based in

[No surprise there then. Psychics fail to produce any statistically significant hits in an actual scientifically controlled test. I tried it myself some years ago when I had a Tarot car reading and paid extra to have the whole thing recorded. I made sure that I gave as little information away as possible during the session and, on reviewing the tape later, found that she was repeatedly throwing out guesses – probably based on past experience – and waiting for my confirmation to narrow her focus and without it her guesses where wildly wrong. Sure, she got a few things right but I could probably guess a few things about any passing stranger and get them spot on. Nonsense.]  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Just Finished Reading: A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses – The Bloody Rivalry for the Throne of England by Desmond Seward

For a period of 30 years in the second half of the 15th century England was at war with itself over who would rule the country. Two sides – grouped together under the banners of the House of York and the House of Lancaster – schemed and, from time to time, engaged in deadly conflict. Neither side had any intention of giving ground or quarter to enemies that they deeply despised. Both sides saw themselves to be in the right with both God and the country on their side. In such an atmosphere it is not difficult to understand that almost any action was justified and any treachery attempted to win the throne once and for all. It was a conflict that pitched father against son and friend against friend. So vicious was the feuding between enemies that even between battles, in times of comparative peace, forces would still ride out to attack their neighbours or waylay them on the open road. After the few pitched battles that did take place – apparently a total of 13 weeks over 30 years – the commanders of the losing side where, as often as not, executed on the spot and, as often as not, by their own relatives. Uncles executed nephews in reprisal for previous executions of sons by fathers. It was by all accounts very nasty indeed. Surprisingly (or at least it surprised me) the rank and file – those who survived the initial slaughter – where not treated in anything like the same way. Obligated to follow their lords into battle they were seen as not fully responsible for their actions. Their lands, now forfeited to the victors, meant that henceforth they would fight for their new masters and so they were sparred – until called upon months or years later to stand on another battlefield.

We covered at least part of this great conflict in my early school history lessons. Back in those days I wasn’t as passionate about history as I am now so I didn’t pay the subject as much attention as I should have. I knew (or had a pretty good idea) that Lancaster won – they did – and that the Wars of the Roses (not called that at the time) culminated in victory at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 for Henry Tudor and effectively ended the Middle Ages (again not called that at the time). Indeed even before I knew anything about the battle itself I knew who lost because it had been taught to us as a childhood mnemonic to remember the colours of the rainbow – Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). That Richard being Richard III who died at Bosworth repeatedly shouting ‘Traitor’ at the top of his voice (rather than ‘A horse, a horse, my Kingdom for a horse’) as his enemies surrounded him and hacked him to death. The story of the Wars, told in truly excellent fashion by the author, overflowed with towering personalities, both good and bad (in my day for example King Richard III was still pretty much as bad as they get) most of whom I was at least aware of. Two ‘new’ characters did jump out at me in this narrative though – Margaret Beaufort the mother of the Tudor dynasty which culminated in Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I and William Hastings (Lord Oxford) who was the York’s greatest champion.

Despite the fact that the Wars ended over 500 years ago the rivalry between Lancaster and York still exists today and not just in the generally good natured contests between the two Universities. Passions can still flare up around the activities (or accused activities) of both sides and there was certainly enough double dealing, double crossing and suspicious deaths to go around to keep feeding that passion. It is a fascinating story from a very turbulent time in our history and one that I will be revisiting in both non-fiction and fictional format.    

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gerry Anderson, the creator of hit TV shows including Thunderbirds, Stingray and Joe 90, has died at the age of 83.
He also created Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and his puppet superheroes fired the imaginations of millions of young viewers in the 1960s and '70s. Thunderbirds, a science-fiction fantasy about a daring rescue squad, ran from 1965 and was his most famous show. Anderson had suffered from Alzheimer's since 2010 and the disease had worsened in recent months, his son Jamie said.

[This guy pretty much *was* my childhood. I grew up with Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet (who I desperately  wanted to be through most of my pre-teens), Stingray and, somewhat later, UFO. I have the complete Thunderbirds on DVD and will probably pick up the other series too. I'm sure that I'm not alone in being hugely influenced by the works of Gerry Anderson. They don't make things like his shows any more.]

Happy Boxing Day!

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Favourite Movies: Eight Legged Freaks

For those who know me, or those who have meandered through my favourite movies posts, this particular movie selection should come as no surprise considering that I am a long time fan of 50’s monster movies. Indeed a scene from one of my all-time favourite monster movies (and indeed one of my favourite bits from that movie) appears briefly – on a TV screen – in this film and is used as an explanation of a child’s overactive imagination (as he rightly says early on – no one believes the kid).

Anyway as you can imagine if you haven’t already seen this minor classic the film revolves around giant spiders. Lot and lots and even more giant spiders…… You see the small Arizona town of Prosperity is dying after the local gold mine ran dry. There’s no work and everyone is slowly leaving. Meanwhile the town big-wig (payed by Leon Rippy) has cut a deal with a chemical firm to (illegally) store toxic chemicals in parts of the abandoned mine and some of it gets into the local water supply. Insects drinking this water are then fed to inmates of the local spider farm and the rest, as they say, is mayhem. Unsurprisingly the arachnids grow quickly to huge proportions and pretty soon the local cats, dogs and occasional person starts to go missing. As the chief of police (played by the lovely Kari Wuhrer pictured above) struggles with what’s going on in her previously sleepy town an old would-be boyfriend (David Arquette) returns after a 10 year absence….. and finally though rather belatedly they start to believe the kid (Scott Terra).

Part homage and part send-up this film is, at least in my opinion, lots of fun – unless that is you have any problems whatsoever with spiders. If you are in the least arachnophobic I’d strongly suggest you avoid this film like the plague as spiders appear in just about every scene and either kill, capture or scare the shit out of just about every member of the cast – and often not in a good way. Of course what makes it funny – to those of us not overly bothered by spiders – is the overall feel of the movie (very 50’s style), the typical reactions of the townsfolk (just think Jaws here), the challenge of spotting other movie references (Them! was a bit of a giveaway) and the ‘chatter’ of some of the spiders giving them more of a personality than is usual for this sort of thing. Occasionally gross (lots of spider ‘blood’ and gore getting splattered about as the town fights back), sometimes generally creepy and often amusing/laugh-out-loud funny this is a great movie for a wet weekend afternoon.    

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The End of the World?

Saw the Forecast........

Bought the T-shirt.......

Now I just need to buy the presents........



July 18, 2012

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have detected what they believe is a planet two-thirds the size of Earth. The exoplanet candidate, called UCF-1.01, is located a mere 33 light-years away, making it possibly the nearest world to our solar system that is smaller than our home planet.

Exoplanets circle stars beyond our sun. Only a handful smaller than Earth have been found so far. Spitzer has performed transit studies on known exoplanets, but UCF-1.01 is the first ever identified with the telescope, pointing to a possible role for Spitzer in helping discover potentially habitable, terrestrial-sized worlds. "We have found strong evidence for a very small, very hot and very near planet with the help of the Spitzer Space Telescope," said Kevin Stevenson from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Stevenson is lead author of the paper, which has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal. "Identifying nearby small planets such as UCF-1.01 may one day lead to their characterization using future instruments."

The hot new planet candidate was found unexpectedly in Spitzer observations. Stevenson and his colleagues were studying the Neptune-sized exoplanet GJ 436b, already known to exist around the red-dwarf star GJ 436. In the Spitzer data, the astronomers noticed slight dips in the amount of infrared light streaming from the star, separate from the dips caused by GJ 436b. A review of Spitzer archival data showed the dips were periodic, suggesting a second planet might be blocking out a small fraction of the star's light.

This technique, used by a number of observatories including NASA's Kepler space telescope, relies on transits to detect exoplanets. The duration of a transit and the small decrease in the amount of light registered reveals basic properties of an exoplanet, such as its size and distance from its star. In UCF-1.01's case, its diameter would be approximately 5,200 miles (8,400 kilometers), or two-thirds that of Earth. UCF-1.01 would revolve quite tightly around GJ 436, at about seven times the distance of the Earth from the moon, with its "year" lasting only 1.4 Earth days. Given this proximity to its star, far closer than the planet Mercury is to our sun, the exoplanet's surface temperature would be more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 600 degrees Celsius).

If the roasted, diminutive planet candidate ever had an atmosphere, it almost surely has evaporated. UCF-1.01 might therefore resemble a cratered, mostly geologically dead world like Mercury. Paper co-author Joseph Harrington, also of the University of Central Florida and principal investigator of the research, suggested another possibility; that the extreme heat of orbiting so close to GJ 436 has melted the exoplanet's surface. "The planet could even be covered in magma," Harrington said. In addition to UCF-1.01, Stevenson and his colleagues noticed hints of a third planet, dubbed UCF-1.02, orbiting GJ 436. Spitzer has observed evidence of the two new planets several times each. However, even the most sensitive instruments are unable to measure exoplanet masses as small as UCF-1.01 and UCF-1.02, which are perhaps only one-third the mass of the Earth. Because knowing the mass is required for confirming a discovery, the paper authors are cautiously calling both bodies exoplanet candidates for now.

Of the approximately 1,800 stars identified by Kepler as candidates for having planetary systems, just three are verified to contain sub-Earth-sized exoplanets. Of these, only one exoplanet is thought to be smaller than the Spitzer candidates, with a radius similar to Mars, or 57 percent that of Earth.

"I hope future observations will confirm these exciting results, which show Spitzer may be able to discover exoplanets as small as Mars," said Michael Werner, Spitzer Project Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "Even after almost nine years in space, Spitzer's observations continue to take us in new and important scientific directions."

[That’s good news. Finding small exoplanets is tough. As we get better at doing so I expect that we’ll find a lot more. I actually think that stars without any accompanying planets will be very rare rather than planets themselves – which I think will be very common. What this means, of course, is that Earth’s supposed uniqueness will become less and less tenable – as of course will our own. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if, once we have the ability to detect such things, life (and probably intelligent life) turns out to be everywhere we look.]

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nice one, Kid.

Just Finished Reading: The Silent Man by Alex Berenson

CIA Special Agent John Wells is weeks from burning out. Still recovering from his last assignment he is ordered to take leave and reluctantly agrees. Bored after a few days he decides to call in at the office to see if there’s anything he can do when the car he and his girlfriend are travelling in is attacked by two teams of gunmen on motorbikes. When his girlfriend is hospitalised he uses all of the CIA resources to determine exactly who paid for the hit. Tracking the contract down to a Russian arms dealer he is determined to seek revenge but, as the investigation continues, he uncovers a much greater threat – a threat to the US itself. Radical Muslim terrorists have stolen ex-Soviet nuclear weapons and are intent on detonating them on American soil. But the theft happened weeks ago and the Russian authorities only reluctantly agree to provide the most basic information to the Americans. Meanwhile Wells is closing in on the terrorists as they build the bomb that could change everything.

I guess that I should have been put off by the Washington Post comment on the back of this book comparing the novels hero John Wells to Jack Bauer of ‘24’ fame. It didn’t. This, I thought, would just be a disposable airport book read in a few days and then simply forgotten. It certainly started out that way with cardboard characters and much American jingoism. Surprisingly, as I read on, it got better. There was definitely a black/white, good guys/bad guys thing going on but I was very surprised that the terrorists themselves where fleshed out as real people with real grievances and real motivations. Most of the characters in the book where, as I suspected, stereotypes but, from time to time, I did actually find myself enjoying the ride. Despite being nothing special, and most certainly not great literature, I was fairly entertained for the few days that it took me to whiz through the pages. Something to take on holiday with you I think to switch your brain into neutral after too much time at work. Just leave it in the hotel room afterwards.   

Monday, December 17, 2012

New Label

I've just added another new label over on the far right - Religion. This specifically applies (at least for now) to books I've read on the subject. So far there's not that many but I've a few more in the pipeline and they can't really be ignored anymore. I've been rather wide in my interpretation of the subject area and I know some of my readers may think I've gone far too wide but I think I'll stick with my criteria for now.

Just Finished Reading: A General Theory of Magic by Marcel Mauss

I have been interested in magic for a very long time - or more accurately in magical thinking. Wishes, prayers and spells are all, it seems, part of the same package – the desire to shape the world the way we want it by exercise of our own wills. To basically make things happen the way we want them to by force of will alone. That’s magic in a nutshell. Everything else – the rituals, the words spoken, the articles used – are essentially garnish.

Like me, Mauss tries to understand why magic and magical thinking exists – not only in supposedly primitive societies but still in the modern world. Writing in 1902 he, like many of his contemporary Anthropologists, studied accounts of travellers to exotic locations throughout the world – rather than visiting the tribes in question himself – to discern the essence of their beliefs. As travel throughout the far flung places became easier with the growing number of powerful steam driven ships (to say nothing of the expanding empires in the Far East) contact with previously unknown peoples increased accordingly. This allowed the prevailing theory of cultural evolution to be examined in detail as it was believed ‘primitive’ cultures practiced magic – as an early form of science – which morphed over time into religion which then fell away with the advance of science. Understanding these magical societies therefore allowed the anthropologists, so they believed, to look back into our own pasts and to discern where religions came from.

This book has been on my shelves for anything up to 10 years before I read it some weeks ago (my review backlog is holding at 10 books at the moment or approximately 6 weeks). I’d dipped into it a few times – mostly for quotes for essays – so the overall content was familiar ground to me. I’ve also read other books, or bits of them anyway, from the same era dedicated to the theory that cultures evolve through a series of stages culminating, of course, with today’s superior one. Maybe this familiarity was part of the reason that I found this a bit of a slog almost like it was an assigned book at College or something. Maybe my interest in the subject has waned over the years or maybe it was as dry and as stuffily academic as I thought it was. I certainly don’t think it’s quite the thing for the average casual reader! Interesting in parts though it is I can only really recommend it to students of the History of Anthropology – both of you.            

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I don’t often post rants on this Blog because it’s not that kind of place. There are already quite enough websites out there that fill the Internet with ranting on every conceivable topic. This Blog is, I hope, a haven from such places where people can, if they wish, discuss interesting ideas or just stop by for a few minutes to pick up something amusing or occasionally cute. But not today…..

I read the story of the latest killings at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School which a feeling of here-we-go-again no doubt felt across the world. Yet again we see images of frightened crying children being led out of a school by heavily armed police officers who are themselves getting ready to enter the premises to pick up the pieces of the latest school shooting. Inevitably the arguments over why this has happened (again) are already polarised into the two camps of ‘We must do Something about This’ on one side and the ‘Right to Bare Arms and Freedom from Oppression’ on the other. Inevitably politicians are saying that their thoughts and prayers are going out to all involved and that it is a (yet another) tragedy that we need to come to terms with. One other thing is, in my mind, also inevitable: Once the rawness of the grief has faded and other news items push the story off the front pages of the newspapers and the headlines of the news programmes nothing will change – NOTHING – and in 3, 4 or 6 months someone else will walk into a school and start shooting kids. Children will die because Americans value their Constitution and their Freedom to carry weapons more, apparently much more, than the lives of children. It’s that simple. Compared to words on paper written hundreds of years ago, compared to the opportunity to own something which is only designed with one function – to enable killing from a distance – the life of a child (or in this case at least 20 children) is irrelevant. To me, fortunately living in a different country with an entire ocean between us, it seems incredible – actually unthinkable – that people living in such a country could accept such a situation. It seems to me that the regular (I was going to say occasional but we’re way beyond that now) mass shootings have become part of the background like the local or national weather reports, like storms or hurricanes and that US citizens see it as just another risk to deal with – getting soaked or flooded out during a storm, having a child gunned down in your local school. It’s just another type of random death. Heads are shaken and tears fall after every incident but what can we do about it everyone seems to say. It’s as if the nation has already decided that there is nothing that can be done. So much so that they don’t even debate the point any more. Child mass murder has now, seemingly, become part of the equation of ‘acceptable losses’, as a payment that is reluctantly offered up to enable Americans to be ‘Free’. I think that the only word that describes such a culture is INSANE. Many other countries live without mass gun ownership. Other countries seem to cope with widespread ownership of guns – Canada springs to mind – without the regular killing of its more innocent population. It is, as the irrationally powerful gun lobby says, more than about simple access to guns, but having access to such weapons certainly helps to make these horrors a far too regular occurrence. The only way to reduce such incidents to a truly acceptable level – zero – is to reduce the number of guns to an acceptable level – zero. Of course this will never happen. So the killings will continue, the tears will continue and the justifications will continue. Get used to it if you can.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Just Finished Reading: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M Banks

After decades of thought, argument and planning the Gzilt civilisation has finally decided to Sublime – move everyone into a different dimension which is known to be (or at least strongly suspected to be) a much higher level of existence. As the final days approach high ranking members of the military and political office – which to the Gzilt are effectively the same thing – are confident that nothing can possibly go wrong. It is then that a small unarmed emissary ship arrives at the edge of Gzilt territory with a piece of news the leadership of the Gzilt need to know before the End of Days. As soon as the information is passed over the warship receiving it immediately opens fire destroying the emissary and killing everyone aboard. Departing the scene the warship is unaware that the brief explosion has been noted by a Culture ship on its way to the Gzilt home world to attend the final pre-Sublime ceremonies. Changing course to investigate further it starts a chain of events that will catapult a reserve Lieutenant Commander into the position of most hunted woman in that part of the Galaxy, uncover the location and mental state of the oldest man alive and call into question the foundations of Gzilt civilisation and the foundation of the Culture itself – and all in less that 24 days.

Iain M Banks is just about the only author whose work I will purchase, in hardback, the week any of his new Culture novels hit the shelves – and read them that week too. His Culture novel sequence has, almost without exception, been a sheer delight and an honest joy to read. His latest book was, on the whole, another fine example full of interesting characters, quirky plotting, artefacts on a huge scale, space battles, super intelligent ships (AKA Minds) and uniquely different and often very alien, and therefore very believable, aliens. For most of the novel it was exactly as I had expected – which was actually part of the problem I unfortunately had with this book. Although it was generally well written, reasonably plotted and often amusing or fascinating in turn it wasn’t a great deal different that anything that had gone before. Despite several prompts we never learnt much more about the Sublime Realm or about the process involved. Yes, we were repeated told that it was a great mystery but to offer no insight – no matter how small but intriguing – into the central theme of the book I found to be very disappointing. Likewise in previous books in this series the readers learnt more about the Culture itself often seen through the eyes of outsiders. In this book we learnt almost nothing new of any consequence. We heard a little about how the original Culture was set up (something that has long interested me) but nothing of substance. The majority of the book was a chase, made by several central characters, across the galaxy to pick up various bits of information or equipment, piece together a puzzle in a tight timescale and then……. Well, without ruining the ending lets just say that I found the whole end bit rather unsatisfactory. I don’t think I’m becoming much more critical in my ‘old age’. It’s not as simple as that – nowhere near. I did however get the impression that this book was, pretty much unforgivably, by the numbers and I think that the author got to the end and didn’t really know how to finish it. I’ve seen first time authors do this often enough to see the signs. But for a well known and well established author to do, or seem to do, the same is very poor. This is the first time that I’ve ever finished a Culture novel without thinking that I simply can’t wait until the next instalment comes out. Next time I think that I’ll definitely be waiting for the paperback. Regrettably disappointing.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Favourite Movies: Dune

I think I saw this 1984 SF classic movie on video (remember that?) rather than at the cinema. I certainly can’t imagine my brother or any of my college friends wanting to see this. At the time I was probably the only person I knew who had read the book and without that as a prompt I doubt if they would have had the slightest interest.

Dune, for those of you who haven’t read the book and its 5 sequels (plus seemingly endless new novels based in that universe), was a massively influential SF novel by the late great Frank Herbert which had been published in 1965. I read it (and the two sequels) in my late teens and it completely blew me away. I think occasionally that I should read them again – basically every time I watch this movie – but haven’t been back for over 35 years. I sometimes wonder if it will have anything like the same effect it did the first time.

But to the movie – Dune is a hugely complex tale based in humanities far future where, thousands of years after humanity has thrown off the shackles of machine intelligence a power struggle exists between two of the great houses, House Harkonnen (the bad guys) and House Atredies (the good guys). As the Emperor of the known universe is afraid of the growing power of House Atredies he basically sets them up by giving them a juicy planet to run – Dune of the title – and then double crosses them. Unfortunately for him (and the bad guys) the young Duke – Paul played by Kyle MacLaclan – escapes with his life (and his Mother) and falls in with the local inhabitants known as the Fremen and ends up leading them – with his knowledge of new technology and his superior genetics – in accordance with their age old prophecy. That in a nutshell is the very bare bones of the story. It’s actually much more complex than this and immeasurably more complex in the book(s). Even running to almost 3 hours the film needs to constantly trim the plot, meld things together and skip over whole chunks of the story (one of the things I was most disappointed in is the almost negligible presence of my favourite character Duncan Idaho played by Richard Jordan) and because of this seeming either badly edited (which I think it might have been) or even incoherent (which it will probably appear to anyone who hasn’t read the book(s). In fact watching this film is probably a bad idea to anyone who hasn’t read them as it would raise far too many questions – probably all prefigured with a WTF moment – for a novice to really enjoy it or get that much from it.

I’m really not selling this very well am I? The question is, I suppose, despite all of its many problems why have I watched it 5-6 times at least and why am I putting it in my favourite movies pile? One of the things going for it is that it’s a fair attempt at what is probably an unfilmable book. The novel is just too deep, too complex and too intricate to be a single film. If it was made these days it would be at least a trilogy with the next two books being parts 4 and 5. That I think could work. Another thing is that MacLaclan makes a creditable Paul Atredies both before and after his transformation. Likewise the Fremen are pretty much as I imagined them to be. The look and feel of the movie – almost steam-punk at times – is very good and I loved how Paul explained the new weapons to the Femen and then demonstrated them to devastating effect. The SFX on the whole where reasonable for the time but look very dated by today’s standards. The acting was generally overblown with more than its fair share of cringe worthy moments – Sting in particular was truly awful in his role of the Harkonnen assassin Fayd. Generally the cast list was very impressive but so many world class actors in one film inevitably left some very little to do except strut around looking important. Luminaries such as Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Virginia Madsen, Jurgen Prochnow, Patrick Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Max Von Sydow and Sean Young peppered the screen sometimes with mere walk on parts. I imagine that most of their talents ended up on the cutting room floor due to time constraints if nothing else which was a real shame.

I think I basically liked this film, not because of what it was but basically of what it could have been. It was most definitely ambitious – overly so for its director (David Lynch) who admitted that he had no real feeling for or understanding of Science Fiction. Given enough time to tell the story properly this could have been the Star Wars of the 1980’s. Unfortunately for all of the reasons above it unsurprisingly bombed at the box-office. It still remains however one of my favourite movies deeply flawed as it is. If you’ve read the book I’d certainly recommend it. You’ll probably be disappointed as I was but you should also be able to see the intent behind the failure which is definitely worth seeing.