It’s my own fault really. Because I like to see different sides to an argument before making up my own mind (see Rule 9 below) then I am unfortunately exposed to comments from people whose opinions are badly argued, uninformed, prejudiced, immature and just plain stupid. And this does annoy me at times.
I like to think that the 55 rules below are ones that I at least try to stick to when commenting online. I wish other people would too, even though a few of my ‘rules’ are actually opinions. Some of the rules are not so much rules for debate, more rules you should live by if you want me to value your opinion. Put it this way, the more of my rules that you break, the less highly will I rate your opinion.
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On those rare occasions when cricket is exciting, it's all the more memorable simply because it's so rare.
Which brings me on to Great Sporting Moments Numbers 2 and 3. The 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley. (Note for readers from non-cricket countries: 'The Ashes' is the series of test (i.e. 5 day) matches played between England and Australia. It's probably the most important cricket for English and Australian fans.)
Ian Botham had started the six match series as England captain. He was England's biggest star at the time. At his best, both a big-hitting batsman and an effective fast-medium pace bowler. However, after two matches, Australia led 1-0 and Botham's personal form was poor. He had failed to win any of his twelve matches as captain and failed to score a run in the second test. He was removed as captain (but kept his place in the side) and replaced by former captain Mike Brearley - not regarded as a particularly talented player, but a clever captain and motivator.
The change didn't have an instant impact in the third test at Headingley in Leeds. Although Botham took six wickets in Australia's first innings, Australia declared on 401-9. England's batting response was poor - 174 all out (although Botham made 50). Because they trailed by more than 200 runs, Australia chose to force England to follow on (to bat again immediately). England were reduced to 105-5 when Botham came out to bat. England still needed 122 to avoid an embarrassing innings defeat. They avoided the innings defeat because Botham hit a brutal 149 not out, unquestionably one of the greatest test match innings ever.
At the end of England's second innings, they had a lead of 130 - a very gettable target for Australian batsmen high on confidence. Even more so when they got to 56 for 1. At that point, Brearley made a crucial tactical change. He switched his bowlers around, allowing fast bowler Bob Willis to bowl down the slope from the Kirkstall Lane end. Willis had bowled poorly in Australia's first innings, but followed Botham's lead and went for all out attack. There were bad balls, and no balls, but there was plenty of pace and bounce and hostility...and it worked. He took eight wickets for just 43 runs as Australian crumbled and England amazingly, miraculously won the match. It was only the second time in the history of test cricket that a team had won having followed on.
Australia weren't the same after that. England came back again to win the fourth test, and then Botham slaughtered the Australian bowlers with an innings of 118 that included six sixes to win the fifth test and clinch the series. England regained the Ashes.
The sort of song that is best appreciated on a long solo car journey with a car stereo good enough that you can turn it up loud enough to conceal the fact that you can't hit the high notes like the actual singer can...
Anyway, there will be now. My list of terrible sporting moments includes incompetent performances, bad luck, bad refereeing decisions, poor administration and some horror shows. This first entry is in the latter category (hey, it's almost Halloween). If you're at all squeamish, don't play the video. Joe Theismann was the star quarterback for the Washington Redskins. At least he was until this happened.
(I'm really not kidding about the squeamish thing. You have been warned.)
If you've ever seen the film 'The Blind Side' (good film; Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for it), you may remember that this is how the film starts:
The last thing Manchester United needed in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal was for the match to go to extra time and then a replay. That's exactly what happened. They were also still trying to win both the Premier League and the Champions League and really could have done without extra fixtures. The replay had to be played just three days later. Beckham put United ahead, Bergkamp equalised, Roy Keane got sent off and Arsenal got a penalty right at the end of 90 minutes. WHICH SCHMEICHEL SAVED! And the game went to extra time.
And then this happened.
Best FA Cup goal ever, I reckon.
And they won the Premier League. The Champions League? That'll have to wait for another of philmophlegm's Great Sporting Moments.
Great song though.
So I would have bought this book whatever. I like Travelleresque science fiction (I may have mentioned that once or twice in the past), and obviously this is Travelleresque. However, the first thing that surprised me is that Miller didn't just write a novel about a free trader crew odd-jobbing around the Spinward Marches (in other words, the classic Traveller campaign format) or a mercenary company fighting bush wars on frontier planets against Zhodani-backed separatists (the other classic Traveller campaign format). Instead, this is something rather more ambitious. Here's the blurb:
"Jonathan Bland is a Decider, empowered by the Emperor himself to deal with the inevitable crises of empire. In the service of the Empire, he has killed more people than anyone in the history of Humanity, to save a hundred times as many. He died centuries ago, but they re-activate his recorded personality whenever a new threat appears. When the crisis is over, they expect he will meekly return to oblivion.
He has other ideas.
The chronicle of Bland reveals secrets of the history of the star-spanning Third Imperium and spans 400 years from early Imperium (about year 300) through the mid-post Civil War period (about year 700) touching known and unknown events you may have encountered in your own reading of the Imperium: everyday events, political intrigue, deadly dangers, Arbellatra, Capital, Encyclopediopolis, the Karand's Palace, and a Tigress-class Dreadnought.
If you know the Traveller science-fiction role-playing game, then some of this is already familiar; if not, no matter; this story introduces the vast human-dominated interstellar empire of the far future in ways only the designer and chronicler of this particular universe can."
With its episodic nature, the work it most reminded me of was Asimov's Foundation series, or at least the first two or three books. Neither author dwells too much on characterisation, preferring to get on with setting, plot and action. Each of Bland's activations is pretty much a self-contained short story, at least at first. As you get further into the book, longer term plot arcs make themselves felt in quite a subtle way. It's really a cleverly structured work of science fiction.
And that brings me to the second thing that surprised me about this book - it's a very accomplished piece of writing for a debut novelist. Really good in fact. Not coming from a major publisher probably counted against it in terms of awards, but it was shortlsted for the Dragon and got some Hugo buzz (although ultimately didn't make the shortlist). I read it not long after reading the much-hyped and much-awarded Ancillary Justice which I thought was pretty mediocre to be honest. This is in the same space opera sub-genre and was far, far better. In fact, it's the best novel I've read so far this year. Highly recommended. Consider it essential if you play or have played Traveller, and highly recommended if you don't or haven't but you like ambitious, high concept space opera.
And now a plug: you can still buy it from The Shop on the Borderlands! (and not from many other bookshops, at least outside of eBook formats)
Actually, if you prefer your AC/DC with a more Australian singer and a younger, more mental Angus on lead, then check out this much earlier rendition from 1977:
Sorry about the poor video and sound quality. Like I said, this is an obscure B-side - it wasn't even on the original LP, only on the cassette and CD versions. Really good album though, 'Building the Perfect Beast', with half of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers as his backing band plus guests like Lindsey Buckingham and Belinda Carlisle.