1) ARCHER KNOWS HOW TO DO HOMAGE
Back in November’s What I’m Watching post, I mentioned I would talk about Archer Later. I’m not yet ready to do a deep dive, but I want to give a shout out for a couple seasons I just watched.
The adult cartoon just wrapped up its fourteenth and final season, last month. It had its ups and downs, but it was terribly wrong and almost always funny, for 144 episodes. Archer is the chief spy at the international Secret intelligence Service. The fact that their name is ISIS, tells you all you need to know about this satirical show. Archer is the most self-absorbed, irresponsible person imaginable, and his office mates are all terribly flawed as well (though Lana is pretty close to normal).
A lot happens over fourteen seasons (I’m on season eleven). A few seasons take place with Archer in a coma – they’re dream seasons. The first of those was an homage forties hardboiled/noir. Centered on The Maltese Falcon, with a dash of Chinatown thrown in, I LOVED it. Visually it was wonderful. As a fan of the genre, it was clear that the show’s staff were as well. Still ‘wrong’ in that Archer way, it was a terrific take on the genre. Extremely well done.
It was immediately followed by another dream season. This one wasn’t as strong, but it was an homage to a show I loved back in the day: a show nobody talks about. A couple images on screen told me this was going to be a season referencing Tales of the Gold Monkey. Squee!!!!
Over a decade before Seventh Heaven, Stephen Collins was a 1930’s Pacific Islands bush pilot having adventures, with Imperial Japan causing trouble. It’s got a tropical Indiana Jones adventures type-of-feel. It only ran one season, and while it wasn’t a great show, it was a fun one. A few of my friends have seen the show, but I never see talk about it.
The story line wasn’t as strong as in the prior hardboiled season, but it was still fun watching Archer do Tales of the Gold Monkey. It was really neat.
There was an Aliens-themed homage the following season, but I don’t like those movies, so my glee ended with Tales of the Gold Monkey. But it was a treat.
2) GLEN COOK’S GARRETT, P.I. IS A GEM
I love lots of series’. But the ONE that I wish I had thought up and done myself, is this fantasy PI series by the author of The Black Company. Fletcher Vredenburgh did a stellar deep dive into that dark fantasy series, which I have re-read at least three times. It’s terrific.
Garrett is a hardboiled private eye in the fantasy city of Tunfaire. This series is a mix of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe: with a dash of Travis McGee sprinkled in. It’s a fun, hardboiled PI series, in a fantasy world. And from book two on, anybody familiar with Nero Wolfe will see that Cook is a huge Stout fan.
Book one sets things up. It’s fine, but book two recreates Wolfe’s NYC Brownstone. There were about a dozen books, and the series meanders some the last few. But I really enjoy it. Early on, Cook has a lean prose style, reminiscent of Hammett (it’s evident in The Black Company, as well). Garrett is constantly tilting at windmills, getting thumped by bad guys, and getting pulled into jobs when he just wants to loaf. At loose ends New Year’s Day, I randomly chose book five (Dead Brass Shadows) and read it over two days. It was the first time I hadn’t read the series from the start. It still worked: I loved being back in Garrett’s life. I immediately started book six after I finished it, and may keep reading for awhile.
Like I said, this is the one thing I wish I had come up with myself. It’s just terrific. Here’s my spoiler-free essay about it. I have almost all of The Black Company on audiobook. I sure with they’d put Garrett out in that format.
3) AUDIOBOOKS ABSOLUTELY WORK FOR ME
Speaking of audiobooks….All things being equal, I like reading a physical copy of a book. Digital books have become a part of my reading, and work better for me in some instances. Also, a lot of the Pulp stuff I read is now readily available, which is great!
I also prefer reading to listening to a book. But available time is limited. And I’m just not a good enough driver to read a paperback while driving to work. Ha ha ha!!! I listen to audiobooks during my work day. During my driving time. At night when I go to bed. Often it’s something I’ve already read or listened to (the radio play of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and the Max Latin collection, are regulars). That lets me ‘half’ pay attention as needed.
But I’m listening to one of the Firefly novels as I type this today. I’m working through those via audiobook. I’m also listening to Cook’s The Black Company. I’ve read it through a couple times, but don’t have time to read it now. Listening to it is cool.
I got to explore Robert B. Parker’s terrific Western, Cole and Hitch, via audiobook. You can read my review of Ed Harris’ Appaloosa movie, here. Whether it’s something new or something familiar, audiobooks are a regular part of my day now.
I wrote a post on my favorite audiobook narrators – fiction and nonfiction.
4) CONAN EXILES IS MY OPEN-WORLD SURVIVAL GAME
I periodically fire up Conan Exiles and do a run-through about up to level 50. Then I let it go for months, or even a year. Until I get the itch and start over at level 0. I describe Exiles as ‘Minecraft on steroids.’
It’s the only only game of its type I’ve played (mini-exception mentioned below). It’s an Open-World (a big map you can tackle any way you want – not a linear progression game), Base-Building (you build your own base, crafting weapons, armor, furniture, etc), Survival (there are enemies out there – I play PvE – and you need food and shelter) game. You’re a criminal exiled to a large island where you have to try and survive.
There are quests, and sort of dungeons. It’s not quite an MMO, but it’s similar – I transitioned from Age of Conan to this, and there are some vibes. I don’t mind resource gathering, which is a common task. I like building a couple bases. Outfitting it with rugs, chairs, sconces for lights. I like crafting medium armor in a certain style (available via DLC), then using a different style for the heavy armor. Beating enemies into submission and making them thralls. Gotta have a good blacksmith!
Funcom implemented a BattlePass in 2022, and it’s disappointing (as opposed to the one in Fortnite), but I think you can play Exiles fine without even bothering to get the task-driven (as opposed to level-based) BattlePass.
Exiles definitely gets repetitive, and for me, pretty hard at level 50. But if this is your type of thing, it’s pretty cool. There’s a similar, Viking-themed game in early access, called Valheim. I gave that a try last week. Graphically I wasn’t impressed, and it wasn’t all that intuitive. I gave up and that’s what prompted me to start a new round of Exiles.
5) RIP, DAVID SOUL
I am of the age, that Starsky and Hutch is an iconic pop culture show. It’s not one of my favorite cop shows, but I certainly watched – and liked – it. I enjoyed the Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson remake as well (which the originals made a cameo in).
But Soul has other appearances I have more of an attraction to. He was Andrew Pennington in David Suchet’s superb Poirot, Death on the Nile. Sixteen years before, he had appeared opposite Peter Ustinov’s Poirot. He co-starred in The Key to Rebecca miniseries. It wasn’t that great, but it’s based on a good novel by Ken Follett. I have not yet seen the short-lived TV reboot of Casablanca, with soul in Bogie’s role (Scatman Crothers plays Sam).
I liked David Soul. And of course, Don’t Give up on us Baby paved the way for David Hasslehoff. Ha ha ha!!!
His career kind of petered out in the mid-nineties. I’m glad it got going again before he passed away.
Things I Think I Think
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE DEFINITIVE guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.