Thursday 25 June 2009

Agent of Change, by Lee and Miller, plus Ashes to Ashes

Agent of Change, first published in 1988, kicked off the authors' extensive Liaden Universe series. I had heard good things of the stories but had never read them before, so I tackled this one with interest.

It is classic space opera, set in a distant future in which humanity has spread through the galaxy and interacts (sometimes in a friendly way, sometimes not) with various other equally advanced races. Most of the other races bear no resemblance to humans, the exception being the Liadens who are close enough related to be able to interbreed – although how this came to be is not explained in this story.

The two heroes of this story are Val Con, a male Liaden spy, and Miri, a female human ex-mercenary bodyguard, both more than capable of looking after themselves in dangerous situations. At the start of the story they accidentally meet on the world of Lufkit when both are being hunted; Val Con by the planetary authorities, Miri by a criminal organisation called the Juntavas. Their pair up out of necessity, and the rest of the story is largely concerned with their efforts to survive. A key role is played by a magnificently realised alien race known as the Clutch, who resemble giant turtles and have previously befriended Val Con. I hardly need add that the action is flavoured by a developing romance between the two heroes.

A fast-paced and entertaining read, if rather lightweight and not particularly memorable. I might chase up the sequels in due course, but I have a tall stack of books to read and a long list of others to buy, so it's likely to take a while.
Ashes to Ashes

The TV detective series Life on Mars, about a present-day policeman who inexplicably finds himself a part of a 1970s detective squad, was deservedly a huge hit. Not surprisingly it was followed by a new series, Ashes to Ashes, following the same detective team into the 1980s with a new "throwback", Keeley Hawes replacing John Simm. The first series was rather disappointing by contrast with LoM, but the second series (which finished a couple of weeks ago) was a great improvement. The characters were much better developed, and the twin plot threads of Hawes' character desperately trying to get back to the present day and her growing relationship with Philip Glenister's crusty, misogynistic detective became increasingly intriguing. As well as the drama and mystery this was one of the funniest series on TV, with more laugh-out-loud moments than most comedies (and – blessed relief – no canned laughter). From being an "OK to watch" for the first series this became a "must watch", and the highlight of the week's viewing. I realised just how much I had come to like the characters when felt quite sad on discovering that one of them had betrayed the team (for all-too-human reasons). The finale was the best episode of the lot, with a commendably ambiguous and open ending.

There's no doubt that Glenister was the star of the show; he was given a string of often outrageously funny non-PC one-liners which he delivered in his characteristically gruff, deadpan, rapid-fire style. One which sticks in my mind; on seeing Hawes looking unusually happy: "What's up with you then? You look as if you've been sitting on the washing machine again!" And the gag in the last episode concerning the detective at a chip-shop crime scene who was happily munching on a battered and deep-fried sausage until he discovered that it was from a literally dis-membered murder victim brought tears to my eyes. I'm eagerly awaiting the third series, due next year.

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