Sunday, September 09, 2012

A proper update!

So, what have I been doing these past several months? Well, not a lot, really. Working, which is never a good thing, but is really quite necessary if you haven't done it for a long time. Also, developing a worrying addiction to pork scratchings - I got an unaccountable craving for them recently, and now can't go a day without crunching on some.

Still, looking on the bright side, I did a 30-minute binary practice this morning! This is significant, because I might not have done that for anything up to a whole year - I really am that far out of a memory training routine. Furthermore, I did the practice on the Memoriad software, as will be used in the competition itself if it actually happens - it seems about 75% likely at the moment, in that the person running it does seem enthusiastic about the whole thing, but its existence on the internet is minimal, to say the least. But if it does happen, I fully intend to be there, and hope to have done some proper training in the two and a half months between now and then.

Incidentally, late November seems to be a good time to hold an event in the Mediterranean - hopefully it'll be a nice holiday. Better timing than the US Open tennis, which I'm watching at the moment, and which is sensibly scheduled in the middle of hurricane season. At least with Wimbledon we can claim that it's supposed to be sunny in July!

Anyway, my score of 2070 in binary, while pretty horrific (although it's exactly half of my 4140 world record, which is quite groovy), still gives me reason to be hopeful. I did manage to keep my concentration more or less focused all the way through the 30 minutes' memorisation and 60 minutes' recall - well, my mind wandered a lot, but I managed to resist the temptation to give up and go and do something else, just barely. And I know it'll get better with every practice. Next time, hour numbers.

And 2070 is a half-decent score by most people's standards - only 38 or 39 people have done better than that in competitions, depending on which statistics website you read. Memocamp's 39 seems to be right here - the World Memory Statistics seems to omit Yip Siow Hong from the 2010 world championship; I don't remember him being there in 2010 (indeed, apart from the name, I can't remember anything about him; we've never really talked), but it seems unlikely that Memocamp would just have invented his scores.

As a general rule, Memocamp is about 95% correct, and Statistics about 90%; Memocamp also has the advantage of not existing primarily so that the WMSC can remove people from the 'official' ranking list if they ever deem it necessary. You can usually work out the right results by comparing the two and ruling out the less likely figure. It'd be nice to have a website with all the right numbers on it, but hey, who cares about statistics anyway? Only the kind of geek who keeps on making up arbitrary percentages in his long, meandering blog entries.

Let's talk about something more important - the Mighty Heroes Annual 1985!

I found it at the Beeston Sunday book stall a few weeks ago, and it's quite fascinating, because it consists of comics that I've never seen or heard of before. These aren't the Mighty Heroes of Mighty-Mouse-supporting-feature fame (who did have their own very short-lived American comic in the mid-sixties), it's just a series of stories about mighty heroes. They're clearly British in origin (the annual's published in Spain, and probably drawn there too - Spanish artists were a heck of a lot cheaper than British ones in the olden days), and almost certainly significantly earlier than 1985, but I don't know where the publisher dug them up from. I could look it up, but I like a bit of mystery in my life.

The cover is a jolly exciting collage of rockets, aliens, jet planes, scary fiery demon skull things and, apparently, monks. None of these things appear inside, but it's still very eye-catching. The inside front cover has a collage of two pictures of the hero from the Titans, two of the hero from the first Fifth Dimension, and one of the villain from that story.

And so we go on to the stories themselves. They don't generally have titles as part of the artwork - they're typed into the white border at the top of the first page. We begin with...

FIFTH DIMENSION - Earth Attack! (8 pages)
As becomes a common trend in this annual, we're given no introduction to the central character here - indeed, we're not even told his name. We just get three panels with the narration "If you lived alone in a huge, sinister and isolated house... with a door that led to another world - a new dimension where anything can happen... you would find it difficult not to be tempted to walk through it..."

Our hero finds himself looking through a sheet of glass at a man in a control room, with a big TV screen displaying planet Earth with a target on it. Not being able to get through the glass, he goes into a rocky cave behind him, and emerges onto the surface of an asteroid, where people are building a rocket. However, he's attacked by aliens in green jumpsuits, and knocked out.

When he wakes up, the aliens interrogate him and ask how long it'll be until the asteroid crashes into the third planet. A small scuffle later, they work out that they're all on the same side here, and the aliens explain the situation - "The One Without Eyes" has been taking prisoners from various different planets ("Earth, Oglos and Rotin and others") and bringing them to this asteroid to work. The One Without Eyes is inside the asteroid and controlling it. The aliens go on to add that "Many work underground - we don't know what they do. The rest of us were left here - our task is to get rid of the debris from below." We never do learn what the ones underground did, exactly, but it seems The One Without Eyes has recently killed them all and is now going to attack Earth. The aliens on the surface have been working on building a rocket to escape, since they couldn't find their way underground.

Our hero shows them how to get to the baddie, they break through the glass and insist that he change direction. He refuses to do so, and can't really be threatened since he's planning to die in the explosion anyway. Our hero asks him why he's doing this, and he explains that he comes from a planet ("an artificial planet known as Porto") which floats uncontrollably through space, and will crash into Earth unless he gets rid of the obstruction first. Our hero announces that he doesn't believe a word of it. "It's because you talk in Earth words - instead of 'the third planet' you talk of 'Earth!'"

"Why would you take prisoners? There'd be volunteers from Porto!" he continues. The One Without Eyes (who wears sunglasses, so we can't really establish his exact ocular status, but he looks like a normal human and doesn't appear to be blind) responds "So they could die? Don't talk rubbish - you're fooling yourself!"

It's all pretty inconclusive, really. But then one of the aliens notices a big lever and guesses that it'll change the asteroid's direction. It does, and although the One Without Eyes tries to stop him, our hero apparently knocks him out with a karate chop to the back of the head (although the panel isn't very well drawn, so I'm just guessing that's what's happening). The aliens celebrate, the asteroid misses Earth, and our hero leaves abruptly.

And as an epilogue, we get two atmospheric panels, back at the huge, sinister and isolated house. "Don't look for me," says the caption, "I'm in my dark house, away from it all... I'm watching the stars - knowing that any moment one will explode and it will all be over!" The hero, looking up at the sky, has one final thought bubble: "I should not have got involved..."

... Yeah, I don't really get that ending. Didn't he save the day? The way I see it, either the asteroid will go on its merry way and everything will be okay, or the planet Porto will imminently crash into Earth. I don't see how a star is shortly going to explode. Did I miss something?

THE TITANS - Commando Zeus (8 pages)
We open in a meeting room, where an extremely evil-looking bald man is talking to his new team of experts, "Commando Zeus". The story clearly expects readers to already be familiar with what's going on, but his quick summary at least establishes that there are aliens invading Earth, and his mention of "the fearsome and horrific machines that keep attacking us" does suggest he's not entirely misguided in this, although as it turns out he's after The Titans, who as it transpires are misunderstood good guys.

This group of people don't subsequently appear in the story, just their underlings, but everyone except Baldy is given a name and description, so I suppose they were intended to recur as antagonists for the Titans. They don't look particularly evil - one of them, indeed, looks like a matinee idol, but the one who came up with this particular plan is blowing smoke rings with a cigarette, which isn't usually a good sign.

The dialogue throughout this story seems to have been written by someone whose first language isn't English; it's very stilted and awkward. Especially in the next scene, where we go to "the Nolans", the two aliens pretending to be humans. Zen wears extremely cool flares, and Zara a very impractical-looking long dress. When they see a TV report about people being mysteriously frozen by enemies from outer space, Zen wants to go and investigate, but Zara's convinced it's a trap set by their enemies on Earth. There's some talk about their "machine" that detects aliens, but it's hard to work out what they're going on about. Zen sets off anyway, stepping into a sort of tube to transform into a superhero and flying away. Meanwhile, Zara gets a robot duplicate of Zen from a cupboard ("Now for a bit of fun!") and snogs it for the benefit of the humans who are watching their every move.

I don't get why the humans, who know where the Titans are and what their secret identities are, don't just drop a bomb on the house rather than going through with this elaborate plan. Perhaps they're not completely sure it's them?

Anyway, Zen flies off to the Mojave Desert, where the news said the freeze attacks were, and does indeed find a frozen body and tyre tracks leading to a ravine. But then he concludes that it is a trap after all, by a difficult-to-understand chain of logic, and flies away again.

Undaunted, the soldiers waiting in the ravine go to plan B, and send Phantom jets after Zen to shoot him down with missiles. "Incendiary missiles! It's napalm! Got to get out of here!" he thinks, panicked - invulnerability isn't among his super-powers, it seems. 'Mental powers' are, though, and he uses them to change a missile's course and direct it into another Phantom. He then rescues the pilot before the plane crashes, and sets him back on the ground. "Listen my friend - I'm saving you!" he explains. "I want it known - the Titans are here to save Earth! Remember to tell of it!"

And with that, he flies back home to Zara, leaving frustrated soldiers behind. "How did I do Zara? This time I think we are winning, eh!?" he quips. Zara responds with an entirely blank speech bubble. Then the news announces that "With his incredible power, one of the Titans has brainwashed a Phantom pilot. The pilot who saw the alien Titan's face refuses to describe the robot..."

Robot? Anyway, Zen quips that at least one person on Earth is on their side, and that's the end.

A CASE FOR INSPECTOR DAN - The Ribbon Murders (30 pages)
And now our main feature! And this is a good one, too - so much so that I'm not going to go through it page by page, picking holes. Well, that and the fact that it's so very long, of course. But it's a fascinating case for Inspector Dan (everybody just calls him by that name) and his assistant Stella - they're a very Steed and Peel kind of pairing. And it's written in an interesting way - Dan and Stella spend most of the story believing that a series of murders is being carried out by mental institute escapee Kelby, but the reader is shown that poor Kelby is being held prisoner and being used as a scapegoat by someone else, who's committing the murders in Kelby's style for reasons of his own.

There's a fair bit of padding to fill the thirty pages - rather a lot of action scenes with identical murders, not to mention a lengthy red herring in which Dan is called away by some old enemies who claim to know about the Kelby case but are actually nothing to do with it and just want to kill him. But the ultimate revelation as to who's behind everything (someone using the old "kill lots of people so nobody realises I wanted to kill one specific person" routine) is good, and the characterisation of everyone, Kelby especially, is very nice throughout.

CENTAUR - Into Another World (6 pages)
This one, on the other hand... no, I don't get it at all, I'm afraid. I'm assuming it's a heavily-abridged version of a longer story, because as it stands here, it really doesn't make any kind of sense.

Cent, our hero of sorts, arrives in Guatemala with Red (dark hair and big moustache) and his "gang" (which apparently consists of a man called Drake, who wears an eyepatch). And Pearl, whose connection to everything isn't mentioned. Red and Cent have a discussion that's apparently meant to tell us who they are and what they're doing: "The mineral you seek could be worth a lot. You know what I mean - eh, Cent?" "No, Red. I don't know. I'm not looking for it any more - I'm here for another reason." (looking at Pearl when he says this). Red is angry and orders Cent to find it for him, telling Drake to stay in the room and watch Cent and Pearl, saying "I hope by tomorrow Mr Stubborn will have organised the expedition!"

Since Red hasn't really threatened Cent with anything, I'm not sure why he thinks a night in a comfortable hotel room, albeit guarded by Drake, will change his mind, but hey. Suddenly, Cent and Pearl find themselves on another world, where a mysterious voice says "Zentor, we want to communicate with you!"

Back on Earth, Drake runs to fetch Red in a panic, because Cent and Pearl have both dropped dead. Red's reaction is a little strange - he insists that they're not dead ("I'm convinced of it!") and observes that the Mayan stone is gone too! What Mayan stone? You'd think something so important to the plot would have been mentioned before now.

People in Mayan headdresses are talking to Cent. "Welcome, man of the stars, with the message that came from your world..." they say, and Cent realises they are talking in Ixil and that it's his own language. A narrative caption apparently tries to tell us the plot: "The message is that Mayan stone found in Germany. There are important discoveries on it in Centaur's language." Then the Mayan promises to help Cent, whereupon he and Pearl wake up back on Earth and run away from Red and Drake, stealing a car and driving away.

Red and Drake pursue them, but then their car crashes into an invisible wall, and plunges off a cliff, presumably killing them both. Pearl then decides that she can't stay with Cent, because he needs to go to the other world, which isn't hers, and that's the end. Strange story, all in all.

FIFTH DIMENSION - The Chelsea Butcher (8 pages)
Yes, we're back to the man with a magic door in his house. And this, sensibly placed at the end of the book, is apparently the first Fifth Dimension story! We even get some kind of explanation of who our hero is! He's Michael Hooker - a scientist. Being rather the gloomy type, he's been living in his big, isolated house, working on a dematerialiser which can be used for high speed travel in space. He suspects it might not work, but he's testing it out with himself as a guinea pig anyway, stepping through the door...

And he finds himself in a room in 1889, where he's immediately arrested for being the Chelsea Butcher. So that the judge won't think he's mad, he pretends to have lost his memory, which doesn't really help him very much. Luckily, Sherlock Holmes has decided to investigate the case, and comes to see Michael in prison. This surprises Michael a little, seeing as Holmes is a fictional character. He concludes that his machine has sent him to another dimension.

Michael escapes from prison, where he bumps into the real Chelsea Butcher, who is about to kill him when Sherlock Holmes comes to his rescue. So everything's okay in the end, and Michael finds himself back in his home again. "I look at the dematerializer and smile," he says in a narrative caption. "I've just discovered a new world - the incredible Fifth Dimension!"

And that's your lot. It's a very strange annual. I want to find some more now!


Dai Griffiths said...

Maybe Yip Siow Hong doesn't really exist and is merely a figment in the imagination of his imaginary father Yip Swe Chooi. Hang on, if he has an imaginary father he must be real and Dr. Yip doesn't exist. I really should think these things through. ;-)

Doc Savage said...

Great post Zoomy!

That door in the house to the 5th Dimension sounds cool. Seems to me I remember a musical group with that name from around the 1960s or 1970s. Are we sure the door might not extend into the "Outer Limits" (TV series). :-)

As to the memory work, you are making progress. I was practicing last night also. I was trying to remember all the names of the pretty girls at one of our local strip clubs. I noticed the more beer I had, the harder to remember names using the Journey/memory palace method, but the bodies/faces were still easy to recall. What are your experiences in this matter. Any suggestions? Smile. Perhaps I need more practice time!