Zero Point is the second book in Neal Asher's Owner Series, and continues with the strong - and somewhat unpalatable - themes that he developed in the first book, The Departure. The dedication at the start of the novel really sums it all up: "To all you steady researchers and developer of our technology, for recognising the optimistic road to the future, rather than seeing a slippery slope to doom."
Of course, the Owner Series is about a society that has been on the slippery slope to doom, both societally and ecologically. At the end of the first novel, the protagonist, an anti-hero called Alan Saul, was escaping from Earth on board the Argus Station having decapitated the global bureaucratic dictatorship of 'the Committee' whilst taking the station, and finishing off local controls by dropping their own satellite network on them. The 'zero asset' citizens are freed from Committee oversight, at the cost of the collapse of infrastructure, which potential could lead to their starvation.
This novel meshes three tales together - the emergence of Serene Galahad to reestablish the power of the Committee and the infrastructure of the Earth whilst pursuing a more radical path than her predecessors, the events at the Mars Colony which had effectively declared independence from Earth in the first book, and the events aboard the Argus Station. The plots are brutal, and don't show the nicer side of humanity.
Technology ramps forward without the control of the Committee, as Saul develops his abilities and others have the limits on what they can do released, and the plot twists and turns. Some of the characters - for example Galahad - feel quite two dimensional, but the energy and darkness of the plot drive you forward.
I found that it was quite hard to put down as it draws you in quite effectively, despite finding whole elements somewhat unpleasant. The story goes into areas that few other SF stories do except in the more literary side of the genre (such as The Handmaid's Tale or Nineteen Eighty-Four), with a dark dystopian vision and characters that match. It won't be everyone's cup of hot beverage, but I recommend it for its energy and dark flavour. It directly provides of vision that contrasts technology used for good and for ill, with the difference being the morals of those that wield it.
(*)I was 'unsuccessful' mainly because I tended to sell people a computer that met their needs and desires rather than a fully loaded and overpriced top end Compaq. Anyway, I digress.
I first encountered Banks through his SF epic Consider Phlebas, which I found near impossible to put down after I discovered it on the shelf in WHSmiths. I can remember sitting outside on a bench in the cold, unwilling to move as I was gripped by the story, and getting annoyed that I had to go back in. It was glorious, enchanting and fast-paced space opera and so different to the norm of SF from the late seventies and eighties. Absolutely brilliant. I then went and bought everything that he had written at that point - The State of the Art, The Player of Games and then Use of Weapons. That book has the distinction of being one of the few that I've reached the end of and immediately re-read, as I never saw it coming. I moved onto his contemporary novels (published without the ‘m’ ), which are equally good and larger in number. The Wasp Factory was dark, macabre and I couldn't put it down despite intensely disliking it. Few books since have evoked that emotion, much like a film where you want to look away but can't. The Crow Road and Complicity are both great thrillers (and check out the TV series and the film respectively) and Espedair Street is a great rock novel (likewise the BBC Radio 4 version was excellent).
Banks quickly became one of the few authors I bought in hardcover (along with William Gibson and more recently Alastair Reynolds), and someone whose books I really looked forward to. Excession is a personal favourite in his SF, and the surreal The Bridge in his 'literature'. Feersum Endjinn messed with my head when I read it, as the alternative phonetic and English chapters forced a meshing of gears.
I think his books went off the boil a bit about a decade ago, but even a weaker novel from him was worth a read, often surpassing other writer's best works. I think his work had been back on an upward improving trajectory over the last few years.
And now his next book is almost certainly his last unless there is some kind of reprieve or remission, which he states is unlikely. I'll miss his work, it has brought me great enjoyment. It also holds several unique places in my heart.
Thank you, Iain (M) Banks. You've thrilled me, inspired me and entertained me, not to mention set me on a journey in gaming that I hope I can complete this year.
Reflecting, what makes it even worse is that another of my favourite authors, John le Carré, is 82 this year, so I suspect there are a limited number of books left from him too.
I fear that the Kindle – and its ilk – will kill reading.
Beyond my parent's love of books – reading with and to me, and the fantastic Children's Book Club my mother joined – two things drove my passion for reading .
The first was the fantastic public libraries that the UK has had for years. In my teenage years I consumed up to 8 books a week, and slightly less when younger. Sadly, this is a system under threat as the present austerity measures, and fall in usage of libraries, take a toll. I have some guilt here, as I don't really use the library these days as the backlog of books I own is too big. Nathan does, through school.
The second was discovering the books that rested on my parent's shelves. I explored, sneaked looks at, and devoured the contents avidly. It drove some of my tastes in literature, which is probably a fusion between my father's love of SF and my mother's love of more literary and historical novels.
The Kindle kills this. No browsing. No exploring. No discovery without purchase.
Plus it allows the BBC to obsess about its favourite subject, the BBC.
The brilliant Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker - you really should buy the DVD of this series!
Image ©2012 BBC - all rights reserved
I was late in discovering the BBC’s The Thick of It, mainly as the few times that I had stumbled across it flicking channels I'd usually landed in the middle of one of Peter Capaldi's brilliant swear-word filled tirades as Malcolm Tucker, the government's Director of Communications. Landing in the middle of one of these is not something that really endears the programme to you, and I dismissed it as loud and swear-y rubbish passing as comedy.
However, I ended up catching the first episode of Series 4 on TV one night – from the start – when Jill and the boys were in bed. I was hooked, realising that this was one series that you couldn't just drop into mid-episode. I've watched each episode since, through a variety of means (time shifted on PVR, iPlayer and live), and they have been gloriously full of swearing, politics and – in far too many ways – believability. I'm really sad that last night saw the final ever episode, dealing with the aftermath of the Goolding Inquiry (think spoof of Leveson) on leaking, and the demise of Malcolm Tucker.
However, now I have the DVDs of the first three series and specials to enjoy as a guilty pleasure and to compensate for the loss of this brilliant show. Contrary to my original thoughts, this is a fantastic counterpoint to Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.
Hope Cove, South Hams, Devon
I always plan to write a blog entry after I've been on holiday, or even during the holiday. Well, this year I've decided to create a blog by capturing random thoughts and observations over the fortnight. There may be some jumps in continuity, and perhaps a lack of coherence, but I guess it's worth a go. The big challenge will be moving it from my iPad to the blog; I really need to look at Tumblr or Wordpress for my website's blog entries.
We took Aidan and Nathan to the beach in Inner Hope the second day that we arrived, which was popular. Two things stood out. Firstly, Aidan was absolutely fearless about the sea and not bothered that it was cold. He's a few months older than Nathan was the first time we came here, and its later in the year, but he went quite deep and two duckings from tripping didn't phase him. I can see that we're going to have to watch him.
Secondly, Nathan actually got stuck in digging when we started on a canal. In previous years I've had to do all the labouring, but he was big enough to use a large spade and that made quite a difference. I also found what would be better described as a mini-spade, or perhaps trenching tool. Metal bladed, wooden shafted but still only just bigger than a large child's spade, it promises to make things a little easier.
I've just finished Jo Walton's superb book Among Others. Set in 1979/1980, it tells the tale of a fifteen year-old twin who has suffered a trauma, loves SF and Fantasy with a passion, and just might be able to do magic. By magic, I mean the old Celtic magics of subtle influence rather than Harry Potter or Dungeon & Dragons style *Magic Missiles*.
If you like SF and Fantasy, and can appreciate growing up in that period (which I guess puts you becoming a teenager somewhen between 1975 and 1985, or maybe more), then this book will bring back nostalgia for the first time that you discovered other authors or people who shared your passion for the genre. Brilliant stuff, and possibly my best read of the year so far.
If you're ever looking for something to do with kids in easy reach of the A38, Pennywell Farm is worth considering. Entry isn't extortionate, nor the food prices (but bear in mind my last experience was Olympics London). It's a petting farm, and has a ride on a train, a tractor ride and a number of other things included in the price (the only extras we saw were pony rides and cash for powered go kart slots). There are lots of small slides, trampolines, picnic tables etc. scattered around, and a wide variety of animals and activities.
Aidan also learned a valuable lesson about why you don't stick fingers into hen cages, ignoring mummy and daddy. He still has all ten fingers and thumbs.
Best Laid Plans
Jill and the boys both in bed asleep by 9pm tonight (13/8). Perfect time to sort out the layout work that I'd wanted to resolve this holiday. Unfortunately, whilst the wireless is up, the internet connection is very much down. Best read a book then!
I was far too late to bed last night as I got hooked completely by Hugh Howey's *Wool* sequence, which has been released as an omnibus edition on Kindle. It's set in a silo where survivors of a forgotten apocalypse live on, a subtly dystopian society and right up my street after some of the writing that I've done for Wordplay recently. Criminals are sentenced to *cleaning*, made to go out into the toxic wasteland and clean the sensor sets. The title of the sequence is multilayered and not as odd as it may seem at first. I wholeheartedly recommend this, but you may find yourself suffering from the 'one more chapter' problem.
The Other Face
Devon is showing its other face today, with constant rain. Admittedly, it's warm rain, but the beach is out unless we break out the tent and the wetsuits. Jill and Nathan have popped out to Salcombe to look for a present and also do a recce on the swimming pool. Aidan and I just had fun.
Enjoyed reading the pre-release (and pre-proofing) copy of Dungeon World which I received courtesy of backing the Kickstarter campaign. Loved what I read, but ended up proofing it as it was a PDF and on my iPad. Send it off to the authors, who were happy for the feedback. I'm really looking forward to this being released as it really catches the essence of old school D&D with a modern twist, in a far less crunchy way than Burning Wheel and the more direct D&D derivatives.
Speaking of proofing, iAnnotate from Branchfire, combined with a Cosmonaut Stylus from Studio Neat, is a great way to proof PDFs on the iPad. The stylus feels like a highlighter and is very accurate, and iAnnotate handles basic PDF annotation really well. I recommend both.
On the Trains
We had our third visit to the South Devon Railway this week, and our second to the Rare Breeds Farm at Totnes (which is at the far end of the line from the start at Buckfastleigh). Both the boys enjoyed this, and Aidan started to show a very independent streak, wanting to walk and go and explore things himself. He was fascinated by ducks, saying "Oh look, duck!" and chasing one of the flocks around their enclosure giggling and going "qwak qwak" at them. He liked the train as well, maybe not quite as much as his brother.
The Farm also has a collection of rescued owls, which fascinated Nathan and gave me flashbacks to the owlet that fell the ground in the garden of the cottage that I stayed at in Devon when I was a child. Naturally, we called him "Plop" after the story The Owl that was Afraid of the Dark.
Rain was forecast again today, so we looked for another expedition. We wanted somewhere we could be under cover, so settled upon a visit to a working Maltings in Newton Abbot. Of course, when we arrived, the sun came out and was cracking the flags. The site was over a hundred years old, and catered really well for visitors, even 5 year olds like Nathan.
It was very much the industrial process of a century ago, still viable and working. And we got to sample the local brew at the end, which was nice. Nathan was most disappointed that he didn't get beer too! I even managed to put my safety professional head to one side during the visit, which was well organised and the hour passed very quickly. Aidan was less fascinated, but loved the museum at the end where he could run around and touch things.
Afterwards, we had a picnic in the park opposite - not a particularly attractive park, but fresh air and some much needed food to keep the boys quiet.
Are we nearly there yet?
The picnic didn't keep them quiet. Every car journey has been somewhat stressful, ranging from Nathan's question time ("What is there bad like black holes?", "What will happen when the sun dies?", "Mummy, is God dead?", and more) through to manic playing, giggles and squabbles on the back seat. That's the parenting experience, I guess. It's due to turn back to sunny tomorrow, so hopefully we'll be able to get them to burn off some energy on the beach!
My Kind of Traitor
I've started the latest John le Carré novel Our Kind of Traitor, which is deliciously sharp so far, continuing the return to form he has had since Absolute Friends. Something to thank the politics of George W Bush for, I guess, as he fired up le Carré's passion and anger again.
The only dark side I can see came from reading the bio, which made me realise the the author is now 80 and wonder how many more great novels are left for him to write. Many, I hope.
Updated - finished now, and I can recommend it. In common with most of le Carré's work, please don't ready if you expect a happy, Disney-fairy-tale ending.
Grand Day Out
Not quite all day, but most of the afternoon was spent on the beach at Inner Hope, building sandcastles, engineering the surface water outflow route on the sand to create moats and lakes, jumping waves and exploring rock pools. Back home with two exhausted boys, sun-kissed and happy. An incredibly cheap day too, compared to those when it rains!
It was Aidan's first proper day on a beach when he really knew what he was doing. He dug holes, threw sand, paddled in the pools and sea and ran around very excited. He was shattered at bed time!
I think that major publishers don't get digital, and some small press publishers don't see the allure of print. Two examples from this evening follow:
1) Caught up with the Saturday edition of the Guardian, which has an interview with one of my favourite authors (from a young age), Alan Garner. Apparently, he has a new book coming out - always a great thing - called Boneland, which is an adult aimed sequel to his superb Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath. Those books have a special place in my heart as they lit up the Cheshire countryside of my youth, and made Alderley Edge an even more special place for me.
So, I go onto Amazon and pre-order the Kindle edition for release on 30 August. All excited, and knowing my Garner books are currently in storage while the extension goes on, I decide to buy Kindle versions of the first two books. These aren't available, and neither are any others in Garner's back catalogue. The publisher has just failed to make two or more novel sales that duplicate paper copies I already have. Isn't it foreseeable that people may want to buy the first two books electronically as well?!
I had a similar experience with M. John Harrison's Empty Space, the third and concluding book in his Kefahuchi Tract Trilogy). Third book is out electronically, but the first two? Again, this would have been duplicate sales for the publishers.
[Update 9/9/2012 - the second book in Harrison’s trilogy, Nova Swing, is now due out on Kindle at the end of September. Hopefully the first will follow.]
2) Smaller press. I'm reading Graham Walmsley's excellent Stealing Cthulhu, an inspiring revisitation of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Half-way through, I think "it'd be nice to get a copy of Ken Hite's excellent Tour de Lovecraft, which summarises and critiques the original HPL texts. Head to RPGNow, and discover there's no print edition (to complement the PDF I have) available via the Lightning Source POD link. Likewise, nothing on the publisher's site as it is now out of print. Disappointing, as it would be a nice compliment to Walmsley's book. I can get it Kindle… The thing is, it was produced in an age when not having the POD version is completely crazy.
Great day on the beach yesterday with oodles of sand engineering creating a plethora of castles, lakes and canals. Also had fun with Nathan 'wave jumping'; I hold his hand, he jumps, often with a helping hand from me, sometimes with waves bigger than his head. He gets very excited by this. I did have to take him back in though when he started shivering, no matter his denials that he was okay! He'd tried a body board the day before, even hough he was obviously scared by the idea, and loved it.
Aidan excelled himself by falling asleep, mid-lunch, on top of Jill for an hour and a half's nap!
Rain, rain come again
Loading the car to go was a somewhat damp experience as the heavens opened for the hour and a half that I was packing. As usual, we seem to have more for the return journey than the way here. Anyway, we're away and I'm writing this at the Beachcomber Café at Hope Cove (linked to the Hope and Anchor) where we are spoiling ourselves with a full English before we embark on the seven hour drive(*).
(*) Actually 10 hour in the end due to weather and traffic
Nathan's best bits
Nathan tells me that he "liked the beach because it was really nice and there was lots of shells and there was big waves that you could jump in. Sometimes I needed Daddy if the waves were too big. I liked it a lot because it was the best thing in the world".
A success, I think!
Jill's best bits
Jill's answer to the what was your best bit of the holiday was "The beach, Overbecks and the South Devon Railway, especially the salad at the Rare Breeds Farm".
Aidan's best bits
The beach, and sleeping in a grown up bed.
It's been great fun, and he's only been scared once. He asked me to stop doing Smaug voice when Bilbo met the Dragon. Anyway we should have finished it tonight but he fell asleep 3 pages from the end, just before the hobbit returns to Bag End to find all his personal effects being auctioned off by his over-eager relatives!
Jill and I were struggling to decide what story to try next and we're now tempted by the classic "Swallows and Amazons" as he loves the Lake District.
Produced with Dragon Dictate 2.5
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid)
I heard parts of this and the interesting discussion on it on Radio 4's Book Club and it seemed intriguing. It's effectively a monologue, as you only have the words of the protagonist. It isn't necessarily the most realistic tale, but it sucks you in. Effectively, it's the tale of a Pakistani man who starts by embracing the American dream, but then is slowly repelled by it post 9/11. Well written and a page turner as the protagonist's life and background are unfolded during a meal and a walk with an American stranger.
The Coming Convergence (Stanley Schmidt)
Non-fiction looking how interaction between different rivers of technological development leads to huge changes. Part of background reading for Singularities.
Rule 34 (Charles Stross)
Stross' latest near future police tale (effectively revisiting the same vibe as the earlier Halting State) set in Edinburgh with a murder investigation. Good stuff - I'll say no more lest I ruin it. You can google 'rule 34' to get a hint at what underpins the plot. Or you can read the first three chapters on Stross' blog.
Zero History (Wiliiam Gibson)
Gibson wraps up the ideas he's played with in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country in another really strong near future thriller. Great stuff as you can savour every word. It has forced me start to re-read Pattern Recognition as it's too long since I last read it.
Hull Zero Three (Greg Bear)
A tale set in deep space onboard a slower-than-light starship. The protagonist wakes to a world of cold and horror with limited memories. His journey is significant to the future of the ships as he rediscovers who and what the mission was and what has effected it. Very good stuff.
WikiLeaks has published its full archive of 251,000 secret US diplomatic cables, without redactions, potentially exposing thousands of individuals named in the documents to detention, harm or putting their lives in danger.
Although I believe that there is definitely a space for putting things in the open, this steps over the principle of not causing harm where unnecessary. The original releases were redacted to protect individuals who could have been at risk; this release is more like the kind of stunt that Lulzsec or Anonymous pull. Hence no more linkage to the IP address.
The Departure is the latest book from Neal Asher and the start of a new series, 'The Owner novels', which sees him move away from the Agent Cormac / Polity universe that will be familiar to his past readers.
Asher is one of the strongest and most prolific voices in SF at the moment. Along with Reynolds, Stross and MacLeod he has put a new vigour in the genre. His ability to write fast-paced, twisting and interesting stories reminds me of the late David Gemmell's novels in fantasy: maybe not the absolute best, but you can guarantee an enjoyable, well written story that will have you wanting more at the end.
The Departure opens with the protagonist, Alan Saul, waking up on a conveyor into the Calais Incinerator without any clear memories of who he was and why he was there, only knowledge of the fact that he had been tortured in an Inspectorate Cell and the memory of the face of his tormentor. He is accompanied by an voice in his head called Janus, that claims it is an artificial intelligence and that it was created at the same time that he wore up. Naturally, Saul sets off to find out who he is, why he was dumped at the incinerator and how he can have revenge on his torturer.
It's a bleak future, completely different to that shown in the Polity novels. Earth is controlled by the Committee, a bureaucratic totalitarian regime trying unsuccessfully to manage the limited resources of a hugely over-populated world. Life has lost its value and brutality and starvation are common. A resource crash is coming and the only likely way to prevent it is the same as the results that it would engender; the deaths of billions of people. The extrapolation is scary, as it could easily been seen as a logical extension of the ways that population, politics and technology have been going since the 9/11 attacks.
The story ranges from the slums of Earth to the orbital majesty of the Argus station and out as far as the small human colony on Mars. The pace rapidly picks up, and the back story is filled in nicely as the plot races on. It resolves well, but leaves the hooks hanging and the stage set for a sequel.
All in all, a enjoyable, above average read that leaves you wanting to find out what happens next, having set the scene for the further books. Truly the David Gemmell of SF.
PS Shout out to Neil Ford for the change to read this. Thanks!
We were shopping in Sainsburys when I saw the sign above the soft fruit section which declared how green their green credentials because of the 333 tonnes of plastic that they'd saved by replacing plastic with film lids. That change would also reduce the CO2 generated in transport, as the film is significantly lighter than the plastic lids. It may also have allowed more punnets to the transported in a single lorry.
However, the new film isn't recyclable, which the old lids were. Straight to landfill or incineration as there aren't any other options. If most of the people who bought the strawberries were recycling the lids, then the 333 tonne saving may have little overall effect.
It demonstrates how being 'green' is not easy, as the different challenges and principles are in a dynamic tension. There's no easy way to address everything at once, and it's so easy to accuse people of greenwash when they genuinely think they're trying to achieve something.
Jill and I just managed to watch the DVD of The Adjustment Bureau, which is an adaptation of a Philip K Dick short story, The Adjustment Squad. Actually getting the time to watch it was no mean feat in itself, as we have a ninety minute window between the boys all falling asleep and Aidan waking up wanting a milk top-up. We ended up watching in two sittings over consecutive nights, but it didn't ruin the effect.
It's a romantic SF thriller which revolves around free will. The two protagonists, a politician (Matt Damon) and a Dancer (Emily Blunt) seem to be made for each other, but a shadowy organisation called The Adjustment Bureau is trying to make sure they are kept apart because it will upset their plan. Although that should probably be Plan with a capital P.
It's a quiet, thoughtful movie with doses of the sinister and action and good chemistry between the leads. We enjoyed it and I will watch it again. Four out of Five.
Video of Amanda Palmer giving a speech to recent graduates. Language may be NSFW.
I think everyone fears the Fraud Police, but if you fear them too much then you’ll never achieve what you set out to do.
Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah-Jane Smith in Doctor Who has died, aged 63, from cancer.
I think the Mitch Benn song above summarises what she brought to the role, both in the original series, the relaunch and the Sarah-Jane Adventures.
Original image is cc(BA) by Steve Punter - http://flic.kr/p/YwQyC
I don’t especially like John Prescott, and when I heard his ‘poisonous’ rant about AV I decided to do this for a bit of fun. He’s proud that he’s the reason that the 1997 collaborative approach with the LibDems was sunk. (“You're a ****ing Liberal. We've got a majority of 160 - what do we want you for?” )
I’ve used AV, and its simple. And it should remove situations where 60% of the local populace didn’t vote for their local MP. It may even encourage more people to vote who’ve become disillusioned that their voice doesn’t matter. And that can only be a good thing for the UK as a society
I may well do a few more posters like this of other big beasts for fun.
Nathan at the Swings, picture using Hipstamatic
The last week or so has been pretty busy to the extent that, although I managed to get the photos on Flickr reasonably up to date, I didn't manage to get the time to put anything meaningful together for the blog. The reason for this was my fourth week (out of six) on my NEBOSH Diploma. It's always been an intense week, as it involves getting to Leeds on the bus (an hour each way) and a raft of homework questions when I get home, but I've always been able to rely on Jill taking Nathan to and from nursery, something that hasn't been possible this time because of the after-effects of the c-section.
The only way around it was for me to drive and drop Nathan off at nursery (aiming to be there just after they open at 0730hrs) and then join the rat race of traffic into Leeds City Centre. This worked well most days, except the one where Nathan decided that a go-slow was the order of the day.
In my DJ, bouncing. Thanks to Tom & Kat for the romper suit so he can be so stylish!
Jill and Aidan continue to do well, with Aidan continuing to grow faster than his older brother did. He's already heavier than Nathan was at seven weeks. The only dark cloud on the horizon is the fact that he has developed acid reflux like Nathan; however, we're fortunate in the fact that we could recognise the symptoms this time and the Baby Gaviscon he's been prescribed as a result seems to be doing the trick. I've even got to feed him a few times with milk that Jill's expressed with her new Medela Swing pump, which is much better than the manual one that she had last time. Doing that has definitely moved me from the category of 'not being likely to give me food' in Aidan's eyes, which makes him much more amenable to me holding him.
Look, I can hold him without complaints that he has no food!
We've just completed the fourth week at the new Waterbabies sessions. Unfortunately, we missed the first block due to a combination of illness and the baby's arrival, but we've signed up for a final term, which will be Nathan's last due to his age. The new teacher has been superb, much better than the old one, and Nathan has come on in leaps and bounds (sometimes quite literally!) and has started to get much more comfortable again at jumping in, splashing and has also done a little free swimming between me and the wall. It's a shame that we have to change location again; I just hope that the next teacher is as good. I've been really enjoying being in the water with him; we used to love going for a swim when I was off on a Monday with him and this is just the same.
Nathan continues to be obsessed with 'Octonauts', a programme on CBeebies that a lot of the kids his age seem to love. It's quite fun with a group of different animals living underwater in the 'octopod' carrying out science and rescues. It certainly beats the annoying (and dubious) ZingZillas and the weird hippy Waybuloo. If Nathan gets unsure when we're swimming, I start to pretend that he's an octonaut, calling him by the name of his favourite character. You can see his chest puff up when that happens and he generally gets stuck into whatever he wasn't sure about.
I've also, slowly, been re-reading Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution sequence of novels, finishing the penultimate one – The Cassini Division – tonight before I wrote this. The novel is pretty gritty SF but does a well executed jump to the epic towards the end without losing the character focus that made it so endearing. I'd recommend the books if you haven't encountered them before and mentioned them in an earlier post.
I also managed to finish the final changes post proofing for Wordplay Core Revised Edition (version 1.3 for those in the know) and it's now available for purchase. We're looking at the possibility of an .EPUB and a hardback edition as well, and I've just commissioned the cover for the first supplement which is 95% ready to go to layout. The second supplement is at the 75% stage, as the core text needs some completion which I may do jointly with Graham Spearing, the game's creator.
Digitally, if you use the Mac, and especially if you can use the Snow Leopard App Store, I recommend OmmWriter (a great text editor that is focussed on composition), Twitterrific 4 (a great Twitter interface) and Sparrow (an IMAP mail application, currently only Gmail but due to expand in coverage in it's next release (which is in private beta). All are pretty inexpensive and examples of focussed and strong programming to achieve a specific aim.
I've been revisiting one of my favourite authors, Ken MacLeod, by rereading his first set of novels (apparently now know as the ‘Fall Revolution Series’ ). I started with 'The Star Fraction' over Christmas, and have just finished 'The Stone Canal'. As well as being good SF, the novels are interesting in that each subsequent story changes to the perspective of another group or person in the previous novel. I was surprised to discover how much the themes has subconsciously influenced the writing of my forthcoming SF RPG, Singularities. I recommend these books - not your typical SF.
Speaking of which, I have had a proof for the cover of that book below, which should be ready later in 2011. It was produced by the very talented Steff Worthington (contact details on request).
It was almost like Jill & I were on a date last night, as we went out to the cinema again, but had a quick meal first. I can't remember when we last managed to do that! It was test #2 of the 'go to the cinema, have a baby' hypothesis which was once again unsubstantiated.
We nipped across a misty, foggy Vale of York to Clifton Moor and the cinema there, and arrived an hour or so before the feature, so we went to Frankie & Bennies for a quick pasta dish each. There wasn't really time for anything else, but it was really nice, and it left the chance to get some ice cream at the pictures.
We went and saw 'The King's Speech', with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, which was an excellent character driven story of how King George VI overcame his speech impediment. I really enjoyed it – it was very engaging and well written and ended on a high. Recommended.
Today, my mum and dad came back over with Nathan, who has been staying with them in preparation for the arrival of Baby #2. It's his fourth birthday tomorrow, and he's quite excited to say the least. The house is, once again, filled with noise and chaos and it's brilliant! He was in full chatty mode but was very well behaved and went to bed without complaint. We're taking him out for a mini-party tomorrow - just one of his friends and the family too at Crazy Tykes, which is the local children's play area. He'll have a proper 'official birthday' later in the year with more of his friends when things have calmed down a bit! I think my mum and dad have had a tiring, but fun, time with him!
Although I never managed to see the original TRON at the cinema when it was released, I really wanted to and wasn't disappointed when I finally caught up with it. We've got the DVD too, and it still looks gorgeous. I found the plot harder to accept in terms of the technology and processing power around in the early Eighties, but it was a good, fun, romp.
Last night, Jill and I decided that perhaps the best way to encourage the baby to want to come out again was to go to the cinema (theorising that this was bound to bring on contractions perhaps 30 minutes from the end of the film). Also, it was our wedding anniversary (our eighth) and we wanted to do something, even if the pregnancy and my ongoing hacking cough were getting in the way. So we went to see TRON: Legacy.
It was much better than I expected, especially having seen and heard some of the reviews. The 3D was excellent, the soundtrack awesome, and whilst the plot would never set the world on fire, it's at least on a par with Avatar for complexity. There are some bits when the youngerCGI version of Jeff Bridges' character looks a bit flaky, but it is meant to be a digital avatar copy! All in all, good action and lots of fun to watch, and a film that I wouldn't mind seeing again.
So, we had a great time, and I'd recommend it, but the baby didn't decide to try and join us. So, we wait, with only the evening at the hospital two nights ago as a hint that the game may be afoot...
It certainly makes for interesting living!
Something wonderful happened. The little people recognised that their freedom was being stamped on by the governments. They grew angry. The Governments had blocked every method of donating to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks pleaded with them to clone its site, to reproduce it in the thousands so that the Government DDoS attacks would be futile. They responded. As of now there are over 1,300 clones up and running and growing every hour. The Government DDoS attack have failed. WikiLeaks is still accessible to anybody who wants - and they have a choice of over 1,300 places to access WikiLeaks.
Something wonderful happened again. The little people decided it was not fair that the commercial companies had betrayed them. They decided to act. Just like DDoS attacks had been launched against WikiLeaks, the little people launched DDoS attacks against PayPal. Mastercard was taken offline for a day. VISA was down for hours. EasyDNS.net enjoyed only sporadic access to the internet. The Swedish government website was taken down due to the attacks. Next in line are Twitter, who are currently suppressing the #wikileaks tag from appearing in its trending topics and who have banned the account of #anon_operation - the little people that were involved in keeping twitterers updated on 'Operation Payback.'
The government is stunned. What they thought as being smart - the taking down of WikiLeaks and finally grabbing control of the internet - has provoked a backlash from the ordinary punter who have taken the route of a Governments worst nightmare. They have self organised, loose collections of people that voluntary offer bandwidth and their computers in support of the 'payback operation.' The little people, instead of sitting down and being quiet, have given the proverbial middle finger to the Government and the companies that acted with gross unfairness.
What you are witnessing is the beginnings of a war. A war over the freedom of the internet. On the one hand you have the Government. They want to tell you what sites you can access, what you can read, they want to monitor you to make sure you are doing nothing that displeases them. You'll know you are on their side if you agree that WikiLeaks should have been taken down by the Government. On the other side, are the people that want to retain the privacy and freedom currently afforded by the internet, without the sinister big-brother eye glaring down upon their every typed word.
Today it's WikiLeaks. Tomorrow, it a complete record of everything you've done online stored for five years and anything the government deems against its interests, taken off-line.
So what can little old you do? You can spread the word. Make sure everybody knows about the undemocratic actions of the companies listed. Contact EasyDNS.net, Paypal, VISA, Mastercard, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and let them know what you think of their actions. There is only one thing more they fear than the government - YOU. YOU are their business, their lifeblood. YOU are how they make money.
If you have a blog or website, repost this article. We're giving you permission right here, right now to repost it. Or write your own. Everyone needs to get involved in spreading the word. The little people don't expect to win this battle, but there is always the next one.
You can do more though. If you have a server, consider hosting a mirror of WikiLeaks. The more people do it, the more we've won. You can find instructions here. http://184.108.40.206/mass-mirror.html
Reblogged from: http://tzunder.livejournal.com/ who may have reblogged from elsewhere...
If you want to see what the fuss is about, follow the IP address link in the menu. Read the real material, not what the spin doctors want you to believe.
Mitch Benn is a fantastic satirical musician, probably most know for his BBC Radio 4 contributions for the Now Show. He’s released a single as a bit of a reaction for the knives that are out for the BBC in the Tory Party. It’s nothing to do with the corporation, but there’s a good chance that it may chart in the Top Ten. So have a listen to the YouTube clip above, and visit http://www.mitchbenn.com/ if you’re interested in getting a copy!
This is a Film School Project, a mock trailer for Sir Arthur C Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama”, which was one of the first serious SF novels that I read, a gift from my Australian Second Cousin, Kathy. It’s still a favourite. I’ve blogged about Clarke before.
The second shows the discoveries of Asteroids from 1980 on and is quite haunting, especially the music which ties beautifully to the visuals...
Anyway, one of the big differences has been that quite a few of the albums I've bought include new groups (to me at least) and thus completely new experiences.
Paul Gambochini has a fair bit to answer for, as I listened to part of his 'Class of 2009' which resulted in introductions to 'Owl City' and 'Delphic'. Of the two of them, I prefer Delphic. They have very strong shades of New Order, a band that I used to love and the album Acolyte has been played heavily on rotation, both in my computer, on my iPod and in the car. The album has grown on me more and more and I look forward to seeing more from this band. At the time of writing, iTunes is the cheapest place to get the download version, which includes several of the videos.
Owl City is a completely different kettle of fish. I say 'is' because in reality Owl City is a one man band. Very electronic, very poppy, but great fun. The single Fireflies has been number 1 in the UK – does this make me trendy? – and you'll probably recognise it if you hear it. I got into them with Maybe I'm Dreaming but you'll want Ocean Eyes if you're after the album with Fireflies. It's light, catchy and entertaining stuff.
You can try out either of these on Spotify, if you have a membership. I was fortunate that someone pointed me at a sign-up link that was still in play for the ad-supported version rather than the full premium one, but it's great service for checking out new albums before you buy them.
I also picked up a copy of Muse's The Resistance, which is something I want to spend a while listening to. Several of the tracks have riffs that remind me of Queen at their best. If you're after this, the CD is cheaper than any of the download sites on Amazon. I liked the previous album Black Holes & Revelations, which lead me into checking this out on Spotify. It's quite a different take on prog rock to what I would usually listen to.
Speaking of prog rock, if you like Pink Floyd, Marillion or Porcupine Tree, you'll probably like Paul Cusick's Focal Point, which is a gorgeous and entertaining album that you can just escape with. You can listen to the whole thing on his website http://www.paulcusick.co.uk/ and also Spotify.
Finally, thanks to Angus Abranson for the pointer to The Eden House, an excellent female voiced band in the indie/goth style. They've got two albums out; the original Smoke & Mirrors (cheapest on Amazon) and the EP The Looking Glass, which is a covers collection (cheapest on iTunes). Great stuff, and I think that I'll be listening to it quite a bit over the next few weeks. Sadly, Smoke & Mirrors isn't on Spotify.
Finally, I have to mention the Johnny Cash cover of "Hurt" by NIN. It takes what was one of my favourite tracks and turns it into something even better; it drips pain and emotion and is absolutely fantastic.
Bubbling away in the background, I'm aware that Goldfrapp have a new album due this month, there's a new Faithless album due this year and that Massive Attack released Heligoland earlier this month. I'm slowly working through the latter on Spotify, but so far it hasn't grabbed me!
Jill and I finished watching Apparitions, a TV drama series with Martin Shaw that was originally shown on the BBC. Aside from the fact that we had got it in our heads that there were 8 parts because of the number of DVDs in the package, rather than the actual 6 episodes, it was a great bit of TV drama.
It was a dark tale of an exorcist and Catholic Priest, Father Jacob, who had become the focus for demonic activity. Penned by Joe Ahearne, the writer of the excellent Ultraviolet TV series broadcast on Channel 4 a decade before, the characters were strong, and the plot twisted nicely, with some subtle notes.
The last episode was 'Nathanised'; he woke up 5 minutes from the end from a nightmare, which kind of messed things up a bit, especially when we sat down the night after to try and watch the end and then the non-existent Episode 7. I have to admit that I did wonder when watching Episode 6 how they would fill another two episodes as the drama and action levels had been cranked up, and plot threads were coming together all over the place!
Having done a quick search on the net, it appears that there is little prospect for a sequel, but one can but hope. I'd recommend catching this on DVD if you get a chance.
Apparitions Amazon Ultraviolet Amazon
Linked to amazon.co.uk
I'm currently reading "The Road", by Cormac McCarthy, a post apocalyptic tale of a man and his son travelling to what they hope may be safety through an ashen wilderness with no life. As a novel, it pushes a number of buttons for me, especially the father/son relationship and the collapse of society post whatever event caused the apocalypse.
In a lot of ways, I really don't like the story, but there's something about it that just draws me onwards. The only other book I found like this was "The Wasp Factory”, by Iain Banks, which has to be one of the most unpleasant books I've ever read, but something about it just made me keep reading. A great novel, but I had no empathy for the protagonist.
I hope "The Road" ends well for the protagonists, but I fear it won't.
Facebook is good. It aggregates a lot of short, quick, updates from my friends and colleagues together along with a mass of trivia and fun.
Facebook is a necessary evil?
...What does that make Twitter?
Trust is a difficult thing to recover once it is lost, and I have yet to see a proposal that gives a route to regain it anytime quickly. It’s clear the stables need a good clean, but the stench will last for a long time. Those that weren’t at the trough have been stained by those who were. As our society has increasingly moved to one which seeks divorce rather than reconciliation, I don’t think the reputation of our elected representatives will recover any time soon, as people will be hungry for them to go rather than make amends.
Anyway, if you are interested in what is actually happening in parliament, rather than what the media feels is important about what is happening, then I commend TheyWorkForYou.com to you. It is a website run by a charity – mysociety.org – which seeks to promote democracy. You may be aware of the petition system at the Number 10 website; this was one of their projects. Anyway, TheyWorkForYou.com allows you to find your local MP, examine their voting record, see the speeches that they’ve made, and generally be more informed about what they do against what they say they do.
As an example, I know that my local MP (Colin Burgon, to retire at next election) asked questions on Cuba and other topics most recently. I also know his voting record:
How Colin Burgon voted on key issues since 2001:
- Voted moderately against a transparent Parliament. votes, speeches
- Voted moderately for introducing a smoking ban. votes, speeches
- Voted strongly for introducing ID cards. votes, speeches
- Voted moderately against introducing foundation hospitals. votes, speeches
- Voted moderately against introducing student top-up fees. votes, speeches
- Voted strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws. votes, speeches
- Voted very strongly for the Iraq war. votes, speeches
- Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war. votes, speeches
- Voted very strongly against replacing Trident. votes, speeches
- Voted very strongly for the hunting ban. votes, speeches
- Voted very strongly for qual gay rights. votes, speeches
- Voted moderately for laws to stop climate change. votes, speeches
- Sometimes rebels against their party in this parliament.
The actual figures are there as well. And the summary of their expenses, albeit not as detailed as the Telegraph has been presenting.
Visit this site and understand what your representative is doing!
A final note; earlier this week, I heard a government minister doing something that I feel is unforgivable on Today, Radio 4’s news programme. When challenged on whether the UK Parliament should dissolve itself and hold a general election as members across all sides of the house had been dishonourable, she replied that this wasn’t necessary, as there was an election at the start of June.
But that election has nothing to do with MP’s expenses; it is about our local services and about how we are represented in Europe. Nothing you do at that election will change Westminster or punish those who have their snouts in the trough. Bear that in mind when you chose who to vote for; what is the best for you and your family? This isn’t the time to punish the MPs who have erred; that will come sometime in the next 12 months. Don’t let them divert the blame!
I came across this via an astronomy website, and just can’t stop returning to it. I posted it on my Facebook account a while ago, but thought I’d link it here as well.
The sense of scale just leaves me in awe; and this is small! Once you start to consider the scale of the galaxy itself, and then the clusters of galaxies you realise just how small we are...
Not to mention the music from “The Black Hole” which is pretty much perfect for this.
The reason that the book has always resonated with me is its almost claustrophobic focus. Set in an unnamed forest, it is a story with only a few characters, most of whom are close-to, but not-quite, archetypes or ciphers. It has few locations; the village in the forest (with an inn, a forge, a chapel and a few craftsmen), the charcoal burner's settlements, an ancient stone monument, the witch's house, the river, the road, St Agnes' Shrine, and later on, the city. Several of the locations are bit parts, with much of the story taking place in the village itself as the inhabitants come to terms with the decisions that they have taken.
The protagonist is a weaver's apprentice called Mark. Aged fourteen, this could almost be a coming-of-age tale for him, but it is far darker than that. Mostly, Mark is buffeted between the various other characters in the tale, and has to make choices that will determine hist future. He is often confused, unsure and reactive, and all the more human for it.
The decisions taken by the village drive the story, upsetting the equilibrium of this small and limited world. The village elders – the Abbé, the craftsmen, but not the Innkeeper – decide to do something about Watt the Outlaw as his robbery and murder of travellers and pilgrims threaten the income of the village as people have stopped visiting St Agnes' Fountain. (Yes, the more astute of you will have spotted that the story references the Christmas Carol Good King Wenceleslas). But some of the villagers are sympathetic with Watt, and treachery and mixed alliances are the order of the day. Mixing with this is the ambiguous Mother Cloot and a party of soldiers hunting for Watt.
It's a simple story where you never feel certain about what will happen next. Wolfe isn't afraid of killing characters, so you never feel safe. The story is very much driven from the protagonist's perspective, limiting your knowledge to that of the character. Altogether, it's a lovely book.
Marillion at Leeds
Well, I went to see my favouritest band in the whole wide world on Thursday, and really enjoyed myself. Thanks to a scheduling snafu, and some confusion, Jill couldn't make it and my friend who I'd hoped could come couldn't either. So it was pretty strange, going out on my own for the first time in years. Even stranger going to a gig on my own for the first time ever!
However, it was great! Marillion always do a great show, and this was no exception. The core of the concert was the new double album, Happiness is the Road, which is only available from their website [if you're interested what they sound like, click the link and go there and they'll send you a free sampler CD or download], with strong elements of the awesome Marbles, and some older bits and pieces. Nothing Fish era, which may disappoint some people, but you can go and see Fish for that!
The album is starting to grow on me, more slowly than I'd have liked. However, that's more a reflection of the 110 minute length, which is much harder to assimilate than a single disc. The gig really showcased the new release, and I left with the anthem-like title-track Happiness is the Road ringing in my ears. If you want to hear the concert, it was recorded and you can get the MP3 download here.
I had a great night, only marred slightly by the fact I wasn't with friends. (How hard can it be to give away a ticket!?)
Currently feeling: Happy
Currently listening to: Woke Up (Happiness is the Road – Marillion (live at LMUSU))
Currently reading: The Second Book of Lankhmar (Fritz Leiber, still!)
I recommend getting to see this before The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! completely swamp it from the cinema. We've been following it up by watching the DVD of the first series.
(We got to see this because Nathan had an extra day's holiday at my parents!)
My favouritest (and yes, I'm aware that isn't a real word, but there should be a campaign to make it one) rock band in the whole world, Marillion, are moving steadily towards giving me a great birthday present. Their latest album, which will be a double album extravaganza, is due in September. It's recently stopping being called 'Album 15' and been called "Happiness in the Road". The disks are subtitled "Essence" and "The Hard Shoulder". They're approaching it in a similar way to Marbles, and self funding it via pre-orders. If you want to know more, here's a link.
The few snippets I've heard are excellent, as ever.
Currently feeling: Chilled
Currently listening to: Blackbird (Marillion, covering the Beatles on 'Unplugged at the Walls'.
Currently reading: Sufficiently Advanced & Mongoose Traveller Core Rules (RPGs).
The first book, Rusalka, tells the tale of Sasha, the unlucky pub stable lad, who ends up fleeing town with Pyetr, one of the local ne'er-do-wells, and getting lost in a very dark forest where they encounter a magician and a terrifying ghost. Sasha slowly comes to terms with the fact that he actually has magical abilities himself, and the truth about the ghost is established.
The second book, Chernevog, was a harder book to read, as Cherryh takes her usual approach of telling the tale from the POV of the characters, who spend a lot of the novel confused as to what is actually going on. However it came to a satisfactory conclusion.
The final book, Yvgenie, is the one I'm on now. This is a voyage of discovery, as I only found out it was published recently, and managed to get a second hand copy as it is long out of print. It's the reason that I re-read the first two books, as I wanted to remind myself what had gone on before. The story is some 16 years later than the previous book, and deals with a resurgent threat from the past which menaces Pyetr's daughter.
I love Cherryh's writing, and these books are no different. However, they are more difficult to get on with than her usual books (which normally take 50 pages to get me hooked), and have left me wanting to get a clear bit of time to dedicate to reading them. They definitely aren't novels you can just dip in and out of!
Picture swiped from amazon.co.uk, where you can buy a copy!
The last week has seen a number of the great and good pass on, but the one that resonated with me was the news of Sir Arthur C. Clarke's death at the age of 90. Clarke was one of the great visionaries of the 20th Century, and many things that he envisaged have come to pass including geosynchronous satellites, sat-nav, a number of space transport maneuvers, and plenty more – such as the space elevator – sit there in development or as tremendous concepts. Clarke also popularised science, and gave the story that became one of the most acclaimed SF films of all time, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Personally, the latter bored me silly although I admired the imagery.
Anyway, Clarke has great significance to me, along with Andre Norton and Isaac Azimov, as his writings shaped my interest in Science Fiction (especially hard SF) at a young age. I was introduced to him by my Australian second cousin, Kathy Finlay, who bought me a copy of Rendezvous with Rama when I was still a young lad. I loved the tale of scientific exploration, adventure and technology, combined with the shear sense of wonder of first contact with an alien artifact. Sadly, the later sequels didn't match up to the first book, but – like the Highlander films – one can always pretend that the later versions don't exist! This sense of wonder had me reading more of his books, then moving on to other authors and genres. Over Christmas, I re-read a number of his older works and they're still valid today.
I got quite annoyed listening to some of the literary intelligentsia harping on about how he was important, but really 'not very good as a writer'. It seems you have to write turgidly like Atwood's (apparently non-SF) post-apocalyptic novel, Oryx and Crake, to be a good writer. I think that time will prove them wrong, and that his significance will be more recognised as the distance grows.
So, rest well, Sir Arthur, wherever you are.
This is the trailer for the latest of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society's films of Lovecraft's dark horror stories. It's shot in the style of a thirties 'talkie', from the era in which it is set. From the trailer here, it looks like it could be even better than the previous film, The Call of Cthulhu, which was shot in the style of a silent movie.
One of my favourite books of all time is coming to the silver screen. Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' is to be released in October of this year as 'The Seeker'. There are plot changes, but the trailer suggests that the imagery from the book is mostly intact. I'm really looking forward to this!
The following sites are worth a look if you're interested in the Dark is Rising Sequence:
1) thelostland.com, Susan Cooper's own site.
2) The Dark is Rising Wiki.
You can also look at my short review of the sequence here.
This was one of the books that really stuck with me when I grew up, and I so hope that they will do it well. The actors look good - Ian MacShane and Chris Ecclestone, so there's hope!
Legacies is a SF novel by Alison Sinclair. I'd been introduced to her as an author through her later novel 'Blueheart', which was a great inspiration for me with two RPGs, Traveller and Blue Planet. Recently I picked up both of her other novels, Legacies and Cavalcade. I found Legacies to be an exercise in frustration. Sinclair can write well, and the story has shades of CJ Cherryh (the isolation of the main character), Arthur C Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama) and a number of the other classics. However, it took nearly three hundred pages of a four hundred and nineteen page novel for the plot to finally kick into gear, and the whole story was made disjointed by the style deployed, ruining any flow.
The tale is a simple one – the colonists, our protagonists, have been settled for five generations on a world which is not especially hospitable. They arrived at the colony having fled Burdania, their homeworld, using an experimental stardrive because the politicians had wanted to shut down space exploration. The stardrive may – or may not – have caused devastation and widespread ecological disaster on Burdania as it did not function as planned. The colony is also home to another post-technological race with which little contact is held. The tale starts with the arrival of a mission back to Burdania to find out the fate of the homeworld. It then intermeshes chapter by chapter with the story of how the colonists finally came to decide to return to their origins. All this is seen through the eyes of Lain, an outsider in the colony who has suffered severe brain trauma in an accident in his youth which limits his ability to communicate normally.
I can't help but wonder is Burdania is a play on the word 'Burden', related to the colonists concerns about the unknown situation on their homeworld.
I did enjoy the book, but the failure to sustain any pace, and the hard work to get anywhere with it means that I would only give it a 3 out of 5 rating. I'll pass it on to my dad to try and thence to the charity shop or Bookcrossing.com as it's not a keeper.
I've just finished a Terry Pratchett Diskworld book – Thud! – which I've had in the 'to-read' pile for far too long. Like many of his later books it relies on satire rather than one-liners and mirrors events in the real world as a starting point. This novel tells a tale of conflict between the Trolls and the Dwarfs of the Diskworld and how Commander Vimes of the City Watch is determined not to let it spill over into the city of Ankh-Morpork. Wrapped up in all this is the story of the Battle of Koom Valley, an event that the Dwarfs and Trolls both claim they won.
There is a hint at the sectarian violence in the Middle-East (and I guess Ireland too), with extreme deep-dwarfs who hide from the light under deep robes trying to incite the Ankh-Morpork dwarfs to rise up against the Trolls. And then there is Mr Shine ('Him Diamond!'), a mysterious Troll hero... Meanwhile the Watch tries to stand between it all and keep the peace.
This wasn't the best Pratchett I've read recently – Going Postal fills that niche – but I enjoyed it and wouldn't mind reading it again. The satire wasn't as sharp as usual but it was a fun tale. In summary, it was a humourous fantasy thriller that whiled some hours away...
I've also stripped out some of the old (non-Flickr) photo albums as they're getting on quite a bit now.
'The Children of Húrin' sees me return to one of my favourite authors, JRR Tolkien, whom I haven't read since I last visited the Maldives on holiday (2004). Like 'The Silmarillion', this is another of the post-humous tales that Tolkien's son Christopher has pieced together. The story is set in the First Age of Middle Earth, well before the events of 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings'. It's an expansion of a story within 'The Silmarillion', a tale of men within the story of the Elven war of the Silmarils.
Just like Ronseal, it does what it says on the tin; the story tells of the human hero Húrin, and his children, especially his son Túrin. It has fantastic imagery (Túrin predates Moorcock's Elric, but has a black sword and a similar feel of doom), dragons, battles and an all powerful dark lord. The tale is very black and bleak, and reads like a saga. Stylistically, it's very similar to 'the Silmarillion' in form rather than 'The Lord of the Rings'.
This was a welcome return to Middle Earth for me, and I think that I shall read some more there soon. I'd love to find an RPG engine that does the setting justice so I could play some games there; I may find one in October when Graham Spearing runs a First Age game with Heroquest based around these events.
I came very late to MR James, especially considering that I read Lovecraft and Poe back in my early teens. Somehow I missed one of the best English writers of ghost stories, but it's made finding James' work so much more enjoyable now. I became aware of his work from a review in a UK roleplaying magazine called 'The Black Seal', which is dedicated to modern-day Lovecraftian material for the Call of Cthulhu RPG. The review was of the BBC TV adaptation of 'Whistle and I'll come for you my Lad', and peaked my interest.
I bought the DVD (which the BFI had issued as part of its classic British Television series) and both Jill and I enjoyed it. This last Christmas, as we were waiting for the baby to arrive, I was fortunate enough to see another more modern adaptation on BBC 4, 'Number 13'. Both stories were extremely good at building a feeling of menace without the gore that you usually see in modern horror material. This made me decide that I had to read more of James' work, so I went into Wetherby and ordered the collection for the princely sum of £1.99! An absolute bargain.
All the stories are well written – although stylistically they are better if you read them out loud in your head as if you were telling them to an audience – and the plots of most are good at building tension and giving a subtle sense of horror. I think I may well recycle one or two into an RPG scenario in the future. The only issue I have with the collection is that the stories are best read (or should that be devoured?) in a single sitting, so it can take a while to work through the book if you're reading it late at night around a small child.
Since I read this, I've also been fortunate enough to watch 'A Warning to the Curious', another BBC adaptation of an MR James story. I whole-heartedly recommend that as well!
A few weeks ago, Jill asked me if I was on some kind of spy obsession based on what I'd been watching. I guess I have been, in the main due to a slow burning fuse lit by reading John le Carré's novel Absolute Friends last May. Le Carré was one of the authors who really made an impression on me at a young age at the start of secondary school. Along with Tolkien, Cherryh and a few others he was a favourite for a long time, but somewhere along the way I lost the passion for his writing. I think it was around the time of 'the Night Manager' or 'Our Game' which really left me cold.
Anyway, I picked up a few of his books at the local Oxfam, when I had gained further enthusiasm from seeing 'The Constant Gardener' on DVD. 'The Secret Pilgrim' is the first of these books. It's fair to say that it has sat around for a while, but that is more due to Nathan's arrival more than anything else. I also had a slight detour in the BBC TV adaptation of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' and 'Smiley's People' and have the somewhat enticing 'A Perfect Spy' to watch sometime in the future.
Anyway, 'The Secret Pilgrim' is a novel, but in a very different style to the norm. It reads more like a selection of short stories than a full novel, but there is an over-arching plot in the form of the reminiscences of the main character, Ned. Ned will be familiar to readers of 'The Russia House', but I have to confess that I haven't read that book in perhaps 20 years. Ned works in the Circus (British Intelligence) and is approaching retirement. The cold war has ended and the winds of change are blowing through the intelligence community. Ned has been sidelined into running the Circus' training facility for new recruits. The story begins, and ends, at a special meal held at the end of an intake's course. Ned has asked George Smiley to come out of his reclusive retirement and give the after dinner speech. As he does, memories of triggered of Ned's life in the Circus from his first assignments to his last ever before retirement. We see the changes that years of duplicity and moral ambiguity impart to Ned, punctuated with gems of wisdom from Smiley. Along the way there are a number of what would best be described as rants, putting forward Smiley's and Ned's world view. The crux seems to be that the world has changed, but it doesn't diminish the need for spies. However, it does change how they need to operate, and who the friends and enemies are.
'The Secret Pigrim' is a quietly compelling book. It isn't le Carré's best, but it's a worthwhile read, and a telling assessment of how the world changes.
Cherryh has long been one of my favourite authors and this compilation was an opportunity to discover two of her earlier works which I'm not familiar with. She has never been an easy author to read, often taking up to fifty pages for the story to really take a grip. This is partly a result of the way that she tends to write novels from a very narrow viewpoint. They are written from the perspective of the principle character, and the read discovers what is happening as the character does. There is virtually no narrative exposition of the plot-line to expand and fill in; you get to live it as the person who you are reading about does. Both of the novels within the book explore a theme that Cherryh has returned to time and time again; the experience of being a stranger in a different culture.
In the first book, Brothers of Earth, two human survivors from opposing warring factions need to integrate into an alien culture more backward than their own to survive. In the second book, Hunter of Worlds, the principle character is an alien who has been kidnapped by the extremely powerful race which used to rule his world. He has to make sure a human in a similar position also integrates, because failure could result in the death of a human world. This is a clever set up with nested levels of isolation and difference from the dominant culture.
Both novels in the books are a very satisfying and enjoyable read, but demand that the reader becomes absorbed with the character's plight. Fortunately, that isn't too difficult. Lightweight, it isn't. This is hard SF with good characterisation and plotlines.
The next book I've read is very different to At the Edge of Space; I've had it for far too long and feel relieved that I've finally read it, if only so I can stop being sheepish about it every time I see my mother, who bought it for me perhaps 2 years ago.
It is, of course, Eragon by Christopher Paolini. The first thing to say about this is that it isn't literature! It's much more in the tradition of a pulp fantasy novel of the type that seems to fill thousands of turgid trilogies. However, it was a surprisingly fun, if lightweight read. The writing does – at some points – feel like it is an English Language writing assignment as there is a lack of a natural rhythm to it, but it is very fresh and energetic. However, as Paolini wrote this when he was 15, and has been successfully published (albeit initially by his parent's publishing house), I don't feel I can criticise this too heavily.
It held my interest, which is a big plus, and in parts it reminded me of David Eddings' early books in the Belgariad before his writing became bloated and repetitive. That is a compliment in my mind, as there are few people who have written as approachable fantasy as Eddings. However, it doesn't quite hit the same levels as the Belgariad, and it does feel very deriative in other parts. This isn't to the point of plaigarism, but rather to the point of feeling like it's a teenage Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's first home-built game world made up of all his favourite fantasy stories stuck in a blender. The other authors that particularly called out to me in the text were Tolkien (with a resemblance to the city of Gondolin in The Silmarillion) and Anne McCaffrey (with her Pern books). For all the comments I make here, I would like to read the sequel to this – Eldest – sometime, if only to see if the plot signposts are as obvious as I think they are!
...which I managed to lose for a fortnight by leaving it in a bag... Secrets of San Francisco....
...an RPG supplement for Call of Cthulhu.... and two others – The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James, and Eragon....
...which is a book I've had for far too long. The James is excellent, and I'm really looking forward to reading it, especially as I ordered it at Christmas. I'm more nervous about Eragon, because it's been so hyped, and I'm hoping that it isn't going to be as disappointing as Harry Potter was. The Cherryh novel is actually two of her earlier books, and both of them focus on people lost from their own culture. Reading the first one has reminded me just how well she does that style of novel, and the way her stories are always so character driven (unlike a lot of SF).
(No picture here for the MR James as there's none on Amazon).
I think that this speaks for itself...
We think we're heroes, we think we're kings
We plan all kinds of fabulous things
Oh look how great we have become
Key in the door, the moment I've been longing for
Before my bag hit the floor
My adorable children rush up screaming for a kiss
And a story they're a gift to this world
My only claim to glory
I surely never knew sweeter days
Blows my mind like munitions
So much heaven, so much hell
So much love, so much pain
So much more than I thought this world could ever contain
So much war, so much soul
One man's loss, another man's gold
So much more than I thought this world can ever hold
We're just children, we're just dust
We are small and we are lost
And we're nothing, nothing at all
One bomb, the whole block gone
Can't find my children and dust covers the sun
Everywhere is noise, panic and confusion
But to some another fun day in Babylon
I'm gonna bury my wife and dig up my gun
My life is done so now I got to kill someone
So much heaven, so much hell
So much love, so much pain
So much more than I thought this world could ever contain
So much war, so much soul
Moments lost, moments go
So much more than I thought this world could ever hold
So much more than I thought this world could ever hold
So much more than I thought this world could ever hold
So much heaven, so much hell
So much love, so much pain
So much more than I thought this world could ever contain
So much war, so much soul
Moments lost, moments go
So much more than I thought this world could ever hold
'Bombs' by Faithless from their recent album 'To All New Arrivals'.
If you want to see the video, it's here on YouTube
If you want to buy the album, it's here on Amazon
'Winning the Peace is harder than Winning the War'
I recent read a refreshingly different fantasy novel. It was 'The Year of Our War' by Steph Swainston. This could – very easily – have been traditional fantasy fodder. A multi-racial empire with an eternal emperor supported by 50 immortals of 'the circle', who are the best of the best, is threatened by the Insects. These are large, ant-like hive creatures that have appeared in the north and are trying to turn the world into a large paper hive. There is no communication, and no hope of a peace.
The story is written from the perspective of 'Comet, the Messenger', one of the Immortals who is also hooked on drugs. Something changes, that shifts the balance between the Insects and the Empire, and all hell breaks loose, compounded by politicking between the Immortals. There is also a hint of Lovecraft's 'Dreamlands'. Very different, very nice and I'l be looking for some more books by Swainston in the future.
This is definitely one of the best fantasy novels I've read in a while.
"Pushing Ice" is excellent - it was harder to put down than Alastair Reynold's previous book, "Century Rain", as the plot kept on jumping forward in time. It's a good read – I'm not sure if it is as good as "Chasm City" or "Revelation Space" but very enjoyable. It's also the third different world that he's set novels in.
The basic premise is that a corporate ice-comet mining ship (in 2057) is directed to enter a first contact situation when one of Saturn's moons (Janus) suddenly starts accelerating out, revealing that it is really an artifact. The ship (Rockhopper) pursues to try and find out more, co-opted as an agent of the equivalent to the UN. Trouble ensues!
It's good, hard SF space opera.
Richard Morgan's Woken Furies is his fourth novel, and the third in the sequence with Takeshi Kovacs in. It's not a trilogy, so you could pick up any of them as a starting point.
It's very enjoyable and tautly paced with some interesting ideas. The ending is kind of a deux-ex-machina, but – unlike Peter 'I can't finish a full length novel well' Hamilton – there are sufficient hints and pointers along the way to make it a plausible surprise.
The big difference in technology from most modern cyberpunk is the use of 'stacks'. These are implants at the back of the skull that most people have which download their personality. So if you are killed, you can always be downloaded into a new body aka sleeve. And interstellar travel is mainly by needlecast - people are beamed and downloaded into new bodies. You don't die unless your stack is destroyed.
Kovacs is an ex-UN Envoy. Which means that he's a very nasty warrior who is now freelancing, as the Envoys are the UN Protectorate's enforcement arm. The UN is effectively the world government. In the novel, Kovacs has returned to the world of his birth (Harlan's World) which is a water world run by an oppressive regime. When the story starts he's carrying out a one man vendetta against a sect on the planet. Complications ensue, including the return of a 300 year dead terrorist... And then there are the orbitals that cordon of the skies of the world, built by the 'Martians', destroying any aircraft moving too high or fast with 'angelfire'...
Another review salvaged from my posts at The Tavern.
I was fortunate enough to get a copy of 'Yes Minister', the 80s satire on UK politics from Jon for my birthday. Along with 'Blackadder' (which Jill has), this was my favourite comedy show from when I was growing up. We've watched two of the three series now, and it is scary how little things have changed. Similar issues are discussed and debated to those we see in the press today; for example, a national database and ID card scheme!
I've just had a fantastic trip down memory lane, and re-read the whole Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I enjoyed it a lot the first time around (when I was eleven, just starting secondary school) and it was quite scary.
Reading it some 23 (!!) years later, it's not as scary, and but it's still very well written. The strongest two books of the five (which are now also available as a single volume) are the second – The Dark is Rising – and fourth – The Grey King. These have a harder, darker edge, probably because they are about a character (Will Stanton) who is far more initimately involved in the struggle between 'the Dark and the Light' than the characters in the first and third books. These two – Over Sea, Under Stone and the Greenwitch – deal with three other children who are also involved in opposing the Dark. I suspect the fact that there are three children – and the two books are set in Cornwall – triggers some memories of the Famous Five.
They are childrens books, with the characters initially around the same age as I was when I read them. I guess this sets them directly against Harry Potter, but to me they are far better.
Originally posted to The Tavern
Absolute Friends (by John Le Carre) was excellent. This was the first Le Carre novel that I'd read in a while, and I can see why certain establishment figures objected to it, claiming that it was a rant against the conflict in the Middle East. However, it is probably the closest that Le Carre has got to the style of his Cold War novels in a long while; like those books, it is a story of betrayals and relationships, a study of human frailty against a bigger backdrop. I think that it is worrying that the current geopolitical situation lends itself to one of the old masters of dark spy fiction returning to form!
I followed this with The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. This is an interesting book on how ideas become epidemic. It tries to identify the factors that will make something – an idea, a product – wildly popular. It's certainly worth a read, although not necessarily applicable in any easy way. It was an impulse buy at the airport on the way to France.
I followed this with a book which I have meant to read for a long time, but never got around to: Diaries - Alan Clark. This charts the former Tory minister's rise in the party. He always entertained me by his refusal to be politically correct. Well worth a read. I'll be looking up the rest at some point.
I then read a splash of Horror - Chaosium's Lovecraftian compilation The Antarkos Cycle which has lingered on my shelf for the last two years. I bought it shortly after I got 'Beyond the Mountains of Madness' (a huge and detailed RPG adventure for Call of Cthulhu) and it certainly gives a good feel for setting games in the southern-most continent. The last true Antarctic part of the book is the original novel that inspired 'The Thing'. The final two stories are of lost cyclopean cities elsewhere in the world.
Cobweb by Neal Stephenson was one I missed when it came out originally. Indeed, it didn't even appear as one for me to buy until I saw it at the airport. It claims to be a wicked satire on US politics and conspiracies around the time of the first Gulf War. It has conspiracies, murders and shenanigins galore. I'm not certain it is a satire... It is co-written with the same gent who wrote 'Interface' with Stephenson. Good fun!
The final book was Star Hunter / Voodoo Planet by Andre Norton. The book has two short stories set in the SF universe that is very reminiscent of the game, Traveller. The second story is a Solar Queen one (read the others on the Solar Queen to understand Traveller Merchants)! Excellent fun. The problem is that it gets me itching to play the Traveller RPG again!
(I originally posted this at the Tavern. )
And that's probably a good thing... The first two hundred pages, I was wondering 'why?' I was reading the book. It didn't give the brief promise that Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell did. Fortunately, around two hundred to two fifty pages in it started to go somewhere, and the story of the world begins to be revealed by the protagonist's – Snowman – flashbacks and memories. It is a tale of how the world died. The ending is an attempt to leave it open in the mind of the reader as to how things will work out. I normally like these, but didn't really get on with the execution here.
It is well written, but it isn't compelling. I wasn't expecting taughtly plotted character driven narrative, but I did expect more than I got. The plot was, to say the least, feeble.
There are some interesting genetic engineering ideas and takes on the world, but off the top of my head, Greg Bear's Blood Music and Richard Morgan's Market Forces have each covered some of the ideas better.
(I originally posted this at the Tavern. )
I think that the best analogy would be a pedal-cycle ride. You start off in this pretty, but old fashioned, valley, and then start the hard work pedalling up hill. Steadily, but with some effort you slowly rise, wondering why people recommended the route until you reach this final rise, 300-400 pages up. All of a sudden, you crest the hill, Jonathan Strange has been overseas and you can suddenly see wider vistas. Hurtling over the edge, on the road down you can freewheel as you rapidly plunge into a fantastic, impressive but altogether darker valley below. You hit your top speed at the bottom, and gently begin to slow down...
Reading JS&MN was pretty much like that. I was nearly getting bored for the first 400 pages, and then it exploded into life. I wholeheartedly recommend this book! All 1000+ pages of it.
(I originally posted this at the Tavern. )
The stats list the number of plays for each artist so far.
1. Marillion - 1426
Marillion coming top didn't surprise me, as I already knew that their last album "Marbles" topped my most played song's list. When I got the album at the start of 2004 I found it hard to stop playing it. Even now, I still hear new things when I listen. At some point I should split this into Marillion with Fish as lead singer and with Steve Hogarth. I suspect that the later material will dominate.
2. Simple Minds - 1032
I am surprised that Simple Minds came second here – I'd actually expected them to come further down. They were my favourite group in secondary school before I discovered Marillion, and the mental soundtrack I had of "New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84" helped me through GCSEs and A Levels. However, my listening to them declined over time. I'm guessing that their second place came because of "The Silver Box", a collection of demos and live performances combined with their legendary missing album "Our Secrets are the Same" which I got Christmas 2004 and played heavily. The recent album "Black & White 050505" has also been a favourite!
3. U2 - 722
Similar to Simple Minds, U2 were favourites from school and University. "The Unforgettable Fire", "Achtung Baby" and "War" have always been albums I've loved. I did expect a lower place though.
4. Faithless - 546
I first consciously hear Faithless when I was on the first holiday away with my now-wife. We were on the Greek Island of Zante, and the local bar was playing "We Come 1" repeatedly. I bought the single after that. Last year, for some reason, I realised that tracks like 'Insomnia', 'Reverence' and 'Salve Mea' were also by the same group, and I ended up buying several of the albums off iTunes. They've been played a fair bit since!
5. R.E.M. - 483
R.E.M. have always been a favourite since I heard 'Losing my Religion' when I was away on my pre-University year out working up in Cumbria. I'd expected them to come higher in the chart, as I've played their last two albums quite heavily. "Around the Sun" was awesome!
6. Pink Floyd - 423
I became a fan of Pink Floyd while I was at University – it was one of the things my first wife and I shared as a passion. We had used to joke that here we were in the 1990s, 20 years after here parents had been at University and we (students generally) were still listening to the same stuff! My only regret here was that we didn't get to the Earls Court concerts supporting "The Division Bell", as it looks unlikely that they'll tour again.
7. Goldfrapp - 384
A more recent addition to the collection. I first heard Goldfrapp when the TV was on in the background one Sunday, with the very slinky track 'Tiptoe' on in the background. A scan of the preview tracks on amazon.co.uk showed that this was actually a little different, but the rest of them were excellent too. I ordered both the CDs they'd released on the spot! The first album, Felt Mountain, reminds me of some 50s and 60s films on an epic scale and is very very different to the usual run of the mill. 'Black Cherry' is much closer to the widely played 'Supernature' album which recently topped the charts. All are worth a good listen.
8. The Cure - 312
The Cure are a band I've always had a love/hate relationship with. I've the 'best of' album, and one that I loved at secondary school 'Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me'. I tend to play them a lot when I'm in the mood.
9. Keane - 273
The track 'Everybody's Changing' sold me on Keane very quickly. The piano and change from the usual dirge that a lot of British rock was really refreshing. I was a bit concerned that their second album wouldn't match up, but the first few listens that I've had have been excellent!
10. Depeche Mode - 245
A big surprise here. I like Depeche Mode, but can only attribute their tenth position to the recent album sending me on a nostalgia trip! It'll be interesting to see if they are still here next time I look at this.
Just bubbling under....
11. Massive Attack - 222
12. Lloyd Cole - 190
13. Nine Inch Nails - 180
14. The Killers - 175
15. Remy Zero - 170
16. Manic Street Preachers - 168
17. Spartan Fidelity - 162
18. Moby - 148
19. The Modern - 145
20. New Order - 144
The Modern being there is a particular achievement, as they only have about 5 tracks at the moment. I can't wait for their first album!
Of course, it doesn't match one of my all time favourites for this style of love romances, the exquisite "Down with Love". If you haven't seen it, you should check it out - Renee Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor are truly excellent! Bittersweet and funny, it always leaves me with a smile.
Okay, so it's a bit of a difference from the usual SF and art-house films I'm usually watching, but the change is worth it some times!
I was lucky enough to be given a number of new books for Christmas, with quite a range. Current affairs (Robert Fisk's book on the Middle East) through to history (Atlas of the Year 1000, Persian Fire), Humour/Fantasy (Terry Pratchett and Lynne Truss' "Talk to the Hand") through to SF (Stross' Accelerando and Ken MacLeod's latest). So the reading stockpile is as high as every. On top of that, I've a few RPGs to read like the new Deryni Game, and the new edition of 'The Burning Wheel'.
Having watched it, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It's never going to be your blockbuster style Hollywood movie, but it's a great way to pass an hour. If you're in the UK, Leisure Games took all the remaining stock.
To add icing to the cake, I also picked up their Props and Fonts CDs. The first one is a collection of PDF files of 1920s artifacts – such as passports, drivers licenses, library cards and newspapers – that can be modified at will. The second is a collection of fonts taken from a 1920s font book. They've been scanned and turned into True Types (which work in Mac OS X and Windows). As a bonus, one of the fonts is a script based on Lovecraft's own hand.
We kicked off with H.G.Wells' classic, redone for the present-day by Spielberg. The effects were brilliant, and action steady, but somehow it just didn't do it for me. Now, part of the reason for that may be the legacy of Jeff Wayne's musical version, which was a big influence on me when I was barely into my teens. Morgan Freeman's introductory narrative jarred, because it just wasn't Richard Burton.
Into the film, and we see Tom Cruise playing a variation of the arseh*le character that he made his career with. A divorced father of two, he looks as if he is what the characters in Top Gun and Days of Thunder would have become when their arrogance finally led to a real fall. I found it hard to be sympathetic to him until later in the film when his impotence against the alien invaders became apparent, and his fear of loosing his family took over. One sensible change was that the aliens were no longer 'Martians' – it would have been hard to justify after the amount of exploration missions to Mars that as the setting is the current day.
The arrival of aliens was dramatic – not the capsules of the original book and films, but a very dramatic lightning storm and a personal capsule for the invader. It was pretty impressive, as was the CGI when the war machines emerged from the ground. But therein lies another issue for me. The claim was that the war machines had been there all along, buried, waiting for the invasion. This just didn't seem right to me, so I'd like to propose an alternative; the invading forces actually drop a penetrating device with a nano-tech programmed building device to create a war machine. The dramatic lightning was power to initiate the seed's growth. The humans assume that the war machines were buried because the technology is so far ahead of their current usage. Works for me!
So War of the Worlds is worth it for a wet and rainy night in, but it isn't on my list of DVDs to buy. Next up was Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott's new epic film. I love Scott's direction and photographic style. The way he uses light and dark has always impressed me, and I own a fair few of his films so I really wanted to see this. In addition, my recent purchase of Crusader Rex re-ignited my love of the period.
I was pleasantly surprised by the film. As I expected, it looked gorgeous. It did have the whole epic film feel, but it didn't manage to achieve the same emotional engagement that Gladiator did. I think it suffered from two things; firstly, the theme of Balian (Orlando Bloom's character) seeking redemption never really comes out clearly enough in the story to make you feel bothered for the character. Secondly, the whole film feels very truncated. Watching the additional 'Pilgrim's Way' subtitles that link the decision behind the film to historical reality makes it clear how complicated the real-politick that was going on was. There are hints of this in the film, but it never seems to be developed properly, probably because it would need too much screen time. This leaves an enjoyable, but flawed film. I could see myself watching this again, but I may wait and see if a director's cut comes out that has some more of the politics in before I buy it.
The final film of the three was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was Tim Burton's re-imagining of Roald Dahl's masterpiece. I never much liked the Gene Wilder version, and hoped that Burton's dark and weird approach would really reflect the book better. And, I think it did. The imagery, the whole attitude and style was brilliant. It was pretty faithful to the original and Johnny Depp was fantastic! I only surprised that Michael Jackson hasn't sued!
Wholeheartedly recommended. I will be buying it, but probably once it drops from the initial launch price. What's the point of paying £15 to £17 when you can get it for £7-8 four or five months later?
Now, I wasn't a big fan of the BBC version – possibly influenced by the many times that I had been forced to read it when doing my English Literature GCSE back at the end of the eighties – but Jill was, and we both had different reactions to the film. I really enjoyed it, especially Donald Sutherland's fantastic performance as Mr Bennett. The look of the film was far closer to how I imagined it when I read the novel than the more opulent BBC version was. Jill had two main objections; firstly, that Kiera Knightley was not as good at portraying a strong character with a passionate spirit as the actress in the TV series was, and secondly that Mr Darcy wasn't played by Colin Firth. Now, I could argue that the former didn't seem to be an issue to me, and the latter was a positive advantage, but I think that I'd lose!
The second film we went to see was Serenity, Joss Whedon's Sci-Fi film. Whedon is justifiably respected as a scriptwriter for his more recent TV shows - Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which captured the hearts of a wide range of the teens to thirties market in a similar way that Chris Carter's X Files did at the start of the nineties. As the two shows wound down, Whedon was working with Fox on a new Sci-Fi show called Firefly. This was set out on the frontier, an ensemble piece about the crew of a free trading merchant ship 'Serenity'. The core of the crew are survivors from the losing side of the civil war between the frontier and core worlds. Much like Buffy, and the earlier SF series Babylon 5, the storyline had an ongoing plot arc and was character driven. There was a dark, but delicate, humour to the whole show. But it tanked in the US, and was pulled after only 11 episodes were made.
Now, Fox themselves demonstrated an ineptitude that is near unbelievable. They skipped the pilot, and showed the series at varying times and out of sequence. Is there any surprise that the show tanked? Anyway, Whedon – and Firefly's – fan based agitated hard and managed to get the whole show released on DVD. All of a sudden, it was a big seller, and Fox looked somewhat silly. Whedon still had the movie rights, and a deal was signed with Universal. The result is Serenity.
Serenity follows up the story from where the series ended, winding up some of the plots, but leaving others to resolve in the future. It's been very cleverly written to ensure that you don't have to have seen the series, as most of the key background facts are revealed without resort to a character driven info-dump. The background of the Tam twins (unjustly fugitive siblings from the core worlds) is probably the most complex part of the back-story, and that is carefully revealed along with one of the movies' villains. The whole story is action filled, but character driven, building to a satisfying end which I won't reveal here. We both really enjoyed this (and even my mum did!), so try and see this if you can!
I was really surprised when yesterday the post arrived, along with a letter of apology and replacement labels from Columbia Games.
Now that is real customer service!