Friday, February 29, 2008

good morning


good morning
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

waiting for the train, with cracking sunrise.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Skiing

Charlie Brooker on skiing:
It's almost the time of year when the nation's braying upper-middle-class idiot quotient collectively decides to stand up and go skiing. Good for them. Speaking as a control freak, I'm opposed to skis, snowboards, and skates on principle. I like to know where I'm going, how soon I'll arrive there, and how quickly I'll stop. I can't imagine doing that on skis. They're slidey. I don't like slidey.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thud!

Terry Pratchett's books are best sampled sparingly, I find. One book every now and again is fine, and helps keep the idea alive that he is a great author, and his books are really funny. In the last year I've read "Going Postal", which I thought was really funny, then "Monstrous Regiment", which wasn't as funny but still very good, and now "Thud!". I think it's time to give Discworld novels a rest again. A couple of years should do it.

That's not to say that Thud isn't a good book. All the usual Pratchett qualities are there: a decent plot; page-turning prose; familiar characters; and a threat to Ankh-Morpork that only grizzly Commander Vimes can put down in a no-nonsense, old-fashioned, common sense way. It's funny, exciting and intriguing. But there's the nagging feeling that this is a bit too familiar. You know how this is going to turn out.

I'd recommend this to anyone - as long as they've had a nice long break between Pratchetts.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Drowned World

J.G. Ballard's "The Drowned World" is set in a future where our sun has entered an intense phase of solar flare activity, causing the temperature to rise on Earth, polar ice caps to melt, end of civilisation, yadda yadda yadda. You know how this sort of thing works. Ballard captures the atmosphere of intense heat, and the lethargy and disinterest it causes in his characters really well. So well, in fact, that the lethargy and disinterest proved contagious and I was bored stupid throughout the book.

It was written in the early sixties, and it is showing its age. The geophysics is a bit dodgy - the sun is pumping out lots more heat and energy, and yet the climate only gets hotter. There should have been high winds, constant storms from all that warm air expanding. The female character is utterly pointless, having no opinions or ability to think for herself. She's just a device to give the hero something to do. The characters are all very British, with stiff upper lips, having dinner parties for which one is required to dress. In the steaming jungle. Dinner jackets and bow ties. In the steaming fucking jungle.

I stuck with it to the end, hoping something would happen. It didn't. The only other book by Ballard I've read was Cocaine Nights, which left me feeling much the same: nothing happened, and it took a lot of tedious mucking about getting there. James, over at Big Dumb Object, has also reviewed this book recently - he was a (little) bit more forgiving than me, so maybe I just didn't get it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson writes in the natural language of geeks, nerds, and affiliated techies. If Computer People, as my lovely wife umbrellas us, could string sentences together that didn't reference Star Wars in some way, then maybe we'd be Neal Stephenson. Geeks love his books, as do normal people (closet geeks), because he writes about complicated technical matters in an interesting, funny, exciting way. Examples: in Cryptonomicon, he makes cryptography exciting; in the Baroque Cycle (a series of three abso-fucking-lutely massive chunky doorstop novels) he makes the history of modern economics into a swashbuckling pirate yarn. In Snow Crash, there is an entire chapter that's all about ancient Sumerian history and the origins of the Bible. Geeks are normally sensitive to this sort of infodump, but I got to the end of the chapter before I realised. I felt like Syndrome in the Incredibles: "You sly dog! You got me monologuing." Stephenson's skill is to make it not only interesting, but essential to the plot, so that you want to know more.

The main character in Snow Crash is not the most interesting, but that's not a bad thing. His name is Hiro Protagonist, which should give you a clue as to his purpose in the story. He's the one that works out the plot, is in the right place to save the girl at the right time and saves the day by being the badass every geek wants to be. He does this job really well. It's the supporting cast that really lift the book, though: Y.T. the skateboarding courier that hides her job from her mom; Uncle Enzo, the vietnam vet that's head of the mafia (who also deliver pizzas); Raven, the unstoppable baddie.

This is a great book, a classic of S.F. You should read it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Murphy

Spike Milligan was a comedy genius (see the Goons, etc). His war memoirs are some of the funniest, most moving books I've ever read. The last novel he wrote, "The Murphy", is a steaming pile of shite, though.

It's a collection of dodgy old jokes based around the Irish-are-thick stereotype. There's no plot to speak of, no coherence or structure to be found apart from the arbitrary slicing of the prose into chapters. It reads like a stream of consciousness experiment rather than a novel. It wouldn't be so bad if the jokes were funny, but they are not.

I guess even geniusseses have off days. Steer clear of this book, read the war memoirs instead.

Laika

This graphic novel by Nick Abadzis is a semi-fictional account of the early days of the Soviet space programme. It covers the launch of Sputnik and the rushed launch of the first animal in orbit: Laika. It's a lovely story, sad and touching. If I wasn't a big, tough guy I might have had a tear in my eye at certain points. But I'm not soft, so I didn't. Ok? Anybody that tells you any different is a liar.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ladies of Grace Adieu

I thought about writing this review in a full Regency novel style, in keeping with Susannah Clarke's fairy-tales-meet-Jane-Austen collection of short stories, but that would be a parody of a homage and I think that might be a literary version of crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. I could either destroy the Stay-Puft marshmallow man of fiction or kill us all in a dangerous feedback loop. These things worry me. Plus somebody had already done it on LibraryThing, much better than I could.

If you've read "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" you'll know what to expect here: fairy tales where the fairies aren't particularly nice. While they might live at the bottom of your garden there's a good chance they'll steal your children, husband, shiny things, etc. This is a collection of short stories, so if you were interested in Strange & Norrell but were put off by the 800 page investment of time (you lightweight, where's your stamina?) then this might be a gentler introduction to Clarke's wonderfully realised alternative 19th century. Certainly easier to carry anyway.

Imaginary conversations

GORDON: so, you little fucker, what the fuck do you call this fucking stuff then?
ME: cheesy rice.
GORDON : I'll tell you what it fucking is, fucker, it's fucking risotto, you fucking fuck. If someone served that to me in a restaurant, do you fucking know what I'd fucking do?
ME: erm... Eat it?
GORDON : too fucking right I fucking would. It's the fucking dog's fucking bollocks. You're a fucking genius, what's the fucking secret, you fuckmaster-general?
ME: you have to put loads of cheese in, otherwise the kids won't eat it.
GORDON : that's fucking inspirational, that is. Brings a fucking tear to my fucking eye. I'm going to open a new fucking restaurant, it's going to be fucking called "fucking cheese". Cheese in fucking everything. Cheese and chips, cheese and steak, cheese au gratin, lobster cheesidor, medallions du fromage avec du fucking fromage et dans une sauce de fromage. You fucking beauty. Oi, Oliver - come here you fat-tongued mockney twat! Try this.
OLIVER: oh, that's beautiful, that. Pucka. Cushti. Sweet as a nut. My old man said follow the van.
GORDON: stop fucking dancing, this is no fucking time for a fucking knee's up you fuckety fuck-burger. Tell this fucker what the fucking secret is.
ME: cheese. You have to put loads in.
OLIVER: cor, luv a duck an' no mistake, guv'nor. Organic, free range, llama milk cheese matured in a Frenchman's jockstrap for twelve years, if I'm not mistaken. Er, I mean, jellied eels! Apples and pears, eh? Up the 'ammers!
ME: no, just some cheddar from the supermarket.
GORDON: that'll never fucking work. The fucking secret to fucking great food is fucking expensive ingredients that no fucker has fucking ever fucking heard fuck of fucking before.
ME: with cheese in.
GORDON: you fucking genius, you've fucking done it a-fucking-gain. Expensive fucking ingredients, drowned in fucking cheap cheese. Fuck-a-doodle-doo.
OLIVER: let's all ave a knees-up around the old joanna to celebrate!