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We also went to see Chris Turner, a cousin on the other side of the Captain's cousin. As Robin Williams might have put it O Cousin of My Cousin.
Chris is a philosphical stand up and freestyle rapper. He makes me think and his show is multi layered and many textured. It also had a picture of the Captain's cousins in the bath.
On Wednesday I went out for dinner with my dad and his oldest friend. Couple of beers in Summerhall then grilled meaty delights in Hanedan's. Good to see my dad's mate.
Grown up cousin left on Tuesday. BB left on Wednesday.
I had many early nights and did about a dozen loads of washing and cleaned the bathroom. The Captain and I went for a ride on our new tag-a-long tandem. It works but it will take some getting used to.
University update - BB has a place at university. Not her first choice despite getting an A* in the subject she's planning to study. Hey ho. She'll enjoy where she's going.
I was very impressed by how quickly and forcefully she reacted to not getting her first choice. It took her less than two hours to sort out a place following what I know would have been a great disappointment to her. When it mattered she executed. I'm very proud of her for all the hard work she's put in and very pleased that it has worked out well in the end.
I watched Deadpool last night whilst MLW was out at choir. It was perfectly acceptable. The actiony bits were action-packed. The promised levels of sarcastic witty banter were wittily sarcastic. The darker tinged plot was tinged a touch darker than I might have expected from a superhero movie. It had a begining, a middle and an end and competently started in the middle, moved to the begining and worked up to the end. I quite enjoyed it.
I feel like I might have missed something. I'm not a comic book fan or a fan of superhero fiction so I'm probably not seeing amusing subversions of the genre or I'm underestimating the appeal of a character I'd not heard of till I saw him on the side of a bus. I fully accept that I may not be the target audience for the film. It provided a good level of diversion and entertainment after a long week Captain Wrangling
Last night I watched A Midsummers Night's Dream as adapted by Russel T Davies.
I quite enjoyed it.
I have mixed feelings about the play. It's the most hipsterish of Shakespeare' plays. Which means it was probably writen by the Earl of Oxford. Not content with writing one play we get the play within the play. And the Mortals are performing for the Fairies, who are performing for us. Hamlet also has an internal play but that's about the use of propaganda. This play is about itself. It's a play about plays, about players, and playwrights, a play about being in a play, a play about plays about plays. And therefore as exciting as a night at the Baftas.
I also find the Mechanicals quite unamusing. They feel forced and unfunny. A bit like my accountancy exams; the main thing I enjoy about Bottom is when he's over.
On the other hand I enjoy the farcical element of Hermia and Helena, Lysander and Demetrius wandering through the forest each in love with the wrong person, misconstruing everything that is said and getting more and more irrational and lost. Which then bumps up against the plotting and cross-plotting and plots gone awry of the Fairies. Then love triumphs over pride and everyone is happy. There's no dog on a string but you can't have everything.
I also have mixed feelings about the adaptation. It was brilliantly lush. Well performed. Fast enough paced. I'm not convinced by the pseudo-fascist trappings or the death of Theseus or entirely sure what was going on with Hippolyta.
What I loved about the adaptation was the brilliant performance of Fisayo Akinade giving Flute's brilliant performance as Thisbe. In amongst all the silliness and ham, intentional and untentional, he rounded off the peformance with a reminder that stories, and plays and films do have the power to move us and to change us.
Early one morning I shall try the Captain on it and see if he goes for the bright colours and the silliness.
MLW, the Captain and I to Newcastle Saturday last to see Scotland play Samoa in the last game of the group stages of the Rugby World Cup.
Rugby is the family sport and we've been following the world cup pretty closely. I haven't seen all of the matches but I know who's played who and what the result was. Those of you kind enough to pay any attention to me on Facebook will have experienced my bafflement at the orang utan and my dismay at the quality and the partiality of the ITV commentary team.
But that is by the by - most of family go to Newcastle's St James' Park to watch the game. Scotland, the favourites, need to win to ensure they qualify for the quarter-finals. Samoa need to win to have any chance of third place and automatic qualification for the next world cup in Japan in 2019.
We travelled by train. A train so filled with Scotland supporters that it felt like the bar at Teucthars. So many Scotland tops, past and preseent it felt like a montage of Murrayfield Past, Present and Yet to Come. Not a seat unbooked on the train. We left at 11.00, arrived at 12.25, in time for a short walk to China Town for an all you can eat buffet at Lau's (a well made recommendation of f3f4 of this parish - both digitally and IRL).
This is not the first rugby match in Newcastle I've been to. I am a Falcons' fan of many decades standing. (FAAALC-ons. Who's Gus?) but it was my first trip inside St James - which is a magnificent stadium. The main stand is tall, highly raked and has a fabulous clear roof, making it both snug and a cauldron of atmosphere. With a capacity of about 50,000 and I'd estimate 30,000 travelling support it felt more like home match than many games at Murrayfield i've been too.
The game was tense. Samoa were clearly trying to pack a whole World Cups worth of skills and tries in to the first half. They scored. We scored. They scored again. So did we. Not since the cavalry revolution of the 5th Century AD has offence proven so dominant over defence. MLW, who had a several pints of beer, was swearing at the Scotland defence, the Samoan backs, the match officials, people in the crowd, me like a Valkyrie who had stubbed her toe, once again, on the corner of the door. In one of the highest scoring matches of the World Cup Scotland and Samoa traded scores with Scotland just doing enough to keep in touch during the first half.
During the second half Scotland had gathered their wits and sussed out a way of playing the Samoan team who had arrived rather than the earlier Samoan team who had lost to South Africa and Japan. This didn't stop them kicking to the corner a few times. This is a practise of which I disapprove, ranking it with incest and English country dancing. The score crept upwards with Scotland gradually gaining a slight advantage, Towards the end of the game I thought they'd won it when Laidlaw scored a try to take Scotland 10 points ahead with five minutes to go. Then I thougt they'd lost it when Samoa immediately hit back with a try of their own. A draw would be uncomfortable.
Scotland hold on for the win.
We then headed to the fanzone to hang out, get some food, watch a bit of the Australia vs Wales game and ride on the dodgems. We stayed a little too long and had to run for our train home catching it with only a minute to spare.
Home by 7.30 we watched the rest of Strictly and then to bed after an emotionally tense day at the World Cup.
The New Flat of My Father
*singing* Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau
My dad has bought a flat. It is on the same park as my flat and about an eight minute walk door to door. Ground floor, main door He becomes the owner on Friday but as a courtesy the vendor has let him have the keys early. So on Sunday MLW, the Captain and I went round to help him do some thinking and planning. The flat is very recently refurbished so needs almost nothing doing to it but the furniture needs planning out.
Gloriously, the flat has a small private courtyard on the south side of the buillding. I've been recruited to do some garden design. I'm thinking fruit trees and birds and comfy sofas. I shall look forward to sitting out there on sunny afternoons in the years to come.
It's nice to have the old boy in the same suburb. I think, with three of his grandchildren in Australia, and one not living with her dad he might as well be as close as possible to one of them. The Captain will be able to walk down to see his grandad on his own within a year or so.
I help him move in a load of furniture this weekend and he'll move in properly over the coming weeks before giving up the rental flat soon.
I watched Iron Sky - the movie about Nazis on the Moon. It had it's moments but perhaps the kindest thing that could be said about it is that it is better fantasy movie about cartoon Nazis than Inglorious Bastards by Quentin Tarantino.
I'm glad to have seen it but mostly so I can now divide my life in to a period in which I may be tempted to watch Iron Sky (now, blessedly the past,) and a period in which I will not be tempted to watch Iron Sky (the future).
We went to see
The Thinking Drinkers Guide to the Legends of Liquor
Mark Steel's Who Do I Think I Am
Chris Turner - XXV
All of the three shows were very good, enjoyable, and funny. Worth the entry fee.
The Thinking Drinkers is a mix of anecdote, sketch comedy and stand up based around a semi-serious consideration of the role that alcohol has played as lubricant to thinking and living in civilised society. Drink less, drink better is their watch word. The show is silly, in a good way. Included in the ticket price is a tasting of some nice beers and spirits. The feel of the show reminded me of the Doug Anthony All Starts in their early years. Tom and Ben are likeably, funny guys with excellent knowledge of their subject.
Mark Steel is a very polished comedian with huge experience. Left of center, in fact too left wing for the Labour Party. Very enjoyable. This was a stand up show about being adopted and finding his natural parents. I'd have enjoyed an hour of his stand up with out the incredible, I mean literally incredible, story that he told of how he tracked down his birth mother and father and their lives. I won't spoil it in case you are going to see it. If you are then I think the surprise and the way the story unfolds is part of the experience. If you're not going to see it, then google is probably your friend.
It is frankly the story of the century.
The final show was Chris Turner's XXV. For full disclosure Chris is sort of cousin of mine. He is the nephew of my sister-in-law and therefore my grown up nephews' cousin.
Anyhow, he's a stand up who does improvised rapping. He's very clever and charming. The rapping is very impressive.
Having done some improv in my time I've a little insight in to how you work an improvised component of your routine. So I spent a little time figuring out how he did it. Like magic, once you know how the trick is done it can be difficult to sit back and enjoy the wonder of experience but I was able to concentrate on enjoying the show and not working out how it worked because, again, it's hell of a tale.
Chris opens the show by explaining how, approaching his 25th birthday, his new girlfriend asked him if their relationship was serious and enduring and if he was committed to it and that he'd had to tell her that at the age of 15 was diagnosed with a rare, fatal growth disorder and given ten years to live.
Queue an improvised rap about the contents of people's handbags. Which actually fits in to the story about how being given only until you are 25 really, really motived Chris to do what he wanted to do, which was to become a rapper.
MLW and I had an interesting conversation about the similarities between improv, rapping and facilitation in the bar after because that is what the Fringe is for. There's a tripartate focus. What am I saying or doing now. What do I need to say or do later. How do I make all of this hang together. They are also things that appear magical from the outside but which rely on a set of learnable behaviours on the inside.
So it goes and all washed down some decent but very strong blonde beer and fueled by gormet burgers.
Home for cake and rum.
( <i>You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it … Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.</i> )
Wodehouse is difficult to emulate and Faulks has been very open about having to tread a fine line between inadvertent parody, missing the airy feel of the original and just regurgitating stock Wodehouse. I think he largely succeeds. Faulks is a writer of more serious works than Wodehouse and Jeeves and the Wedding Bells feels like a Jeeves and Wooster story written by Faulks. It’s a little more serious, there’s a little more at stake than in, say, Code of the Woosters. This comes through in three ways, one of which made my happy, one slightly irritated and one very, very sad.
I’m not sure you can have spoilers in a Wodehouse novel but here be spoilers.( Those Spoilers as Advertised )
I really enjoyed the book. I hope one day Faulks will write another, although I think it unlikely.
I didn’t much understand what was going on and by the time I did I realised I didn’t care.
I think the root cause of the problem with this episode and I think with much of recent Doctor Who, is that too much story was compressed into too few minutes.
We get about 15 minutes of why the Leaf is important. 15 minutes of meeting the little girl, Merry or Mary or Merv or whatever. I didn’t have long enough to work out how to pronounce her name. Then 15 minutes of the Doctor break dancing in front of the Giant Pumpkin. Mixed in with this is a bit of wandering about (or wondering aloud), a bit where the owner of the most useful space and time ship in the Universe hires a space pedalo, a Coldplay concert and some bits of persuading Clara Osama Oswald the Wonderful Woman of Oz to come for a ride in the TARDIS. Then the Leaf is deployed and the Giant Pumpkin chokes on its own petard. And for the first time since we met Ozzy the bastards haven’t killed her. Stay awake at the back, this may be Significant. Or a Continuity Error. Or Both.
I think it would have worked better as part of a series made up of 26 episodes divided into 6-8 stories of 3-4 episodes each. The way it used to be done.
So how would I have handled this.
I’d have shifted this story further back into the current series. I’ve only just met Orville and most of the times I’ve met her she’s ended up dead and been someone else (or was she?) So a story that turns on her emotional connection to an artefact of her past needs to build up that past. Then place the past firmly in the context of the present of someone I care about. Then succeed in making the artefact emblematic of something important. Admirable features of Clara are influenced by the loss of her mother at young age and the Leaf is a solid connection to her family and the lost promise of that family. It reminds her to nurture those less fortunate than herself. Then I’d care about a Leaf. Otherwise, it’s just a leaf.
By shifting this story further back in episode list I’d have had time to get to know Clarissa at my own pace instead of having her importance and the back story of the Leaf thrust in my face. A few stories where she seems like a decent person with some particular interests. A bit more time to let her fondness for work where she cares for small motherless children flow across the screen. But also, some more time for her not just to be an orphan who likes orphans except when she’s dead. Or when her being dead isn’t important enough to keep happening.
This is the most important Leaf in the Universe. Is it? Show me don’t tell me and all that. So perhaps a situation in a previous story where Miss Bow makes what appears to be an irrational decision to preserve the book and the Leaf from a fire or a Dalek. (About time we had a Dalek, not enough of them in my opinion.) A scene a few episode later where Beau Peep is uncharacteristically distracted whilst looking at the Leaf. Generally, big up the leaf so it becomes the Leaf.
Then I’d start on the back story. There would have been some space and time to show the history that makes the Leaf important. Probably some relatives. Not sure how I’d have woven this in but I’ve given myself plenty of room with perhaps 4 mini-story arcs and about 15 45-minute episodes to go at. I’d find a way. It would be Amazing!
So I arrive at episode 1 of the Rings of Mos Eisely with the audience already thinking “I like that Betty Boo lass. She does seem inordinately fond of that Leaf. Still I suppose her poor dead mum and all that.“ Bit of an extended opening shot of the Rings. They are Amazing. We’ve paid for the SFX team to go on the CGI course, might as well get the benefit and it’ll save having to pay Matt Smith to say “Wow, isn’t it Amazing!” if I show you how amazing it is. He charges extra for that and quite rightly too. Then I can spend a good half an episode wondering around the market place (which was very enjoyable) with a red herring plot, a sub-plot or part of a longer story arc plot as a driver for being there. Perhaps the Silence or the Silents or Silus or whoever they were could be involved. I could have shown the peaceful nature of the civilisation. Built up the social structures. Enjoyed a bit of the genuinely lovely singing. Introduced the quirks of paying for things with things of emotional value and left the audience to mull that over at their own pace. A little hint that all is not well in the Land of Oz. Then introduce the Merry Hobbit, sorry the little girl (just a little girl, not The Little Girl ™ , or indeed A Little Girl, don’t you know you can get them in six-packs now.) Oh, I wonder why that little girl is so agitated in what appears to be such a peaceful yet vibrant civilisation. Add in a little bit of apprehension about the Elder God. End on a cliff hanger when the quite scary Black Guards corner Betty Page and Merv.
- Episode 2 – the running about episode. Clare and Jolly spend quite a bit of time running away from the Black Guards. A bit of rather nice singing. They seek refuge with some figure of authority, who being a figure of authority in a peaceful, vibrant culture much like our own but with more singing is certainly duty bound to take a keen interest in the suffering of a defenceless young person seeking sanctuary and someone to believe that she really is in danger. Que Surprise and Dismay when said authority figure just hands her over to the Black Guards. Nice singing. Nice Singing. Doctor Cox and Claire Oiseau get to do some running about trying to find Marvin. Perhaps Smudger could use his sonic screwdriver to open a stubborn door or maybe not. He probably needs to save the battery so he can use it re-light ITER or repair the oxygen system on Apollo 13. There could be some singing behind the door. Acquire Space Pedalo, if you insist, and ride off through the Olympic Rings to the MacGuffin Asteroid to the Rescue (Gee, those CGI courses were really money well spent. ) End on a cliff hanger when the Doctor and What’s Her Name find their way to the centre of temple complex to find Mhari about to be force fed to an alarm clock.
Dum de dum, dum de dum dewooooooo!
I’d have arrived at the end of that last episode feeling that a niggle that I’d been worried about for a few months – what’s going to happen with this Leaf you keep showing me - has been resolved. I’d have had time to learn how to pronounce Merry’s name and remember Clara’s. Good, which I have seen try to be good, would have triumphed over Evil, which I had seen refuse to turn from the Dark Side. Moral Ambiguity would have been seen from both sides too and people would have made choices.
Instead I got to follow Matt Smith at jogging pace whilst he shouted “Look. Leaf. Mother. Look There. Amazing. Leaf. Over There!” at me.
Perhaps the Giant Pumpkin is a metaphor for a script team too greedy to digest their stories properly.
I have been to see some shows in the Festival.
On Saturday evening MLW and I went to see Tim Fitzhigham: Stop the Pigeon and Shappi Khorsandi: Dirty Looks and Hopscotch.
Tim Fitzhigham is one of my favourite Fringe performers. He’s a sort of Gentleman Adventure who collects strange life experiences and brings them back to Edinburgh to share with me. He turns getting frostbite in both sets of toes into a humorous anecdote so that I don’t have to.
This year’s show is about a bet he made with Alex Horne. Based on a wager made by the 4th Duke of Queensberry Fitzhigham bet Horne that he could move a letter 50 miles in one hour using technology only available in 1750. Fitzhigham then sets out to try a variety of methods to move the fatal missive calling on all of his own considerable entrepreneurial powers, his wide network of lunatic associates and his considerable chutzpah. This is balanced by the sheer devilish cunning that Horne has put into devising the rules of the bet and the actual message. It is a clash of Action Hero and Sophist.
What carries his shows are Fitzhigham’s charisma and the sheer joy he experiences in trying to achieve his goals. He’s manic, almost messianic in his delivery. A lesser story teller could make the story dull. A lesser man wouldn’t have tried at all.
Shappi Khorsandi’s show, Dirty Looks and Hopscotch is one of the most personal accounts of a failed relationship I’ve ever heard. Even from a friend this would be confessional. In the wake of her divorce Khorsandi entered into a yearlong polyamorous relationship with an unnamed former rock star. This is the story about how she discovered her lover had an entirely secret life, that the house they had bought together was, in fact bought for his long standing lover, that rather than being the main relationship in this man’s life she was more or less a privileged bit on the side. Or perhaps just a small part of his collected vices.
It’s also the story of how her lover manipulated her into some uncomfortable sexual practises and, more importantly, into accepting that his infidelity and bad treatment of her was okay. She tells how he used the technique of negging her to keep her in state of vulnerability and emotional uncertainty. How whenever she would question his behaviour he would accuse her of being a control freak. How she continued to accept appalling behaviour from her lover because she was uncertain of her own place in her life and because treating women badly is okay.
It was funny, bittersweet , very brave and left me impressed with Khorsandi as a person and a story-teller.
What’s clear from both these shows is that brief appearances on TV for a 5 minute stand up slot or on a panel show don’t really demonstrate the narrative aspects of stand up. Sections of Khorsandi’s show could be cut down for a 5 minute stand up routine but to get the full horror of the tale I think you have to hear it all in context. Fitzhigham’s show wouldn’t work at all in anything less than an hour.
On Sunday I saw Paperbelle by Frozen Charlotte. This was is show for children between 2 and 5. The Captain loved it and so did MLW and I.
The story is about a man, Eric, who has a friend, Paperbelle, who is a small black and white drawing. Eric lives in a black and white paper room. Suddenly colour starts appear in the room. First red, then blue, then green, then yellow. The colours are a bit scary and strange at first but become a source of joy for both friends.
This is a great example of small story arcs building into larger story arcs building into the total story arc. I think when telling stories for very small children you have to get all the little pieces perfect because they won’t wait for you get through a duff bit to find out what happens next. They’ll wonder off to lick the windows or bounce on the sofas. As each colour appears there is a small bit of narrative or physical business. A few of these in row explore the uses of colour and the expanded life that colour offers the characters. When blue appears it appear as a drink in a cup. Which can be drunk and which refills itself so it can be shared. When spilt into the goldfish bowl it creates blue water and makes the goldfish bowl a more interesting thing. When the water overflows the goldfish bowl it floods the floor and allows Eric to sail his toy boat upon stormy seas.
It’s beautifully worked and so very charming. The Captain was absolutely enraptured. Those that have met him will be impressed to learn that he sat still for three quarters of an hour.
The fourth and final show was an old favourite Pappy’s Fun Club: Last Show Ever.
This is silly. Just silly and yet the silliness is woven together to create a story so cleverly that you almost don’t notice how clever it is. It’s the finest example of Checkov’s Gun I’ve ever seen. Everything is either an opening for a gag, an opening for a running gag or a vital plot point.
The story starts with one of the Fun Club remembering how the opening night of the Neverending Tour: This Show Will Never End becomes the last Pappy’s show ever. Despite sharing an oath to let no fortune, fame or woman come between them the tree members of Pappy’s are tempted to give up their group and go their separate ways.
An example? A series of linked skits end up with one Pappy pretending to be a tree, with arms up in the air. He is standing next to another is pretending to be a cat with hand curled up in front of his chest. A third enters the stage with a step ladder and rescues the cat from the tree to the strains of YMCA by the village people. Half an hour later the ability to do the YMCA dance become a crucial plot point.
The ending is sad, for a comic sketch show, genuinely affecting.
MLW and laughed and giggled. I don’t think I’ve heard MLW laugh that much in years.
I’d recommend all four of the shows. Pappy’s is funniest, I think Paperbelle is the best worked by a whisker, Khorsandi’s is the most thought provoking and Fitzhigham is the most wonderful distillation of a life lived adventurously.
I’ve recently bought a Kindle and so has my Mum. In an attempt to reduce both my waistline and my monthly expenditure on lunch I’ve started eating soup in the canteen and using the saved money to buy ebooks. On a number of occasions I’ve logged on to Amazon and been overwhelmed by the choice. Overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. I’ve gone to the shop with an open wallet then walked out without spending any money.
I want a system that combines knowledge about my tastes with better meta-data about books on offer and a reputation management system for reviews and reviewers.
Here are some suggestions for Amazon about how they could help me spend money.
( and here are those suggestions. )m Amazon.
I am reading the books that have been shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. It’s a way of broadening the pool of authors I read whilst at the same time reassuring myself that my hard earned money isn’t going to be wasted.
I’ve read two of the six shortlisted books so far.
Greg Bears’ Hull Three Zero and Drew Magary’s The End Specialist.
So far I’m not that impressed. I’m not getting what I expected and I’m not getting what I think I should be getting from books that arguably the six best science fiction books published last year.
I’m looking for a good story well told. Interesting characters doing believable things leading to a satisfactory end with good structure and delicious language.
I’m looking for a tale of science that provokes thinking about the role of technology on lives as they are lived. A parable from the future that has been sent back in time. Something that makes me really think about how the future might be and what things are happening today that shape that future
I’m looking for a genre changing story. Something that changes the way science fiction works, the conventions, short hands and tropes.
Hull Three Zero is interesting for the manner of telling. The story is a fairly standard one. There is a problem on a Big Spaceship. Only our hero can solve the problem by reversing the polarity.
The unusual element is that our hero has no idea who he is for about three quarters of the book. Which in a first person narrative is disorientating and interesting.
There were some thoughts provoked on the nature of evolution as it is experienced by the subject and on the ethicality of certain forms of generation ship and of the colonisation of occupied systems. But these were a bit by the by.
So a fairly standard story with fairly standard ideas told in an interesting way which triggered some thinking on my part.
It’s the best of the two so far.
The End Specialist by Drew Magary ought to have been the more thought provoking of the two books read so far. It deals explicitly with the effect of a dramatic change in life expectancy. It ought to be a really interesting story about the impact of near immortality with an exploration of the resource constraints of increased population meeting
I just don’t think it deals with it very well. Faced with sudden mass immortality people continue to behave much as they did before. As the population rises resources become scarce. This drives up the price but it doesn’t seem to trigger any reduction in demand or technological innovation. In the face of rising prices no one seems to delay having children. There is a lemming like approach to the impending doom. As a warning I found it a little one dimensional.
I think it says something about the USian approach to consumption and climate change.
However, because the economics hasn’t been thought out clearly I found the story didn’t carry me into a future I thought lamentable but plausible. Paulo Bacigalup tackles this kind of dystopia better in Calorie Man and some of his other stories.
Nor was the main character interesting enough to carry a whole novel. He didn’t seem to change much internally.
I was waiting for a big ending which took me from the world of the narrator back to the world of the prologue. Instead the story just sort of slips away.
It would have been a better short story.
So, mindful of Christopher Priest’s views on the short list I’m moving on to Charles Stross’ Rule 34. Having read Halting State recently I’m not expecting to have my conceptions of the future or of the genre radically altered but I am looking forward to an enjoyable tale. I suspect that this series of Stross’ work will be more influential on the genre and my thinking about the future in aggregate.
I read Eastern Standard Tribe and Makers in that order. I enjoyed Eastern Standard Tribe more.
( Extensive Spoilers for Eastern Standard Tribe and Makers by Cory Doctorow )
Eastern Standard Tribe is a first person narrative about how the protagonist ended up in a mental health hospital and how he goes about trying to leave hospital following a break down that flows from a failed romantic and business venture. Our hero thinks he is being bilked out of a fantastic business opportunity by his girlfriend and best friend. He thinks they have conspired to have him committed so they can steal his business. He also thinks he is secretly working for a Tribe based around using social media on Eastern Standard Time. He believes himself to be sabotaging a rival tribes reputation. Any and all of this may or may not be true.
Eastern Standard Tribe has a really interesting unreliable narrator. He is obviously suffering some mental health issues, or at least a combination of extreme fatigue and emotional stress, which is making his decision making processes less than optimal. He may, in fact, be mentally incompetent. So far so good as unreliable narrators go. What made the main character interesting for me was that he may be deluding himself about the whole Tribe thing. Tribes may or may not exist. They may or may not be coherent enough to have a group identity that transcends employer or nation. They may or may not be organised enough to have saboteurs. They may be a nothing more than the fantastical projection of a troubled man on to some out of hours social media acquaintances.
I also appreciated the speculative nature of the science fiction. Here is some technology. Here is how it might shape society. Here is a story that is not an essay that makes you think about.
So, an interesting character, decent narrative, interesting speculative elements. Not a bad book at all. I wasn’t struck with the notion that this was the future but I was encouraged to think about the different way people might interact with each other and the effect this might have on their political loyalties and their mental health.
The Makers is a less good book.
I wanted it to be better than it was. I think it needed to be shorter.
It is the story of the a group of entrepreneurs who are the standard bearers for New Work, a movement that attempts to combine endemic unemployment, easy Intellectual Property rights and a good dose of entrepreneurship along with a distributed co-op model of corporate management. The first third of the book follows the characters and through them the movement from its start to its eventual failure. The idea is fascinating from an economics and entrepreneurship point of view. This is a thought experiment about what happens when technology means that everyone has access to an intellectual property solution to almost anything and that barriers to entry are so low that the unemployed can use their low reservation wages and opportunity costs and just have a go. Does the mass scramble to find valuable applications for existing technology lead to a new industrial revolution or a quick and dirty Ponzi scheme. In an economy like this do all economic decisions revert to the short run cost of labour? All interesting stuff. Very interesting.
The characters are robust enough to hold my interest through the thought experiment. They weren’t of much interest in themselves.
The last two thirds of the book is less good. I’d go as far as to say actively bad. The characters who were a pilgrim’s guide to the new economics of the early to mid 21st Century become the focus of the story. They weren’t interesting enough to carry a further 400 pages. I kept waiting for the book to return to the economics but it didn’t. I huffed and puffed my way through the rest of the book. I wanted it to return to the conflict between nimble, shallowly capitalised small partnerships and co-ops and large IP lawyer heavy mega-corporations. I wanted discussion about the conflict between value creation and value appropriation. I wanted our heroes to go back for round two. I wanted to find out what happens to a retirement plan when you can’t make meaningful investments in capital because all forms of capital have been rendered short term investments.
It didn’t. Mainly. I think it tried but it didn’t succeed. It maundered through the break up of the partnership of the two entrepreneurs. One of the heroes sold out. The other one didn’t. The bad guys seemed to win and everyone loves Disney. I didn’t find the characters interesting enough to follow their relationship to its death. In a fable about economic models I want economics.
What I took from the novel was that the author thinks that if only things were different the overwhelming coolness of guys like the author will make them rich and famous and well, cool.
I think it would have been a much better story if it had stopped at the original failure of New Work. That was interesting. By following the characters long after they stopped doing anything interesting I think the book lost the initial impact of the New Work experiment. The characters weren’t interesting enough to justify 400 pages of, well frankly, indulgent coolness. Great speculation, mediocre characters, overly drawn out story. An excellent novella ruined by the addition of an overly long and dull sequel.
This is why.
Lack of continuity
A good story has the hearer asking questions that you then answer. A bad story has dead time in which the hearer tries to answer questions that haven’t been asked. Every episode I watch I have questions that I wasn’t meant to ask left unanswered.
( Spoilers and so on, and swearing. )
Questions that are about specific niggles in the story arc of an individual episode. (Why doesn’t the medical computer in Pirates episode learn English?)
Questions that are about the series story arc (Why will the Doctor pull out all the stops to rescue Amy and her baby but not rescue River Song from purgatory?)
Questions about the cynicism of the writers (Do they think abandoning any pretence of continuity is necessary because they can make it more AWESOME if they don’t have to stick to the rules or because they are too careless to do a proper job and think I’m too stupid or too much of a seven year old to notice?)
Does everything have to be EPIC!!! ? Does everything have to be the end of the Universe or the Utter, Total Death of the Daleks**** (and this time we really mean it, until the complaints letters reach the DG, in which case “Ha ha, there is no cannon, there is no continuity and I have a get out of jail free card.”) Even in a story arc that could be described as non-Epic, a simple kidnapping, has to involve the destruction of a whole Cyberman fleet.
This is an intriguing story line (or it could be if I had any confidence that that writers won’t get board of it and decide it was all a dream). There is a lot going on. A murder mystery, a romance, a big back story and a double kidnapping. All of which may or may not be connected. Why try and cram it into one series? It all seems rushed. There is plenty of time. Plenty of time to let the story mature. Plenty of time to let the characters have a good mull over what they are doing and why? Plenty of time to tuck in some other adventures to break up the pacing a little.
If it weren’t so rushed there would be time to properly enjoy some of the characters who reappeared in Demons Run. There would be time to slip in some decent single or double stories that didn’t have to contribute in a cackhanded way to the major story arc. If it weren’t so rushed we would have time to enjoy one of the more interesting aspects of the major, major story arc, that the Doctor and River Song are moving through their love affair in opposite directions. There is enough material for two series, perhaps three. I’ve waited several years to see more of River Song, I can wait 18 months more. We see glimpses of how River Song feels about her love affair but only glimpses. We don’t seem to pick up much from the Doctor about her very sad demise and what, if anything, he intends to do about it.
Careless. The script writers don’t appear to be paying attention to what they are doing or to the characters they have in front of them. The brief and rather pointless appearance of the Cybermen is a case in point. Leaving aside the continuity issues of their re-appearance and the unasked questions such as “How did they get there?” “What are they doing there?” “How would they know where Amy was?” there was no need to massacre them. You kill people to make a point if a) they are being wilfully intransigent b) you are short of time. Given that Rory pops up in their control room and gives them all of ten seconds to think things over one can hardly accuse the Cybermen of wilful intransigence. The Doctor is not short of time. He is effectively immortal and owns a time machine. He’s got time to leave a note for the Cybermen asking for a sit down. He’s got time to have a discussion with them. He’s got time to do a deal and then complete on the deal.* There is no need to murder thousands of individuals unless you want lots of people to say “Cool”.
There are other bits and bobs of carelessness too. How nice to see a gay married couple.** Now, I’m a married man. If My Lovely Wife told me that she had been transferred to some strange religious order*** and one to whom I am not allowed to talk I’d be more than a little upset. If, a few days later, I found out that she had been decapitated and rendered a soulless automata I may be tempted to do a little more than gulp. Given that, when I found out I am armed with a machine gun, things might go hard for the people who did this awful thing to my life partner and the wellspring of my family. If I were the manager of this couple I might have thought it prudent to remove the surviving spouse’s gun before surprising him in the middle of a parade.
Either, don’t make them married or spend some time on a proper reaction to the surprising and horrific death of a spouse.
The Silence, how is that they elude the Doctor for thousands of years but he’s able to stumble over them by chance? If the Silence can avoid detection by a Time Lord on pretty much his home turf why aren’t they running Gallifrey?
Spitfires in space. Cool. What makes them go? How come the pilot can see past the vomit stuck by centrifugal forces to the inside of cockpit from him throwing up as a result of motion sickness caused as the body of the plane rotates the other way to the propeller? And whilst we’re asking questions about the spitfires, didn’t the Doctor remove all of the good stuff from the 1940’s? Did this or did this not include the laser firing spitfires? I want to know because… … because River Song is going to ask me a question with an arched eyebrow that is going to make me think about Moll Flanders and post watershed conversations with MLW.
I’m left with the impression that things are being rushed and not being properly thought out.
The reason for the lack of care, I think, is that it must be EPIC!!! and the writers don’t have to worry about continuity or think they don’t. If they can just get the audience quickly enough to the next cliff hanger and then drop someone off it spectacularly enough we’ll all forget or forgive that we’ve been presented with half drawn caricatures rather than characters and a series of loosely connected explosions rather than a plot.
I think it’s the lack of continuity that is really making me not care about the series. Anything that happens can and will be written out again. I first lost faith when the Daleks returned for the third time. The real kicker was the not-death and not-erasure-from-history of Rory. Why should I care if anyone dies if they can be written back in by fiat of the writer? Why should I care that the last of the Daleks are being sucked down some EPIC!!! plughole in the sky again? When the Daleks first returned I actually felt some sympathy for the last Dalek. Now, that sympathy has been proven to have been practised on. When next the Daleks are the victim of genocide I won’t care. Neither a cheer nor a tear will be my reaction. I don’t believe that it that is the final end of the Daleks. They’ll be back, ready to be sucked down some other plughole in the sky. It’s all very Voltron.
Without continuity or some consistency or genuine cause and effect whatever happens doesn’t mean anything. If what happens doesn’t mean anything why should I care if it happens or not. Why should I care about any emotional response to what has happened? The chances are that anything big enough to make me have a significant emotional response to the characters emotional response is big enough to have to be undone. I’ve seen stories that dealt with the lack of continuity caused by time paradoxes well. John Crowley’s Great Work of Time for example. This current series is far from up to that mark.
How did Rory as the Last Centurion become so famous that non-Earth people would recognise him. He spent all his time in a box that no longer exists. Perhaps Rory could explain. Oh No! Those bastards have killed Rory. Bastards.
I don’t feel like shouting at Bastards at the TV. I did the first few times this trick was played on me but..Oh, Hello Rory… I was just explaining to the nice boys and girls that you aren’t dead, again. Or rather, at some point in the future your past will be changed so you won’t be deaded (cut to a long shot of Karen Gillan’s legs). It’s all timey wimey.
I know Rose won’t be back because Billy Piper is making more money playing Belle du Jour but that’s about the only thing I can depend on. *****. This is the thing that most upsets me about the lack of continuity. It’s not just that the continuity is poor and means that I can’t become emotionally connected to anything or anyone in the story. The thing that gets me is that the lack of continuity is cynically driven. I think the production team think they have to be more EPIC!!! than anyone before but they don’t have the courage to stick with the decisions they have made and then follow them through. So they over use the ability of their central character to create and then untangle time paradoxes as a way to eat their cake and have it too. The bastards who are killing Rory are no longer the bastards on the screen but the bastards behind it and I can see them.
I think you can do EPIC!!! and continuity but you can’t do EPIC!!! without continuity, because unless the EPIC!!! sticks it isn’t really EPIC!!! It’s just a big bang.
When I watch a family programme with lots of turns and twists in it I want to be able to help my children work out what has happened and guess what is going to come next by talking about character, by reminding them of a clue they’ve seen or by drawing on my decades of fan-based knowledge. I don’t want to have explain what is going on by referring to the cynicism of the production team.
“Where did the spitfires come from daddy, I thought the fat man had been made to give them all back?”
“Ah, well Captain, my boy, the producers were rather hoping that you would be too busy thinking “Cool” to ask that question and that your mum and I would be too busy enjoying the bondage joke to comment on the continuity error.”
I just don’t think Doctor Who is very good at the moment. I find it lazy, rushed, too satisfied with its own cleverness to realise it’s not clever enough. I don’t care about the characters. When I wake up all of Series Six will have just been a dream.
Doctor Who used to be the thing around which my household built our weekend. At the moment I couldn’t ask the other members of my family to indulge me by arranging their lives around my desire to be sitting in front of the television with a cold beer as soon as the programme starts. I just don’t care enough. I’ll catch it on iPlayer, or maybe I won’t.
*In my view a series of Herculean quests like the Key of Time story arc with Tom Baker’s Doctor and Romana in which the Doctor attempts to track down Amy and work out what her abductors are up to would have made a decent series. The Christmas special with the Lovely Katherine Jenkins shows the Doctor taking the time to use time to change the mind of one key individual. Not cool enough for the Cybermen.
** but a little sad that they were a touch mincing.
*** or gone to work for a large bank.
**** Cynical Spoiler Warning, they aren’t all dead, they are alive somewhere you’ve not heard of yet and will make an EPIC!!! return when the ratings start to dip and the BBC refuses to allow the show to move to after the watershed thus excluded the possibility of an Amy, River, Green Thing with the “hilariously lesbian”****** tongue threesome.
*****John Barrowman’s earnings appear marginal enough that he might return
****** Following the joke about the tongue I am now waiting for the next black man in the programme to be greeted with jokes about the size of his cock. Perhaps Colonel Run Away is really called that because he is so well endowed that he tripped over his own penis.