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Last Week: Cage of Souls, Altered Carbon, The Girl Beneath the Sea, We Are What We Overcome podcast, MissImp Virtual Drop-Ins

BIrthday, Booze and Bumbling

Sure, it’s Friday – or is it? Who the hell knows. I can’t tell the difference, and worst of all I’m writing this (at last) on day one of our four day bank holiday weekend. Thank goodness my workmates told me, otherwise I’d have been working all day. So, with five days separating me from last week, what can I actually recall… I’m in luck, because I’ve started to keep a list. Genius plan, which I undermine as I fail to write stuff down. That feels a lot like our present state of lockdown – it all constantly slips away… I’m still feeling the massive contrast between the hysteria of 24 hour news and this just feeling like normal life. I’m also utterly thrilled to be spending so much time with my beautiful cats.

Still, we had my other half’s birthday, and I feel we made the most of it. Our usual birthday activities are something along the line’s of 1) get up very late, 2) take ages to eat breakfast and get dressed, 3) open presents while watching cartoons (this year we enjoyed Disney+’s Chip ’n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, which feels like it’s suffered the passage of time better than Duck Tales), 4) go to the cinema, 5) eat out somewhere, and 6) crash out on the sofa. On that scale we at least managed all but 4 and 5. So that’s not bad. The whole pandemic and not being able to choose to go out only really hit home when we wanted to complete our usual rituals. Nemmind. I snagged a piece of rather nice original Peter Firmin Bagpuss art, so part 3 of the day was pretty good. We celebrated with a few more folks in a large and very chaotic Zoom party. Weird, for sure, but nice to see peeps.

Obviously all independent businesses are struggling right now, and worse, some people are finding it hard to acquire enough booze to get through the melding days. No fear of that here in Beeston! I was over the moon to see our local independent brewer Totally Brewed (who have homes at the lovely micropub Totally Tapped in Beeston and The Overdraught at the top of Canning Circus) arranged for Friday home deliveries!

Doing: podcasting (live-ish) with We Are What We Overcome

On Sunday we the We Are What We Overcome podcast gang got together to attempt a Zoom to Facebook Live thingamajig. It worked so well in practice, but totally failed to work as expected. Not to worry. We recorded it anyway, and popped the video up on Monday afternoon. We decided to have a little check-in, like we usually do at the start of our episodes, but for longer as this is a strange time, and we all have different feelings about it. I think it’s quite a nice chat – you can watch/listen to it below. Rather nicely, it’s all four us, including Neil who’s usually behind the sound recording desk (or whatever it is that he does to magically trap our speech). At some point we’ll pop the audio out on the podcast feed, but there are a few in the bank already to be rolled out on schedule first. Even better news, we’re gonna try the Facebook Live thang again this Sunday, and every fortnight for the near future, or at least as long as we’re in lockdown. Future ones will show up on our Facebook page here, and I’ll stick a link on the WAWWO page of this website too.

Watching: Altered Carbon season two

I really enjoyed Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon and its sequels – splendid fast-paced noirpunk with loads of action and murder/spy stuff. The central premise that your identity is contained in a stack at the top of your spine and can be swapped between bodies (the so charming “sleeves”) is fantastic, and the results of your body no longer being a part of who you are is ingenious and spun out well in the books. It translated pretty well into season one of the Netflix show, albeit with a lot of gratuitous nudity as we found ourselves in a pretty traditional cyberpunk setting of rain and holograms of hookers everywhere. I enjoyed it, but until I saw the ‘last time on Altered Carbon‘ I could not have told you what happened.

I fucking love Anthony Mackie, he’s immensely charming, fun, and credible in action, drama and comedy (having re-watched Captain America: the Winter Soldier just this afternoon, he is confirmed in my mind as a splendid human). But there’s something wrong with season two – it’s just drifted into the quest for Takeshi Kovacs to find his long-lost love, and while that’s in the books, it doesn’t feel like the driving force of the story. The noir detective element is here, but it feels lost and forced. Added to that are the continued tribulations of his AI hotelier pal, Poe (yep, Edgar Allan), who is very appealing as he finds another AI who he clearly kind of fancies as his grasp on the world deteriorates, but it doesn’t matter. The AI subplot is completely irrelevant and its lack of importance kept punching me in the face. Alas, this season has lost me and I kept drifting away while watching. Maybe I’ll have a rewatch after this nonsense time is over, and perhaps I’ll focus better.

Reading: Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I cannot help reading Adrian’s books – it’s a kind of addiction. This one had languished for a while on my Kindle TBR because I’d incorrectly associated the cover with fantasy, and I’ve been in a science fiction mood for a while. Reading definitely feels tougher than usual, and it takes something extra (or just really fast) to captivate my attention. Here we have far-future post-every-apocalypse with Shadrapur, the last human city on (presumably) Earth. Humanity stumbles on, pretending that the end is not very close, echoing the civilisations that have fallen along the way. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stuff (not so much the usual zombies). This has much more of JG Ballard’s The Crystal World and a bit of Brian Aldiss Hothouse vibe, with the natural world running riot, overwhelming our vain attempts at order and showing every chance of becoming something else. Cage of Souls takes us through the life of one of these last men, Stefan Advani, and how it is that he ended up in a ghastly prison cast out in the middle of nature. This is a big fat book, and for a while it was slow going, though that’s rarely an issue with Tchaikovsky’s glowing prose and this most alluring world of the end-times, but as the depth of the world and its strange inhabitants unfolded I was happily engaged. The Count of Monte Cristo feel is strong, with our unjustly imprisoned academic turned accidental rebel, dealing with an appallingly dangerous prison that the guys in Oz could only hope for, with monsters seizing inmates through the bars of the lowest levels and an absolute monster in charge of the prison. The novel really opens up when we explore the misadventures that preceded Stefani’s arrival, and (spoiler), what happens afterwards. It’s a delight of a book, full of surprises, possible callbacks to novels I adore, an unreliable narrator and a weird, weird world to engulf them.

Reading: The Girl Beneath the Sea by Andrew Mayne

After a big book I needed a short book, and this was waiting for me on my Kindle. A short, quick detective thriller with a slightly different setup (though with hefty shades of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt stories), of Sloan McPherson – 50% diver with a family dedicated to shady treasure hunting, and 50% auxiliary cop in the Florida quays. There’s nothing exceptional about the plotting – Sloan gets a body dumped into the canal while she’s diving, and quickly finds herself implicated in a conspiracy linked to her dodgy criminal uncle and the aforementioned shady family. It had everything I needed, from snappy dialogue and snarky characters to gunfights and underwater shenanigans. Very satisfying, and I may well dig up the next in the Underwater Investigations series.

Watching: Virtual Improv Comedy Workshops with MissImp

Time blurs, and I discover that the workshop I wrote about last week was actually from the week before! Who’d’a’ thunk it. But that’s cool, it means there are two workshops for you to catch up on. First up the splendid Ki Shah and Russ Payne on Physicality, Objects & Movement. This is a genuinely charming two-hander and I think you’ll be smiling all the way through. Second up is LA improviser Jay Sukow on Solo Improv. I confess I’ve not yet watched this one, which puts me at least two behind as well… Both vids are below – enjoy!

Next Week

Sabrina the Teenage Witch season 3, The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch, LEGO Ideas Dinosaurs and probably The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (if I finish it this weekend). I should do an MCU quick review thing at some point too.


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