Gosh time really does fly, while simultaneously flexing with all the integrity of sun-warmed chewing gum… so, yeah, it’s Friday already and I haven’t completed my sole personal task of the week – recording what the I’ve watched and done. Obviously I’ve done relatively little, except drunk spectacular quantities of beer and gazed listlessly at our blossoming lilac tree. That’s right: I’ve been outside! In fact, I spent most of last week outside. Work very kindly ordered us some desks in an attempt to aid good workspace habits, since I’ve been sitting on the sofa with my laptop on my knees for six weeks or so… It’s a nice little desk, but it does rather fill our front room. The brightening weather gave me ideas! After a day sitting under said lilac tree I got quite enthusiastic, ordering a WIFI extender thing (with antennae! Must be good.) and unfurling the gazebo. I even went so far as to lay out four of the concrete slabs that have been stacked in our garden for more than a decade, pending the creation of a patio. It was quite lovely. I spent my days in sunshine, watching the cats race around the garden, the gentle scent of lilac and roses wafting into my hardworking face. Pretty nice week all round really.
Reading: The Human (Rise of the Jain #3) by Neal Asher
I don’t often pre-order books (I know, as a publishing person I should know better…) but that’s mostly because by to-be-read stack both physical and digital is absurd. The coronavirus means I want things to look forward to! I’ve been reading Asher’s Polity books for years – fast-paced military space opera with great intergalactic conflict, high tech, terrifying aliens and engaging heroes. The set up… it’s an advanced human civilisation slowly taken over by the AIs we built, so that now Earth Central is a massively powerful AI who runs the whole show, and much better than we ever managed. The AIs do have a ruthlessly utilitarian slant though, and while mostly that means they do make life better for the majority, sometimes it means they sacrifice whole worlds to save the rest of the Polity… This is so far into the story that it’s near impossible to summarise what’s going on! Ancient alien technology – the Jain – enables nano-(and even pico-)engineering on a thrilling scale, but is horribly prone to taking over its user and sequestering every resource in sight, utterly destroying the civilisation that tried to use it. A vast array of active Jain tech has been swirling around the heart of a galaxy for millions of years. For the last few hundred years, Orlandine, a vastly upgraded “haiman”, half AI, half human who has seemingly tamed Jain tech for her own purposes, as well as the gnomic moon-sized alien entity, Dragon, have been preventing it from escaping and wreaking havoc.
That all went spectacularly tits up in the last book, and this is the final struggle to contain the Jain before it wipes out everyone. This installment really builds on the transhuman character development of Orlandine, the Polity AIs, the horrifying crab-like human-munching aliens, the Prador, and a host of other characters, many of them infected with Jain ambition among other things. It’s impossibly epic, with vast stakes, finally revealing the true dangers of the alien tech and a lot more about where it truly comes from. As a huge fan of the universe, I was delighted by this, even if the ending comes about a little quickly. Fear not though, there are plenty of hints at what is still unknown, and critical figures are conspicuously absent. Bring on the next trilogy please!
Building: LEGO Y-Wing Starfighter – LEGO 75181
Ermagherd, is I believe, how the young folk express their fondness for a thing. It is how I should like to express my fondness for this splendid build! This is the first UCS (ultimate collector series) I’ve had the chance to assemble, and I’m pretty impressed. In truth, I nicked it from work (sliced open the box and emptied it into a rucksack, walks away whistling etc), and probably would not have bought it for myself. It’s Star Wars, so it’s huge and mostly grey. The Y-Wings are rightly iconic for getting blown to pieces above various Death Stars, but they look so damned cool. I’ve already got a LEGO Y-Wing, now that I think about it – the 1999 edition that came with a tie-fighter. It was rad at the time, but this massive set comprehensively blows it out of the water and vaporises the lake it was skimming over. At a mere 1967 pieces, I was confident that I could build it in an evening, but naturally failed. Instead it dominated an entire Saturday afternoon while I watched more of season two of Agents of SHIELD (which I’ve had to pause to watch Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron because the latter takes place around episode 20!). Rarely have I spent a Saturday afternoon so productively!
Like a lot of the larger LEGO vehicles I’ve built, there are plenty of time when I have no idea what I’m assembling. This one went through a canal barge to crucifix stage pretty quickly, and as soon as the cockpit clips in it’s instantly recognisable. That cockpit itself is loaded with clever building tricks to give it a smooth and curved underside as neat as the top, sneaky stuff to invert the direction of the studs. It’s stuff I’m terrible at in my own building and I’m keen to learn from it. The nacelles have simpler tactics for allowing intense greebling all the way round the square pillars. The greeblage is mighty all over the back and underside of the Y-Wing. One of the things I often admire about official LEGO sets is the masterful balance of detailing, whether it’s in a scatter of cheese slopes, a light touch in patterning brick colours, or in this – while there’s a lot of detailing, it’s not so insanely overdone that it detracts from the model at a distance. The Y-Wing looks fantastically good, such a nice version of the film designs. There are though a bunch of stickers to apply on the cockpit which stressed me out to apply neatly. Not half as much as the massive sticker for the info plaque though. It really shouldn’t generate such anxiety! Nevertheless, I think I got it on perfectly.
The minifigs are great, as you’d expect, with a finely detailed Gold leader and a shiny silver R2-BHD astromech. Yeah, I love this thing. It is way too big to put anywhere in our house, sadly, but it will come apart into three neat pieces for transporting back to work once all this is over. Lamentably, having assembled this one, I now find myself eyeing up the far smaller A-Wing that’s just been released. That’s definitely shelf-sized…
Watching: Star Trek: Picard
We’d been waiting for all the episodes to be released on Amazon Prime before we began this. Our preference is definitely bingeing hard, rather than the agonising wait till next week. I’ve not reflected much on the change in our viewing habits in the last decade, but I think I’m getting more enjoyment from being deeply embedded in a show for a couple of weeks than dipping in and out of several simultaneously. However, I fear I’m going to have to do a second watch of Picard, because unlike Discovery which I adored from beginning to end, I just don’t know what to think of this new spin-off. Perhaps we’ll find out while I ramble…
The character of Jean-Luc Picard is obviously great – Patrick Stewart made Star Trek: The Next Generation come alive, and even though a lot of it is barely watchable now, the interactions of Captain Picard and his close-knit crew are delightful. TNG set the ground for the vastly superior Deep Space Nine that followed, with its huge and rewarding story arcs advancing the previous episodic narrative. With the exception of the Borg episodes, TNG never got the opportunity to do that, and with the similar exception of First Contact, its follow up movies are dreadful, though none as bad at those of the original series. I’ve been without Picard since First Contact in 1996 (holy fuck, how long?!), though the aforementioned dodgy movies have continued. So, a twenty year or so wait to return, that’s pretty high stakes.
Picard disabuses us pretty quickly of this being a high action show like Discovery. In a curiously similar vein to the new Star Wars movies’ Luke Skywalker story, Picard is long retired from Star Fleet, having been fired/quit when Star Fleet backed away from a commitment to help resettle the peoples of Romulus after their home planet got fried. He’s spent the rest of the time chilling in his vineyard home, tended by ex-secret service Romulans and generally doing fuck all but seethe that Star Fleet let him down. He’s run away from his responsibilities, having failed to be the man he thought he was. Enter a young (spoiler) human-passing android on the run from some dudes trying to kill her. She doesn’t know she’s an android but knows a lot of stuff, is super-fast and knows she needs to find Picard. It’s no shock to discover that she’s Data’s daughter, somehow. But she gets offed by some more Romulan spec ops bad guys, and Picard’s off on a mission to find her twin sister, save the galaxy, stop the Romulans etc.
Since Picard’s no longer Star Fleet he has to assemble a rag tag crew (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) since Star Fleet really don’t like him any more. The pacing is glacial at times, and it’s hard to understand what they’re actually aiming for in this. It takes ages to get into space (which is all fabulously Star Warsy rather than the Trek we’ve seen before) where we finally catch up with a ruined Borg cube that’s being rehabilitated by Romulans (for reasons I honestly can’t recall), and on which the android twin is working, while dating an actual piece of shit Romulan secret secret secret service guy who’s part of an inner circle dedicated to wiping out all synthetic life.
There is a lot of great stuff in here – Seven of Nine’s return is a delight, Riker!, learning that Romulan assassin folk are just feudal Japanese folk, complete with haircuts and robes is peculiar, but kinda fun, and eventually a lot of things happen, quite fast. Picard nearly dies, they find more androids, he saves the day. I don’t honestly consider that to be a spoiler! The whole show is soaked in nostalgia, which is only partly rubbing off on me. If there weren’t so many people involved, and such cool design work going on I’d write it off as a vanity project. It’s definitely more than that, but I don’t know what… Watch it, if you’re into Trek, otherwise I cannot imagine this having any appeal at all.
Doing: Virtual Improv Drop-In with MissImp
Last week’s new improv workshop was with Stephen Davidson, who’s just the loveliest and most passionate guy. His workshop is a real delight! Enjoy.