The sun has re-emerged over the last weekend, albeit studded with lightning, but it means I’m happily back outside for work and well, whatever. Feels like a steadier week all over, though sleep is still quite patchy. I assume everyone else is drinking more booze during lockdown (please say “yes”) which doesn’t always play well with upping one’s sleeping tablets… There’s a balance to be found there I guess. I certainly had a few days last week where I just could not be fucked to get out of bed early enough to go and do exercise, which of course then makes everything harder. Self-discipline is harder than it should be. That ride out first thing in the morning is proving ridiculously important, not least because it gives me some hope of keeping up with my podcast backlog. No forty minute tootling round Attenborough Nature Reserve can compete with an hour and half daily commute, so I’ve been forced to be brutal with my subscriptions. I don’t feel good about dropping a couple of podcasts, but I’m finding I want to listen to much more of the banter and nonsense of The Weekly Planet than the BBFC Podcast. Once we’re finally back at work I’ll be upping my audio intake again.
In the meantime… Last week had some fun stuff in it. I’ve gotten into reading anthologies for possibly the first time in 25 years, and have cheerfully chewed through a couple in the last week. I’m hoping it’s gonna prime my brain for delving back into much longer fiction, but that also means I need to prise open the book cupboard, and that’s intimidating in all respects. In gaming news, I’m up to 86.6% in LEGO Star Wars – The Complete Saga, so that’s good news. Hit the 4 billion studs ceiling at last… We also ran a full virtual Gorilla Burger last Thursday in the MissImp Facebook group, after testing it out a month ago. It was really fun! But Zoom hosting is exhausting. I slept good and hard after finally chilling down afterwards.
Reading: The Best of John Wyndham by, um, John Wyndham
This is a great collection of Wyndham’s works, selecting key stories in chronological order. I’m always struck by how damn readable Wyndham is. He’s got such a smooth and friendly writing style that I feel instantly engaged and warm towards it. Some of the stories feel a little dated, but I suspect that’s mostly because the themes and ideas have been explored in much greater depth and length subsequently – he’s still a hell of an innovator. Standouts include Pawley’s Peepholes in which future folks wreak havoc by treating a small town like a reality TV show, and their revenge is very pleasing; the rather stark coverage of racism in Dumb Martian feels very timely, as an human buys a martian bride to while away his time working in isolation in deep space… it does not end well for him; I’m very fond of The Man from Beyond, which features a pretty classic SF timeline twist as an earthman earnestly persuades venusians to avoid all contact with Earth, and the opening story The Lost Machine is a great account of an AI surviving 20th century humanity. Hell, they’re all good, ranging from fun to thought-provoking. What more do you want? Onward to Jizzle I think.
Reading: Journal of the Plague Year: A Post-Apocalytic Omnibus by C B Harvey, Malcolm Cross and Adrian Tchaikovsky
Sure, this is the perfect time to read about a pandemic that wipes out 99% of the global population. I thought as much. C B Harvey’s opening story Orbital Decay set on the International Space Station while the pandemic sweeps the globe, including the right wing nutters convinced that it and the space mission are all a hoax, was exactly what I wanted to read: tense, intriguing and has a perfect SF twist at the end. Of course, I’d totally failed to note that this is one of several omnibuses set in the same world of “the Cull” as the people name the disease, but was delighted to find all three stories set at different stages and places across the world. Malcolm Cross’s Dead Kelly covers the exploits of an Australian gangster returning from the bush to assert his authority on the dwindled survivors of a town. It’s pretty punchy, though it wasn’t exactly the “everyone’s dying right now” vibe I apparently sought. The omnibus finishes up with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Bloody Deluge shifts the action to survivors in Poland choosing either salvation with tolerant religious groups, or the rabid Nazi religious kind. Tough call! That too, is very tense and typically complex and interesting. It seems this is just stories #13-15 of the Afterblight Chronicles, so there’s plenty more to get into!
Watching: Artemis Fowl
Fucking hell. I know book to film adaptations are tricky, but you don’t have to fuck it up in every possible way. Suffice to say (lest I fall to ranting), this is almost the polar opposite in terms of plot and character for Eoin Colfer’s quite excellent YA adventures (which you should read because they’re lots of fun. I’ll be re-reading them to erase this ghastly brain stain). Instead of Artemis being a wickedly smart evil genius crimelord, his dad’s a criminal (except he’s not, he’s rescuing important artifacts, because why would the story be interesting or good?), and he’s a maudlin teenager directed in staggeringly poor fashion by Kenneth “The Worst Poirot Imaginable” Branagh. Just get fucked. It’s impossibly tedious and generic, failing both its source material and audience with incredible dexterity. From a story about a ruthless criminal mastermind discovering the secret faerie realm, kidnapping one of them and ransoming it to restore his family to its former fortunes, we go to a moody kid who has to find the bullshit object his dad has stolen from the fairies, but it’s in his house already, so there is no adventuring at all and instead of discovery and witty hijinks with the fairies, we get an interminable siege of his house, presided over by Judi Dench in her “Pete Postlethwaite in a condom-lampshade Aeon Flux“ follow up to Cats. I’d almost forgotten about the abysmal framing of the story with Mulch Diggums (the giant dwarf) telling the story while in prison. Its existence suggests they totally lost the plot and desperately reached for a prologue that should have been unnecessary, delivered by Josh Gads desperately straining his voice for deep and gravelly. Fucking hell. Watch the trailer, punch yourself in the face why don’t ya.
Watching: The Vast of Night
Recommended by a friend, this is an extremely low budget and vaguely Lovecraftian-vibed UFO story set around a telephone exchange and local radio station. The dialogue is mile a minute, in incredibly long takes, which is really impressive, and it’s really committed, well-written stuff. With its very low budget there’s not much in the way of aliens, till a nice reveal at the end. The mystery loops around a weird sound breaking into the local DJs music and chat show, noted by the girl working the telephone exchange. The mystery deepens when an ex-military caller recounts his experiences on secret missions where that sound was also present… The film accelerates really nicely, maintaining a general air of increasing tension and that something profoundly weird is happening. Expect no Independence Day action nonsense and you should be pleasantly surprised. There are also a few long and slow gliding shots through the town at near ground level (presumably camera on a bike or drone), which are absurdly tense and interesting. Watch it!
Watching: Trinkets season one
Continuing our taste for absorbing every teenage coming of age drama on Netflix, Trinkets is exactly that, but with a trio of shoplifters. That’s pretty much it, except they’re very well cast and delivered, even if the material is quite familiar stuff. We liked it a lot, even though I can’t necessarily produce a lot to say about it. If you like this kind of show, you will like this show.
Yet another really very good pre-recorded workshop for your enjoyment. This time we’ve got Sophie Owen talking about status; how to use it and some especially useful stuff about recognising it in the world around us.