This is an enjoyable time-travel science fiction novel, mainly set in the 1300s in Languedoc. It's about a scientific mission, but there's more academic politicking than science - which suits me fine, because in so far as there is any real time-travel science I don't have a hope of understanding it. I can relate to office politics, and to medieval studies - and it does both of these rather well. Lots of humour and nice descriptions of both the scientists and the villagers, and quite a lot of thought about how travellers from the future would appear to medieval villagers. A very Australian book, especially in the language - I wonder whether the author did this deliberately or unthinkingly. Anyway, that made it more enjoyable for me.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
An enjoyable historical novel, mainly about the characters of the two men - Humboldt and Gauss - who each seem to have been insufferable in their own way. Lots of detail and some insight into what it must feel like to be cleverer than everyone you ever meet; sensitive depiction of the plight of poor old Bonpland, Humboldt's companion on his voyages, who went through all the misery but gets none of the credit. It's suggested that Humboldt was gay, though very much in passing.
I bought this because I'd read one of the stories from the collection, Niagara Falling, in another collection, and I liked it so much that I thought...well, you know. But as it turns out, that was the best story in this collection. I also liked the Pad Cadigan story, Tea from an Empty Cup, but I'd read that before too. Some of the others are OK - I liked the last one, thirteen Views of Higher Edo, but they mostly feel very dated for future-facing science fiction...after 20 years of stagnation the idea that Japan will dominate the economic and technological future seems just implausible.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Time well spent, and I'd recommend this one.
Small note about presentation: the cover shows the crests of the prizes for which it was nominated; it didn't actually win any prizes. That feels a bit of a cheat.
Monday, November 23, 2015
The acting is great, the script very well written...sometimes the filming is a bit slow, but really it's a gem. Very poignant, brings up a lot of stuff about ageing, treatment of the mentally ill, the meagre 'comforts' offered by organised religion...just great.
It would be interesting to know whether non-British people could possibly enjoy this.
Small personal note - after my Dad closed his shop and went into semi-retirement he started doing locum work at an optical practice in Parkway, Camden Town. Alan Bennett was one of the customers, and Dad adjusted his glasses and I think made him a new pair. Dad was full of praise for what a nice man AB was.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
In some ways it's the film I've been expecting from Terry Gilliam for years, and which he has consistently failed to deliver.
In a spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that a week later I don't remember it very well. It's a visual and visceral experience rather than an intellectual one. Still, I suppose that means I can watch it again!
Relentlessly depressing, with a Nazi prison camp back-story for the old woman (also a lesbian, who sees her Jewish lover executed). I wonder what we'll do for gravitas when it's no longer plausible for contemporary film characters to have had direct experience of Nazi camps?
Not a bad film though, with good acting, enough tension and drama (because it's not Hollywood we don't know whether it will have a happy ending) and lots of dark cinematography.
The monk is bringing up a small boy who lives with him, also wearing monk's garb. The boy roams freely but then performs various cruelties on local wildlife - he ties a stone to a fish, a frog and a bird. The monk shows him how it feels by tying a very heavy stone to the boy, who then remorsefully sets out to free the animals but finds some of them have died. In the next season a woman brings a sick girl to recuperate on the island; the boy, now grown in to a young man, has sex with the girl in various nooks on the island. He and the girl sleep in a boat on the lake, and the monk removes the bung from the boat so that it fills with water.
The young man leaves but returns as a not-so-young man on the run from the police for killing his wife; the monk takes him and hides him from the police who come looking for him. The now old monk dies, the younger man takes his place, and in the final scene a young woman brings a baby for him to look after. There is a lot of footage of scenery with a Buddhist hymn (with lyrics that don't hold up well in translation) sung by a female choir in the background.
The film is very slow, beautiful to look at but not very engaging as cinema. Not sure that this was time well spent.
Friday, November 20, 2015
I've really loved some of Jonathan Coe's books (The Rotters' Club, House of Sleep) and not liked some others (Dwarves of Death). This one sits somewhere in the middle, to my surprise. It takes a long time to get started, and I found the mundane details of the main character's life dull - well, they are supposed to be, but couldn't we have established that rather more quickly? It's more interesting when he gets to Belgium, and by the end I was emotionally engaged with him, his wife, his situation.
By the end I was sorry it was over - the impact of finishing with a present-day epilogue in which many of the main characters are dead is poignant. On the other hand, I didn't like the MI5 characters' double act - it reminded me too much of Ealing comedies, and felt like it was played for laughs according to a formula.
I note that 1958 was the year of my own birth, so the main characters are contemporaries of my parents. I don't know whether Coe is over-doing it, but London in 1958 seems really depressing, as if the war and rationing have only just finished.
Some of them really worked for me, and others made me want to skip quickly on to the next. Quite a few stories in which men are raped by machines. I liked best those that took the steampunk technology for granted rather than made it the focus of the technology, and those that managed to do a workable pastiche of Victorian style.
A number of the stories feature female oriental villains which rather reminded me of Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu, even though the characters are mainly women. Is that OK in a retro context?
General thought is that I still haven't found much steampunk fiction where the writing lives up to the visual aesthetic - the cover is rather better than the stories!
Thursday, November 12, 2015
The Indian's golden-boy son becomes a fabulous celebrated French cook but nevertheless leaves celebrity in Paris to work in Mirren's provincial restaurant. There's almost no racism, no commercial competition, no family rows that last longer than a nano-second, and absolutely no tension. It did make me quite hungry watching it, though.