science fiction

Kettle Pot Black

I have always been slightly uneasy about my geek tendencies, but there is no denying them. I worked briefly for a computer gaming magazine in my early student years, I have a respectable selection of polygon dice, the shelves boast both Geoffrey Chaucer and William Gibson, and I have seen Star Wars more time than I care to admit. I even saw Revenge of the Sith twice in theatres which is geek dedication, I will have you know. But I won't stand for just any dross just because it has a spaceship, clever future technologies or a ray-gun. No, I like my genre indulgences to be smart, interesting and ambitious (.. or have Ewan McGregor wielding a light sabre).

We watched Franklyn tonight. A strange little genre film starring Ryan Phillippe and Eva Green - the sort of film B-list actors do between mortgage-paying big studio films and which often end up their best showcases (Gangster No. 1 is still Paul Bettany's best film, for instance). I liked Franklyn, I really did. It felt like a British cross between Dark City and Donnie Darko with beautiful photography and stunning art direction to boot. I am not sure it would appeal to people with little interest in "geek stuff" but if you like your slightly surreal alternate realities and high concepts, this film might just appeal. As David said to me earlier: "If I had watched this two days ago, it would have been my favourite film of 2009".

Speaking of "high concepts" I was mildly amused to see Adam Roberts' review of the new Jasper Fforde opus in The Guardian.

A kind of pleasant implausibility has always been at the heart of Fforde's appeal. (..) Shades of Grey, while not laugh-out-loud funny, is agreeably and pleasantly eccentric, cleanly written and nicely characterised. (..) The first 250 pages are narratively underpowered and rather diffuse. Fforde's young protagonist, Edward Russet, putters around his world, and the reader slowly builds up a picture of how things work. The second half is more gripping, and a climactic expedition (..) becomes page-turningly exciting. (..) I finished it with the sense that there's less to it than meets the eye. The narrowness of the high concept is, finally, too much a sort of meagreness, and too little a scalpel edge.

Compare this with my own recent review of Roberts' own Yellow Blue Tibia (in which I sadly omit to mention the strained comedic tone to the first 250 pages and the painstakingly eccentric characters which litter the entire novel):

I read Adam Roberts’ Yellow Blue Tibia this holiday season and I wanted to love it. Its premise sounds like something I would like – Soviet Union, science fiction writers and the possibility of multiple realities – but I ended up being disappointed. Roberts’ writing is sloppy (as is the editing), the tone is uneven and the book does not live up to its premise until fifty pages from the end when you get the feeling Roberts is finally writing the book he wants to write. I was very unimpressive with a running gag about a man with Asperger’s Syndrome which was wholly unnecessary to the plot and jarred badly. Still, the last fifty pages or so redeemed the book from being merely a bad read. It was an uneven and occasionally interesting read.

Maybe Roberts should have called his book Kettle Pot Black instead.

In Kansas City With My Favourite Tattoo

norwaylightsOn Tuesday, northern Norway experienced a strange light show. No, the photo you see on your left is not a Photoshopped image. It is the real deal. But what caused this bizarre phenomenon? Bad Astronomy can tell you (incidentally, if you are not following the Bad Astronomy blog, do so! It is great). All that aside, my first reaction was: "Oh my giddy aunt, northern Norway? Philip Pullman got it right!" This reaction was quickly followed by: "Northern Norway? Wonder if there is a Bad Wolf Bay close by..? Oh no, not Rose again?!" And then I realised that maybe I am a bit of a geek after all..

Speaking of which, we watched Duncan Jones' Moon the other night. I enjoyed it, although it did not move me (but I do not think the film intended to move me and I appreciate that). A man stuck on a lunar mining base with a three-year contract about to run out, a robot to keep him company and an unreliable video link to Earth. Space is not a brilliant, adventurous place. It is lonely, cold and remote and it forces people to address questions about human identity, the frailty of memory, and the relationships between Man and Machine. Maybe this sounds dry, but Moon is a good film. Recommended.

And the other side of my geekiness: literature. This photoblog of literary tattoos has me wishing I wasn't so scared of needles, because, seriously, there are some really amazing tats there. One of my favourite songs of this past decade (and just maybe of all-time) is about a literary tattoo: The Lucksmiths' "Fiction"(youtube link)

Oh, and the new Drops Summer Collection has just been unveiled. Voting decides which ones will be given full translation priority, but I just enjoy looking at the patterns. A few look interesting, but, really I'm not that bowled over. Perhaps it's because it's not even Christmas yet and they are talking about summer designs?!

Deja Vu

YouTube Comment or E.E.Cummings? One of the funniest 20th century poetry/21st Century internet crossovers I have seen today. Not that I have seen that many, of course. After a few weeks of awe-inspiring knitting productivity, my busy fingers have become almost idle. I cast on, knit maybe twenty rows, decide the project doesn't thrill me and I rip it all out. Lather, rinse, repeat. Possibly it is the continuous failure of Topstykke that haunts me. The pattern is great, of course, but I keep messing up:

  1. I cast on too few stitches and tried to remedy this whilst on a fast moving bus to Aberdeenshire filled with shouty Russian students.
  2. I cast on the correct number of stitches but lost my stitch markers somewhere between a sofa and the kitchen table (a 3 year old nephew might have been involved).
  3. I cast on correct number of stitches, got all of the set-up row right and blissfully knitted on until I realised that I was knitting a size up from what I'm supposed to knit.
  4. I cast on correct number of stitches, got all of the set-up row right and blissfully knitted on until I realised I had twisted my cast-on and I was knitting a moebius-shaped top which will be impossible to wear (in this dimension, at least).

So I think it is time to let Topstykke rest for a few weeks whilst I get other things done. David's sweater is a top priority (he won the Halloween costume competition, by the way) and I want to have another lace shawl on my needles (Aeolian, I'm looking at you). I just hope that I can stick with those two projects and not rip them out after twenty rows.

Shockingly enough I have begun reading again and am currently one-third through Iain Banks' Transition. Banks strides the literary and speculative fiction divide, but cunningly uses a middle initial "M" to differentiate between the two genres. Interestingly, "Transition" is being marketed in the UK without the "M" (i.e. it is not speculative fiction, you fools!) whereas the US market gets courted with the "M" (hey, it's speculative fiction!). My favourite Banks novel, The Bridge, is a non-M novel but is more speculative than many genre novels. It's all about marketing, isn't it? So far I'm enjoying the novel, in case you were wondering..


april-126Do you think reality TV beckons me? I'm thinking of entering one of those "Britain's Got Talent!" shows with my uncanny ability to acquire a massive amount of books without spending much money. This week's haul is pictured to the left. Fourteen books adding up to a whopping total of £4.50. Okay, so the top one was a bookmooch and the bottom four were purchased with a five-pound note I found on the street, but it is still not bad going.

The selection is suitably eclectic (for me, anyways): some bestsellers, some fluffy Georgette Heyers, a historical novel which had been recommended to me by my old mentor, some Booker nominees/winners, a bonafide classic and some slightly obscure novels.

I'm a chapter into Heyer's Cousin Kate and will also start Crumey's Mr Mee as soon as possible.

Some links for your perusal:

Welcome to Pig Island

Radiant Copenhagen (via) is both most most fascinating and disturbing thing I have seen in a long time.

Global warming has flooded the tunnels of the Christianshavn part of the Copenhagen metro network. Now the metro is occupied by whales and the occasional diver. Other strange things are happening to Copenhagen too.

This scenario is part of an elaborate and whimsical futurist mapping project called Radiant Copenhagen. If you navigate around the Copenhagen city map created by people working on the project, you'll discover information about everything from bizarre new venereal diseases (..) to a crucial research organization called the Center of Improbability and Invisibility.

Looking at a well-known shopping centre and seeing what happens to it in RC's alternative history feel like .. it feels very probable and thus completely freaky.

I realise that I might be extraordinarily swayed by RC because Copenhagen was my home for more than a decade. I know the streets and buildings. I recognise the political satire in some of the outlandish events (like what happens to the University). I even recognise some of the contributors' names. Still, you don't need to know Copenhagen to get a big kick out of Radiant Copenhagen. It's bizarre, trippy and maybe the most involving online "game" I've seen in a long time. Enjoy.


Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers have teamed up to make an adaptation of the children's classic Where the Wild Things Are. Growing up in Scandinavia, I confess I had never heard of this book, but the trailer looks stunning (and turn the volume up - the chosen song fits perfectly). Via John, aquarists at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay have uncovered the identity of a mysterious coral reef killer. Like John says, the accompanying picture really sells the story. It looks like really bad CGI from a D-list Monster Movie of the Week .. but it is not. Ew.

io9 lists The 7 Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction which feels a bit lazy as they mainly focus on Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who with a bit of Heroes and the odd Star Wars mention. What? No, X-Files with their beatification of Dana Scully? I'm also rather unsure about the attack on the use of cargo cults.

On a similar-ish note: what do you get if you divide science by God is a strange little article:

The bizarre nature of quantum physics has attracted some speculations that are wacky but the theory suggests to some serious scientists that reality, at its most basic, is perfectly compatible with what might be called a spiritual view of things.

And so the journalist proceeds by asking random scientists about their spirituality and we are all somehow supposed to jump to startling conclusions about quantum mechanics, the existence of God and what not.

Oh, let's just end with a BBC headline which I first saw thanks to Anna: "God will not give happy ending!" Oh damn.