Interzone 294 Edited by Gareth Jelley (Books 2023, 5) 📚

I posted a photo of this when it arrived, to show its new paperback-book format. It’s an issue of Interzone: it’s fine, but nothing in it was particularly outstanding. Several decent stories, an interview with Christopher Priest, the usual book and film reviews and ‘Ansible Link’, the cut-down version of Dave Langford’s Ansible newsletter(the mailing list of which, I realise as I type, I seem to have fallen off; I haven’t seen it in a few months).

Interzone is worth getting to keep up to date with the scene, if nothing else.

That all sounds bad. People worked hard on these stories. I think I just don’t really get on very well with short stories, something I’ve mentioned here before.

The first band I ever saw live, back in (fuck!) 1980, was Stiff Little Fingers.

I’ve seen them a few times over the years. Tonight I’m at The Roundhouse to see them once again.

Sister Act, 1992 - ★★★

A daft but fun enough romp, in which Whoopi Goldberg is a nightclub singer who has to hide out from the Mob after witnessing a murder. Obviously the safest place to hide her is in a convent where Maggie Smith is the Mother Superior.

Obviously the convent has a terrible choir, so she can whip them into shape. With completely predictable results. But as I say, it's fun. Spawned not one but two sequels, I see.

On the Basis of Sex, 2018 - ★★★

Decent film about the early legal career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a film it's pretty decent. As a biopic, it left me wanting more. I'd have liked to see about a bit more of her career than just the big breakthrough case that first brought her to public attention.

That case, though, is interesting. It was a sex-discrimination one1 where the discriminated-against party was a man. He was a carer for his elderly mother, and the fact that he had never been married meant he wasn’t entitled to a tax credit, where a woman would have been.

Ginsburg was able to convince the judges to declare the law unconstitutional, as it discriminated arbitrarily, on the titular basis. And with the ACLU, she was then able to tackle the many laws that discriminated similarly against women. Clever.

  1. Or gender-discrimination, as they renamed it, because ‘sex is all over the brief’, and it would distract the judges — male, of course; at least, according to the film. And I wonder if we can draw a line of causality from that decision to the position of gender in the culture today. ↩︎

Look at the new Interzone: it’s a paperback book! I like it.

I’ve written here before about Nick Cave’s newsletter, The Red Hand files, and lately I’ve taken — slightly hyperbolically, perhaps — to saying that I think it might be his greatest creation. Today’s issue knocks it right out of the park.

He writes about worrying about singing flat, because he’s going to duet with Johnny Cash. Even Nick Cave worries about not coming up to the mark. And then — well, just read it.

And in the last paragraph, after the signoff, he introduces another hero of mine, just in passing.


The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald, Translated by Michael Hulse (Books 2023, 4) 📚

The Rings of Saturn is a very unusual book. My copy has this classification on the back: ‘Fiction/Memoir/Travel’.

Well make up your mind, I might say!

And yet, it is all those things, and the combination makes a compelling, readable whole.Sebald (or, the narrator) goes on walks around Norfolk and Suffolk. Along the way his thoughts carry him on paths that both parallel his physical ones and diverge far from them in both time and space. He muses on history, architecture, biography, geology, ecology, and much more.

This Guardian ‘Where to Start With…’ article saves it for last, as ‘the one you’ll want your friends to read’. Which is fair enough.

I still don’t understand why he gave it that title, though.

Suzanne on the Stage

To Cambridge, on Thursday just past, and to the Corn Exchange, to see Suzanne Vega. My one-word review: spellbinding.

I had never been to the Corn Exchange before (to be honest I’ve rarely been to a gig — especially an indoor gig — outside London these last thirty-six or so years). But it’s one of those places that feels slightly legendary to me, because I’d see it listed among the tour dates in Sounds or NME back in my youthhood.

Turns out it’s a lovely, clean, modern venue, with Old Speckled Hen on tap. We were seated in the balcony (on the balcony?), which was fine.

And as to Ms Vega: I’m not steeped in her work, so the fact that she essentially played a ‘Greatest Hits’ set was ideal for me. She even explicitly said, ‘I’m gonna play some of the well-known ones early, so people don’t worry that they won’t get them.’

This after she’d opened with ‘Marlene on the Wall’, followed by ‘Small Blue Thing’.

She had one accompanying musician, a guitarist called Gerry Leonard, who has worked with Bowie, among others. He was great, making heavy use of those sampling/looping pedals, making him sometimes sound like three or four players at once.

So, like I say, the whole thing was spellbinding. Suzanne Vega on Stage

I just crossed the 80,000 word mark on Casino Soul, the novel that I started as part of my creative writing masters in January 2021. Nearly finished (I keep thinking).

Penny-Farthings and Paranoia

Watty was wearing a badge, one of the big, old kind. Probably two inches across, round. They used to advertise them in the back of Sounds, NME, Record Mirror (and I think there was a fourth member of the British weekly music press, but I can’t recall it). They always included the size, in old-fashioned imperial units: one-inch, two-inch. Probably inch-and-a-half.

In the early days we wore the big ones. My first one was almost certainly a Beatles one, but I don’t remember what design it had. I do recall a glittery Thin Lizzy one, when I went through my period of them being one of my faves. Wings, maybe? Probably.

Anyway, with punk, the badge size that was considered cool, or even acceptable, reduced. Anything bigger than an inch across would lead to mockery, for sure. Although I think Brendan’s Stranglers badge, saying ‘Something Better Change’ (‘Because I like the song and I like what it says’) was of the two-inch persuasion, but that was in the early days.

Watty’s one, the one that I’m talking about: that was probably even earlier. It was white, with the outline of what I had to get quite close to realise was a penny farthing bicycle. And a number: 6.

‘What’s that about, then?’

‘It’s The Prisoner! Do you not know about it?’ Watty wasn’t too bad in this way, but the default reaction to someone being ignorant of something you liked was mockery, back then, when we were 13, 14. To be honest, probably for a decade or more after that, too. Instead of the healthier attempt to infect the ignorant one with our own enthusiasm. Or at least inform them about it.

I learned, though, that it was a weird programme that was on late at night, and anyway it was over now, so even if it hadn’t been on at a time that I wouldn’t have been allowed to stay up on a school night, it was finished, so there was no chance I’d ever get to see it.


Of course, The Prisoner was originally broadcast in 1967-8, so if Watty was watching it ten years later, it does show that repeats were a thing. If only there were a way we could have our own copies of TV programmes. But what a fantastic, farcical idea!

I know it was the early days, because the name ‘The Prisoner’ did not immediately make me think of The Clash. The B-side of ‘(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais’ shares a title with Patrick McGoohan’s paranoid cold-war ex-spy drama. I don’t think it has anything else in common with it, but you can’t be sure.

I finally saw some episodes in the early nineties. I bought some on VHS, along with my friend Johnny, who also hadn’t seen it. But that didn’t prove very practical, as we live in different cities. And VHS was expensive. Two episodes per tape for, what fifteen quid? So that petered out.

Much later I got the DVD box set. And it’s been one of the things we’ve been watching over the last few months. Er, years, maybe. It might have started in lockdown.

Tonight we finally watched the last two episodes. Which were much better than I had been led to believe.

It’s kind of amazing, saturated as it is with sixties fears about mind control, brainwashing, hypnotism. Is anything real after the unnamed main character gets gassed in the opening of the first episode (repeated in the opening credits of almost every episode)? Maybe the whole thing is a hallucination induced by the gas, you know?

There are certainly plenty of actual induced hallucinations or dreamlike states in the series. Which is why you can’t trust the increasingly psychedelic ending.

The whole thing is a mindfuck. I loved i.

Gosford Park, 2001 - ★★★½

Another old one that I’d never seen before.

Considering it’s by the same guy who wrote Downton Abbey, it’s much more negative about the landed classes than that is.

Comfort and Joy, 1984 - ★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

Kind of daft film that somehow I’d never seen. 

Set at Christmas, as I should have realised from the title, But not a Christmas film. Great opening scene worth the shoplifting, And then the bizarre next scene, where she’s leaving him, but hasn’t got round to telling him yet. 

Then the actual plot gets going and runs on down to quite a flat ending. Makes me wonder if all the ice-cream stufff was his delusion caused by grief at his beloved leaving.

When you end the week with a massive merge to master, and then go downstairs to drink wine and listen to Ziggy Stardust. Hello.

A rare trip into the office today. We have the Christmas do for London-based developers and testers tonight. A little late. But that’s the way these things go sometimes.

London commuters have largely forgotten Covid ever happened, it seems.

Our Man Flint, 1966 - ★★½


I remember seeing this as a kid and absolutely loving it. We talked about it at school, probably played at being Flint.

It’s a Bond spoof. James Coburn as Flint is a super agent who is brought out of retirement to save the world from some mad scientists who are controlling the weather.

I only remembered two thing about it. His ability to stop his heart for maximum rest, and the device in his watch that got him started again; and his lighter, with ‘82 functions… 83 if you want to light a cigar.’

It’s daft nonsense, but fun in places. There’s even a lesser agent called 0008 (Triple Oh Eight) who tells him ‘It’s bigger than SPECTRE.)

Watched on Saturday February 4, 2023.

Tár, 2022 - ★★★★

Tár is a much-discussed, disputed, disagreed-upon tour de force. Not since Moonlight have I read so much about a film after seeing it.

Lydia Tár is a conductor who is rehearsing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for what should be the pinnacle of her career, a live recording of Mahler's Symphony No 5. But she has a past, and it's coming to get her.

Perhaps my favourite interpretation is the too-long-titled 'Tár Is the Most-Talked-About Movie of the Year. So Why Is Everyone Talking About It All Wrong?', from Slate. It posits that the last third or so is, essentially, fantasy, hallucination, or similar.

There's a lot to get out of this — not least encouraging me to listen to Mahler's Fifth — and I'm looking forward to watching it again.

Currently reading: Poems by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod 📚

Us old types are told that youngsters don’t like punctuation. Full stops in texts sound angry, etc. But I find an unpunctuated message incomplete. You’re left hanging, waiting for the rest. I just got a message at work that said:


Great what? Balls of fire?

It’s the 31st of January, and daffodils are out.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua (Books 2023, 3) 📚

Fantastic graphic novel about the inventor of the Difference and Analytical Engines and the first programmer.

Together they fight crime.

Well, not quite. But they do meet Wellington, Brunel, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Mary Ann Evans (George Elliot), and other famous Victorians, and have adventures.

A fabulous romp.

Bomber Jackson Does Some by Bob Boyton (Books 2023, 2) 📚

First, cards on the table, Bob is a friend of mine. Bomber Jackson Does Some is his first novel, self-published in 2012. He gave us a copy back then, and it’s taken me till now to read it.

Just because of the size of my to-read piles, not any quality concerns.

Bomber is an ex-boxer and an alcoholic. At the start of the novel he has just got out of prison. As you might imagine from such a setup, things largely go downhill from there. His thoughts include a fair amount of slang, some of which I didn’t understand, but the meaning was usually clear from context. For example, he refers to two homeless men as ‘real old-fashioned paraffins’. Paraffin lamp = tramp, I assume.

It’s written in first person, present tense, which I think is quite a hard voice to sustain. Bob does a good job of getting us inside Bomber’s head, and the story flows along at fine old rate.

All in all, top stuff. Recommended if you can get hold of a copy.

All Quiet on the Western Front, 2022 - ★★★

Watched on Saturday January 21, 2023.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years, 2016 - ★★★★½

Watched on Tuesday January 17, 2023.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, 2022 - ★★★

The usual Marvel daftness. I enjoyed it, but really, there's just so much of this stuff now that it's become ridiculous.

And I kind of hate what they've done to Wanda between this and WandaVision, which this kind of follows straight on from

The first snowdrops are out in London.