I keep thinking I should write about the current state of what we are calling AI. Trouble is, I still can’t quite decide what I think about it. Or why it makes me feel the way it does. Or even what, exactly, that way is.

Currently reading: Beyond the Light Horizon by Ken MacLeod πŸ“š

Not so much currently reading as nearly finished. The final volume in Ken’s excellent trilogy, and looking forward to seeing him at Worldcon in Glasgow in August.

Finished reading: Trust by Hernan Diaz πŸ“š

Forget I hadn’t posted about this. I finished it almost two weeks ago. The latest book-club book, and not the sort of thing I’d choose normally. It’s the story of a financier around the time of the Wall Street Crash in the 1920s, told from four different points of view. Which one do we trust? (See what he did with the title?)

It’s pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the praise heaped upon it by reviewers, as quoted all over the cover, would suggest.


Books 2024, 9

Doctor Who discussions are going to get confusing. Seems Disney are calling the Christmas special episode 1, ‘Space Babies’ episode 2, and so on; while the BBC call ‘Space Babies’ episode 1.

1 & 2 have their moments, but it doesn’t really get going till 3, ‘Boom!’, when Moffat takes over.

The Man with Two Brains, 1983 - β˜…β˜…β˜…

I like Steve Martin movies a lot. Or I did like them back when I watched them years ago. It's been a while.

This doesn't stand up as well as I might have hoped, and there are some downright shocking moments, with one casual use of several racial slurs.

But it still has its moments, still has the pointy bird and the scum queen, so I'll give it that.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, 2022 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

We've seen the stage version, seen the older film, read the book to the kids, and this is probably the maddest of the lot.

Tim Minchin's songs are excellent, of course, and the young lead, Alisha Weir, carries the whole thing so well. And Emma Thompson has come such a long way from Suzi Kettles. whom I still always think of her as.


Wonderful.

Spotlight, 2015 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

We saw this maybe back when it came out, or not long after. It's really good, stands up incredibly well. The story of how an investigative team at the Boston Globe, the titular Spotlight, broke the story of the vast web of child abuse by Catholic priests, and the long-standing coverup by the church hierarchy.

Finished reading: Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh πŸ“š

Actually finished this a few weeks ago, and forgot to write about it. I don’t know why, because it’s absolutely fantastic. Space opera of the biggest scope, yet a tightly-focused character-driven story, and a bildungsroman.

The Earth has already been destroyed when we start reading. Our heroine, Valkyr, or Kyr for short, lives on humanity’s last outpost (or is it?), where they train for revenge.

But there’s so much more to it than that.


Books 2024, 8

One of those times when someone is trending on Twitter and it is what you fear. Sad to hear about the death of Steve Albini.

Beverly Hills Cop, 1984 - β˜…β˜…β˜…

Stands up well after all these years. I saw it in the cinema when it first came out. Eddie Murphy is great as the titular cop, Axel Foley.

It's number 18 on this list of fifty best comedy films we've been using lately. I don't think it deserves to be quite that high, but it certainly deserves to be on it.

Perfect Days, 2023 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

Wim Wenders's strangely compelling, meditative piece about a man who cleans public toilets in Tokyo. Sounds like it shouldn't be anything, but is the best thing I've seen all year so far.

Good use of music, with our hero listening to the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, and others, as Hirayama plays cassettes in his car.

It's far deeper and more complex than all this would suggest.

Finished reading: My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid πŸ“š

The latest bookclub book. Kincaid’s brother died in 1996 of AIDS. Kincaid herself was estranged from her family for 20 years, so she saw her brother when he was three, and then again when he was 33, and dying.

Unsurprisingly this is more about her than about him. She looks at feelings towards her birth family: does she love her brother? Does she love her mother? ‘No’ is her conclusion for both. But she examines different kinds of love, different ways of loving.

Parts of it are kind of like cubist art in a way: examining the same place, person, or event, at different times, in the way the cubists would try to show a subject from different angles at the same time.

The writing flows very smoothly despite some impressively- if not excessively-long sentences.


Books 2024, 7

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, 1988 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

This stands up surprisingly well after all these years. A hilarious romp. Some of the worst parking you’ve ever seen.Β 

A list of 50 best comedy films we were looking at puts it above Airplane which I don’t personally agree with. But it’s up there near it, certainly.

Game Night, 2018 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

A gloriously funny romp. A farce in the best sense. A couple like to have regular game nights. His brother likes to win. So do both of the couple, to be fair.

But the brother wants to put on a special game night. And things get crazy.

Peter Higgs, physicist who proposed Higgs boson, dies aged 94

It’s a good age, as far as that goes. He was already professor emeritus at Edinburgh back when I was at uni. Still sad, though.

Society of the Snow, 2023 - β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

A dramatisation of the horrifying experiences of a rugby team from Uruguay whose plane crashed in the Andes on the way to Chile in 1972. Of the 43 people aboard the plane, 16 survived to eventually be rescued 72 days later!

This film contains some terrifying, extremely well-executed scenes. The crash itself, an avalanche that buries the plane after a few days. It's all immensely powerful and affecting.

Not a fun watch, exactly but a worthwhile one.

And yes, they had to eat what you imagine they had to eat, to survive. It's very well handled.

Finished reading: A River Called Time by Courttia Newland πŸ“š

I got this as a Christmas present from my beloved. I had no idea who Courttia Newland is. I assumed it was a woman, at first. It’s not, and it turns out I had experienced some of his work already, as he wrote some of the scripts for Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films; specifically Lover’s Rock, Red, White and Blue , and Education . (I wouldn’t bother clicking those links, it looks like I didn’t write anything about them.)

I started the novel without reading any reviews or anything about it other than the blurb and quotes on the cover. The key one of those is this, from the Observer:

A vast and wildly ambitious piece of speculative fiction that asks what the world would look like if slavery and colonialism never existed.

Which set me up with some expectations. Sensibly, Newland doesn’t make this imagined world a utopia. Far from it, in fact. The world in which the antagonist, Markriss, finds himself, is pretty grim.

And to my mind, at least at first, the only thing in-universe that tells us about the absence of colonialism, etc, is skin colour is never mentioned. Yes, the world is different from our own, and it turns out (reading around the novel) a major reason is, instead of the weird monotheism of Judaeo-Christianity-Islam having the major religious impact on world history, African religions have the biggest influence.

What this means for our hero is he can have an out-of-body experience and it not exactly be unexpected.

Which takes us into the whole out-of-this-world part of this novel. All those blurbs talk about it as a novel of decolonisation and so on, which is fine. But that’s because Newland has a mainstream, literary reputation β€” he has published several previous novels. This, though is a genre work. Science fiction, you might say, or fantasy, looked at from another direction.

And what nothing prepares you for (well, the reviews do, but I didn’t want to read them first) is that this is a multiverse story. Because Markriss’s ability to leave his body in his astral form develops to the point where he can do so permanently; and then drop back down into a different tributary of the titular river.

This takes puts him in an alternative version of himself: another timeline. Some have very similar events and experiences; some are very different, such as one that doesn’t look at all removed from our own. He always has some of the people closest to him, though their relationships vary.

It’s effective and accomplished, but it can be unsatisfying. Because, when he leaves a timeline, he leaves its story incomplete. We don’t know what happened to the first version of Markriss, or the second, or…

Sometimes the language, the linguistic style, can be confusing. But it feels like a positive sort of confusion, the kind that stretches your mind.

On the whole, I enjoyed it.


Books 2024, 6

Somewhere out there, I’m fairly sure, a crime is happening. But Saga will work it out.

Dune: Part Two, 2024 - β˜…β˜…Β½

To the IMAX at Waterloo last Sunday, with a group of fellow writers from the Spectrum group. As I said, I wasn't that impressed when I watched part 1 on Netflix. Still, this would be wholly different, not least because of it being on a giant screen.

Which was true enough. That screen is almost too big, certainly when you're sitting in row G and there's a closeup: TimothΓ©e Chalamet's face shouldn't be gigantic! Luckily there weren't too many of those occasions.

More to the point, this a spectacular movie, in the literal sense: it's all about the spectacle. And there's plenty of that. Battles, explosions, sandworms, duels.

And it's all a bit… not that good really, I thought. I liked parts of it. But really disliked the overall narrative arc. As I said last time, I remember the book hardly at all. So the transition of Paul Atriedes from teen duke trying to find his way with the Fremen, to world leader and messiah figure challenging the galactic emperor himself? Frankly, I don't buy it, and I didn't like it.

My favourite moment was Chani (Zendaya) turning away and walking out when everyone else bowed down to him. In fact in acting terms Zendaya is the best thing about this film. She can express so much just with her face, it was incredible.

Of course that ability might have been exaggerated by her face being the size of a bus, but no one else was doing that.

The worst thing about it in a ways was that it didn't feel like the end brought us to a conclusion. It felt like the middle volume of a trilogy. And I'm quite sure the original book didn't feel like that. I know there are several sequels, but I don't believe it was written as the start of a series. It was a self-contained work.

In fact I started the second one, Dune Messiah (and yes, that title should have given me some clues to the above complaints) all those years ago, and couldn't get into it. Didn't finish it.

The odd thing about all this is that it makes me slightly want to go back and read the book (and maybe carry on this time).

Anyway, there we are. There had do be someone who didn't think it's the best thing since freshly-baked baguette.

Finished reading: Monument Maker by David Keenan πŸ“š

This is a monster, behemoth of a book. At over 800 pages it’s not the longest I’ve read in recent years, but it’s up there. And it is… very strange.

I’ve read several of Keenan’s books before, and enjoyed them, but found them strange. This one is composed of three or four different narratives. They’re interlinked, or at least interconnected, but they’re very different.

A love story in France of a few years ago about someone who is studying cathedrals (sort of); a historical story about the Siege of Khartoum; a far-future science-fiction story supposedly written by two of the characters in one of the other sections.

And so on. It will bear rereading, I imagine, but I’m not sure I’ll dedicate the time. I started it just before Christmas and finished it this morning. With a few other books in between, but still.


Books 2024, 5