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Nomadland, 2020 - ★★★½

The scenery is bleak, and the setup is sad, but in the end this movie is neither. Frances McDormand’s character may have lost her home, job, and even town — she comes from a company town called Empire, which is closed down when the business fails — but she finds companionship along the road.

Sometimes that companionship is herself: she is someone who is happy in their own company, and that’s okay. She lives in her van. She’s not homeless, ‘just houseless,’ as she says.

I spent parts of this film wondering if something terrible was going to happen, but it’s not that kind of story at all. The worst thing happened before the start, and all the rest is — just life. There’s no plot to speak of, but that’s okay too.

And though the scenery is bleak, it’s also beautiful.

See in Letterboxd

So if I run brew install python-tk, which should let me build basic GUI apps on Mac with Python, it says:

Error: python@3.9: the bottle needs the Apple Command Line Tools to be installed.
  You can install them, if desired, with:
    xcode-select --install

And running xcode-select --installgives me the following dialogue:

Ludicrous installation time
Ludicrous installation time

80 hours! To install some command-line tools!

(In fact it soon dropped to a more sensible 8 minutes, via 13, but still.)

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (Books 2022, 1)

This extremely short book is only a novella, but it took me some time to get through it because of the density and obscurity of the prose. James is, I think, notorious for writing long sentences, but that’s only part of it. It’s the textural density, the complexity, and, I think, the wilfully archaic (even for the time) formulations, that make it hard work.

It’s a ghost story, though the status of the ghostly presences is disputed, or at least discussed: are they all in the governess’s mind? The bulk of the tale is the first-person narrative of the governess, but it starts with an odd framing sequence of tales being told round a Christmas-eve fireplace. One of the company is reminded of a manuscript he has, and sends for it. The rest is him ‘reading’ from it. And I’m not sure that ‘framing’ is the right term here, because we never return to the reading party. It seems like a device to let James write from the point of view of a woman.

Once you attune yourself to the style, it’s pretty compelling. Chilling in places.

Beyond the Hallowed Sky by Ken MacLeod (Books 2021, 28)

Ken posted about this on his blog, along with a link to the first chapter on the publisher’s site. I read the chapter and instantly ordered the book from my local bookshop. Finished it on New Year’s Day, so it counts as 2021.

He describes it as ‘the first volume of the Lightspeed Trilogy’, and adds that ‘the second volume is well underway.’ Which is fine, but I usually make it a rule not to start unfinished serieses. So not so much a rule as a preference, let’s say.

This particular book ends in a way that is satisfactorily complete, but open enough for the followups to go in all sorts of directions. Plenty of unanswered questions, but none so burning that the wait should be annoying.

It’s set in 2070, after that initial chapter which is three years earlier. Humanity is about to develop lightspeed travel. Or it already has. What intelligences will be waiting out there? Some people think the answer is ‘none’, because of the Fermi Paradox.

The political situation is interesting. The countries of the world have largely coalesced into three blocks: the Alliance, which is the Anglosphere minus Scotland and Ireland, but including India; the Union, which is most of Europe including Scotland and Ireland; and the Coordinated States, which is Russia and China. We don’t hear anything about Africa or the Middle East. There has been (or is ongoing) an event called the Cold Revolution.

Also artificial intelligences are commonplace, including androids that are essentially indistinguishable from humans.

And if you need to build a starship, obviously you’re going to add the FTL drive to a submarine. And where do you build such ships? On the Clyde, of course. A lot of this is set in places from my childhood, which is fun for me.

Lost at Christmas, 2020 - ★★★

That strangest of things, a Scottish Christmas film. A very low budget, fun enough, story about two people meeting on Christmas Eve and getting stranded in a lonely inn in Glencoe.

Clare Grogan features in a very small part. Even though there is singing, she doesn’t sing, which is a shame.

And for a seasonal Doctor Who connection, both Sylvester McCoy and Frazer Hines are also in it.

See in Letterboxd

Starting the Year (and a Brief Look Back)

Welcoming in the new year, and a quick look at last year’s stats

2022. That’s a lot of 2s. Though just wait till the 2nd of February.

Happy New Year to one and all. Who knows what 2022 will bring, but let’s hope it’s at least some relief from the difficulties of 2020 and 2021. But the coronavirus doesn’t care about calendars, and neither does viral evolution.

Anyway, I posted 143 times in 2021, which is broadly in line with recent years. Here’s the breakdown, because why not?

Month Posts
Jan 22
Feb 12
Mar 17
Apr 14
May 10
Jun 11
Jul 12
Aug 6
Sep 14
Oct 6
Nov 8
Dec 11

2020’s stats, and 2019’s.

This Site Now Has a Dark Theme

As you’ll have noticed if you’re looking at this post on a device set to dark mode, I’ve added a dark theme. At the moment it’s just automatic: if your device is set to dark you get the dark mode, if light, you’ll see it as it has been for the last year and a half. I might add an option switch at some point.

Let me know if anything looks weird.