Actors Grahame Edwards and Eryl Lloyd Parry recreate a YouTube comment fight in a rather Beckettian manner. This follows up on a previous video. I have to say, I absolutely love this. LOL, and so on. It actually chimes with recent thoughts on Internet culture, how most comments threads and forums just seem so ridiculous when you think about them. YouTube is probably the worst culprit for ridiculous things people say.
ORBIS, the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, is pretty damn amazing:
For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.
That means you can plan your epic adventures as per the ancient world. What the hell are you waiting for? For me to get to Alexandria from the nearest Roman settlement Lindum (Lincoln) it would have taken about 56.5 days. Pirates might well have made that more – or just killed me outright.
(Via Medieval POC on Tumblr.)
So, I finally managed to get to see this much talked-about exhibition at the British Museum. Though I’d never visited these two archeological sites in Italy, I have spent a fair bit of time reading up on them during research for Drakenfeld. There are very few places that give a near-perfect picture of daily life in the ancient world, as so few are preserved so immaculately. (I can’t imagine anyone reading this blog doesn’t know what happened at these two ancient sites in 79AD, so we’ll continue with that assumption! If you don’t then, um, spoilers. Or something.)
At these exhibitions – or at least ones I’ve been to at the British Museum – it seems as if the curators want to take visitors through a narrative, which I actually quite like. It’s better than just turning up somewhere and sifting through a pile of very lovely remains. The curators have gone to painful detail in order to allow audiences to understand what it was like to live in Pompeii and Herculaneum – and to show us that there are many similarities between modern and ancient cultures. They are like us, the exhibition reminds us, which of course makes the final part of the narrative so potent. That could have been you.
After getting a general overview of where these sites are to be found, and the kind of people and nationalities of those who lived there, we’re presented with modern representations of a dimly lit Roman atrium. Portraits, busts, mosaics and various items found in an atrium, all of which come from Pompeii, are on display. Branching out from here are further sections – cubiculum, triclinio and horto, and the trinkets found within. I’m reasonably familiar with these kinds of items, having hit the Met Museum in New York before, and the British Museum’s Roman sections a good few times. That said, what’s lovely about this exhibition in particular is the arrangement and context. This was life. This is what they did. This is what they used. Here’s the smutty statues they owned. I won’t go into detail on the items, because that sort of ruins the magic in some ways, but I’m always impressed by the level of sophistication of Ancient Rome. From their engineering to the sublime craftsmanship and ornate jewellery, there’s a level of attention to detail that stands up well against comparative items today – so they must truly have been things of awe and beauty 2,000 years ago.
But from here, once life is established, it proceeds through to death brought by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Bring reminded of the facts, the statistics, and of the sheer intensity of these eruptions, is humbling enough – and then of course we see the resin and plaster casts taken of the hollows in the ash. Families huddled together. Children cowering. Babies in the ‘pugilist pose’ as their tendons retracted after exposure to extreme temperature at the time of death. Their ghosts captured forever.
And then through to the gift shops, in which the amount of Roman tea towels, penis necklaces and books is mind-boggling. Not to mention the centurion rubber ducks.
Image above taken from this Italian website.
“The internet is a powerful tool for communication, but it can sometimes be a double-edged sword. As most of us have seen or experienced, the internet can bring out the worst behavior in people, highlighting some of the cruelest and most hurtful aspects of humanity. Issues such as bullying online and trolling have garnered a lot of attention recently, prompting questions about who does, and should, regulate the internet, and what free speech means online.”
I’ve very much enjoyed the new season of Wallander, on the BBC. I prefer Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Kurt Wallander over any of the international versions. What’s more, this adaptation is visually beautiful. The unusual shots, the strange colour tone, the wonderful vistas – it’s immensely pleasing to the eye.
I am a big fan of Henning Mankell’s books, on which the series is based, and Branagh seems to fit the character perfectly. He might be a bit too handsome and lean, but in terms of the psychology, he’s there. There was an interesting interview a while ago where he talked about that misery:
And I felt as though my skin was sagging. I felt as though the gravitational weight of Wallander was starting to have an impact.’ When filming finished on the first season, Branagh had to recuperate. That is, undertake a burst of exercise, of stretching. ‘I felt as though I had to uncoil from this preoccupation with dark matter. And two weeks after I’d finished I felt about three inches taller and six inches slimmer.’
I wonder, though, why Wallander’s misery is so engaging. It goes way beyond feeling sorry for him – I remember reading one of the books years ago and the level of misery thrown at Wallander almost became comical. Maybe with crime series the audience has surrendered itself to expecting a certain level of blood and gore, yet that’s still not really what Wallander’s about. The gore is not dwelt upon, yet the mood remains intense and heavy throughout. When there is violence, it’s used sparingly but powerfully (I reckon there’s another blog to be written on that topic).
Is the appeal of such misery simply rooting for someone to do well in life? Is it the search for where someone’s breaking point can be found? As someone who creates characters, I find it difficult to create genuine Wallander-scale misery. Sure, bad things can happen to your characters – a relationship breakdown, loss of career, and so on – but this is something else entirely. This is relentlessly depressing, remarkably bleak stuff, yet it’s so engaging. It’s not merely misery for the sake of it, either – the misery is compelling, meaningful and conveys a sense of direction for Wallander’s character.
But how can such a depressing character be so successful? There’s no wish-fulfilment here, no happy endings for him. Where’s the appeal in this? I’m not sure I understand myself, but I would say that a lot of it is down to that part of the craft of writing that can’t be explained – both from Henning Mankell and the screenwriters who bring such misery to life (apparently Mankell has worked closely with the screenwriters). I find the new series irresistible, for its cinematography, acting, but most of all knowing that I’m going to be dragged into a dark place for a while. Such drama makes us feel something profound.
A couple of book-related pieces. First, UK book chain Waterstones has decided to get into bed with Amazon and sell Kindles and Kindle eBooks in its physical stores:
As well as selling the Kindle device, Waterstones will allow Kindle users to digitally browse books and take advantage of Waterstones’ special offers.
In a statement, James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said: “The best digital readers, the Kindle family, will be married to the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop.”
It seems only yesterday, James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said this about his digital strategy:
“We’ll be different from Amazon,” he says, with characteristic ebullience, “and we’ll be better.”
Actually, it was yesterday. Make of that u-turn what you will.
I’m not quite sure what to think of this just yet. The merging of corporate power is always worrying, especially since publishers will be the ones to suffer: they’ll have to stump up even more for promotions and they’ll be made to offer even more discount to this monopoly-to-be. It’s amazing just how much Amazon charges to send out promotional emails. This also means consumers suffer through a lack of choice.
On another level, this could nudge-out self-published authors and smaller presses from a crowded marketplace. Such smaller presses had free reign for a while, but if customers significantly enter Waterstones to browse for books, then they’ll be under the influence of what publishers have paid for in terms of positioning (you think those books just get put in visible places for no reason?), before downloading onto their devices. This means those publishers who pay the most money will probably get what they want; but then again, that’s how the industry has always worked.
All ifs and buts and contradictions, of course, but I do wonder what Mr Daunt is up to. He’s clearly a clever chap, so why the epic u-turn? Is there some unbelievable footnote that we’ve all missed? Are Amazon funding some of the refurbishment and so on? Is it short-termism or a clever long-term strategy? Are Amazon using this as a way to get into physical stores and sell books from their own publishing imprints? Will we see a rebranding as Kindlestones?
Personally, I’d actually quite like to be able to browse and download to my iPad (not Kindle) – but whether that’s possible or not, whether other formats are supported or not, I don’t know. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean DRM is flavour of the month again. I’m still bamboozled as to how Amazon’s shit device can possess such a large share of the market.
Speaking of small presses and self-published authors: this is the perfect example of how a writer should not go about publicising their own books:
I hate to further bring attention to what has since been called: “Mathias’s Meltdown”, but I think his aggressive advertising tactics and willingness to bring negative attention to himself warrant discussion.
It’s worth following. Chuck Norris has nothing on this guy.
Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines. None of us are deceived by the Odyssey, the Kalevala, Beowulf, or Malory. The real danger lurks in sober-faced novels where all appears to be very probable but all is in fact contrived to put across some social or ethical or religious or anti-religious ‘comment on life’ …
Via Brain Pickings.
From the introduction of his 1977 book Picked-up Pieces, John Updike offers six rules on good reviewing (which, unfortunately assume the author is male):
My rules, drawn up inwardly when l embarked on this craft, and shaped intaglio- fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:
- Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
- Give him enough direct quotation–at least one extended passage–of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
- Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
- Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants’ revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
- If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours?
Whether or not it’s a good or bad trend (and being an author I’m bound to mention this point), I suspect too few reviewers of science fiction and fantasy fiction really seem to put much effort into point 1. Perhaps that’s because genre critics are fascinated with taxonomy and heritage, and end up trying to compare the book to others, rather than examining it in isolation. Maybe that’s just the nature of genre, though.