27Jan

So Cool

I would very much like to own some of this technology.

An electronic contact lens has been developed that will enable maps and videos to be beamed before the wearer’s eyes. The bionic lens has microscopic circuits fixed to a flexible plastic. The scientists who created the device say the lenses could eventually provide computer-aided vision similar to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robotic character in the Terminator films. Drivers and pilots would have essential information – their speed and direction, for example – superimposed in front of their eyes, in a massive advance on the kind of “wearable displays” now available, which are spectacles that have images displayed on the lenses.

Yes please. But I would only use these powers for good, you understand.

21Jan

Newsflash: Man Caught Reading Book

Superb article from the Onion, via Bookninja.

Sitting in a quiet downtown diner, local hospital administrator Philip Meyer looks as normal and well-adjusted as can be. Yet, there’s more to this 27-year-old than first meets the eye: Meyer has recently finished reading a book. Yes, the whole thing. “It was great,” said the peculiar Indiana native, who, despite owning a television set and having an active social life, read every single page of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Trust the Onion to shine an ironic light on the state of things today…

9Jan

The Gene Wolfe Project

I’ve started reading Latro in the Mist, a omnibus of Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete, by SF and Fantasy legend, Gene Wolfe. What a superb concept, about a Roman mercenary who gets a head injury that deprives him of short term memory. He can see gods and goddesses who roam the landscape, but he has to write everything down since he forgets it when he sleeps. And beautifully written.

I think my aim for this year is to read a good selection of his books. I’m hoping to read the Book of the New Sun series, and the accompanying novels. I’ve read earlier bits and pieces, but I’ve never given them proper consideration.

2Jan

Worldbuilt

Much to pick apart here. This point in particular stayed in the mind:

…prior to any act of reading, we already live in a fantasy world constructed by advertising, branding, news media, politics and the built or prosthetic environment (in EO Wilson’s sense). The act of narcissistic fantasy represented by the wor(l)d “L’Oreal” already exists well upstream of any written or performed act of fantasy. JK Rowling & JRR Tolkien have done well for themselves, but–be honest!–neither of them is anywhere near as successful at worldbuilding as the geniuses who devised “Coke”, or “The Catholic Church”. Along with the prosthetic environment itself, corporate ads & branding exercises are the truly great, truly successful fantasies of our day. As a result the world we live in is already a “secondary creation”. It is already invented. 

Of course… of course! Wood for the trees with this one, for me. Our fantasy world is already built. Already constructed around us, our fantasies integrated with our lifestyle dreams. This makes the point of escapism somewhat redundant. Where’s the argument to be had? Are we therefore programmed to be escaping in most things we do? The car we chose? The image we want? The things we eat? The choices we make? And what are we escaping in the first place? The real world? People? The reality of emptiness? But if this is already escapist enough, from what are we turning?

How can fantasy literature be really useful, with this in mind. And how the hell do you fit it into a good story?

Perhaps more thoughts later.

1Jan

Review—Sidetracked, by Henning Mankell

Fancied a bit of crime reading this festive period, so I went to the old faithful writer, someone who has never yet disappointed me, Henning Mankell. The Kurt Wallander mysteries are superb novels, set in the bleak countryside of Sweden. Miserablist fiction here, a particular favourite of mine, and done superbly. Wallander is a superbly crafted character. Middle aged, likes his drink and opera, failed relationships everywhere, you cannot help but like this creation. There’s irony all over him. He’s also struggling to understand what is happening in his country over recent years. And it is into this bleak picture of modern Sweden, that Sidetracked starts.

And it starts with a bang. A teenage girl stands in a deserted field. Wallander is called in to see what she’s doing, but when he approaches, she sets fire to herself before his eyes, and dies soon after. Left miserable by this sight, Wallander is drawn into investigate a murder of a once-senior political figure. The body was scalped. All of this as Wallander prepares for his summer holiday. It’s soon apparent that a serial killer is stalking this tranquil setting of Skane, as another body is found, also scalped.

The pacing of this novel is relentless. Mankell is superb at not only generating a stark atmosphere with minimalism (be this through the translation or otherwise), but he never lets the movement of the characters or their plots slow down. It is this sort of thing that shows a master is at work, and is so far his finest novel. And there are plenty of serious comments on the world of the Swedish police, on child prostitution, and on corruption of high political figures. Not only that, but he offers comment and symbolism on the nature of childhood—a potent theme in this novel. He provides solid doses of literary writing, but with a solid engine behind it. Never shying away from those aspects of human nature which are truly gruesome, but also somehow explaining a motive as almost rational (to a madman, of course).

I was left breathless by this one.

20Dec

Bruce Springsteen, London

Last night I went to see Bruce Springsteen play at the O2 Arena, in London. And what a mighty concert it was too. There’s been so much talk of various bands reuniting in recent times, and with all the hype you forget sometimes who the truly great musicians are. Then you get talk of the next big thing, commercial hype, and sure you might get good albums out of them, but until they can prove it live, it’s just talk in my opinion. Last night, Bruce came along and showed everyone how it should be done. He worked the crowd into a frenzy, had true charisma. A pro who’s been touring for decades, always thinking of the fans, and showing a love of musicianship. I saw the tour for the Seeger Sessions last year, an album of folk songs and roots Americana, which was also great fun. A talented musician doing something totally different, never afraid to experiment. And back to the more traditional songs last night, you still saw a band who were on top form. The set list was a mixture of new and old, with the killer riff at the beginning of Radio Nowhere getting 23,000 bums off seats right away, to the harsh, raw blues of Reasons to Believe, from the lo-fi album Nebraska. And there was the anti-war, anti-George W speech that was backed up by quality lyrics to hammer the point home. How many modern bands can cope with the complexity of such lyrics? None spring to mind. Reckon I’ll be looking for tickets for the stadium tour next Summer…There’s a reason this man keeps selling out across the world with the same demand for tickets that reunion gigs get.

There’s also a great blog posting here on why the Boss still rules. And better reviews of the O2 concert here and here. Both full of praise, I note.

18Dec

Rather Disappointed

I read this and felt it was a great shame indeed. M John Harrison has provided one of the best blogs on the Interwebs. It was like a writer’s notebook, and a great insight into the head of a very important man in the industry, although he’d maybe hate me for calling him ‘a man in the industry’. But at least he’s going out in some style, a wonderful, almost stream-of-consciousness coda. I felt it was important to have MJH blogging. He represented one essential end to a spectrum I was never quite sure about. He provoked, as if he always had a smile on his face. He pointed an awkward mirror on the genre.

At least we got a great year out of it. Some good recommendations.