Catching up on reading and writing about what I’m reading. Pretty sure C. A. Higgins’ Lightless I saw first on io9 long enough ago that it was in my wish-list with “On sale in n days” for a long time. I picked it up a couple of weeks ago with The Philosopher Kings, and read it while on tour with Isabelle in Düsseldorf.
Also I was watching The Man in the High Castle at the same time. Which is pertinent as I found myself comparing how each build certain characters through inner psychological narrative and motives in disparate ways. In Lightless, this is substantially through inner monologue and the reader’s privileged view into the characters. In The High Castle—and I’m thinking particularly of Rufus Sewell’s harrowing Obergruppenführer John Smith—nothing passes through from the inner life. It is only in the last episodes we’re given hints into what might motivate him, adversary, collaborator, war criminal, but never enough to postulate moral positions. Excluding the core actors here, who wore their one-dimensional passions all too insubstantially; it was the supporting roles who were populated with such unreadability.
Lightless, for all that I liked it, as a first novel suffered from this excess of the inner life. A character was reprehensible because they were in the core of their being this. The lack of nuance that comes from telling too much. Despite what I said about specific actors in The High Castle, I find a habit of many new writers in skiffy to write as though they were viewing a movie, or maybe hoping their novel would get optioned, it lends a formulaic obviousness to the proceedings.
I’m also reading Alastair Reynolds right now, his debut from fifteen years ago, Revelation Space. At my favourite bookstore, Shane said he doesn’t read much sci-fi because of the lack of poetry in the writing. Naturally I can counter with a half dozen authors who prove the opposite, but his point is valid. The writing and words need to be the equal of the imagination and philosophy.
I spent Sunday half immersed in Humans, and the Swedish original, Äkta människor, and half in code, following a passing musing to its conclusion. The former were and are quite brilliant; the latter was and is fiddly and peculiar, like all intersections of code and design. The latter began with me wondering exactly how difficult it might be to implement image overlays for supernaut without recourse to a plugin. This led to much reading and research, and deciding on Lightbox2 (instead of a plethora of others), taking half an hour to set up, and a few hours to get all nice looking (and nice-playing with caching). Of course it probably breaks all over the place, but the idea was to have the images fill as much of the browser as possible, with as little clutter as possible, and generally this seems to have happened.
Quickest arrival of a book ever! Quickest first read also! I’m still not over Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and probably will watch it a third time before winter is done. I didn’t really need to buy this (nor do I need to buy the other three, one for each season), but … #korrasami! Also seeing so much art lately I want to start drawing again. And Korra is so hot, especially when she’s punching the shit out of stuff. And Asami also (especially when she’s geared up and driving something fast). And once I got into it (took a couple of episodes), I started looking at all the landscapes, cityscapes, backgrounds, architecture, vehicles, all so beautifully painted—and all the fighting, so beautifully choreographed (and Lin Beifong, Topf, Bolin and Mako, Varrick and Zhu Li, Jinora, Tenzin, Kuvira, Zaheer and all the others)—and kinda fell in love with the whole world.
I smiled and laughed and yelped and waved my arms around! Korra & Asami Did The Thing!
And then in the comments on io9 I found a link to zuko is my sugar daddy saying, “people saying that korrasami had no build up and was forced …” followed by 48 images of Korra and Asami over four years of Avatar: The Legend of Korra which leave no other possibility for what happened in the final episode. This is how good short-form animation can be.
The last episode of the last series of Blake’s 7. The loss of their base on Xenon, the loss of their ship Scorpio and computer Slave, the betrayal of Blake, his death at the hand of Avon thinking Blake the betrayer, Dayna’s death, then Vila, Soolin, Tarrant, finally Avon.
Only Blake died because he had it written into his contract, so the blood. Any who wanted to return for a fifth season were only stunned, the remainder declared dead. There was no fifth season.
Only Avon survived. The Federation falls. Twenty years later he is forgotten, except by Servalan, and Travis’ daughter.
Person of Interest started Season 4 last night. Alongside Orphan Black it’s exceptional short-form drama, science-fiction or otherwise. (Who actually has television anymore?) After a “welcome back!” hour of the delightful Root, Shaw, Mr Reese, Harold, and Fusco (and Bear!), we arrive almost where we started in the first episode of the first season: Carter’s desk. The moment of Reese pausing, looking at the desk, then Fusco was not lost: Carter was loved and her murder mid-season 3 was traumatic. It’s rare for short- or long-form drama—especially science-fiction or action—to build and maintain characters and emotions, let alone to remember them once a character’s ‘story arc’ is ‘complete’, yet here we are fifteen episodes and one season later with a scene running a full minute with minimal dialogue that reminds us of their absence.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been watching my way through the four seasons of classic 1970s British science-fiction TV show, Blake’s 7. I’m sure I watched at least one episode—Series C, Episode 10’s Ultraworld—when I was a kid, but only one scene in that, where Cally is about to be fed into the gargantuan brain, I remember; that and the theme music. All the rest is as if I’m seeing it for the first time. I remember Blake and Avon of course, and the Liberator, and naturally Servalan, whom I think is the most perfect sociopathic villain I’ve ever seen, in TV, film, or book, sci-fi or otherwise. Villa also is familiar, as are Cally and Jenna, though Dayna I seem to have forgotten, despite her being also one of the best roles.
I’ve been watching it while paying attention to the new Doctor Who, the delightfully foul-mouthed Scot Peter Capaldi, who has caused some renewed interest in another show from my childhood, though the quality of the previous Doctor’s seasons have been fairly dismal and by comparison to Blake’s 7, well, really there’s no comparison. Blake’s 7 is to TV sci-fi as Bladerunner is to cinema.
Anyway, here’s an image of Servalan chained to a basement wall while offscreen Avon discovers he’s been betrayed for years by the only person he ever trusted. It’s superb, perverse, morally questionable fiction often as good as the best of Iain Banks, and amidst all the current rebooting of old TV shows and films it’s a real pity something as superior as this is languishing.
This has been on my reading pile for some time, and it’s also not really a book you read. For a start it breaches the heaviness barrier for comfortable falling-asleep-under; rather than a humourous plonk on the nose when on the nod, it breaks both wrists and goes for an eye-gouging. It’s probably the most massive book I have that is still book-ish and not ‘oversized’. It’s also a heroic endeavour of quasi-encyclopaedic form.
I tried reading it as a book, and, well imagine a hypothetical distant future, where humanity and all its contemporary traces ceased to exist, except for the discovery, Dead Sea Scrolls-like, of a tome purporting to be a genuine (though unauthorised!) history of the universe. And Bible/Koran/Torah-like within its first pages the birth of the universe is recorded:
The universe was created in a huge explosion known as the Big Bang … The Doctor claimed to have been an eye-witness at the origins of the universe … The evil force retained its sentience and spread its influence throughout time and space … One ship managed to travel to the dawn of creation … Monarch believed that he was God and would meet himself at the creation of the Universe … The Weeping Angels, also sometimes called the Lonely Assassins were as old as the universe … The Shadow, an agent of the Black Guardian, claimed to have been waiting since eternity begun …
I did a lot of skipping back and forth, reading the histories of the Daleks, Gallifrey, trying to piece together what I was reading into my memories of all the Doctor Whos I’ve seen – which is a reasonable amount: All of the new series, now finishing its 7th season; definitely some of the fourth and fifth Doctors, possibly some of the intervening ones also. It’s a book that assumes no small familiarity with the 50 years of television series, and knowing a bit of the radio plays and novels would be handy as well.
In comparison, my association with Doctor Who is quite minimal, so I did plenty of nodding and smiling and agreeing Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson know their subject and mostly I have no idea what they’re talking about. It was nice to dig up references to episodes I think I’ve seen, and see where they fit into the universe-spanning timeline they build the history around. Ahistory: An Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe: very much one for devotees of the Doctor in all his regenerations, and probably one I’ll pull off the shelve periodically when I’m watching a new episode. I would like though – when I’ve shaved my reading list down somewhat – to find a work on the history both of Doctor Who and the people who made it.