February 21: Walkaway

Reading this book reminded me of how much I love good science fiction. Cory Doctorow is a favourite author, and this book is a mixture of cyberpunk, post-apocalypse and politics. I like Hubert Etcetera, and wish there was more of him in the story. There is an interesting mix of gender and racial characteristic examination. The rich guy is pretty much always the bad guy, but actually, not quite. A lot of years pass between sections of the book, and there are some disconnects that I would have like reconnected. I enjoyed this book, a lot.

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9th January: Reading

I have had a soft spot for science fiction crime novels ever since I discovered Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Baley and R Daneel Olivaw, a long long loooong time ago. Going through the lists of new books coming out in 2018, the blurb for John Scalzi’s Head On caught my eye. It’s not out until April, but I noticed that there was an earlier book with the same characters…

I liked the idea that technology can be used to allow people with severe disabilities to live an active life. One such person is the protagonist, who is “locked in” , but has his mind downloaded into a “threep“- a robot body.

The crime element of the book is interesting, and the plot is fast-paced and believable (given the sci-fi context). I liked the diversity of the characters, mostly, but I wish the protagonists’s female cop partner didn’t have to resort to the old booze and random sex tropes to deal with her demons.

I enjoyed this book very much, and will definitely be buying the new one when it comes out.

Week 52

Last entry for 2017. No cultural outings this week – a quiet Christmas, followed by a sick in-between week wherein I am fairly sure I poisoned myself and various family members.

I finished my Reading Challenge!

img_0478Some highlights from the list: Yellow Blue Tibia – probably the best pun in a title ever; King Dido -a historical crime novel I would recommend to anyone; The Night Sessions, excellent SciFiCri.

I won some audio books, all Maigret stories, and listened to some of them; I read a few graphic novels, and some children’s books, including The Dark Is Rising, which I wasn’t supposed to finish until the new year, but I couldn’t resist.

I finally got to grips with Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and made a dent in the Dickens backlog. There were six cookbooks, and three books I bought because I didn’t think I would get to see the plays based on them, and then actually did get to see them all . There was a new Donna Leon, a new Dave Hutchinson, a new Christopher Fowler, a new Jo Nesbo and a new Ragnar Jonasson (do you detect that I like a crime story?)

Finally, there were two new Hogarth Shakespeares, based on Othello and King Lear.

It was a real challenge to read 100 books this year, as well as keep up my weekly culture outing. Next year’s challenges will be simpler, I think.

 

Week 51

It’s Christmas!

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In the week up to Christmas Eve, there was enough seasonal entertainment to exhaust the most hardened pleasure seeker…

Theatre

Wilton’s Music Hall

Piers Torday: The Box Of Delights

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This was a vastly chopped-about version of the story, and was rather difficult for younger children to understand. Some elements were slapstick, some were very frightening indeed, and all were over-acted. The set was clever, and there was some imaginative use of puppets and projection, but overall, the whole thing was grey and misty, and not just from the over-use of haze. I had hoped to be entranced, but it didn’t quite happen.

Gigs that don’t quite fit into categories

Conway Hall

Robin Ince: Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

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This was a fast-moving but strangely over-running variety show, full of science, comedy , music and a man cooking eggs with a wallpaper steamer. Oddly, this show was the most Christmassy thing I saw this week.  I laughed a lot.

O2 Arena

Disney on Ice:Passport to Adventure

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What it says on the tin. Disney characters on skates. Some of it was good, some a bit long-winded. The Peter Pan section could have been chopped in half without losing anything, and there was room for a bit more Frozen.  It was fun. Children in the audience loved it. I had a problem with the expensive and ridiculous merchandising, but I suppose that’s what it was really all about.

Books

Reading Challenge 

Two more this week, bringing my total up to 96

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I am reading a lot of children’s books lately. (Deciding what to buy young relatives for Christmas is difficult!) I had heard good things about the Velveteen Rabbit, but I was a little disappointed in it. I wanted to learn more about the Skin Horse. I wanted the rabbit to have more trials to overcome. I suppose I wanted a book for the 10 year old me…

Mr Penumbra irritated me intensely. It is ostensibly about a bookshop, but is actually about a Dungeons and Dragons style quest without the dragons, and with added computer nerdery. Not a classic.

#thedarkisreading

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I have never read the Dark is Rising, so this year I joined a Twitter reading group to do it properly. The book begins on Midwinter’s eve, which happened to fall this week. This book won’t be part of my 100-books Challenge, because I don’t plan to finish it before New Year. So far, I am enjoying being part of a pretty large community of readers. Other people’s perspectives are really interesting.

Week 49

It’s snowing!

Theatre

Jermyn Street Theatre

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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This was a comedy romp. Three actors playing all the parts, no set, but lots of foggy haze. It was a fun afternoon, but oh, such a cold day. I found myself almost onstage, having to wrap my scarf around my face to help with the enormous amount of haze, and to keep my neck warm in what seemed to be an unheated auditorium. I enjoyed the play, but would have preferred proper melodrama to farce.

Ballet

ROH Live: The Nutcracker

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It isn’t Christmas without a Nutcracker, and this was a lovely production. Seeing it up close via a live broadcast made a great difference to the experience. You can see facial expressions and costume and set details that might be missed in the theatre.

Popular culture

London Christmas Lights

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The Regent Street lights are beautiful, without the tacky commercialism of recent years. A pity it was so cold, or I would have walked to Trafalgar Square to see the tree. I did take a picture from the bus, which shows the lights.I wish that the style of lighting was better. This years tree looks rather like a giant cactus.

Reading Challenge

Three books this week, bringing my total to 87.

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Archangel is the latest offering from one of my very favourite authors. An alternate-reality dystopia with a bit of time travel thrown in. It is a graphic novel, which is a new direction for Gibson, and works very well.

The other two are seasonal titles, and they would fit very well on my winter shelf. The Advent Killer isn’t really an Advent killer at all, and was so full of tropes and false reveals that I stopped taking it seriously halfway through. And I guessed the killer.

The new Nigel Slater is wonderful. He keeps to his style of writing around the recipes, and sets the scene for the season very nicely.

Week 44

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This week contained Guy Fawkes Night (aka Fireworks night, or for the more traditionally minded, Bonfire Night), when we in the UK celebrate the fact that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 failed.  There are some huge public displays of fireworks in London, and one of the biggest is quite local to me. But I didn’t go to watch fireworks, as I was busy doing other things.

Theatre

National Theatre

Rory Mullarkey: Saint George and the Dragon

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This was a straightforward allegory (if there can be such a thing) of Brexit, ending with the cast and audience uncertain of what should happen next. There were some fun moments – the flaming dragon heads crashing down in fabulous pyrotechnic display; the clever origin of the St George’s cross on a flag. The set was very original, and made good use of the Olivier’s revolving stage. I think the time-jumping aspect of the story could have been managed better, but overall, I enjoyed this play.

Garrick Theatre

Mel Brooks: Young Frankenstein

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This was, as expected, full of “knobs and knockers” jokes, but having said that, it was very funny, even if I did find myself thinking “oh dear, I shouldn’t be laughing at this” more than once. The performances were strong, and there were some very clever scenic elements. The cart-horses were particularly inspired, and whoever thought that idea up should get a medal.

Reading challenge

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A trip into science fiction territory this week. I enjoy Adam Roberts’s quirky takes on the future, and this married my old love of SF with my new love of the crime thriller, by providing me with a locked door mystery that I didn’t solve, but could have, if I had though laterally. Clever stuff, but I would have liked more character  back story. My total of books read this year now stands at 80. Can I make it to 100? Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

Week 39

A quiet week, punctuated only by essential “winter wellbeing admin”: flu jab; purchase of a rug to stop the living room feeling so chilly; renewal of magazine subscriptions.

I cancelled a subscription to a monthly cheese club on the grounds that I could buy all the “mystery” cheeses I’d received (the same suppliers, identical packs), from Waitrose for less money and a guarantee that I would actually want any that I bought. And I wouldn’t have to wait at home for the postman to bring me a weird-smelling parcel.

I had planned to see “Labour of Love” starring Martin Freeman, but the performance I was booked for was cancelled. Instead, I caught up with some reading.

2017 100 – book reading challenge update

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Four books this week: two crime books, a science fiction and the newest from the Hogarth reimagined Shakespeare series.

The Seagull is Ann Cleeves’s newest Vera Stanhope book. I have to admit to only having seen the TV incarnation of Vera, and I like that version of her very much. The book version is harder, rougher around the edges, less well dressed, more of a drinker. I found her less engaging than the TV character, but I still enjoyed the book. It seems odd to start with the last in a series, but I assumed (correctly) that this would be a story that had not yet been adapted. It was interesting to see that the literary Vera, even in book 8, was still a DI and still had her core team of Joe and Holly around her. This makes me hopeful that the other books will be different enough from the TV series to make them enjoyable reading. Next on my Vera list will be volume 1.

The second crime book is no 5.7 (!) in the Rivers of London series. They are crime stories, and Peter Grant is a detective (and another of my favourites), but there is so much magical realism in these books that the crime could take second place. This is a novella set between two other books in the series, and is great fun.

New Boy is an interesting retelling of Othello. I am enjoying this series, and have read each one as it has been published. This one is set in an elementary school in Washington DC, and is full of the petty jealousies of children and teachers that come to a head on one school day. It could have been longer and more nuanced. I give this three stars.

Finally, into outer space. I have really liked Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, and decided to give this a try even though I have not really been a “hard SF” fan for a long time. Spaceships and aliens generally leave me a bit cold nowadays, but I loved this. No spoilers here, apart from saying spaceships figure large!

These four books bring my total up to 78 so far this year. 22 to go before the end of the year. I think I’ll make it.

 

Week 33

An interesting mix of things this week.

Opera

Arcola Theatre: Grimeborne Festival

Kurt Schwitters/Lewis Coenen-Rowe: Collision

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This is described as part sci-fi, part Weimar-decadence, and is a short ( hour and a half straight through) opera, set in prewar Berlin, with an end-of-the-world plot involving a large green globe on a collision course with earth. I have to say, there wasn’t much sci-fi to be had, and perplexingly, all the lighting effects were blue and red. So, no sign of a green globe,  but there was a bit of Cabaret-style decadence. Casting a high soprano as the (male) chief of police was odd, especially as the soprano was scantily clad in a thankfully well-engineered red brassiere. The other voices were strong, apart from the inevitable weak tenor. The music was performed by a live band, and was very good. The set design and costumes looked very amateurish, but this was possibly deliberate. Overall, this was an enjoyable performance, well up to fringe standards

 

Tod Machover: VALIS

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This is another short, sci-fi opera, based on the VALIS novels by Philip K Dick, and available to download free.

I really liked this, even if I didn’t fully understand it. You can make your own judgement-  read more and listen to it here

 

Literature

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On August 15th, 1947, India was partitioned and Pakistan was born. To commemorate this, the BBC broadcast a dramatised adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I binge-listened to all seven episodes on August 15th 2017.

I had read the novel, quite a few years ago, and liked it. I liked this version too.

SUMMER reading challenge

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The challenge comes to a successful early conclusion with R for Runcie. This is the fourth Sidney Chambers book, and one in which the female characters have become particularly grating. I go on reading these in the hope that something dire will happen to Amanda, Helena or the irritating Hildegard.

Week 24

It is the hottest week of the year (so far!), and I chose to go open-air, with mixed results. I went to the Globe theatre for the first time, travelling by boat. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Sadly, I didn’t get to go home on the boat, because I was taken ill at the end of the performance. All praise to the first-aiders at the Globe, the paramedics and the wonderful staff at St Thomas’s hospital. Luckily, it was nothing serious and I got to home later the same night.

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Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe

Knee-high Theatre: Tristan and Yseult

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This was wonderful. The theatre was everything I had hoped for. The production was modern, costumes very simple, acting excellent. The music was well-chosen- everything from Wagner to Daft Punk, and the actor-musicians were excellent. My favourite character was Yseult’s maid, played in panto-drag, but producing one of the deepest, saddest moments of the play. I loved this.

Exhibitions

Barbican Centre: Into the Unknown

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Getting into and out of the Barbican is always a nightmare for me. It is extraordinarily difficult for a less than perfectly mobile pedestrian. But once inside, what a wonderful exhibition this was. A perfect few hours for any science fiction lover. There were books, including a whole lot of Russian versions of classics; there were classic film extracts running at various points through the curved exhibition space; there were actual film props and costumes. There were robots! There were Stargate Goa’uld helmets! There was a new and strange film. There were video games.  There was everything, really. I liked this very much.

Public art

Anthony Gormley: Quantum Cloud

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I have a fondness for a Gormley, and Quantum Cloud is one of my favourites. It is right next to the Thames Clipper pier at North Greenwich. From the right viewpoint, you can see the figure inside clearly, but I didn’t quite get it this time.

Books

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I didn’t actually finish anything, but Bloomsday fell this week, and so I proudly proclaim That almost exactly a year ago, I  actually read Ulysses for the first, and most likely the last time.

Week 23

Theatre

Duke of York’s Theatre

Lee Hall: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

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I’m not an enormous lover of musicals, but this was new, and with the promise of music by ELO, could have been very exciting. Sadly, the dialogue was so profanity-heavy that I couldn’t really engage with it fully. The acting was good, the all-female cast and band did their job well, but it was sad to see all the characters were stereotypical “convent slags”. I’m afraid I couldn’t like this show.

Museums

The British Museum

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

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The Hokusai exhibition was lovely. Many iterations of Fuji-San, of course, but so much more. There were a large number of Hokusai’s notebooks, and it was interesting to see the background work. I particularly liked the two large panels which were apparently the interior ceilings of carriages, one of which was reproduced on the mandatory silk scarf (which I duly bought). Once again, I was surprised that the main draw for me was so small. The famous Great Wave was tiny – hardly bigger than A4, but very beautiful.

Events

Senate House, UCL: 1984 Live

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This was a one-off all-day immersive event. A whole host of celebrity readers taking a chapter (ish) each. There was a bit of acting, some clever use of projection and lighting, and the slightly disturbing presence of “party” members dotted around. The star was the Senate House building itself – Orwell’s inspiration for the Ministry of Truth. I think my photograph has captured its air of menace very well.

Books

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This week’s reading was varied – a “light crime”, a psychological study of a possible criminal, and a prize-winning dystopia.

The Power is an interesting take on the differences/similarities between men and women. This might have disturbed me more if I had been a male reader, I think. It won the Baileys Prize, and while I am not sure it is great literature, it was an enjoyable read.

McGlue was a more difficult read, more “literary”, and less satisfying in its lack of firm conclusion. I don’t usually like first-person narration, but I liked this short novel very much, and will seek out more by this author.

The second Grantchester book was more interesting than the first. It moved away from the known (via TV episodes), seeing Sidney arrested in East Berlin, and finally resolving his long-term love interest (no spoilers for the TV show here).

Audio

Bob Dylan: Nobel Lecture

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Bob Dylan finally got round to making his Nobel-winner’s speech. You can listen to it here , but be prepared for long descriptions of Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front, and The Odyssey. I’m not sure he is taking the prize seriously.

Public Art

Maggi Hambling: A Conversation With Oscar Wilde

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I’m not sure how I feel about this piece. The idea is clever – a bench whereon a conversation could take place, but it is a little too coffin-like for my taste, and Oscar’s bust is ugly, ugly, ugly. I have never seen anyone actually sitting on this, and I am afraid I didn’t sit down either.

Pop Culture

 (And a bit of Maths)

Dandelion’s retirement

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Crayola, the crayon manufacturer, has a new blue crayon coming online. It is a new pigment and needs a new name (the suggestion box has closed, and I really hope we don’t get Bluey McBlueface). Because of the new crayon, one of the old colours has to be retired, in order to keep the number of active colours at 120. Why 120? Well, the boxes hold multiples of 8 crayons…

Anyway, the crayon to be retired is Dandelion, a rather nice shade of yellow. I checked my own box of 24, and there it is. We used to call dandelions “wet-the-beds” when I was a child, and I am delighted that the French obviously still do.