Archives » 2009 » December

Once In A Blue Moon

This happened today and being the second full moon to occur in a calendar month is not as infrequent an occurrence as the phrase might lead people to believe.

The Day Of The Triffids

I settled down last night at 9 pm to watch the second swatch of the latest BBC adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids only to find it wasn’t on. This was because Holby City had been bumped to an hour later by River City and so we in Scotland didn’t get to see The Day Of The Triffids until 10.20. I went and had a bath instead.

But… The main BBC news was on in Scotland at 10. The Day Of The Triffids lasted 1½ hours and so the news in the rest of the UK wasn’t till 10.30.

Was there a special news, for Scotland only, at 10? What did the (London) BBC news unit think of that? (The Scottish news opt out which normally follows the news – the “where you are” bit – came on as usual afterwards: it wasn’t a BBC Scotland main news.) Or did they just use the BBC 24 hour news feed for the fifteen minutes?

Anyway, The Day Of The Triffids adaptation itself was well done and, apart from some updating and an unnecessary emphasis on the hero, Bill Masen’s, family, (I blame Russell T Davies) reasonably true to the book as I remember it, with a fine performance by Eddie Izzard as the baddie, Torrence.

It was, however, – even the daylight scenes – filmed almost entirely in what I call Super Murk-O-Vision. This was probably to avoid too many shots with triffids in them as, no matter what you do, plants are not really that scary in appearance. Here, the book definitely scores over any possible visual version. The depiction of the triffid sting, showing it as a potent disabling weapon, was also much too late.

[Edited to add: the voice over was a mistake too.]

I doubt this version would have converted anyone that didn’t already have a penchant for it to SF, though.

For anyone who wants to see them, the iplayer reruns are here and here.

We Used To Know: Jethro Tull. Hotel California?

While looking for Ring Out Solstice Bells on You Tube I came across this.

Not having bought nor even listened to Stand Up beyond any singles it spawned, I had no idea this similarity existed.

Ian Anderson is very magnanimous about it all, isn’t he?

But then again, who owns E flat?

Jethro Tull:We Used To Know

Matter by Iain M Banks

Orbit, 2008, 593 p.

Matter is set mostly on Sursamen; one of a series of constructs known as Shellworlds, which contain sixteen or so concentric levels, each succeeding level with its own thermonuclear generators, called Shellstars or Rollstars, for light and heat, with every level supported by pillars which taper towards the exterior and provide a means for travelling between the levels. At the centre of each Shellworld is a guardian, one of the Xinthian, which the Sarl, inhabitants of Sursamen’s level 8, call the WorldGod. So far, so Big Dumb Object, an obvious attempt to inculcate “sensawunda.”

There is a small flaw here in that the internal dynamics of Sursamen’s levels 8 and 9 seem to relate more to “normal” planetary origins than to a built world. But let that pass.*

More serious is that Matter doesn’t seem to know what sort of book it wants to be. The scenes set on the two levels described are more like a typical fantasy – warring armies, a betrayed and murdered king, a Prince forced to flee, a naive younger Prince-in-waiting, a treacherous regent, assassination plots – though the technology is more advanced than that implies, while away from this we have scenes set in the Culture and its neighbouring civilisations, “ghost” spaceships, intergalactic chicanery and ancient artefacts coming to life.

Banks does tie all these together but not without a huge amount of background being loaded onto us. (Chapter four in particular is one huge info dump.) In some respects, though, the multiple strands mean reading Matter is a bit like suddenly switching between a roller coaster ride and a trip in a horse-drawn carriage. In the end the gel is far from perfect and the climactic finale seems oddly inconclusive.

I was, too, brought up short by the use of the word internment for a burial. This sort of thing irrationally annoys me. Does no-one employ proof readers?

There are some philosophical asides on the ilk of how the problems of little people aren’t worth a hill of beans in this troubled universe of ours – the vagaries of matter – but these take up overall less than a page.

Banks can obviously do the Culture (and Space Opera in general) in his sleep. Having read Matter I’m now hankering to see how he might treat other SF scenarios.

*( I was tempted to say “no matter” there.)

Holiday TV

I managed to watch most of Hamlet today – the need to take in food interrupted it a bit. (Wouldn’t 7-10 or 8-11 pm have been better time slots?) Quite well done, I thought.

Not like the previous day’s Doctor Who, which was pretty much awful. I’ve always disliked the Russell T Davies episodes. So much recursive stuff about the Doctor’s companions’ families.

My younger son for some reason took a liking to Doctor Who even though it was in its long hiatus when he was growing up. As a result he has much more of an encyclopædic knowledge of the Who canon than me. He was of much the same opinion about this Christmas special as I was.

I’m more hopeful for the upcoming Steven Moffat driven series but I’m not sure about the new Doctor. Time will tell.

Ring Out Solstice Bells

It’s a few days late for the solstice but…

Oh. A very merry Christmas to everybody.

“Meet The New Boss….”

So Craig Levein has been given the poisoned chalice of Scotland manager.

Quite why he, or anyone, would want the job is a mystery considering the unrealistic expectations of press and public as revealed by their treatment of George Burley.

Yes, in the past Scotland qualified for five World Cups in a row (1974-1990) and six out of seven up to 1998 and haven’t managed that feat since even though the number of available places is now larger.

But don’t forget that a Scotland side littered with players we’d die to have now – Baxter, Law, Crerand, White (1961) and their successors four years later who beat Italy at Hampden when Greig, Murdoch, McNeill etc could be added to the roll call – failed in the attempt even though qualification was less lengthy in those days; albeit the 1961 vintage lost to the eventual World Cup finalists.

That run of six out of seven World Cups was an anomaly. A country the size of Scotland has no divine right to sit at the top table. Arguably even being in Pot Three in Europe is an over-achievement.

Look at the players listed above: do we nowadays have anyone fit to lace their boots? It’s no surprise we can’t qualify for anything. We’re simply not good enough. Organisation will only take you so far.

Times have changed. Time also to adjust expectations.

No matter who the new boss is (or was) he’ll have an almighty struggle returning Scotland to tournament participation.

Let’s just bask in being top of the list of unofficial World Champions. (Even if that’s only because back in the day we could beat England quite often.)

Weather Watch

I woke up this morning to that rarity in Kirkcaldy, a heavy snowfall. This is only the third or so time in over twenty years here that there’s been enough to build a snowman. There must have been at least three inches. Very festive. Thank goodness I’m on holiday.
When I ventured out it wasn’t as cold as yesterday, though.
I’m hoping the game is off on Saturday as I’d like to watch David Tennant’s Hamlet and it starts at 5.05.

BSFA Mailing

The latest BSFA mailing dropped through my letter box yesterday. It’s been a while. I thought they’d forgotten about me.

No Focus but the Vector is a J. G. Ballard special.

Plus there was a freebie book, Winter Song, by Colin Harvey, published by the relatively new SF imprint Angry Robot. Presumably they think the PR accruing from this will outweigh any possible loss of sales.

Or maybe it’s just an attempt to get it on the BSFA Award Ballot….

Cynical? Moi?

We’re Doomed!

(Thank you, Private Frazer.)

The Climate Change summit in Copenhagen has failed to come up with a binding agreement. No surprise there. President Obama, in particular, was always going to find any sort of deal hard to sell at home, and harder again to implement. China and India are understandably reluctant to hamper themselves in their efforts to attain higher living standards.

Still, Private Frazer’s catch phrase is only too appropriate. Over-exploiting our resources to the point of catastrophe is something humans seem to do.

The Easter Islanders and the Maya are more than likely to have contributed to the demise of their environments. Water extraction in the south-western United States is outstripping replacement – so much so that the Rio Grande is now little more than a trickle in some stretches. And the fall of the Sumerian and Roman Empires may well have been due to their over exploitation of wood resources.

While global warming – whether or not it’s occurring (natural fluctuations mean the trend is anything but smooth yet average yearly world temperatures over the past few decades tend to be higher than at any time on record; with the highest being more recent) and whether or not it’s human-made – may or may not lead to deleterious climatic and environmental consequences, it seems axiomatic to me that we as a species couldn’t keep throwing all sorts of stuff into the atmosphere (and the oceans) without causing damage of some sort; damage which may be irreparable in the short term.

In this respect it is possible that ocean acidification due to uptake of CO2 may even be more of a disaster for non-human species than warming of the atmosphere and seas.

It may seem strange to be going on about this when the country is experiencing what used to be appropriate seasonal weather but if the North Atlantic Conveyor – sometimes known as the Gulf Stream – switches off, we’re in for a lot of this. Think Labrador; with bells on. It has switched off in the past and an influx of fresh water from melting Greenland ice sheets will mean Arctic waters won’t be dense enough to sink they way they do now.

Still; no overall agreement may be better than a flawed agreement. But only if lessons are learned.

The junketing involved at Copenhagen has been an unedifying spectacle. And such gatherings attract all sorts of ancillary activities which only contribute to the problem they are affecting to solve.

There must be a better way to deal with the world’s problems than this.

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