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They got all the Nebula awards wrong!

Well, ok, maybe not all. I haven't read Stable Strategies & Other Stories (yet), but I'm willing to believe Eileen Gunn's story was the best of the nominated stories. And though I'm a confirmed Bujold sceptic and find it really hard to believe Paladin of Souls measures up to Cloud Atlas or Perfect Circle (or The Knight or Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom, to be honest), I have to admit that I haven't read that, either.

But even though most of the interesting novellas (particularly 'Arabian Wine', 'Sergeant Chip' and 'Off On A Starship') got lopped off at the preliminary ballot stage, and even though 'The Green Leopard Plague' is a good story, surely 'The Cookie Monster' and 'The Tangled Strings of the Marionnettes' were better?

And as for novellette and script, well ... all I can think of to say is that both Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 'The Voluntary State' were robbed, plain and simple.
In most of my spare time last week I was rereading and working on a review of River of Gods, for Foundation. During this period I was, well ... 'tediously obsessed' would not be too strong a way of putting it. However, I thought the following conversation with immortalradical might be of interest to those who've read the book, as a little light (!) bank holiday reading, and he agreed, so here it is. It started with me quoting a particular passage:
How Thomas Lull knows he is un-American: he hates cars but loves trains, Indian trains, big trains like a nation on the move. He is content with the contradiction that they are at once hierarchical and democratic, a temporary community brought together for a time; vital while it lasts, burning away like early mist when the terminus is reached. All journey is pilgrimage and India is a pilgrim nation. Rivers, grand trunk roads, trains; these are sacred things across all India's many nations. For thousands of years people have been flowing over this vast diamond of land. All is riverrun, meeting, a brief journey together, then dissolution.

Western thought rebels against this. Western thought is car thought. Freedom of movement. Self-direction. Individual choice and expression and sex on the back seat. The great car society. Throughout literature and music, trains have been engines of fate, drawing the individual blindly, inexorably towards death. Trains ran through the double gates of Auschwitz, right up to the shower sheds. India has no such understanding of trains. It is not where the unseen engine is taking you; it is what you see from the window, what you say to your fellow travellers for you all go together. Death is a vast, crowded terminus of half-heard announcements and onward connections on new lines, new journeys. Changing trains. (p200)

NH: I think that, right there, is the aesthetic of this novel. Indian vs. Western; community vs. individual; interaction and experience and change as emergent properties of the world.

DH: This was actually one of my mild problems with the novel: that distinction (Indian as community, Western as individual) seems to me horribly simplistic and even facile. It works OK, but can never quite escape the fact that it doesn't quite convince. Fortunately, the other good things in the book mitigate this slightly artificial opposition.

NH: Well, it works for me because it's never stated that baldly in the novel proper. And I think I stated it the wrong way around; really it's 'community vs individual' and then umpteen variations on that theme, only one of which is Indian vs. Western.

DH: Perhaps. 'Indian versus Western' as a variation on 'community versus individual' is still a little simplistic, though. What I like about the rest of the novel is the way in which it defies such reductive distinctions. It may even be that you're imposing that opposition on the text, whereas in fact what's there is a much more complex debate about a much more nebulous concept--identity.

oh, there's more. With spoilers.Collapse )

He's a smart man, that Mr Hartland, and will undoubtedly be pleased to hear that I've ordered A Passage to India from Amazon. His original review (from which it seems I inadvertently stole an entire phrase) is here. I should also say that many of my thoughts on the book were shaped by greengolux' review at The Alien Online.
TV: OK, so I caved and downloaded 'Dalek'. My need to be part of the consensus fandom experience is too strong. And, well, it was ok. Chris Ecclestone's performance was excellent, the story was tight (if a bit too obviously concerned with addressing all the common jokes about the Daleks: the pepperpot, the plunger, the stairs, etc), and the direction was lightyears more effective than in most of the previous episodes. My problems with the episode basically come down to the fact that I find Daleks inherently ludicrous, no matter how many people they kill; the fact that the setup was pure by-the-numbers; and the fact that the shape of the plot was strongly reminiscent of a particular episode of Angel. I mean, it wasn't quite an alley at the end, and you could argue that the Dalek possibly has a slightly less annoying voice, and it wasn't written by Tim Minear, but other than that ... you know where I'm going with this, right? Still: it was basically a decent piece of television. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but the point is that it shows potential; if they'd come out of the gate with episodes like this, I might have thought the hype had a point.

Film: The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was not, contrary to certain reports, crap. I quite enjoyed it, to be honest. If you're as over-familiar with the radio series as I am then it definitely takes a while to get used to the new cast, but by and large most of the performances are good, and the film's heart is in the right place. Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy in particular are excellent, and the only real weak link is Mos Def who never quite seems right (though I wasn't entirely convinced by Fry as the Guide, either). Narratively it's quite different to previous incarnations--as it would have to be, to work. I didn't mind the insertion of a more conventional emotional arc, though it does some damage to Trillian's characterisation in particular. In general, I do think they edited most of the dialogue a bit more than was necessary. Where I give the film big points is in the visuals. The Vogons are outstanding (and Vogsphere in particular has a very Gilliam-esque feel to it), the improbability drive is perfectly rendered (the knitting!), and the trip to Magrathea's factory floor is jaw-droppingly wonderful. Oh, and Neil Hannon is absolutely the perfect singer for the Dolphin Song.

Book: The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford, read for an OUSFG discussion this coming Wednesday. A curious book, this: the story of a painter in 1890s New York, commissioned to paint the portrait of a women he may never see. Instead, he has to discern her likeness from conversation alone; from the stories she tells. Ford's deceptively simple prose is used to good effect to tell an atmospheric tale about the relationship between creation and obsession. Much of the book has a surreal, slightly hallucinatory quality to it; echoes of Greek myth haunt this New York, and the fantastic lurks in Mrs Charbuque's speeches. There is a slight feeling of self-indulgence about the whole enterprise, though, and I haven't really decided what I think about the ending yet. Worth reading, however.

Music: I have fallen head over heels for the Eels' latest album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Yes, it's a double album so yes, it's baggy in places, and simply by virtue of its size it takes a long time to get to grips with; but I wouldn't begrudge a minute of it. The album picks up where Daisies of the Galaxy left off. Many of the best moments come from the slight cognitive dissonance induced by the contrast between Mark Everett's gruff vocals and the sparklingly beautiful melodies he crafts, from the delicate lament of 'If You See Natalie' to the shuffle of 'Railroad Man' and the bouncy pop of 'Old Shit/New Shit'. Lyrically the songs are as sharp and observant as ever, although it has to be said that some of the titles--'Theme For A Pretty Girl That Makes You Believe God Exists'--are a bit laboured. The surprise, though, is that in amongst the pessimism there are moments of genuine sincerity and hope; the final track finds Everett concluding that 'I have some regrets, but if I had to do it all again/Well, it's something I'd like to do.' It's almost enough to give you warm fuzzies inside. Try this: One of the tracks that's really got under my skin, 'Blinking Lights (For Me)'.

(Other albums getting a lot of play at the moment include: Ambulance Ltd by Ambulance Ltd (think Doves, but with a bit of New York swagger instead of Northern melancholy); Songs For Silverman by Ben Folds (good, and I'll probably write more about it after the gig at the end of the month); and Natalie Imbruglia's latest offering. Yeah, Counting Down The Days is pure Richard-Curtis-movie-soundtrack music but, be honest, who hasn't wanted to pretend they live in a Richard Curtis movie now and then?)