The Year of Intelligent Tigers.

Books Does anyone else keep forgetting when Easter is? For various reasons this afternoon I had to check and was surprised to find it planted on the seventh of April having assumed it was earlier. The reason’s fairly simple. For the past seven years, Easter’s brought new Doctor Who, either the opening of a new series or a special, its broadcast date an annual sign post that was coincidentally a useful reminder that there’d be hot cross buns for breakfast the day before and loads of chocolate the following morning amongst other rituals. This year, as far as we know, Easter Saturday is to be a Time Lord free zone, punctuated by a big red button being pressed by Jessie J instead.

And so we head to our shelves and the internet for entertainment and here I am catching up with Kate Orman (and Jon Blum)’s The Year of Intelligent Tigers another in the long series of Eighth Doctor novels. The novel opens with team TARDIS ensconced on the island planet Hitchemus in which a colony consisting almost entirely of musicians are smugly entertaining one another thanks to a state benefits system which rewards the creative. Adding to the hippy spirit which pervades proceedings, many of the inhabitants are keeping tigers as pets but before long it becomes apparent these cats aren’t quite as domesticated as they thought, the title of the novel offering some indication as to the story’s direction of travel.

Having enjoyed all of the author’s previous novels, even the highly underrated Seeing I, I’d rather been looking forward to seeing how Orman (and Blum) would tackle the post Earth arc Doctor, with his amnesia and counterfeit confidence. Reviews elsewhere hold the novel in very high regard with words like “masterpiece” thrown around. This is Doctor Who dipping its toes in the genre/literary fiction hybrid, structuring the story around the movements of a song with action sometimes suggested impressionistically in the hopes of elevating the material above the typical adventure romp, just the kind of thing for whom I’m precisely the target audience.

Unfortunately I parted company with proceedings after about fifty pages. The opening of the novel beautifully  the atmosphere of Hitchemus, music spilling out of every dwelling, the sense that this is a world that thrumbs with the stroke of a plectrum, its rhythms timed by a swing of a maestro's baton. But soon the plot proper kicks in, the tigers mount an invasion of the colony and we’re thrust into what amounts to a procrastinating rerun of Doctor Who and the Silurians with the amphibians replaced by the cast of Big Cats Live, with Doctor and his companions joining opposite sides, the tigers and their oppressors. I bored quickly.

My objections seem to coalesce around two of Orman’s choices. Firstly, and perhaps this is because of my natural aversion of felines in general, I quickly tired of the tigers as a race, the endless descriptions of their fur, the running, the jumping, the messing about with musical instruments as they attempt to learn more about the human’s primary occupation. The author admittedly works hard to give the individual tigers strong personalities, but my ability to cope with this kind of anthropomorphism begins and ends with The Lion King and my imagination simply couldn’t quite muddle through the tigers holding long conversations not unlike the wolf summit from Twilight’s Breaking Dawn.

Secondly, from the off, Orman’s approach is to keep the Time Lord a remote figure. He’s described from the POV of local inhabitants, his companions and the tigers, the motive being to underscore his alieness because we’re not sure what he’ll do next, if he’s really favouring the tigers or the humans. Logically, as the Silurians stories suggest, he’s favouring the group who’s motive is most peaceful, but in this case neither side is particularly on the up and in joining the pack he appears to abandon his companions which for those of us who endured the Sam arc seems terribly out of character at least for this incarnation. He keeps Anji safe at one point, but mainly we’re in Mindwarp territory wondering why he’s acting this way.

Having spent the past few dozen novels with the Doctor largely as the viewpoint character, it’s a wrench. It doesn’t feel right. Indeed there are moments when it’s almost though he’s never met his companions before. I assumed it was due to some outside influence, that my Eighth Doctor would re-emerge wondering why the hell he’d shaved all his hair off, but eventually it becomes apparent this is how the author’s rationalising the amnesia, her flavour of the diplomacy Eighth’s supposed to be famed for communicated forcefully in a conclusion in which he literally imposes peace on the two groups, which I know is what he amounts to doing in plenty of other stories, but this suggests his seventh incarnation too closely for my tastes.

Perhaps it’s that Orman wants to have it both ways. Her approach to Fitz and especially Anji are more akin to the rest of the novels in the series, the latter receiving some much needed character development as she grasps the dislocation of time travel, of having to bluff through cultural references which rarely make sense. It’s in these moments I wondered if the literary material is in fact attempting to mask what’s otherwise pretty thin ideas, but knowing that this is an author whose work I’d enjoyed very much in the past, I know it can’t be that. It’s the process of trying to marry the requirements of one sort of storytelling with another, two forms which can’t easily be reconciled either on the page or in my head.  Or both.

"this classic game"

Games TechRadar's guide to the Amazon Kindle lists an undocumented easter egg:
"If you have the Keyboard version of the Kindle, press [Alt] and [Shift] and [M] simultaneously to bring up this classic game. From the Minesweeper screen, you can also play a game of 5-in-a-Row against your Kindle. A good way to kill time on a journey if you're not in the mood for reading."

"out of your shell"

Life Of course, one of my concerns about trying to find something to do next is that I'm naturally an introvert which isn't really conducive to selling yourself. Plenty of this Guardian book extract from a couple of days ago chimes with my way of thinking, especially in relation to how we're treated by out and out extroverts:
"If you're an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologise for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come "out of your shell" – that noxious expression that fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same. "All the comments from childhood still ring in my ears, that I was lazy, stupid, slow, boring," writes a member of an email list called Introvert Retreat. "By the time I was old enough to figure out that I was simply introverted, it was a part of my being, the assumption that there is something inherently wrong with me. I wish I could find that little vestige of doubt and remove it."
Which isn't to say I haven't considered whether I'm a shy extrovert, especially since for all of my procrastination in life, I tend to try and get work related projects completed as quickly (if carefully) as I'm able.  But having taken the quiz which accompanies the article, it seems unlikely.

today was my last day at work

Life A month ago I handed my notice in at one of the two part-time jobs and today was my last day at work. For various reasons, mostly to do with the blog rules, I'll still keep to myself actually what I was doing so at least for now my ad-hoc cv won't be updated quite yet.

I'd been there for a little under five years (here's what I wrote just as guardedly at the beginning) and it was "simply" time to move on.  As has often been the case in the past, I don't as yet have anything in particular to move on to, but I do still have the other weekend position which will hopefully cover the basics of life.

The few people I've told have suggested I'm being "very brave".  I don't think I am, but I had been using the current ills of the country as the reason not to, the "at least I have a job" excuse.  I said as much here in October 2008.  It's also all too easy to fall into a routine.  Which I had.

What I'm hoping is that this will motivate me to try and do some of the things I mention at the bottom of that CV, at least while I feel young enough, to finally answer the question of what I want to do with my the rest of my life or at least the next few years.  Ideas gratefully received at the usual addresses.

So, what now?

celebration of Star Wars

Film Ignite Liverpool 9 was this evening and during the interval, one of the producers of prospective indie film I Have A Bad Feeling About This introduced a trailer and their IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to complete the film.

The trailer's here and as the title suggests its a bit Fanboys, bit Spaced, bit early Kevin Smith like celebration of Star Wars, but what's interesting is that its set on the streets of Liverpool and features local actors.

Which reignited the 90s indie spirit of eschewing more viewer friendly generic locations and accents for something more geographically interesting, like Smith's New Jersey.

 The comic shop featured is World's Apart on Lime Street.

There are various donation options but if you want to help, you'll have to be quick.  They've sixteen days to complete funding and have $10k to go.

Does Pi = Hamlet?

miles away from both chairs and tables

Books Encyclopedia Britannica has joined the mass exodus to digital-only and cancelled publication of its print edition which will stop being available when stock of the 2010 edition runs out. From TechCrunch:
"The question of print versus online is different when you’re not talking about cheap paperbacks versus e-books, or news magazines versus blogs. This Encyclopaedia sells for $1395, and at 32 volumes, it would be out of place on any but the most expansive libraries. Only 8000 copies of the 2010 edition were sold; 4000 are being warehoused. Just before the dawn of the web, in 1990, they sold 120,000."
One of the golden memories I have from my undergraduate course was sitting on the carpeted floor of the library in the quick reference section (which was miles away from both chairs and tables) thumbing through both sections, an obsession which began with a class exercise in being able to use the indexes to access the information, just another process from my librarianship course Google has rendered obsolete.

We'd been told in the preceding lecture that the EB's motive in producing the Macropedia was to allow a person to gain a working knowledge of a topic from its pages and I was desperate to test the theory and although my brain isn't wired to retain information, I was set on the course of being interested in everything, even if I'd only ever ultimately have a vague notion about most of it.

Original pronunciation.

The British Library releases the first ever audio CD of Shakespeare spoken in the original pronunciation, Hamlet included:
"This CD promises to be entertaining as well as a unique and important resource for the study of Shakespeare. Thanks to the latest scholarship it takes us closer than we have been able to come before to how the works of the greatest English playwright were spoken and acted in his own lifetime.

"Under the guidance of Ben Crystal, actor and expert in original Shakespearian pronunciation in performance, a company of actors performs some of Shakespeare’s best-known poems, solo speeches and scenes from 18 of his plays. The selection of speeches includes Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be”, Antony’s "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” from Julius Caesar, Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”, and “All the world’s a stage” from As You Like It. Scenes are included from The Comedy of Errors, King Lear, Macbeth, Much Ado about Nothing and Othello."
A few extracts have been included with the press release and the experience of listening to familiar words in a less familiar idiom is beguiling, like hearing them again for the first time. This piece of Jacques from As You Like It brings a new sense of reality to the character, the pronunciation of "fool" to sound more like "full" bringing greater sense to the text.

Julian Fellowes and his cohorts

TV The BBC have announced their programming marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Their inevitable drama, rather than simply depicting the disaster (leaving that to Julian Fellowes and his cohorts) is more interested in the aftermath, and I'm interested because ...
"This new courtroom drama tells the story of the official British Inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic and its efforts to ascertain whether the SS Californian ship was in close enough proximity to the doomed vessel to help save some of the 1,500 passengers and crew who lost their lives.

"Held in Westminster in 1912, the Inquiry called to account the Captain of the Californian, Captain Stanley Lord and members of his crew as it investigated whether the Californian failed in its duty to assist the Titanic. Featuring a stellar cast led by Paul McGann (Withnail & I, Luther), this drama is based on the transcripts from the Westminster Inquiry and tells a compelling side to the Titanic story that many people will not have heard before. Produced by Hole In The Wall Gang Ltd for BBC Northern Ireland with funding from Northern Ireland Screen."
Views with long memories will remember this isn't the first time Paul's played a lawyer, having previously talked juries into submission in the excellent Fish, a show so little seen that no one's even bothered to upload it to YouTube (I always thought it was cancelled due to low ratings but it turns out its creator/writer sadly died during production).

"a steely tough love"

Art For n-1 magazine, Alice Gregory, former employee of Sothebys uncovers the dark underbelly of the auction business. The sexual politics is atrocious:
"... almost all interactions between employees and clients were inflected with an “Oh, you stop it now!” sort of kittenishness or a steely tough love. Telephone conversations with cold callers included some of the most retrograde propositions I’ve heard outside of Mad Men. That it was possible to be asked on dates by men we had never met, solely on the basis of our summaries of sale results, confirmed for me that there existed, in certain circles, an assumption that asking a faceless Sotheby’s girl out over the phone was a safe bet. Thirteen-thirty-four York Avenue, as it turns out, is an unimpeachable provenance to have."
Elsewhere, there are plenty of illustrations that the art world continues to be divided between those of us who genuinely love the work and those who stop us from seeing it because they simply consider it to be an asset.

we've not had a proper confirmation

Music Heidi from the "Sugababes" has given an interview to the Press Association on the occasion of her being followed off some ice by a spotlight at the weekend. At the close of business, the PA person asks her the most important question:
"But she wishes good luck to former bandmates Mutya Buena and Keisha Buchanan, who are reforming as the original Sugababes with Siobhan Donaghy, who Heidi replaced, to record and perform together again.
Heidi said: "I think good luck to them. I hope it works out."
Given that we've not had a proper confirmation from anyone that the reunion is even happening, is she offering best wishes for whatever the PA suggests is going on or does she know something different?

Of course what they could also have asked is she'd be turning up for this reunion, but I'll leave it to the version of me in the alternate universe with the zeppelins tethered to the Liver Buildings to be excited about the prospect of that one.

I'm fairly exhausted

Books  Actually, just to break format for a moment, having finally finished The Good Soldier today, I'm fairly exhausted, but not elated in that way that you sometimes are when you've completed a novel and compulsively enjoyed the experience.  This is difficult, difficult and like Shakespeare when first approached (and to be fair in some cases even having lived with a play for ten years), the reader will only ever get the gist of the story and as the introduction to the Oxford edition explains because Dowell's an unreliable narrator, you can't be entirely sure what's been said is even the truth.  Even the few dates mentioned contract one another.

But on the upside I can finally read something like John Crace's digested classic and get the joke especially the final paragraph which perfectly captures the conclusion.  I can nod along to some of Jane Smiley's review even if it omits some of the casual racism and sexism which in hindsight makes Dowell a pretty repellent figure to spend time with anyway (which I know is unfair but nevertheless).  There's also this piece on Leonora which suggests I entirely misread a character who through Dowell's obsessive description seems like a would be sexual predator and driven that way by her husband's own polygamous proclivities but according to that essay a strong female attempting to pull together the threads of a collapsing existence.  Unless she's both.

The project is still having the desired effect of forcing me to read some more challenging material.  So far there's only been one "casualty", Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, a turgid housebrick of a volume during which I was hoping to see why Jane Austen satarized it in Northanger Abbey, abandoning it after about fifty pages having discovered exactly why Jane Austen satarized it in Northanger Abbey with its barely readable dialogue and endless descriptive passages enthusing on the power of nature.  I know the book has its fans, but life's too short (frankly) so I ran directly into The Wind in the Willows instead.

The Oxford Paragraphs:
Ford Madox Ford
The Good Soldier

Books  Writing in the literary appropriation of impressionism pioneered by his erstwhile friend Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford’s modernist narrative is an enemy of structure and coherence as it mimics his American narrator Dowell’s memory of his obsessive psycho-sexual relationships with his suicidal wife Florence, British stick Edward and his wife Leonora, chronology rolling in on itself over and again. When, at beginning of its fourth part, Dowell apologises for having told the story “in a very rambling way” because “it may be difficult for anyone to find their way through what may be a sort of maze”, well, reader, I sighed. Yet this is still engrossing thanks to its thick atmosphere steeped in turn of the last century continental privilege, and some beautifully rendered characterisation, especially Leonora, a passive aggressive viper who can ruin a man by simply giving him some of her attention. And knows it. And does.

The Titlebar Archive: Ralph McQuarrie

Film As you may have read, Ralph McQuarrie, the film concept artist best known for inspiring the imagery of Star Wars universe died last week.  The art in the title bar obviously depicts Luke, Ben and the droids clap eyes on the Millenium Falcon, a moment arguably spoiled in the special editions because we've already seen it in the earlier additional (and irrelevant) Jabba the Hutt sequence.

McQuarrie's official website has an archive of interviews from across the years, the earliest from 1978, just after the film's release which gives some flavour of what it must have been like working at time when Lucas's script was in a very organic phase:
MS: What other kinds of exchanges went on between you and Lucas, and who came up with what?

McQ: Oh, we had a lot of conversations, and ideas always changed viewpoints to fit the latest script. Luke Skywalker was to be a girl, to satisfy Fox's desire for a romantic interest in the film. Han Solo was to be an Errol Flynn type hero, and things would go in a rather classic film framework. Then, somewhere along the way, George decided to make Luke a boy to bolster the student/teacher aspect with Ben Kenobi, but brought in a Princess to set up a romantic triangle.

From a design point of view, I would make my own changes, like the C-3PO robot. George was specifically after a Metropolis type figure, but I wanted it to be very elegant, and distinctly male. I remember doing a lot of sketches to get to the design we finally used, and then, the costume people had to make modifications to enlarge the joints. Even so, they managed to retain the nice lines that gave the robot a streamlined look.
"She's your sister."

some more notes on Liverpool Blogs

About  Here are some more notes on Liverpool Blogs.

(1)  Despite having psychologically treated it like Fermat's Last Theorem (or because of), I've managed to solve the problems with the Liverpool Blogs list page by converting the big long list to a series of small sections with the blogs linked in alphabetical order by title and then each section ordered by most recent update.

(2)  If you notice that anything is in the wrong place, do let me know.  I've had a check through but I've probably missed something.

(3)  Something I have come across is that RSS feeds rarely have a simple, coherent or representative title.  In the process of recreating the list, I found a lot of feeds simply called "blog" or "latest news" or with a massive long title with a baroque series of sub-headings.

(4)  Should blogs which just use a person's name go under their surname?  Or should "John Smith" be considered the blog's title?  Somehow this decision is made easier when additional data is included, like a person's profession (ie) "John Smith, Doctor".

(5)  Since I still think the twitter feed is the best expression of the diversity of material, I've added an admittedly messy duplicate of it to the side bar under the title having deleted the flickr, YouTube and Google News sections which I'm not sure anyone found that useful.

"other signs of animals in the wild"

Travel Today's Observer has a father/daughter potter around Marais in Paris which includes the utterly macabre Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature:
"Supposedly devoted to hunting and nature, the museum celebrates animals through the joy of slaughtering them. Armouries of antique firearms lead to entire menageries of mounted heads. Paintings on the same theme decorate the walls. An exhibit invites us to identify birds by their song, presumably as an aid to shooting the edible ones. Elsewhere, sliding drawers in a series of elegantly designed cabinets display clay impressions of spoor and other signs of animals in the wild. Need to know what wolf droppings look like? Seek no further."
No, indeed.  And I wouldn't attempt a Google search either.