Dear Santa, thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It's Easter now, so I hope I didn't wake you but... honest, it is an emergency. There's a crack in my wall. Aunt Sharon says it's just an ordinary crack, but I know its not cause at night there's voices so... please please can you send someone to fix it? Or a policeman, or...
Back in a moment.
Thank you Santa.

Sunday, September 17

Art

Dichronauts

By Greg Egan

This is perhaps the strangest book I have ever read.  The premise is simple enough: Seth and Theo are newly graduated surveyors from the town of Baharabad.  Their town has a problem - the River Orico is drying up, leaving them without a reliable water supply, and the next-closest river is already heavily settled and unlikely to welcome a new town.  So it's up to the surveyors to head out and find a new place for the people of the town to settle.

First strange thing: Theo is a brain slug.

Second strange thing: Seth is blind to the north and south.  He relies on Theo's use of sonar to ping things in those directions.  In fact, everyone is blind to the north and south - they can see east and west, and up and down, but can't see anything in the so-called "dark cone".

Third strange thing: This is because light doesn't travel in those directions.

Fourth strange thing: Seth and Theo live on one side of a hyperboloid, infinite in all directions but with finite surface gravity.  The Sun "orbits" that hyperboloid, slowly baking everything behind its orbital path to ash, so that all the world's inhabitants - even the vegetation - must continually migrate to new and more hospitable lands.

Then it starts getting weird.

If you read Flatland or The Planiverse, the authors make it clear that they're describing a universe with only two spatial dimensions.  With Dichronauts, it's more complicated than that, because their universe is four-dimensional just as ours is; it's just that instead of three spatial dimensions and time, it has two spatial dimensions and two temporal ones.

That is, north and south are a timeline just as future and past are.

And that means, for example, that the people in the book can't turn around - they can't rotate left-to-right, though they can flip upside down and stand on their hands - any more than you or I can turn pastwards and walk into yesterday.

And in the entire book, no-one turns around.

The rest of it pales into comparison beside that, at least for me.  Water flowing uphill, our heroes falling off the edge of the world, the sex life of brain slugs...  In the entire book, no-one turns around.  Everyone in the story is facing east the entire time.

Egan is a mathematician, and has created a web site explaining in detail the geometry involved.  Little of this is given directly to you in the story, though the characters do know they live on a hyperboloid, and assumed it was infinite right up until they fell off it.  They don't discuss north and south in terms we'd understand, only in terms they understand, and you're left to figure it out.

Oops, spoiled that.  Sorry.

Still, recommended if you like weird hypotheticals that play out as relatable stories and not just as mental exercises.  If you're new to Greg Egan I'd suggest perhaps starting with Permutation City or Schild's Ladder instead; they're not necessarily better but are more accessible.  (The middle part of Schild's Ladder is a bit dry, all research and politics, but the third part where the heroes finally enter the alien universe is a pure delight.)

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Monday, September 04

Art

Deadpool

Now that is more like it.

Not a perfect Deadpool film, but quite a good one, and vastly more entertaining than the stifling Civil War.  Being Deadpool, it is of course ultra-violent and utterly profane, so probably not one for the kiddies.

The main problem is that it's the origin story, and we've had enough goddam origin stories.  Getting the gang together stories are still cool (Avengers, Guardians) but it's time for the origin story to be buried for good.

Apart from that it succeeds at what it set out to do, and showed it in the cinemas, making $750 million at the box office on a budget of less than $60 million.  The Avengers made twice as much, but on four times the budget, so that's a pretty spectacular return.

Recommended - if you like that sort of thing.  If you've read any Deadpool comics, you know what to expect, and you get it.

...

Good and hard.

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Sunday, September 03

Art

Captain America: Civil War

I hadn't seen it before because it sounded tedious and stupid.

It is.

And I'm saying "stupid" in the context of a film series where past outings have included a giant flying alien mecha-snake as the chief villain.

This is a charmless, joyless, tiresome piece of crap; four hours of unlikable characters throwing the idiot ball back and forth.

At least it was on Netflix.

One star for.... No. Zero stars. Avoid.

I went back and watched the first hour of The Avengers. While it's also overlong and flabby with an indifferent plot, the dialog, characterisation, and action sequences are on an entirely different level to Civil War. Avengers is a fun film with some significant flaws; Civil War is drudgery.

The Avengers:
Steve Rogers: I wanna know why Loki let us take him. He's not leading an army from here.
Bruce Banner: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
Thor: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!
Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
Thor: He's adopted.

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Tuesday, August 29

Art

Zootopia

The one overriding rule is this: If you are going to make a comedic animated buddy copy movie for children starring anthropomorphic talking animals, first and foremost it must be a good buddy cop movie.

It is.

I hadn't seen it before because I believed the hype to be overblown.  Maybe the hype was overblown, but it's still a damn good film.  Recommended.

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Sunday, August 06

Art

Two Or Three More Times

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Thursday, July 27

Art

Bohemian Rapsody

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Saturday, July 22

Art

Ninefox Gambit

So, what we have here is a space opera kind of thing set in a universe where dialectical materialism is true.  That is, the laws of physics are (to some extent) what you can convince other people to believe them to be.

As a science-fictional premise this is fine, and the author follows through on his premise pretty robustly.  Most of the characters are idiots, and the society they live in is awful.  But this is because being a charismatic sociopath is the only reliable path to power, so all the leaders - all of them - are of that nature.  They treat their soldiers and citizens as pawns, or less than pawns, because that actually works.

Our heroine, Kel Cheris, is an up-and-coming infantry captain with a flair for mathematics unusual in the army.   She is co-opted into a plot by some of the central political figures in the Hexarchate to do...  Something.  I've finished the first book, and it's still not entirely clear who is trying to do what to whom.

On now to book two, Raven Stratagem.

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Wednesday, April 12

Art

Story Notes

My name is Zoe Fairchild, though everyone calls me Minx.  I live in Tarrytown, on the border of the fairy lands and the human world.  I'm the city's top female private investigator, which means most months I can make the rent, or eat, my choice.

My parents abandoned me here to look after myself when I was twelve.  They had their reasons, and I've mostly stopped hating them for it.  Before they walked out, each one left me with a gift.

My mother, the practical one, gave me an ebony-handled Colt 45 Special, saying only that a girl needed to know at least three ways to knock a man dead.

My other mother gave me the Nine Words of Unbinding.

That's where all the trouble began.

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Sunday, March 26

Art

The No Good Place

Imagine that Douglas Adams had written a TV show set in Heaven, starring an acerbic Peter Capaldi as Archangel Gabriel and Eve Myles as a lying cheating alcoholic who got routed to the wrong afterlife.  And that Adams used this premise to produce a biting satire of the hypocrisies of modern liberal society while at the same time keeping it whip-crack funny.

Now imagine that one of the US networks had decided to remake this little gem, only tweaked just a little so as not to ruffle American sensibilities, with a hapless Ted Danson in the Capaldi role (with all the interesting characteristics filed off) and a watery Kristen Bell playing the misplaced soul.  And that there was absolutely no chemistry between any of the cast members, and that the script was even more relentlessly formulaic than usual.  And that the resulting mess was just painfully unfunny.

That would be NBC's The Good Place.

Avoid.

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Friday, October 28

Art

Class

Doctor Who won't be back until Christmas, but in the meantime we have the third spinoff of New Who, Class.

It's set at Coal Hill School - now Coal Hill Academy - and features a group of plucky teenagers and their maths teacher (who isn't quite what she seems) facing down alien threats coming through the Hellmouth time rift caused by fifty years of previous alien threats.

So, very Sarah Jane Adventures?  In fact, no; it's more Torchwood than anything else.  But since this is about and targeted at teenagers, and is a British TV series, they've turned down the sex and turned up the violence to compensate.

And I'm not sure I like it.  The obvious comparison is to Buffy, but the dialog in Buffy sparkled in a way that is so far missing from Class.  It's not awful, and I'm not the target audience, but on the other hand I don't feel that it expands the scope of the shared fictional universe the way Torchwood managed (particularly in its first two seasons).

I don't honestly see the point of it.

I give it two blood splatters out of four, subject to later review.

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