Saturday, December 12

Book: Ready Player Two, Ernest Cline Click for more info

If anything my initial thoughts of the first book (here) were a bit too forgiving. It was a trashy, but easy, read that relied on its fanservice to give the reader something to do while they suffered it. Compared to its sequel, however, it turns out that even that is enough to make a book feel like it was just about worth reading. There was no such post-justification for the imaginatively titled "Ready Player Two".

Make no mistake: this book is (even more of) a laboured cash in that shouldn't exist. The story is really bad, with the moralising and tension ultimately only deceptively deep. The characterisation is awful - really awful - worse than hating the characters I simply saw them as inanimate paper cut outs that had as much depth as as shadow puppets.

And where the first book was saved by its fanservice, there's no such reward here. I wouldn't describe (spoilers!) Prince as scraping the bottom of the barrel, but he had no purpose being here - most of the references were just as jarring.

An awful, awful book that should be ashamed of itself. Avoid.

Thursday, November 19

Book: Dune Messiah, Frank Herbert Click for more info

Going into the sequel a bit more well prepared seemed to have helped with my ongoing journey into the Dune universe. So when I say that Messiah wasn't as bat-poo crazy as Dune, I'm not sure if that's objectively true, or just me having read it through bat-poo glasses.

What is true is that much less happens in this book. It spans less time, fewer locations and less plot. The themes are just as grand as they were before, but just lower in number. And of course a lot of the groundwork we had been punished with in the first book was not necessary here.

Yet still the book is a confusing hairy mess that makes you feel as if you're still reading a rough draft of something amazing to come. After 50 years I guess that can't be true, that the style is by design, and I've made peace with that. So although I will definitely proceed with the third book in the essential trilogy, it will almost certainly be my last from the Dune series.

Sunday, October 25

Book: Dune, Frank Herbert Click for more info

Dune is not a well written book. It falls somewhere between trashy YA and whatever the literary equivalent of a reality TV show. Its pacing is erratic, its storytelling jarring and the plot... well let's just say Mr Herbert must have been on something spice like as he was writing it. The mental burden it places on the reader goes beyond reasonable and that it's considered a classic was a puzzle I constantly encountered throughout my time reading the book. 

By the end I understood. Despite its flaws Dune presents a world (or rather universe) that goes far beyond what's written on the page. It deals with, or rather touches upon, subtle yet broad themes. I realised that the book wasn't punishing the reader, but was far more ambitious than a book should be. That was both its failing and, more importantly, its success.
I suppose another reason I didn't immediately champion the book was due to the lack of care given to its characters. Dune is a book where the world takes centre stage and not the people, and that showed throughout. Ironically it was the science, technology, sociology, politics and culture that came to life at the expense of the humans in the book.
In many ways it draws a parallel with what I do consider a sci-fi classic: Asimov's Foundation series. That also, by its nature, had very flat one dimensional characters. And yet I don't remember struggling as much in that case - perhaps then the key here really is design and pacing, with Dune feeling much more than a single volume.
Ultimately I've decided to continue with the series, at least till I complete the essential trilogy. I suspect Dune is a series that only gets better as you experience more of its world.

Friday, September 4

Book: The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

And so my journey into the works of Sanderson continues with the first part of The Stormlight Archives, a series that is considered by many to be the grand spine of the Cosmere. In fact I'd say as a story The Way of Kings is a bit of a drag, with the sheer size of the volume destroying any sense of VFM you might be looking to get out out it.

As a foundation of world-building, however ... well, I don't think I've read anything in modern times that has come close. The sense of scale here is wholly palpable, and it honestly feels like a book I should have been taking notes on while reading.

In fact if there's one complaint I do have, it's the sheer weight of encyclopedic knowledge spread throughout the book. References are made, allusions, uh, alluded to and callbacks abound, and I can't help but feel that I've missed loads of connections already - Harry Potter this is not.

And yet once you accept that the world in which the book is written is far larger than the pages that contain the ride becomes much more enjoyable for it.

Sunday, August 23

Sweet Sixteen

I signed off last year wondering what I'll have to write about today, and so here I am jumping on the bandwagon that's taking up most of the mindshare even now. Yes it's true: this blog has also been a victim of COVID-19.

However lacking in content my blog has been in the later years, the crutch that is review posts kept this place ticking over - not least as an objective reason to put fingers to keyboard. The bulk of those reviews were movies and my regular weekly visit corelated with at least a single post on a regular basis. The cinema long becoming a no-go zone put paid to that excuse, and regardless of openings I don't see myself going back anytime soon. But hey: at least I have Brandon Sanderson to write about. Sigh.
It's a sad state of affairs, not least since at 16 this blog can now legally partake in all sorts of activities.

Monday, June 15

Book: Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

As I increasingly become familiar with the author, Warbreaker certainly feels like Sanderson book. It has the same, almost academic, level of magic (although I did feel the whole BioChroma thing had more gaps than Allomancy), some decent characters and even the same feeling of rush toward the end.

What Warbreaker does differently is focus more on character themes - in this case insecurity and betrayal. I counted at least three examples of grand betrayal in the book, and the last felt just as fresh and surprising as the first. In terms of thrill, the book certainly delivers.
That said I can't help but feel that Warbreaker is a weaker offering from Sanderson - it's certainly so compared to Mistborn and Elantris. Apparently it was written with the involvement of fans, and so I'm not sure how much of an effect that had. As I continue my journey through the Cosmere, however, it did feel just as in place and vital to read.

Tuesday, May 5

Book: The Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

If there's one positive thing that lockdown has brought me it's a routine that allows a relatively fast consumption of books - at least I don't think I've ever posted two reviews in a row.

But that I managed to complete the Mistborn trilogy is a boon - it was a fun ride while it lasted and book three didn't disappoint. One thing I like about Sanderson that I noticed when he took over from Jordan in WoT was how clear of direction he is - he doesn't leave many threads hanging and when he does he's always quite explicit in tying them up. As such, The Hero of Ages was a breeze to read, and if I have any complaints its that it ramps up a bit too quickly - the crescendo happens over the last three or four chapters out of 45+ so I wasn't quite expecting it all to end like it did.

But that's a minor complaint really. Although I still think the first book was the strongest I did enjoy the trilogy as a whole, and am glad of the promise of more to come from the world of allomancy and the rest.

Sunday, March 22

Book: The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

The Well of Ascension is book two in the Mistborn series - and it definitely shows. It is a story of growth and adaptation, as all characters learn to deal with the new world that has been delivered by the event of book one.

As such it is less eventful and progressive than The Final Empire, and very much "a year in the life of". That's not to say there are no exciting things happening here - things do happen, but it appears most of the pay off has been reserved for the final book in the trilogy.

So even though I didn't enjoy it as much, it is just as essential a part of the trilogy so far, and one which I suspect I'll appreciate more as I move forward to consume the final book in the series: The Hero of Ages.

Wednesday, March 11

Film: The Invisible Man Click for more info

The Invisible Man is one of those films that stays with you after you watch it. Unfortunately it's also one of those films where the more you think about it, the more you realise just how ordinary, and possibly flawed, it is.

I think the trouble I have with the film is that although it clearly states it will rely on the tormented woman trope, it doesn't actually lean on it too hard. As a result the film lacks any kind of depth. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - a laboured take on domestic psychological violence would have equally been ill fitting - but does result in a film that feels quite short of its potential.

Aside from the confused target the film has a few other plot issues, probably borne from a desire to keep giving one last twist. So although I enjoyed The Invisible Man it turns out that this was mildly so, and as such it just about gets a recommendation.

Sunday, March 8

Cornwall, Day Three: Port Issac and Padstow

After the packed day that was yesterday, we decided to keep it a local, lazy Sunday. We headed to Padstow across the River Camel for the morning, taking in another quiet port town during our stay in Cornwall.

It was so quiet that we headed back to Port Issac for lunch, realising that we hadn't actually spent many daylight hours in the place we were calling home for this weekend.

It was the perfect end to a chilled weekend, walking around the streets and further up a coastal path for panoramic sights of the town.

Tomorrow we rewind our trip and drop off the same friend to the same airport we picked him up from tomorrow, so there won't be a chance to do much. And so we made it back to our apartment early, where we enjoyed a final home cooked meal together to mark the end of our brief stint in Cornwall.

Saturday, March 7

Cornwall, Day Two: Land's End and St Ives

The plan today was to head out of Port Issac and drive around Cornwall to try and mop up as much of it as possible, leaving the rest of the trip to relax. In other words, we left early.

Our first stop was Penzance, which was not as exotic as I thought it would be. Of course, it was off-peak, and I could just about imagine the bustle during the summer, but it was clear that a more quiet Cornwall had its own charm, and the lack of crowds suited us just fine.

Next on the list was Land's End, which I suppose was pretty much just to say we had geographically been there - it's a bit like our visit to Cabo de Roca back in Lisbon a few months ago.

After a brief hang out at Sennen Cove for a coffee break, we went on to St Ives where we budgeted time for lunch. This was the busiest place we had visited so far, and although that didn't spoil anything, we really began to appreciate the quiet we found so far today.

But after a pretty packed day we headed back to Port Issac, stopping off at Gwithian for a few photos. It had been a long, but chilled, day, and just what we were after when we set out this morning.

Friday, March 6

Cornwall, Day One: Getting There

Ad-hoc plans are always the best; I was only given around a week's notice about this trip, but I jumped at the chance of visiting a part of the UK that had eluded me before. And so we left early this morning to pick up a friend from the airport on the way to Port Issac (which, importantly, was the home of the fictional Doc Martin).

It being Jummah we had to find a mosque en route to offer Friday Prayer at. We headed for Woking, planning to also check out the Shah Jahan. This kind of worked out, as although we got to see the historical landmark, we actually offered Jummah at another nearby mosque. The politics of the situation were clear if not a little curious.

After a supermarket sandwich lunch we continued on our way, surprising ourselves as we drove past Stonehenge unexpectedly (another sight I hadn't seen until then).

We reached Port Issac late enough to have us give up on any further plan for the day. And so we walked around the small town, getting our bearings and killing time, finally arriving at Outlaw's Fish Kitchen for a lovely fish dinner.

Thursday, March 5

Food: Watan Click for more info

Sometimes the best food places aren't necessarily those that look good on paper. Call it cuisine arbitrage, or food hacking, but often you can find something on a menu that is such a good deal it's worth visiting the place just for that single item. As you may have guessed, Watan has such an item.

The basics are good enough too - the place is clean, service friendly. Prices are okay - if you want to explore other things. But what makes this place special is their Chapli Kebab platter - £15 for three kebabs and an afghani naan, and enough for three people to be fully satisfied. We also ordered the Kabuli Pilau, although that was more for variety and craving more than anything else.

I can't comment on the rest of the menu since that's all we had. But as long as such a great deal is on the menu, I'll be recommending this place.

Tuesday, February 25

Film: The Gentlemen Click for more info

It's safe to say that there's been a lack of gangster movies over the last decade (and perhaps even two decades). Maybe it was a reaction to a rising culture of political correctness, or perhaps people just got bored of the genre. I for one didn't expect those good times to return.

And yet here we are with The Gentlemen. In short, it's a very successful throwback to the Guy Ritchie of the late 90s, with seemingly very little compromise or chopped off (resulting in a well deserved 18 rating). It's almost a statement saying that as a society we've managed to evolve and can be offensive without causing offence. Whatever the case, its a welcome return.

The film itself is otherwise well produced, with the acting, plot and camera work all gelling together smoothly. I would say that at times I thought it was just acting out for the sake of it, but that's a bit of a reach and doesn't affect the enjoyment of the film overall.


Thursday, February 20

Film: 1917 Click for more info

So let's deal with the gimmick straight away. The "single shot" (well, actually, two) was laudable and a great demonstration of technical skill. Yes, there were glaring flaws, with CGI and green screen abound. The depth of field was all over the place too. And yet having such a film like this in obvious real time DID add to it and changed what would have been an okay film to something much, much more.

Because, yes, the film is good. The story is straightforward, and so relies on both the micro drama and characterisation, the winner of which was clearly the former. I felt like there were some audio issues, with most of the film feeling like it was badly dubbed (this may have just been my screening), but then again the musical score was magnificently noticeable. The acting was good enough, and it's a credit to the main roles that they managed to do their part in the whole single shot presentation.

I'm generally ambivalent about war films, but this was one that pulled me right in. Whether it needs to be experienced on the big screen or not, I'm not sure, but a must watch it is.

Sunday, February 16

Karachi 2020

Uncannily it's exactly a year ago that I wrote about my last trip to Karachi, cementing the fact that we have now visited so regularly that our flying dates have been optimised. A case in point - despite having been quite chilly during our stay, it was due to be 34c the day we left. Phew!

Other observations: I have now visited Pakistan three times in a rolling year, which is almost certainly some kind of personal best. Despite that, I still don't see a downside to visiting so frequently. A case in point - two deaths in our close family during and around our stay.

Each year we see changes in both Karachi and the people who live in the city, and every year the rhetorical question arises of whether we could actually live here or not... the question becoming a little less rhetorical with each visit, a little like how our flippant jokes about being chucked out of the UK are becoming less and flippant.

Otherwise it was business as usual in the Karachi sun.

Saturday, February 8

Book: Mistborn: The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

Above all else it appears that Brandon Sanderson is just plain reliable. Mistborn brings in a world quite different to Elantris, while sharing the accessibility, class subthemes and world-building that made that first title so great. Needless to say I enjoyed the book throughout, enough to convince me that, yes, fantasy is indeed my new sci-fi.

Apart from the magic and lore, the book is well put together too. Sanderson introduces the right things at the right time, while making sure any implied or hanging threads are dealt with in time. In that sense the book is a pleasure to read since you don't have the burden of keeping mental notes or overwork to get to the real juice such world building brings. In short, its rewarding without any of the effort.

I've jumped straight into the next part of the trilogy, The Well of Ascension, so look out for my thoughts on that next.

Tuesday, January 21

Film: Bad Boys for Life Click for more info

The first two Bad Boys movies were not good. You'll have to have had some laser etched rose tinted contact lenses if you still remember them to be. The often cited defence of "it was 25 years ago" also doesn't wash, as there are many examples of films released then which have held up (not to say Bad Boys was even good back then).

Needless to say, I went into BBFL with low expectations.

There's been a bit of a backlash against reboots and nostalgia recently as people finally realise that more often than not how our memories are being exploited as bait. Films which take that approach have no incentive to do better, and so tend to end up pretty poor. That's not to say that fan service isn't important - perhaps see the MCU to see how it can be done.

So believe me that when I say I enjoyed BBFL, it wasn't because it took me back to my school days. It was actually a pretty decent film - and that in its own right. In fact apart from a single cameo you could have gone into the movie with no knowledge of the first two with no danger of missing any inside joke. It had some decent action, decent comedy and even - check this - a half decent plot. It was all very decent.

I can't imagine there being a better pick to watch in this cold final week of January, so in that vacuum I suppose it comes recommended. That might sound like a low bar, but believe me when I say its legacy was even lower.

Wednesday, January 8

Film: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo is very good, but not great. This is a big shame, because it appears to have all the ingredients required for a modern classic - a good story, some great acting and bags of superfluous charm and smarts. But where a real classic would always be greater than the sum of its parts, Jojo doesn't quite manage to go farther than its own great production.

I guess that all a fancy way of saying that it lacks depth, and fails in fulfilling the promises that it makes. Take Adolf, the imaginary friend, for instance. Such a vehicle should have either been made a core part of the story or character - but here its actually just a bit of timepass comic relief. It's an example that's representative of the film as a whole.

But this isn't to say that the film is a failure. No, as I opened with Jojo is very good, and I'd recommend it to anyone. It's just hard not to consider the wasted potential it represents.