Sunday, September 23, 2012

BBBG Goes To Europe: Part 2.2 - Sparkly Fiend

Friday and Saturday were much better thank you very much. A large portion of the responsibility for this upturn in mood must be placed at the very sore feet of our friend Kat AKA Sparklyfiend who arrived like a Tasmanian Devil in a whirlwind of vulgarity and hilariousness to cheer us up no end, not to mention the ability to receive an instant bank transfer and pass the cold hard cash on to us.

This is Kat, she tells us she's regularly cunted on jelly

After a morning of general relaxation and book shopping we spent the better part of the day indulging in alcohol therapy before heading to Camden for the much anticipated Pierce The Veil gig (my review of Collide With The Sky.) At Camden tube station there was a very heavy police presence with many dogs sniffing at passengers legs and multiple vans outside. The vans contained many more dogs from the sound of it. There was nothing subtle about it, nothing surreptitious and yet still we witnessed half a dozen idiots try to get past the cops and the dogs whilst carrying drugs in the pockets in the matter of minutes it took Kat to buy her train ticket. If I had been allowed to take a photo I would be showing you a shot of the station ticket hall half full of men waiting to be taken in to a back room for what might have ended up as cavity searches for all we knew. Listen up kids, if you're too stupid and lazy to change your travel plans when faced with police cavity searches then it might be best to give up on that drug dealing career you're embarking on.

But on to the show, the Underworld in Camden is a strange little venue that I had actually once been involved in organising some shitty concert for an internet TV company at. I didn't remember this fact until I'd walked us a mile in the wrong direction from the pub we were drinking at. Yes well played Toby. The stage is in a pit with a small dancefloor whilst the rest of the venue is up some steps, in theory to allow people to see I'd guess but that never happens. Bizarrely the stage does not actually face the majority of the crowd, it is rotated at 45 degrees to face a corner instead. That aside there's low ceilings and dark walls and it allows for a really good sound in the right circumstances. Pierce The Veil rocked hard, after two albums packed with incredible songs they had a lot to choose from and put on a show that didn't suffer from attempts to play tracks that they had written on tour, album filler or the obligitory slow song, it was all balls to the wall, hispanic influences post-hardcore singalongs from start to finish. That I had a voice at the end of the show after attempting high notes and growling throughout was a miracle. Negatives on the night mainly feature all of the young girls that somehow had tickets to the show and seemingly had never been to a gig before as they all seemed to just run around for an hour, in to the "moshpit" for twenty seconds until they couldn't take it anymore, back to their boyfriends/parents, off to the bar, time for an excited wee, lets mosh some more, oh wow this song is so good I need to tell my other friends about it. Maybe we're all getting old but seriously WTF. This did not make for a good crowd, with their numbers in constant flux they seemed unable even to clap on demand. Small things really and it was over way too soon. I looked amazing in my new Breakfast Club sweater as you'll see and I have provided you with the obligitory shit and pointless photo of a band on stage.

Yes that is a Breakfast Club sweater and yes, Kat dresses like this everyday

Saturday followed very quickly on the heels of Friday, getting in to bed at 1am we required a 6am wakeup call to head out on our first day trip. Brighton is famous for being the gay capital of England, a hive of student activity and as such has an alternative vibe to the city (in the case of England meaning at least a quarter of the shops are not massive chain stores) plus it was traditionally a great summer holiday spot for the Brits in times when global travel was prohibitively costly.

Kat demanded breakfast/coffee on the beach, something I was incredibly hesitant to do. The beach in Brighton is all rocks, there's no sand at all, and walking through Brighton from the train station it was bloody freezing, to use a local term. But with coffee in hand we braved the elements only to find it was the opposite of going to the beach in Perth, the wind dropped off and we just sat in the sun waking up to the day. Great call Kat, you justified your existence with that one.

Brighton is filled with incredible architecture, everywhere you look up you find yourself looking at beautiful old buildings. Here take a look at some examples:

A postcard from Brighton Beach

Princes House, North Street - one of many fantastic buildings in the city of Brighton

The Royal Pavilion is a former royal residence located in Brighton, England. It was built in three campaigns, beginning in 1787, as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, from 1811 Prince Regent. As the first major piece of touristy behaviour on our part we were very excited by our visit. What the hell is with audio guides in museums these days? Not a single person looked like they were enjoying their visit as the wandered around with these mobile phones from the mid 90s attached to their ears. Brighton Pavillion provide them free to everybody who buys an entry ticket, but we refused to accept them. Taking our time we wandered around in awe of the ridiculous frivolity engaged in by the Prince Regent.
There was a no photography rule in place so I cannot share the mind boggling size or decor with you but I did manage a sneaky photo of the smallest item on display instead.

This miniature Bhagavad Gita is over 100 years old and was found in the "Indian Military Hospital" display room. This room commemorates the palace being turned in to a hospital solely for Indian soldiers injured whilst fighting for Britain during The Great War.

For all you film fans here's an interesting artefact found in the old fashioned penny palace arcade; a crank handle operated flicker card magnifier giving the effect of watching films of two burlesque performances. I tried in vain to get a decent picture of the image seen in the viewfinder but those semi naked women will have to remain a secret until you visit for yourself.

There was a large amount of book shops visited and naturally books purchased, here's some images for all you book lovers:
Books, you're doing them right
Colin Page Antiquarian Books in Brighton is exactly what you imagine a secondhand bookshop to be like, I stepped through the front door and let out an involuntary gasp at how pretty it was.

Books, you're doing it wrong
Rainbow Books in Brighton seems to function at the opposite end of the market, here was a man who seems to have become overwhelmed by the volume of books he couldn't resist buying and was now paying the price in terms of collapsing shelves. This one very much reminded me of the Philip K. Dick descriptions of the world in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Crystal Palace Public Library and their traditional English Pub style sign
Finally I shall leave you with something wonderful found in an English newspaper; we complain bitterly about the lack of actual news found in The West Australian newspaper but I'm not sure even that rag would publish this headline:
Is this the best headline ever?
Now then, now then, it's time to coffee, pastries and The Sunday Times so I bid you farewell. Tomorrow we fly to Budapest.

Friday, September 21, 2012

BBBG Goes To Europe: Part 2 Arriving

A quick post just to check in I think.

Some uninteresting facts about our flight:
  • Qatar Airways (voted Airline of the year for the past two years) give the impression of being a social climbing third rate provider. Having previously taken this trip with Qantas, British Airways, Virgin and Emirates I can safely say that the gulf in quality of service is astronomical. For a start they didn't provide the special dietary meals we requested and I got the distinct impression that all of the hostesses hated their job and were quite willing to take it out on the passengers. After this trip I will never use them again to fly anywhere.
  • Doha airport requires a 20 minute bus ride from the tarmac to the terminal. Bizarre planning for a busy international hub. They also go to great lengths to tell economy class passengers that those lucky business and premium users were provided with luxury limousines.
  • I watched Safety Not Guaranteed - Cute and charming, quirky indie comic drama featuring Julie from Scott pilgrim. Just lacked a certain edge to make me want to watch it again - and the always wonderful to watch Wall.E during the flights, everything else was so uninspiring. Whilst Leah embraced the trashy action of Battleship.
  • I read Money Shot by Christa Faust and The Peddler by Richard S. Prather.
  Some uninteresting facts about our first two days in London:
  • Our apartment is very nice, by English standards its positively luxurious and tasteful. We haven't taken any photos for the family I'm afraid. Sorry Robin & Steve.
  • We've had an absolute nightmare trying to use our British bank account and at the time of writing there is no guarantee that it's going to get any better. So far Santander have changed my ATM PIN without telling me, a replacement will take 7 to 10 woking days. As I have changed my English mobile telephone number they have refused to allow me to withdraw more than 300 pounds over the counter until I receive my PIN. 7 to 10 working days. Using internet banking I transferred money to a friend and Santander blocked it and my internet banking access without informing me because it was an unusual transaction on my account. That's the major bullet points in 48 hours of Santander related nonsense. Thank you Santander for helping my holiday get off to a fun filled start!
Some highlights so far:
  • Clothes shopping is incredibly cheap. Food shopping is incredibly cheap. There's so much choice, Perth shall be ruined for us forever.
  • New book shops are all incredible compared to Australian book shops, we were a little overwhelmed by seeing so many books that we wanted just sitting on the shelves and wandering through crime fiction alone I could have spent hundreds of pounds. It stopped being fun quite quickly and rapidly turned in to torture.
  • Finding the BFI digitally remastered Blu-Ray of Tokyo Story in HMV for only 10 pounds, was one of those few moments when I knew I had to buy a DVD without hesitation.
  • Crystal Palace is a really nice area, from what we've seen and experienced of it so far it's definitely the kind of place we would be happy to live if some disaster fell upon us and we could no longer live in beautiful, sunny Perth.
With all the doom and gloom surrounding our finances we've not exactly had a huge amount of fun or enthusiasm for taking pictures so far, hopefully we can bring you something much more interesting over the weekend but for now let me leave you with a picture taken in the Perth Airport newsagent.

The science of using the little grey cells mon ami
And one more of the greatest road name in the history of the world:

Monday, September 17, 2012

BBBG Goes To Europe Part 1: Leaving Perth

With one day left before I leave Perth for five weeks I write this as a bridging post before the craziness of Home Alone 2 happens and I end up in New York whilst Leah arrives in London and I can't post for a few days.

If you missed the brief announcing post head here for a quick heads up on what's going on around here for the next few weeks as and when we have enough free time (and energy) to post some pics etc.

Amazingly it seemed to reach 30 degrees in Perth yesterday, a really pleasant Spring day that managed to surprise my delicate skin with a coating of redness, the weathers idea of a "fuck you buddy" as it laughs at our trip in to the last days of a European Summer that only reached these highs in its wildest dreams.

Spending the afternoon with friends in a beer garden is possibly the greatest way to spend a day like this and we have Esther and Beau to thank for a lovely afternoon of cold Heineken and good company. Gratuitous mentions as they tell me they will be deigning to read this blog in the next month.

So we've packed with a few days to spare, one suitcase for the two of us on the way there will almost certainly turn in to four on the way back with all of the shopping we intend to do. Not least with the vast array of bookshops on our itinerary. For all you fellow bibliophiles I hope to provide many a snap of what my Goodreads friend Richard might call "book porn."

On the movie watching horizon I hope to avoid the potential disaster of missing Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master in the cinema with a relaxing evening in London. There's a film museum on the South Bank too, if I find time. My mac is loaded up with some interesting and hopefully great films I am yet to see so I may even throw a review your way.

For now I leave you with my decisions for hand luggage reading. Of the 611 books on my shelves that I am yet to read, these six made the final cut to entertain me on the 24 hour flight to London via Doha on the award winning airline Qatar Airways. How do you pick one percent of your books to take with you? In this case it was easy, Hard Case Crime have been reissuing some vintage pulp crime novels for the past few years, by all accounts the majority of these are brilliant reads and aside from #001 Lawrence Block's Grifter's Game I am yet to read any of them.

Catch you soon I hope.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pop Culture Mashup: Dystopia

What if Winnie The Pooh ended up living above the butchers shop in Delicatessen or shared an apartment with Charlton Heston in Soylent Green?

What if The Shopaholic found herself in Dark City?

Ever wondered what Holden Caulfield would do if he found himself transported to the island in Battle Royale?

Would Philip Marlowe investigate the strange disapearance of humans whilst starting an affair with Zira the only dame he could get his hands on if he crash landed on Planet of the Apes?

These kinds of questions have been puzzling me so I thought I'd investigate further, here, in my first Pop Culture Mashup.

The rules are simple, five characters taken from popular culture and implanted in to one of five dystopian futures. First let's introduce you to our five guinea pigs:

Travis Bickle

A former marine with an honorary discharge and not much education; an insomniac, fantasist and socially inept Bickle is a man who is horrified by the degenerate lifestyle on offer in New York in the 1970s and decides to cleanse the city of its filth. At his core he seems to be a good man in need of a strong guiding arm at all times, otherwise he's prone to wild behaviour and taking matters in to his own hands and believing in his own fantastic vision of himself.

James Bond

Secret agent, lover of fast cars, fine food and beautiful women. Writing his own code of behaviour, using coercion at the point of a gun, taking women when he pleases and killing in interesting ways, all in the name of and for the good of your country. Bond is a complex character who kills when he needs to but prefers not to, has suffered heartbreak in the past but consumes women like an addiction. He is full of confidence and regularly does as he pleases regardless of orders.

Philip Marlowe

Underneath the wisecracking, hard drinking, tough private eye exterior, Marlowe is quietly contemplative and philosophical and enjoys chess and poetry. While he is not afraid to risk physical harm, he does not dish out violence merely to settle scores. Morally upright, he is not fooled by the genre's usual femmes fatales. He is a heavy smoker and a consumer of copious amounts of bourbon.

Robin Hood

A heroic outlaw who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. A skilled archer and swordsman he generally relies on his group of merry men to back him up. A former member of the aristocracy who had his land and fortune stolen from him he found solace in the poorest of local folk and takes his vengeance out on those who take advantage of their place in society for selfish reasons.

Winnie The Pooh

A bear of very little brain, but capable of being both astute and helpful in a pinch. Definitely a gourmand, coveting honey especially, innocent of motive and apparently incorruptible. Trusts in his instincts rather than his intelligence, though also makes great efforts to apply his limited mental capacities.

Next we take a look at five dystopias:

Demolition Man

Following a massive earthquake in 2010 that destroyed much of Los Angeles, it merged with San Diego to form a planned city called San Angeles in which all crime has seemingly been eliminated from society. Referencing both Brave New World and 1984 the world of Demolition Man features an all powerful mayor/president/monarch in a seemingly pacifist-utopia that monitors its citizens' every action, but below ground a renegade band of anarchists plot a way to destroy the oppresive regime so they can run around in their underwear if they want to.

Fahrenheit 451

A totalitarian state that burns books as a way to control the minds of its people. Populated by a hedonistic citizenry who are taught the value of technology over nature and discouraged from asking "why," small groups of rebels memorise novels to keep the stories alive.


Post-apocalypse France, meat is scarce, employment scarcer still. People survive in lonely apartment buildings, some of them turning to canibalism thanks to the skills of a business savvy butcher. An underground vegetarian resistance movement are prepared to fight to the death in an attempt to educate and free France from the ideologically unsound idea of eating meat.


A near future built on the principle of creating genetically perfect human beings. Those who were born the natural way find themselves designated second class citizens who can never achieve anything above working for the janitorial services industry. A black market exists to provide perfect DNA samples for those born without it, enabling them to follow their dreams.

Children of Men

The near future, all women have become infertile, children are no longer being born, the government is controlled by the military, immigration laws are very strict. An illegal African immigrant arrives in the UK carrying the first child to be conceived in 18 years. Different millitant and scientific factions fight over the best way to move the human race forward.

And now we apply the particle accelerator for the fun part.

Winnie the Pooh might be perfect as a Sheriff in an Old West town but in the planned community of San Angeles he finds himself as the personal assistant to the famed Dr Raymond Cocteau, creator of this pacifist-utopia. One day whilst looking for a new pot of honey in the office of the great man, the fuzzy little tubby old bear stumbles across the diabolical plans to destroy the starving renegade anarchists, and in one foul act wipe out all dissent against Cocteau's leadership. His conscience won't allow him to assist in this matter and seeks help from Lenina Huxley in fighting back. Through cunning and heart the naive pairing manage to stop the Cocteau Plan from coming to fruition and in doing so installs Pooh Bear as the new leader of the city. His first decree providing free honey for all the resistance fighters who now come out of hiding in support of his leadership.

Recruited out of the Marines Travis Bickle is a night watchman in the Fire Brigade. Spending his nights driving around on the hunt for illicit book readers he slowly comes to realise that books are not bad. After setting an underground book group on fire whilst they discuss the impact of Oprah Winfrey on the history of the book, he starts to notice the decadant filth cavorting on the streets every night, encouraging him to kill and burn. With the help of young renegade high school teacher Clarisse he plots the assasination of the president and the reinstatement of the printing press.

People are disappearing every day and nobody seems to care. Nobody that is, until the beautiful Julie walks in to the office of Philip Marlowe and begs for his help in locating her little brother, missing for the past week. The kind of dame a man can't refuse, Marlowe finds himself walking the streets of post-apocalypse Paris asking questions that shouldn't be asked. Following a trail of breadcrumbs he finds himself at the butcher shop owned by Clapet and sucked in to a hellish plot to fill the bellies of the hungry masses.

Robin Hood, a naturally born son to the billionaire couple Ethel and Arthur Hood finds himself ostracised as DNA profiling comes in to force in favour of laboratory created perfect specimens, causing even the children of the rich to become persona non grata in polite society. Branded as In-Valid he joins a group of fellow outcasts in fighting back against the faceless media outlets who promote this unwholesome status quo; in the process uncovering an evil disabled genius, Norman Sheriff, who hates himself so much he wants to cleanse the Earth of imperfection.

With all the women of the world seemingly infertile, the British Secret Service refocus their activities on securing their borders against illegal immigrants, the locating of a fertile female to reestablish Britain as a super power and the destruction of internal terrorist cells intent on destroying the military controlled government. Bond is on a one man mission to create his own progeny and spends each night with a new beautiful woman. His legacy is assured however when former colleague Julian Taylor brings him the fertile nubian princess, Kee, all he has to do is get her to the government safe house, and his bedroom, before the Russians can capture her.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb: Robert Neville is the last man left alive on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire. Neville spends his days scavenging for food and supplies, and hunting down the undead in their lairs in the ruins of civilisation. At night, he becomes the hunted and barricades himself in his home, waiting and praying for the dawn.

I Am Legend was one of the first, and certainly the most brilliant, fusions of horror and science fiction. Its powerful and disturbing reworking of the vampire myth has made it a classic and enduring novel that has had a profound impact on generations of writers

Thoughts: Having seen Omega Man and the recent Will Smith movie adaptation and heard a few different people talking about the differences in the book I managed to put together a strange 'ideal' composite of what I imagined this novel to be, leaving me in the strange situation of having three stories going through my mind whilst reading an entirely different fourth one. Not exactly condusive to enjoying a book most of the time but in this instance failing at dampening the pleasure I got from reading Matheson's wonderful novel.

It was and is very difficult to analyse this without comparing it to the movies, it's possible for example that if I had been unaware of the storyline this might have received a 5 star review, but as it is it may take additional readings for me to make that distinction.

For now I will simply tell you that aside from being a powerful insight in to human loneliness and an intriguing premise of the last man standing amongst a spreading bacteria it is also a science fiction novel of the highest quality (whether the science used is correct or not it matters little to me, it is the presentation of the ideas that carries all the greats of the genre in my mind) and contains passages of prose that will leve you breathless in empathy and anticipation.

I know little of the vampire legends and myths, I don't generally read books about vampires or vampirism, but Matheson gives you a strong grounding in it and then attempts to poke and prod the silliness of them; his assuredness that crosses will only work on Christian vampires and Mohammedan vampires would simply drink your blood when faced with a crucifix was a particular favourite revelation of mine. And the way the novel ends left me near certain that this has been integral to a lot of the more interesting developments in vampire novels/movies of recent times such as Sergei Lukyanenko nightwatch trilogy and Blade.

All in all I can't recommend this novel highly enough.

View all my book reviews

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Movie Review: Gamer (2009)

Today I welcome back Leah from What Indie Nights? to talk a little bit about one of my favourite movies of recent times, Gamer, in what is probably the best thing to ever get posted on my blog.

Greetings BBBGers, and thanks for having me. I'm here today to talk to you about a little movie released in 2009 called Gamer, a short, hard and fast dystopian cyberpunk masterpiece that pushed its way bodily to the top of my favourites list from the moment I experienced its first heart-pounding scene. You may not have heard of it, or you may have passed it right by, because this movie flew so far under everyone's radars I'm surprised it didn't hit a mountain range, or a really tall tree. It was generally panned or ignored by everyone who mattered or cared, and as it was released around the same time as an overblown Bruce Willis snore-fest (do you remember Surrogates? Yeah.) it just didn't get anywhere near the amount of attention it deserved. Which is a crying shame, because to me it was the Matrix of the new millennium, when cyberculture had worked itself out into the bland, perverse, advertisement-filled play-world we know it as today, and big business is taking advantage of the online masses in ways we don't really like to think about. Also, it's a gasp-for-breath action movie. And the soundtrack rocks.

Gamer takes place in a world where lives are lived online to an extent we can only dream about. Or have nightmares about. The number one entertainment destination is Society, a Second Life-esque wish fulfilment game where the characters on screen are as real as the people controlling their every move at the computer. Down and out, desperate types can earn a living by having their brains altered with nanotechnology - called nanex - to allow them to become living game components, at the mercy of the wealthy types who can pay to take control of live subjects and play with them any way they want. Sex, drugs, blood, raves, dancing, kink and more, all real, all at the push of a button. This is Second Life as envisioned by a cynic, or a realist. No-one's pretending this is anything but a way for the wealthy disconnected to get off.

The world of Gamer has been dramatically altered by the advent of Society. Its massive popularity has clearly had an impact on every aspect of people's lives, from the entertainment news hosts who swear constantly and smoke on air, to the abundance of nudity and generally vulgar behaviour on display on the TV screens on every street corner. Television itself is EVERYWHERE, vomiting advertisements, programs and pictures into everyone's faces all the time. Social morals have been freed, it would seem, by this breakthrough in technology. People no longer care (or have any say in) what they see in the media, nor where they see it. In fact, the media is reflecting their own behaviour back to them, tenfold, and they're responding with loyalty and purchasing power. A kind of reverse-Big Brother, where the people are doing the watching instead of being watched, and losing almost as much freedom.

The reclusive tech genius behind all this is Ken Castle - played to off-centre, unhinged perfection by Michael C Hall - a billionaire with a shady past who has just introduced his new pay-per-view hit TV series, Slayers. Taking the 'real people' concept to the next level, he has struck a deal with the failing US prison systems, whereby death-row inmates are offered the chance of a full pardon if they can survive 30 rounds of violent, bloody gameplay, televised weekly around the globe. These i-cons (get it?) are played by members of the public, who become as famous as the characters they play as the weeks go by. With this runaway success, Castle has single handedly saved the military-industrial complex in America. His i-cons, as well as being convicted murderers and rapists, are volunteers to the scheme, so there's no need to feel guilty about their horrifyingly gory deaths. It's a win-win scenario. A similar concept was explored pretty thoroughly in the Arnie thriller Running Man, where the setting was an 80s cheeseball game show hosted by a pyschopathic ratings whore, diverting the public attention from international resource shortages.

Gamer's central theme is control: control of i-cons by gamers, control of the masses by opiates, control of people by corporations, control of the media by money. Everyone's part of the system here. What Gamer shows us is that control is not just Big Brother, not just Stalin or Mao or Kim Jong Il at the head of a cowering populace. Control, in our Western lives, in our futures, is about consent, coercion, and choice. The masses, when we see them, are all complicit in these systems. They have chosen to participate in Society, to watch Slayers and cheer on the violent, bloody deaths of real humans, to submit to wall-to-wall, cradle-to-grave, home-to-work-to-play advertising. Life in Gamer is insidiously saturated with media, and the people love it. So much so that they don't see what they're getting themselves into, so that they don't want to be saved, not even by the rogue group of hackers who can see past the glitz of Castle's entertainment industry to the chilling heart of the matter. Castle is offering instant gratification on a colossal scale, and all he wants in return is brand loyalty of a somewhat more permanent nature than the people are used to. But, as he says, isn't it possible that many people out there would prefer to be controlled? Not to have to make any more difficult choices or worry about the future? Control to some people would be welcome relief.

Life in Castle's world takes on the aspect of black and white, almost literally. The world of Slayers is black, gritty, filthy and bloody, a war zone in every sense. The prison yard where the inmates work is pure, chalk white, bleaching everything to dust. The 'real world', the world of everyday, the streets, buildings and offices of dull regular life, is filmed almost on a greyscale, overexposed and drained. Nothing to see here. All the action, all the colour and life, is in Society, where everything is hyperreal, from the improbably green grass to the neon wigs on characters and everything in between. As much of the story is told in colour schemes as it is in dialogue, and it's a pretty bleak tale. 

What truly gives Gamer the shine on its dystopian undercoat is the insertion of weird, quirky little asides that colour the personalities of the characters and tilt the balance of reality just a little beyond bearability. A conversation mid-interrogation about different kinds nut butters (peanut, macadamia, pistachio...); a song and dance number where Castle sends chorus-line Slayers at our hero Kable, but not before they've danced in unison to his unsettling rendition of 'I've Got You Under My Skin'; a virtual room where the walls are one giant screen and the interaction (and spam) is all-encompassing; the all-too-real conversation about advanced technology that can convert memories into raw audiovisual data:
"But that kind of tech's not supposed to be available for a decade!"
"They'll have better shit than this in Best Buy in 18 months."

Gamer inhabits a world that is truly not too distant from our own, where technology has advanced (believably, might I add, in direct contravention of the Hollywood rule that states that tech in futuristic movies must be laughably unlike that of the present day) to a point at which it invades and runs most aspects of human life, where humanity is flinging itself bodily onto the bonfire of entertainment and interactivity with no thought for the consequences to their freedom, to their individuality, to their very souls. It is a true dystopia, a reminder to us all, and boy, is it entertaining...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: Player One by Douglas Coupland (2010)

What Is To Become Of Us?

Player One by Douglas Coupland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: International bestselling author Douglas Coupland delivers a real-time, five-hour story set in an airport cocktail lounge during a global disaster. Five disparate people are trapped inside: Karen, a single mother waiting for her online date; Rick, the down-on-his-luck airport lounge bartender; Luke, a pastor on the run; Rachel, a cool Hitchcock blonde incapable of true human contact; and finally a mysterious voice known as Player One. Slowly, each reveals the truth about themselves while the world as they know it comes to an end.

In the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut and J. G. Ballard, Coupland explores the modern crises of time, human identity, society, religion, and the afterlife. The book asks as many questions as it answers, and readers will leave the story with no doubt that we are in a new phase of existence as a species -- and that there is no turning back.

Thoughts: So oil is expensive, people go crazy, strangers lock themselves in to an airport hotel cocktail bar to survive the fallout, Douglas Coupland documents this scenario in 'real time' and helps you take a long hard look at yourself and what it is that you are doing, what we as a species are doing.

It's part depressing, part uplifiting, part pessimism, part optimism, all of it is pure Coupland. I'm at a loss to explain this book, to analyse it, to find words that describe my unique experience with this author and his style of writing. Most people that I know are women and they dislike Coupland, it seems they think he is for men, not in a male version of chick-lit way, but they seem to think there's an element of the late teenage boy in his style.

I guess that is a compliment, meaning his observations of contemporary behaviours and the evolution of the mindset of the youth and their interaction with the world and technology are accurate.
"By the age of twenty, you know you're not going to be a rock star. By twenty-five, you know you're not going to be a dentist or any kind of professional. And by thirty, darkness starts moving in- you wonder if you're ever going to be fulfilled, let alone wealthy and successful. By thirty-five, you know, basically, what you're going to be doing for the rest of your life, and you become resigned to your fate..."

The world of Player One is presented as a form of dystopia before the apocalyptic events occur and in the course of his narrative Coupland questions the readers beliefs and assumptions on a wide range of subjects. Almost every page holds a line, a paragraph, an idea worthy of being drawn to your attention, of deeper longer thought being applied to it. The comparison to Vonnegut from the books blurb is no hyperbole, it is an impressive piece of 21st century literature indeed.

I love the work of Douglas Coupland, of his more serious work this is his finest achievement to date and a book I recommend for all. Even those women who consider him too male for their tastes.

View all my book reviews

Monday, September 10, 2012

Movie Review: No Blade of Grass (1970) Dir. Cornel Wilde

No Blade of Grass by Cornel Wilde

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Blurb: Loosely adapted from the excellent John Christopher novel The Death of Grass (reviewed here last week) No Blade of Grass follows the same premise of a strange new virus, which only attacks strains of grasses such as wheat and rice, and the world is descending into famine and chaos. Architect John, along with his family and friends, is making his way from London to his brother's farm in northern England where there will hopefully be food and safety for all of them.

Thoughts: I admit I had very high expectations after loving the book but nothing could have prepared me for the crimes against literature perpetrated by Hungarian-American director Cornel Wilde with this adaptation. The very real difference between the book and the movie, my expectations and reality is what has caused the low rating as otherwise there are some really strong moments. Largely based on extreme violence.

It's a dystopian film where people are struggling for survival and featuring gang warfare and rioting. A violence packed eco-apocalypse drama. People get shot. A lot. And the hero is John Custance who wears an eye-patch only to enhance his "bad guy" image as far as I can tell.

The ragtag group of survivors that Custance brings together under his leadership show a quick and virtually unhesitant rejection of societal values and the adoption of a survivalist 'law of the group.' It wants to be a film about the thin veneer of social codes that stop us from behaving like Custance, and how easily they can be wiped away but it gets lost under a sea of red paint and silly surface action written specificlly for the film including a ridiculous gunfight with a motorcycle gang.

Wilde aims for a documentary like feel with his mise-en-scene whilst assaulting your eardrums with his jaunty score. The highlight of the visuals being another scene not in the book, a scene that would be mirrored in reality in 2011, Londoners looting shops under the guise of anti-government protests.

The book gave me hope of an interesting psychological character study, a look at the weakness of man but the movie only provided surface shocks and gratuitous violence. Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs would hit screens a year later and with similar washed out visuals and violent content achieves something so much more impressive and emotionally affecting.

Set in England and cast entirely with English actors Wilde manages to turn everyone in to a caricature of the typical little Englander, complete with everyones favourite Eastender Wendy Richards as a busty young cockney lass out for a good time no matter that the world as she knows it is ending.

My major problem with the movie is the acting; the overt preaching environmentalism of the opening segment, the deliberately emotive juxtaposition of horrific imagery with first world gluttony and an invasive score that doesn't allow the viewer to analyse or think for themselves are other large reasons to dislike and could have been largely ignored if it wasn't for the absurdly over the top amateurish performances from the majority of the cast.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dystopian Fiction - A Little Help From My Friends

For today's post I've asked a few of my friends on Goodreads to recommend some great dystopian reads that people may not have heard about or might be of specific interest to my film blogging friends. There's an interesting mixed bag, I hope you find something for your "To Be Read" shelf amongst them.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam Trilogy book 1)
(recommended by Kemper)

A guy called Snowman is playing caretaker and prophet to a strange new race of people he calls the Crakers in the ruins of civilization. As Snowman forages for supplies, his recollections make up the story of what caused a massive biological and ecological disaster that has apparently wiped all the old humans out except for him.

Snowman’s past takes place in our near future where he was once known as Jimmy in a society where genetic engineering was commonplace and the privileged lived in compounds owned and maintained by the corporations they worked for. Jimmy/Snowman’s memories of his brilliant friend Crake and the woman he loved, Oryx, haunt him even as he struggles to survive.

Fascinating book that seemed all too plausible in its depiction of a future state where brainless, nerveless chicken blobs with multiple breasts are created in a lab for chicken nuggets and animals are routinely crossbred. And all this set against a society where the only thing that matters is the bottom line so the idea of questioning the ethics or morality of what’s being done makes you a traitor.

This is a story that takes the idea of playing god to a whole new level. When you can create any kind of life you can imagine, where do limits come in? And if you think that human society is beyond saving, what kind of people would have the arrogance to think they can come up with something better?

Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle
(recommended by Becky at Escapism Through Books)

I thought that it was brilliant. I know that I have seen the movie long ago, and remember the big reveal at the end and Charlton yelling about damning everyone all to hell, but I don't remember much more than that. I'll have to watch the movie again.

I really loved the subtle cautionary tale running throughout the story. Maybe it's just my feminist liberal bleeding heart whispering to me, but I feel that Boulle just plain hated live-animal experiments and was determined to show people that the tables could be turned one day. Easily. But more than that, the book cautions us not to be complacent and lazy about our place in life and in the food chain and to keep striving and learning and bettering ourselves, but NOT at the cost of other life-forms. We're on top now, but only time will tell if we stay there.

And do we actually deserve to be? We, the "Lords of Creation," seem to think that we can do anything and everything we want to do. We're so filled with pride that we never think that OUR civilization could fall. Those kind of things are for history books, not real life. Yet we consume resources like they're going out of style, and pollute the earth like we have a spare, and just generally act like there's a "Reset" button somewhere that we can just press when we've reached the point of no return. Why shouldn't another species give running things a try? If they can do it better...

But that's the thing. They imitate us, so WOULD they do it better? At one point in the story, when Merou was being shown the experiments, I thought to myself, "They are proud of the fact that they are keeping the "animals" down... Taking any vestiges of humanity or rational thought away as soon as it is displayed in order to protect themselves. They are so fearful of the possibility of human uprising that they commit atrocities to prevent them." And then I thought to myself, "Oh, snap! So do we." We can justify anything. And so can Apes, who apparently learned from the best. In examining the Apes, we're looking at ourselves. Can we really pass judgment?

But, I was happy to see that the three "races" of Apes could cohabitate and cooperate in peace, which is more than we've accomplished so far. Our differences divide us, but the Apes recognize and relish their differences and use them well. But Apes still seem to rival Man in the fear department: the unknown is scary, so just destroy it and move on.

I do have to say that I was kind of annoyed with Merou's assumption that life forms in a far, far away galaxy would automatically be human to be intelligent. It just goes to show that our pride will be our downfall. But it reminded me of a quote from another science-fiction book that I enjoyed, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem:

"...We take off into the cosmos, ready for anything: for solitude, for hardship, for exhaustion, death. Modesty forbids us to say so, but there are times when we think pretty well of ourselves. And yet, if we examine it more closely, our enthusiasm turns out to be all sham. We don't want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos. For us, such and such a planet is as arid as the Sahara, another as frozen as the North Pole, yet another as lush as the Amazon basin. We are humanitarian and chivalrous; we don't want to enslave other races, we simply want to bequeath them our values and take over their heritage in exchange. We think of ourselves as the Knights of the Holy Contact. This is another lie. We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds. [...:] We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us--that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence--then we don't like it anymore."

Oh, it's so apt. We inherently assume that anyone of any worth or intelligence will be just like us. Even the "Little Green Men" type aliens that pop up in the Weekly World News magazines are still modeled after humans, and hell, they are nicknamed "men"! I just hope that one day we'll be able to see the bigger picture.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
(recommended by Michael at Literary Exploration)

Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote his seminal dystopian novel We (1921) based on his personal experiences during the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917) and the first World War. The book ended influencing dystopian authors like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. This book not only influenced the dystopian genre but could also be the influence towards the post-apocalyptic genre as this was set in a world where all was wiped out but “0.2% of the earth's population”. The book is set in ‘One State’ which has been organised to be a workers' paradise; everything has to work like clockwork and everything is based on logic and mathematics. This society is heavily surveillanced, has martial law and is heavily censored; a totalitarian world.

The protagonist, D-503, is an engineer who begins writing a journal (much like in 1984) to document Integral, the spaceship being built to invade other planets. D-503 is under constant surveillance by the Bureau of Guardians (the secret police) as is everyone else. He is assigned a lover O-90, but ends up having an uncontrollable attraction to I-330. This leads to nightmares and furthermore into what could be considered a mental illness. I-330 reveals to D-503 a world that was previously unknown to him. Will he hang onto hope or will reason get the better of him?

We was an impressive novel; not only with the themes that it explores but also with the technology and the simple fact that it was years and years ahead of its time. While some say We was released in 1920 and others 1921, there is no denying that, because of the subject matter, this was an impressive piece of literature. If it wasn’t for this book we may never of been able to enjoy Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) or even Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano (1952). By today’s standards this book would be overlooked but something innovative and so complex to be written so long ago makes this worth a read.

The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya
(recommendation by Jeffrey Keeten)

Our hero is Benedikt and he is living in a post-apocalyptic world where rabbits are toxic, food in general is scarce, and nearly everyone is exhibiting Consequences as a result of THE BLAST event that happened 200 years ago. Benedikt transcribes old books, written before the THE BLAST, and they are presented to the world as the writings of their leader Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe. The scribes begin to question that the writing style of their dear leader changes so much from book to book, but it is best not to have any association with Freethinking.

Anytime you feel different than you should you must be careful. "When you growl through your teeth, grumble and grouse--the anger feels good, it kind of rolls around all prickly warm inside you. You wanna show off your strength. Kick a fence. Or a dog if you meet one. Or smack one of the guys around. Whatever. There are all kinds of things you can do. But sometimes you don't feel like getting mad. It's like there's a sadness inside. Like you feel sorry for someone. Must be feelosophy.

Bureaucrats control every faze of their existence. These are for the most part self appointed people who have taken over collecting taxes, rationing of script, and managing the distribution of goods. Most are corrupt and cut a fat hog while the rest of the population is near starvation. The main source of protein and bartering power comes from one little critter that most of us don't even want to contemplate adding to our diet, and certainly it makes me shiver to think of my survival depending on my ability to build a better mouse trap.

Trade is determined by how many mice something is worth. Benedikt carries them around in braces under his jacket to barter them for more variety in his food diet. When he goes to see the widow Marfushka he must have enough mice for the legs to part.
"Benedikt went to see the widow woman Marfushka about the woman business: maybe once or twice a week, but he'd always go to see Marfushka. You couldn't exactly say she was pretty. In fact, her whole face was sort of crooked, like someone hit her with a battle ax. And one eye wandered. Her figure wasn't all that great either. She was shaped like a turnip. But she didn't have any Consequences. She was rounded out where she out to be and caved in where she out to be. After all, he didn't visit her to look at her, but to take care of the woman business. If looking's what you want--well, you can go out on the street and look until your eyes pop out."

Benedikt's life takes an abrupt turn when he decides in a moment of starry eyed lust to ask the beautiful Olenka to marry him. Her family is wealthy and part of his new father-in-law's job is to track down old books. It is illegal to own books printed before the blast and even though most of the population has been made afraid of being in the same room as a "toxic" book from the past there are still people brave enough to squirrel books away in old wells or hidden in walls. It is a life changing moment for Benedikt when he finds that his father-in-law has a room full of books, and once Benedikt gets over his inherent superstitions, and begins to read, he is absolutely lost to the world of books. He inhales them. He spends so much time reading that his wife complains that he isn't paying attention to her anymore. He begins helping his father-in-law to find more books. He becomes an insane (more than just gently mad) bibliophile. He becomes desperate when he realizes that he has...READ THEM ALL.

His father-in-law, a few cards short of a full deck, dangles the prospect of liberating the books held by Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe and what ensues is not only hilarious, but a wonderfully constructed piece of social commentary.

The world after the blast has slid backwards. Food is an issue. There is never enough of it and too much of what used to be a staple of the Russian table has proven to still be toxic from the blast. Half-human, four-legged Degenenerator's are used to pull sleighs, and the sarcastic word exchanges between one in particular and Benedikt elicited more than one snicker from me. The book receives high marks for originality, humor, and "feelosophy". "Don't you shake your beard at meeee! I with utmost confidence HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (book vs movie)
(Originally posted by Michael at Knowledge Lost)

Normally I would stand by a simple truth; “The book is always better than the movie” but that is not always true. In the case of The Hunger Games, I’m not going to say the book is better than the movie.   I think they were both great but I can’t pick one over the other. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you would have heard of this book and the movie adaptation but just in case you haven’t, let me quickly sum it up. The Hunger Games is the story of a 16 year old girl that takes the place of her younger sister to compete in the annual televised event ‘The Hunger Games’. This is an event where a young boy and girl are called up randomly to participate in a fight to the death for survival for the entertainment of the rich and powerful.

Katniss is a strong character, with all the normal awkwardness you would expect from a teenager; having to deal with love, death and loneliness in this dystopian world that she lives in. But in the book it tends to focus a little too much on the cutesy teenage girl aspect and less on the darkness of her situation. The movie does have this same element but a lot of this has been cut down to make room for the main plot line.  When it comes to the violence, the book seems more violent and the movie felt a little anti climatic at the end. Also I’ve found in the movie the tributes were very two dimensional and very annoying but when reading the book I didn’t notice this at all. Capital’s fashion was terrible in the movie and I was glad I didn’t have to be subjected to seeing it while reading the book. In the end, the movie slightly departs from the book but it really sets up the next movie (If it gets made) really well.

While I’m talking about this movie, I want to know what was with all the racism with the twelve year old from Division 11? In the book it mentions she had dark skin but people seemed so shocked when in the movie she turned out to be an African American. It shouldn’t matter what colour her skin was all that should matter is that Amandla Stenberg played the role perfectly.

The faults I had with the movie balanced out my problems with the book. I don’t think I can pick one over the other. I’m interested in seeing how the series plays out as a movie adaptation but at the same time I don’t have much of an interest to continue the series. I think as a stand-alone book, it’s fantastic; but if I try to predict the rest of the series and all I can see are love-triangles, fighting authority and a lot more romance. If this isn’t the case, I might read the other books; but at the moment I just think it works better as a single story. Problem is, if they are making the movies I feel inclined to read the book before seeing the movie.