Tuesday 26 January 2016

Book Review

"Ancillary Justice" by Anne Leckie is an absolutely excellent science fiction book spoiled slightly by three things: A boring and straightforward main theme, a smug self satisfaction with its handling of sexual politics and the sequels.

It's an engrossing and entertaining read, full of interesting ideas and characters. It's her first book and it won both a Nebula and a Hugo! It's about invasion forces, hive minds, split personalities, revenge and adventure. I read a lot of sci-fi and I'm quite happy that authors use their stories to indulge their own interests – poetry, classics, bad puns, band names, etc. Anne Leckie's hobby horse in this book is about gendered pronouns. She does a brilliant job of telling a whole story without telling us the sex of the protagonist or antagonist and trains us to read "he" and "she" as interchangeable. Unfortunately she keeps pointing out exactly what she's doing either in dialog or in internal monolog and it gets quite irritating. I imagine that she's won a bet with a literature professor and spoiled her book in the process.

The main theme is a childishly straightforward "oppression bad / individuality good" and although it's not challenging or nuanced, the treatment of individuality is so interesting and inventive that you don't miss a more nourishing discussion.

When I lived with a woman she would spend Wednesday nights with a group of other women playing cards, drinking tea and gossiping. Their boyfriends uncharitably called these get-togethers "Cackling Hags Club". Reading the followup "Ancillary Sword" felt like I'd been trapped in an extended C-H-C. Leckie takes a handful of previously entertaining characters and sends them on what is essentially a long spa-weekend to gossip about who said what to whom, who is a bit of a bitch, and who fancies whom. "Ancillary Mercy" is so boring that although I only read it about six weeks ago I can't even remember what happened.

Read "Ancillary Justice", skim over the sections about pronouns and pretend that there are no sequels.

Richard "not a literary critic" B

Monday 25 January 2016

Restaurant Club

This weekend saw the reformation of "Restaurant Club" in my group of friends. The first rule of restaurant club is that we'll probably lose interest and give up by March. The second rule of restaurant club is that we take it in turns to pick a restaurant and we all go there to eat.

This weekend we ate at Salumi. I didn't like the over-elaborate moustache on the barman, and I didn't like the menu. It was full of pretentious and foreign words (that's the menu, not the moustach), it was hard to guess what you were going to get, it wasn't clear whether dishes were appetisers, starters or main courses, and how many people they were for. I also thought it was a little expensive.

On the other hand the waitress was exceptionally friendly and helpful and knew everything, and every morsel of food and drink that they brought to the table was exquisite.

Richard "not a food critic" B

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Black Dog

Following my brother's excellent article about The Language Barrier I’m going to try to explain the meanings of two similar but very different days. Americans have "Black Friday", the British have "Black Eye Friday". They're not on the same date, they don't symbolise the same things, and the participants do (mostly) different things.

Black Friday's name has nothing to do with darkness, depression, ruthlessness, skin colour, the black death, black holes, black pudding, sharps and flats on a piano, the second player in chess, or anything else you might have guessed. It's to do with the colour of ink on the retailer's bank statements – no honestly it is. If red ink means debt or loss, then black means credit or profit. Black Friday is a big shopping day, and the retailers run promotions and discounts to attract business and get their accounts "in the black". It takes place on the Friday after -- um --  I don't know -- some colonial celebration and everybody has the day off work. My English readers should try to think of it as though the first day of the January sales took place on a special consumerist bank holiday in the run up to Christmas.

Black Eye Friday is the Friday before Christmas and is the traditional day to get into a drunken fight with a stranger. The vagaries of UK public holidays mean that most businesses close down for a full  week no matter what day Christmas falls on. The builders and tradesmen tend to knock off at lunchtime on the Friday go to the pub -- often with all of their December wages in their pockets. The office workers and amateur drinkers join them at 5:00 and everybody drinks more than they really know how to. My American readers should try to visualise it like St. Patrick's Day in a town where every bar is Irish, and everybody likes to drink to excess – but without the preponderance of green liquids.

Richard "No I'm not going to write a David Bowie obituary" B

Tuesday 5 January 2016

You Can Find Your Way Home - On The 303

File under: impotent whining

Christmas and new year are filled with tired and stressed people making unfamiliar journeys and visits, desperately chasing a good time and being disappointed. As such it's the traditional time of year for bitter family arguments. On New Year's day I visited my sister and when I was driving home I fell out very badly with the irritating, supercilious, passive-aggressive bitch that is my sat-nav.

If you disobey her she gets in a silent huff for several seconds and then disapprovingly says "recalculating". There are two ways home from my sister's house, the long way on the motorways and a much shorter cross country route on a succession of twisty B-roads all the same. The sat-nav set her heart on the cross country route and begged me at every single junction to turn back.

"in 200 yards turn left"
"no, we're going on the motorway"
"... recalculating ... at the roundabout take the third exit"
"... recalculating ... recalculating ... recalculating"
After about the hundredth "recalculating" I was begging her, before I lost my temper.
"Every other journey we've ever taken together I have done everything you wanted. Even that time we went from Wallington to Guildford via fucking Kingston. Just this once, PLEASE, can't we go my way? Why don't you ever support me?"
"... recalculating"
"That's your answer to everything isn't it? Why don't you actually recalculate it from our current location, rather than relying on your cached route plan, we're nearly on the fucking M4 you dim-witted bint."
"... recalculating".
By the time we were on the motorway heading towards Bristol I'd got personal and offensive.
"Listen to me you fucking harridan. I'd rather be directed home by the Microsoft office assistant from the late 90s. 'It looks like you're writing a letter, would you like me to fuck up every aspect of the format and punctuation while simultaneously slowing your computer to a grinding crawl?' At least by now it would have said 'it looks like you're driving home via Bristol'".
"... recalculating"
It wasn't until we were on the M5 heading towards Exeter that she quietly got the idea, revised her ETA downwards by an hour, and stopped pestering me.

Richard "she can't be reasoned with, she can't be bargained with, and she absolutely will not apologise" B