Monday 30 December 2019

Alternative History

Science fiction often gets dangerously close to being philosophy. When you make a decision does the world in which you made the other choice exist in any real sense? Is "now" the trunk of a tree of myriad branching possibilities? If not, then why do anything - the whole history of the universe is a predetermined train ride with only one set of rails. If not, how do we get to the other universes?

This cartoon from 2018 explains it very nicely:

My favourite treatment (until recently) is in one of the Alastair Reynolds books. A scientist working on time travel is injured in a laboratory accident. His colleague isn't just vaporised, but his entire history is erased. He never existed, except in the scientist's memories. The scientist is driven mad by living in a universe where nobody remembers his friend and his life left no physical evidence. He eventually finds suitable grandparents who _could_ have produced him.

On Boxing Day I got a Christmas card from a closely related alternative reality!

It was delivered by hand from the family across the road and it was addressed to "Richard, Marie, Charlie and Evie". I'm single and live alone, but in the reality that the card came from I'm married and have children. The design of the card itself gives no clue about the differences between our universes, and the printing company exists in both. I'd say that the fact it was delivered on Boxing Day indicates that when the Catholic church invented leap years to stop Easter marching off towards midsummer they came up with a slightly different algorithm - be honest, you never really understood whether 2000 was supposed to be a leap year or not.

Hot Marie used to often come to my band's shows and I've been to her house a couple of times. In this universe she never seemed interested in me, but given the chance I would definitely have married her, and I would have taken every opportunity to try to impregnate her.

The most inexplicable thing about the other universe is that my oldest son is called Charles. I would have expected it would be John, like my father and his first son. Marie probably chose it, or I already had a nephew called John.

Or maybe the chap two doors down with the girlfriend and two children is also called Richard.

Richard "I'm in the wrong universe. Let me get off." B

Saturday 21 December 2019

The Rise of Skywalker Review

Don't read this article if you're going to go and see The Rise of Skywalker and you expect to get some enjoyment from it.

I was disappointed. I had been hoping that this film was going to be so bad that we could all laugh about the whole Disney trilogy. Frankly I wanted it to be so bad that Kathleen Kennedy and Jar Jar Abrams would have got laughed out of the room if they'd offered to help with the school play. I wanted The Room in a galaxy far far away  - oh hi Mark. I wanted The Rise of Skywalker to make The Fantom Menace look like Citizen fucking Kane. Instead, the film, I'm sad to say is solidly mediocre.

It looks great, the music is fine, the acting's fine - the emperor is wonderful, the plot is tedious and hectic at the same time and the characterisation is wafer thin. The main story, as best I can remember is: Go to location 1, get McGuffin 1 and escape from the minor baddie. Go to location 2, use McGuffin 1 to get McGuffin 2&3 and escape from the minor baddie. Remember that you can't trust a ginger. Use McGuffin 3 to get to location 3, get McGuffin 4 and escape from the minor baddie. Lose McGuffin 4, find McGuffin 4 and use it to get to the final location and the final boss.

There's very little threat or tension. Just about everybody has impenetrable plot-armour, or a fairy-god-deus-ex-machina-mother. Chewbacca is captured and we see the spaceship he's on destroyed, but then he turns out to be alive on another one. The final McGuffin is destroyed, but we had another one in the glove box all along. Mary-Sue is beaten in a lightsabre fight, but at the critical moment her opponent is force-distracted. Everyone is captured and then easily rescued, the rebel's are hopelessly outnumbered and them massively reinforced. The minor antagonist is thrown down a cliff and then climbs back up. The protagonist is killed and then restored.

My favourite thing about the film, unless I've misunderstood the ending, is that the dark side wins and the memory of Luke Skywalker is ground into humiliated dust. The resurrected Palpatine wants Mary-Sue (his own granddaughter) to kill him so that he and his ghost buddies can share her body. She's tricked into doing it in self defence in the final fight and by the end of the film she's taken the Skywalker lightsabres (yes there's two of them - don't ask), the Skywalker moisture farm and the Skywalker name for the Palpatines.

I for one welcome our new Sith Skywalker overlords.

Richard "dew. it!" B

Wednesday 18 December 2019


As well as the trees, fairy lights and tinsel; my colleagues have taken to decorating their offices for Christmas. We have a fireplace scene, a winter wonderland, and a gingerbread house. My team is less inclined to frivolity, but this year we made a nativity. It started off a very basic stable made out of with some bits of board that used to support a heavy monitor and some teddy bears that one of my colleagues has on her desk. The bears (Mary and Joseph) have been dressed. The stable has been thatched. The baby Jesus (a knitted penguin) has been wrapped in swaddling clothes and lain in an authentic manger made out of budgie ladders and ice lolly sticks. The three wise men are represented by small rubber ducks, and their crowns have been made with incredible accuracy out of post-it notes and sellotape. The Archangel Gabriel is played by a souvenir vulture from Death Valley. (He won that part mainly by virtue of actually having wings). The most meticulous part is the gold frankincense and myrrh made out of fragments of tinsel and biscuit crumbs.

Over the weekend there was a catastrophic stable collapse! The thatch got everywhere, the ducks had their crowns blown clean off, and the virgin Mary was found trapped in the wreckage.

Richard "Bah Humbug" B

Monday 9 December 2019


I remember that as a child the worst Christmas present was socks and pants. My view has changed now that I'm older, I'm in charge of my own wardrobe and I hate going shopping.

However, don't buy me socks. I think one of the most luxurious things you can do is to throw away all your socks and buy a whole drawer full of all new all matching socks. Then you never get a worn out sock out of the draw, and you never have to spend any time looking for pairs. If one goes missing it doesn't matter, it's bereft mate can pair with any of its brethren.

Richard "Captain Frivolance" B

Monday 2 December 2019

Say What?

I work in a highly technical field, and I'm surrounded by clever detail orientated people (nerds). Lots of them, at least lots of the ones I'm friendly with also still have a pathetically childish sense of humour. I was being shown some WW2 aircraft models by one of my friends and I said "That's the biggest pitot tube I've ever seen". He winked and said "why thankyou".

If you're the captain of an aeroplane and you wish to give control to the other pilot you say "You have control" but you do not relinquish control until they acknowledge it with "I have control". Friends of mine have recently had a baby and they use the same system to make it clear who has responsibility for her.

Decades ago I had a bathykolpian girlfriend. Don't worry about looking that word up if you don't know it, it means she looked like a dead heat in a zeppelin race. Don't worry if you're American, I've had a team of linguists working on that phrase, the best they've given me is "Two way tie in a blimp race". I still sometimes have to accept mickey taking over a telephone call I had with her. I was in my office and all my colleagues could hear my side of the conversation. I used to lend her a classic/elderly car and she used to drive it like she'd just stolen it. She rang me up, somewhat upset, and said that it was on fire. "Well don't tell me, call the fire brigade".  "Either it is or it isn't. Is there smoke and flame coming out of it?" "Where's it coming out from"  "a lot?" "So if you see flames coming out of it ring the fire brigade straight away". I then had to ask my boss if I could go home for a couple of hours.

It wasn't on fire, she'd boiled it and blown the head gasket, she was blinded and frightened by smoke and steam. I wish that the right answer had been "pull the red T handle that says FIRE and run away" but it wasn't that type of car.

Richard "sesquipedalian" B