Gareth L Powell is a British writer I’d not come across before. But the usual rule applies: Stars and Bones was a 99p special, so I bought it.
This struck me as a space opera out of the Scalzi school, which means there’s a universe of FTL travel, a certain amount of fighting and peril, all leavened by snark and wit from down-to-earth characters. Earth was on the brink of nuclear destruction but humanity was saved from itself by a god-like race who can manipulate matter and time. Exiled from Earth, humanity now lives in a vast fleet of ark ships, forbidden from interfering with planetary life ever again.
A scout ship encounters a different kind of alien and things start going badly wrong. It’s left to a second scout ship and its AI and chief navigator to try to rescue the situation.
I found this enjoyable enough. It rocks along, easy to read, not quite at Scalzi levels of entertainment, but all right if you like this sort of thing.
I tried not to dwell too much on pernickety plot details. A Kim Stanley Robinson version of this would go into great detail on the ships’ systems and internal ecologies (as in Aurora); an Adrian Tchaikovsky version would spend hundreds more pages on the alien intelligence. But that would be to detract from the page-turning space adventure this wants to be, with action from the first page to the last. As to why a human civilisation banned from settling on planets would bother with scout ships; or why there would be a security apparatus with authority to threaten dire consequences against a non-cooperative captain is never explained. Some of the characters here are just sketches and some of the viewpoint narrators do a chapter or two and then disappear, which was slightly unsatisfying.
While this tells a story which comes to a conclusion, there is at least one other book in the series (Descendant Machine), though the author’s home page says you can read the books in any order.
Although there were distressing levels of gridlock at Dover at Easter, our Channel Tunnel crossing was relatively painless. I was convinced we’d pay for the relative ease of both our Easter crossings with a woeful Whitsun.
The usual red stretches appeared in the Maps apps as I plotted which route to take to Folkestone on Friday afternoon. In the end, I opted to take the Southern Route, which means a blast down the M40 and then and anti-clockwise loop past both Heathrow and Gatwick. Risky. It’s 20 miles further, but looked as if it would be marginally quicker on the day; the Southern route also avoids the Dartford crossing, which can be a horrible bottleneck, even with 4 lanes and automatic numberplate recognition. Either way looked like it was going to be super-busy, but the Northern/Dartford route took us 4 hours at Easter, so I gambled that it wouldn’t be worse going South.
And it wasn’t. It was indeed busy, with lots of stretches of much-reduced speed, but I think it’s fair to say that we were never static for more than a half minute. We reached Folkestone shortly after eight. Check-in for Le Shuttle was pretty fluid (there were longer queues for the rich person’s queue-jumping option, Flexi-Plus, which made me laugh).
There are modifications happening around the terminal car park. Extra electric charging points being installed, and other stuff going on, so traffic heading for passport control was being directed against its normal flow. This looked as if it might be challenging, and it took a few minutes to get in to park because traffic heading out and in were both going the same way. As at Easter, there was a lot of traffic, but it was fluid.
A quick trip to Pet Control for Oscar, and an earlier crossing was offered at no extra charge. We took it, but it looked unlikely we’d be on a train at the indicated time of 21:05. I was quite pleased with my lack of anxiety at this point. I ate a bag of Hula Hoops and stood watching the outdoor screens as the traffic ebbed and flowed.
It was apparent that things were not too bad, because of that ebb and flow. It got busier when letters were called and then died back a bit. I saw the usual evidence of people being terrible: cars whose letter had not been called heading off anyway, and basically being in the way of people who were supposed to be in the queue for passport control. Again, I didn’t get stressed, because I think my silent curses and the karmic wheel mean that they’ll be pulled across for a explosives residue test, or get stuck behind a ditherer. Or come back as a dung beetle when they die.
When we were called, it was actually fairly quiet. I mean, there was a queue for passports, but you had to drive a few hundred metres to join it. Passport Control assholery was again low, and we were through and through really quick. Again, the Special Queue For Special People (Flexi-Plus) seemed to be more trouble than it was worth. I refer these people to Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.
We arrived in France around 11pm local time. It was a clear night, dry roads (a contrast to Easter!), and we were in my car, which is a bit of a hypermiler. We’d managed a very pleasing 59mpg on the way to Folkestone in that heavy traffic, and although we were blasting along motorways with the cruise control set at 130kph, we had no need to stop for fuel. In fact, as we left the train, my car’s computer was predicting a greater range for the fuel that was left than it had when we set out from home with a full tank.
After a bit of a wobble at Easter, I was back to being hardcore in terms of the overnight drive. We made three short pitstops: a bit of a walk, a coffee, a toilet break; and crossed France in just over 6½ hours, including the stops. As we drove up into the hills past Vesoul, the sun was rising behind the purple mountains ahead of us and all was good with the world.
Twelve hours, door to door, and really no complaints about being stranded on this busy travel weekend. And the lesson, as always: people really enjoy leaving the UK.
In the aftermath of his bike accident, Ronnie wakes up battered and bruised. Colleagues at work immediately jump to the wrong conclusion. Forgetting his signal arrangement with Melody, he causes alarm. His judgement is all over the place, and the series missteps leads to a dramatic interruption at the evening’s recording session.
RAF Greenham Common. I have no connection, but I did once kinda sorta fall in love with someone who had spent some time there, as a student. This person, let’s call her Jane, was one of the main reasons I got my arse into gear and applied to go to University at the age of 28.
By then, I’d been working in the tax office for nearly 9 years. I was bored, because I was always bored, but I was also blacklisted, so not going anywhere in particular. I had got the elusive promotion from Clerk to Officer, but I definitely didn’t want to go higher. By the time I left, I was living and working in Milton Keynes, paradise by the sea, but before I got there I’d spent a number of years kicking my heels in Luton.
Jane came in as a summer temp, at the end of her second year in university. She was a linguist, small, dark, attractive, highly intelligent, and although I was at that time wasting my life and my potential, she saw enough in me to pique her interest.
I should have waited, I’ve often thought, because when we met I was already living with someone, one of those poky little shared ownership houses, and part of the deep boredom of life was that relationship. as well as the job. But people come along, and you date, and there is proximity and opportunity and you call it love.
Jane was on another level. She wanted to talk about books, wanted to lend me books to read, wanted to talk to me all the time. One day, there were three of us working on something and chatting away, and I said, “We should go for a drink at lunchtime.”
As if this was a novel idea for me, a person who spent almost every lunchtime in the pub.
Jane said, “YEAH!” and the third party immediately recused herself.
And so began the sweet, sad, will-we-won’t-we, nearly-fling that should have been with the One. I was a year away from breaking up with my housemate, but it wasn’t quite the moment. We’d literally just signed the mortgage papers. Jane didn’t want to be somebody’s bit on the side.
So we ended it, and then a year later I was single and she was long gone. There was a post-script, but that’s another story. I’m aware there’s a certain amount of confected wistfulness here, the kind of false sentiment you get on last days. Farewell, so long, don’t be a stranger. But – if we allow the possibility that they even exist – Jane was as close as I ever came, back then, to finding a soulmate.
And the slow fuse was lit and I started down the path of taking A levels at night school and applying to university — because I wanted to meet more people like Jane.
One day, sitting in the pub, she told me about her time at Greenham. She’d turned up to show solidarity. It made me happy to think there was someone who had a bit of commitment, a political heart in the right place. It’s nice now, to follow people on Mastodon who show the same grit and anger about the fuckers who run the world.
Meanwhile, Ronnie is getting closer to a crisis point, and we are near the half-way point of The Obald.
One of the great bugbears of modern discourse is the sense that people of power and influence – politicians, journalists – are exactly the wrong people to have opinions about motoring offences such as speeding. I’ve long felt that certain driver behaviours are as anti-social as anything captured under the old ASBO legislation (noise, public drunkenness, pissing in fountains, littering, graffiti), but the usual “steal a little and they throw you in jail / steal a lot and they make you king” rules always apply.
Journalists reporting about politicians doing things that journalists also often do is the perfect storm of Metropolitan Elites. Talk about your Westminster Bubble.
People who park wherever they please because it suits them: on pavements, close to junctions, on double yellows – are doing more damage to the environment in which we live than litterers and drunks and paint sprayers — as are people who drive at 30 in a 20 zone or 40 in a 30 zone etc. Cars ruin cities. Cars ruin towns. Cars ruin villages.
But the tenor of the coverage of Useful Idiot Suella Braverman’s attempts to weasel out of her speed awareness course has been along the lines of, why all the fuss? Or, worse, we’ve all done it, nobody would care.
I say worse because I hate being lumped in with all those people who clearly routinely break the speed limit and accept the punishment as the cost of doing business. Even Zoe Williams in the Guardian, a writer I have a lot of time for, blithely describes the hell-is-other-people nature of the speed awareness course and does indeed suggest that ‘everyone’ has been in one, and that because everyone is lost inside their own personal hell, nobody would have clocked Braverman, had she attended. Williams writes,
I’m convinced that everyone with a driving licence has done one but nobody admits it because of the shame, though not of the speeding itself, which people find pretty easy to forgive themselves for.
Ugh. Here’s where we part company. Because in 40 years of driving – touch wood, white rabbits – I’ve never had a speeding ticket. Or a parking ticket. Because I don’t need a speed awareness course to inform me that speeding doesn’t get you “there” any faster. And because – crucially – I am always aware of my speed when I drive.
But now the world is full of opinion columnists telling us that Braverman’s weaselling is the least of our problems, that her speeding is no big deal. Everybody does it, nobody cares. And, as always, I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness because I always think this stuff – like the expenses claims for biscuits, like the purloined dressing gown – says more about the true character of our politicians than any number of speeches ripped from the pages of Mein Kampf for Dummies.
We’re back in the territory of journalists who are guilty of the same thing a politician has been caught doing telling us that we’ve all done it and it’s no big deal.
I’ve written before about how exasperated I get when I see people drive up to the school gates next to us because they are blindly following the sat nav directions in Waze or Apple maps. First of all, why is nobody (nobody else, I mean) telling the fucking app that the road into the school – where the school buses come to drop kids off – is not a through road, a short cut, to the main road on the other side? And, second of all, why do people think it is at all acceptable to follow a “rat run” route through a neighbourhood where people live with their children and pets? To save – wait for it – three minutes. And why on earth is software programmed to suggest a saving of three minutes, which is neither here nor there?
It’s that kind of magical thinking – you could save three minutes if you drive through this neighbourhood and don’t kill a pet – that sits behind the tailgaters and the speeders on the road. It’s seven o’clock in the morning, and you’re trying to get to work four minutes quicker? Please.
And I know there’s other stuff going on there. People like driving fast, like the feeling of mastery they get, fancy themselves as good drivers. All that ego stuff is going on too. Christ, just read a column in a motoring magazine to get a sense of how these people think.
But all of that, wrapped up in a bow, is why I think a politician’s speeding does matter – before you get to the weaselling part. There’s the irrationality of speeding: a failure of reason which goes along with irrational political and economic views. Capitalism! Brexit! Talk about your magical thinking. Then there’s my favourite human trait: the I’m-too-busy-and-important person who puts their immediate needs ahead of all others and will therefore park in a disabled spot, on a pavement, in front of the school gates, and drive too fast because they’re always running late and always in a hurry. Sociopathy, in other words.
And then there’s the ego. The kind of people who think it’s okay for them to drive fast because they’re good at it. Or because (as an ex-friend said to me once) “It was a clear road on a dry night”. There aren’t enough eye-roll emojis in the world. The world is not your race track. There’s a reason Boris Johnson is sometimes compared to Toad of Toad Hall.
And then there are the angry people. The people who have such an inner rage at their life and the world that they press the foot down and drive like a cartoon character because it’s the only time they feel like they have control. Ha! Take back control! Why does that ring a bell?
In other words, speeding = Tories, Brexit, capitalism, racism… all the bad things.
And getting caught speeding and trying to weasel out of the consequences? Yeah.
First published in 1984, this is something of a classic, the kind of fantasy novel that has transcended its genre and garnered academic attention. It’s the kind of fantasy novel that you think people who don’t read genre fiction should probably read.
Needless to say, I’d never heard of it.
But it popped up as a 99p deal, so into the Kindle it went, and here we are. As older readers will know, I have read a lot of fantasy over the years, but I have mixed feelings about it. I prefer science fiction, but recent trends in SF have left me cold and casting about.
Mythago Wood was not what I was expecting. Completely unexpected, but once you start reading, somehow obvious. I don’t mean obvious as in predictable, but in the sense of, why didn’t anybody think of this before?
A mythago is a myth-image, an entity created out of the human psyche, the collective unconscious of memory and myth. Jungian archetypes, dream creatures, race memory. Mythagos can appear human, or can be animal, vegetable or mineral. They can be buildings, landscapes, characters.
The setting is Ryhope Wood, a small area of primeval woodland in Herefordshire. I remember years ago being told that Highgate Wood in North London is an area of ancient woodland that has somehow survived since the days of the Domesday Book. The idea that something so ancient could still exist in the modern metropolis is amazing to me. The Woodland Trust’s web page about ancient woodland has the following pre-amble:
Home to myth and legend, where folk tales began. It fuelled our ancestors and still houses thousands of species. Ancient woodland has grown and adapted with native wildlife, yet what remains only covers 2.5% of the UK.
The fictional Ryhope Wood is just such a place. It’s in a fairly isolated spot, and can be walked around in less than a day; walking into it is another matter, however. It resists incursion. Follow a path and you find yourself walking in circles, ending up at your starting point. A child’s model boat, floated in on the small stream that meanders through the wood, emerges from it six weeks later.
The protagonist here is war veteran Stephen Huxley, who returns reluctantly from France a year or so after after the 1939–1945 war, in order to help his older brother Christian, who is living alone in Oak Lodge, the family home, with a woman called Guiwenneth. The brothers’ father has died, leaving behind a study full of papers concerning his obsession with the nearby woodland and the people – and animals – who live there. Now it seems that Christian is similarly obsessed with the woods: and Guiwenneth is nowhere to be seen – gone.
The two brothers had themselves encountered mythagos from the woods when they were children, incidents their father had explained away: gypsies, he said. But now the two men have access to his private papers and Christian is convinced something else is going on. The people in the woods are characters from myth and legend: King Arthur, Robin Hood, Guinevere, and others from deeper, older myths.
When Christian disappears into the wood, Stephen begins his own investigation.
All of which is fascinating in itself, but what really sets this book apart is Holdstock’s prose style. He writes with a clarity and elegance that make this a deceptively easy read. Deceptive because the ideas are complex and sophisticated, while the prose is beautiful and clear. And then there are breathtaking passages like this:
‘I am the fish that struggles in the water, swimming towards the great grey rock that marks the deep pool. I am the daughter of the fisher who spears the fish. I am the shadow of the tall white stone where my father lies, the shadow that moves with the day towards the river where the fish swims, towards the forests where the glade of the woodcocks is blue with flowers. I am the rain that makes the hare run, sends the doe to the thicket, stops the fire in the middle of the round house. My enemies are thunder and the beasts of the earth who crawl by night, but I am not afraid. I am the heart of my father, and his father. Bright as iron, swift as arrow, strong as oak. I am the land.’
Such a good book, one that puts you in touch with the ancients, and makes you consider woodland walks in a new light.
I downloaded this as an audiobook on Libby, which is the app that allows you to borrow ebooks and audiobooks using your library membership.
The problem with Libby and audiobooks is that the availability is patchy. Some titles by quite prominent authors are just not available, and those that are have artificial limitations placed on them as to how many people can borrow at once.
Which is how I ended up downloading The Dry, which I’d seen reviews of, but wasn’t sure I’d enjoy. Turns out, it was pretty good, if a little bit formulaic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with genre formulae of course (that’s why we like genres), but sometimes the tropes just make you tired if you aren’t in the mood for them.
Item: cop returns to his home town after decades away and gets a hostile reception. Item: said hostile reception is because of an unresolved Something That Happened A Long Time Ago. Item: current visit is because an old friend (Or Was He?) has died in Mysterious Circumstances.
So that’s the kind of thing, which combined with the Australian setting, just makes you kind of roll your eyes.
But as with all genre pieces, it’s all in the execution, and the execution is good. Aaron Falk, a federal agent specialising in financial crime, returns to his home town for his former best friend’s funeral. The friend has apparently killed his wife and son and then turned the gun on himself in the midst of a catastrophic drought. The whole town is on edge, and then Falk turns up: a man suspected of involvement in the death of a 16-year-old girl 20 years earlier.
Falk stays in a local pub, and endures the hostility of the locals for the sake of his friend’s family, who want him to look into the apparently open and shut case of the murder-suicide. And so he stays a little longer than he intended, encountering old friends and enemies, but also forming a kind of partnership with the local cop, an outsider with no axe to grind.
There is the usual array of stock characters here: the attractive woman who-might-have-been; the embittered family of the dead girl; the hostile neighbours of the murder family; and the town itself – almost dried up and blown away, a spark away from catastrophe.
After a productive weekend with the band, Ronnie keeps his head down when the office starts to buzz. At lunch, Melody discusses an exit strategy. The thought so distracts Ronnie that his bike journey home ends in disaster.
Bike handling. The older I get, the more nervous I am about doing things like descending even small mountains on my bike. I’ve never liked the lean when it comes to cornering, and I grip the brake levers desperately, afraid of what might happen if I pick up too much speed. In reality, I’ve been a cyclist for a long old time, and my bike handling is pretty good. In well over 50 years of riding a bike, I can remember only one or two incidents. There was the time I went over the handlebars and landed on my face. And the time I was caught unawares by the weight and unwieldiness of my ebike and did my ankle.
And yet on other occasions, I’ve managed really quite scary and sudden manoeuvres and kept myself upright. I was doing about 20mph one time, on the way to work on my ebike when a fucking deer suddenly jumped out from the side of the lane and I somehow managed to avoid it, stay upright, and brake safely for the upcoming junction. I’ve always felt that the French road sign warning about this kind of thing was far more accurate than the static British version.
The landing-on-my-face incident was not really so much about bike handling as it was about the stupidity of a man in his 20s. When I lived and worked in MK, I was in the habit of cycling home from work (six miles, back in the day) without touching the brakes. That’s right: I was deliberately trying to cycle in such a way that I never needed to use my brakes, except right at the end, when I freewheeled down to my house and came to a halt.
So I’m cycling home, and part of my route takes me along the cycle path next to the Milton Keynes Bowl. The cycle paths in MK are called Redways. So I’m not even on a road, I’m on a cycle path. But! There were nevertheless some surface repairs or other works happening, and part of the path was dug up. The surface changed from smooth red tarmac to a rough stony path with a couple of big bumps up and down from the regular surface. And I’m (still) trying to ride without touching my brakes. Over the handlebars I went, landing on my face. Three stitches. It’s still easier to grow a beard than to try to shave that bit of my chin.
My small tribute to the green eyed doctor who gave me the three stitches is to put her in this chapter, tending to Ronnie, who wonders how it is that he keeps encountering such beautiful women. How indeed.
Melody takes Ronnie to get a passport photo taken, which reminds me of another stupid thing I did in my 20s. I was applying for my first passport, so I went to Woolies to use the photo booth. And I decided, on the spur of the moment, to do the picture in moody black and white. I was also wearing dark glasses when I got in the booth, remembering to whip them off at the last moment. So that was my passport photo for 10 years: a black and white head and shoulders shot of me looking somewhat startled, and wearing a black shirt and a leather tie with a piano key design. LOL. I told you I was in my 20s.
For 10 years, every time someone saw my passport they would ask why the picture was taken in black and white. “I didn’t realise you were that old.”
I wasn’t going to say anything but then I haven’t posted anything for days, so I thought I might as well, but I’m not going to dignify anything with a link, so.
There were these two Tory conferences last weekend, what were they called? Nail Biters vs Bed Wetters? The Bring Back Bonking Boris Group vs What If We Just Went Full Fascist Group?
Anyway, one of these groups was bold enough to call itself the National Conservatives. Geddit? Like, National Socialists but We’ve Cleverly Used A Different Word? They (correctly?) thought that no journalist would dare call them out, so they brazenly oozed out of the woodwork into full public view with their views on Race! Women! Whatever other shit they were talking about!
Actual Nazis, I thought, actually going all the way to calling themselves National Socialists Conservatives and talking about The Real Problem With This Country and brazenly broadcasting their lies and warped views on families. Suella Braverman their poster child (until they send her to one of their camps with all the other brown people). Suella Braverman the Useful Idiot as she will be known in future history books.
It has come to this. And though I think some people (like Lewis Goodall of The News Agents) came close to calling them out, an awful lot was left for Thinking People to infer. That kind of, nod nod, wink wink, we know our audience will see this for what it is kind of thing.
Only, I’m not so sure. There is literally no evidence, following Brexit and successive elections since 2010, that at least half the electorate are able to see through brazen and blatant lies. Which is before you get to the bit where a lot of people actually are horrible racists and would vote for Hitler tomorrow, if he was running.
Ronnie executes operation Fish in Desk. This definitely won’t cause any problems down the line. Toffo calls another staff meeting. On their train to London that evening, Mel confidentially reveals to Ronnie a side to her character that blindsides him.
When I worked in an office I never hated anyone so much that I wanted to exercise petty revenge against them. But it was close. I remember there was this one time that a higher grade officer thought I was after this girlfriend. The looks! Of course, I was entirely innocent. She was definitely flirting avec moi, but she wasn’t my type. Of course, she as an individual was free to flirt with whoever she wanted to, and the problem was the HG officer’s sense of possession and entitlement. Office romances are never a good idea. There were an awful lot of office romances though. I personally started at least three relationships in my time there, and I wasn’t even the worst offender. There was a guy in the office, let’s call him Mike (his name actually was Mike), who would routinely ask out every new girl who started in the office within a week of her first day. This is No Exaggeration.
It was a tragic situation. The idea of this ageing Lothario, slowly losing his hair, asking younger and younger girls out. Luckily he did get one of them to stick, and they entered a long-term relationship and he dodged the bullet.
This is the episode in which Ronnie realises that he and Mel both have some kind of involvement with Melody and her father’s movement, both meeting in the middle from different directions.
Operation Able Archer/Autumn Forge is over, Mel seems to have dealt with the boyfriend problem, and things are looking up. On the train to London to see a film at the NFT, she reveals (among other things) what she knows about where Paul works. It was on such trips to London with my girlfriends that I conceived of the idea of a secret place behind blank walls and innocuous doors. Of course, if it had been 2013 and not 1983, I might have done some actual research, but I didn’t even know, then, about the disused Underground stations, many of which come straight out of T S Eliot: King William Street (closed 1900); City Road (1922); Down Street (1932); and the British Museum (1934), which was between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road. The most recent station to close was Aldwych (1994), though part of Charing Cross was also closed in 1999.
I couldn’t pass one of those mysterious doors, even now, without thinking of The Obald. But back then I thought of a space where an organisation existed, so secret that barely anybody knew of its existence. Walls from behind which the millions of faceless commuters were being watched, measured, judged. Well, you think yourself faceless, but now they have facial recognition.
Back then, we were naive enough that we still believed in the mythological TV detector vans. I’ll never forget the “…And they’re watching Columbo” public information film. You could quite believe they were watching you, just like in George Orwell, that they even knew your shoe size.
Nowadays I’d tend to think that, yes, they are watching, but they’ve got you mixed up with someone else, and they think they know your shoe size, but it’s actually your neighbour’s shirt collar size. Just as dangerous, but more because of stupidity; like the Met arresting people “by mistake”.
The Last Thing He Told Me (TV+) A workaday mystery thriller in which Jennifer Garner, her out of Alias, mislays a husband, him out of Game of Thrones, who does a runner, leaving Garner to deal with his bratty kid by his dead first wife. Garner, who plays a WOODTURNER who makes SALAD BOWLS lives in a houseboat that would cost a minimum of $1.5 million. Sure, the husband does something businessy, but then does his runner because something’s up with that. I dunno. It’s all very by-the-numbers, and my biggest problem is that the bratty kid is really bratty and also wanders off randomly, so you kinda want her to get kidnapped already. Thing is, I love Jennifer Garner, and a cameo appearance by her Alias dad Victor Garber gave me happy memories. Three stars, I suppose.
Citadel (Amazon Prime) Amazon have been spending money again, but the result is… average. This is a kind of mashup of The Bourne Identity and The Long Kiss Goodnight without the latter’s witty script and without the former’s charismatic cast. Stanley Tucci is there playing a magnetic spymaster, with charisma-free zone Richard Madden as the memory wiped secret agent whose job it is to retrieve the thingy from the whatsit before the bad guys get to it. Lesley Manville is the moustache-twirling villainous Brit, and the whole thing is like noisy wallpaper. With writers on strike at the moment because they want some career prospects and a better financial deal, I am concerned that Amazon is throwing money at vanity projects that wind up being underwhelming. Wheel of Time was all right, though I don’t know anybody who watched it. The Lord of the Rings thing was a ridiculous waste of everybody’s time (and I don’t know anybody who watched it). And now this. Sheesh.
The Diplomat (Netflix) This was unexpectedly good, for a Netflix show. TV treasure Keri Russell plays a US career diplomat who is usually sent to trouble spots, but unexpectedly lands the role of Ambassador to the UK, a job she takes without having to sit through Congressional hearings or really knowing why she has been given it. Everybody else knows, though: the Big Secret is that she is Being Groomed to take over as Vice President (that’s enough title case). Ridiculously unlikely scenarios ensue, with Russell clashing with her bad boy diplomat husband Rufus Sewell and getting hot under the collar about UK politician David Gyasi, a man who has to keep fighting fires because his boss is Boris Johnson Rory Kinnear. It’s silly, but it’s fun, but it’s silly. And Keri Russell is unmissable, as she was in The Americans. Having said that it’s silly, it is also in its own way frighteningly realistic:
Seems an unlikely scenario: what if the US President was impossibly old (and successor to an idiot), and you were sent to be Ambassador the UK, which has a dangerously incompetent prime minister? Couldn’t ever happen, but it’s entertaining nevertheless.
Silo (TV+) Another show that seems to have had a lot of money thrown at its production design is this latest science fictioner from Apple, which is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which everybody has to live in an enormous underground bunker because the environment outside is poisoned… or is it? There’s nothing original here, but the pieces are put together quite well. Nobody really remembers why they’re there because of an Incident (shades of Richard Paul Russo’s Ship of Fools), but it also seems to be illegal to try to uncover the truth, or to hoard Artefacts of the old world. There’s a secret police force and some surprising early deaths. It’s all right, but I do scratch my head sometimes at the IP that gets picked up and turned to series when there is much better IP out there just waiting to be discovered. Silo is based on something that was originally self-published on Kindle, so it ought to give me hope. Instead it fills me with sadness. Wither Tim Powers, wither Martha Wells, wither Robert Charles Wilson? Repeat to fade.
Drops of God (TV+) Finally, another Apple thing. This one is another of those international co-productions with three languages on the soundtrack (like the impenetrable Liaison — only better). It’s based on a Japanese manga series, and is a left-field story about a Japanese man and a French woman who are pitted against each other in a wine tasting contest in order to inherit the priceless wine collection of the woman’s estranged father (and his mentor), who has died. The problem is, his family absolutely forbid him to participate and she passes out every time alcohol passes her lips due to childhood trauma. So will he defy his family and will she overcome her complete ignorance about wine? Told through a series of flashbacks that slowly make sense of the present, this for me is probably the pick of the bunch here, with the producers coming up with creative ways to visualise the taste of wine. Really enjoying it so far. And though you can see the PLOT TWIST coming down the line, it’s an congenial ride.