Friday, 27 September 2013

Book review: The Night Circus

One I wasn't sure I'd like but ended up pleased I gave it a go, Erin Morgenster's The Night Circus could have been, going from the blurb, either along the lines of Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell or a tedious paranormal romance. Fortunately it's closer to the former, and although a romantic connection between the two leads is central to how the story pans out, it's kept surprisingly low-key.

Two ancient magicians who've done battle many times before, meet again in the late 19th century and select children they'll raise to wield magic and be set into a lifelong game against each other. One chooses his own daughter Celia, the other finds Marco in an orphanage. When they reach their late teens they're sent off to do metaphorical battle in the unusual arena of the titular circus, an after-dark carnival where they have to put all their energies into outdoing each other with magical exhibits. Morgenstern's descriptions of Cirque des Rêves are the highlight of the novel and make it more of a mystical piece of immersive theatre than a circus. It often made me think of Punchdrunk, so it's not surprising when the acknowledgements at the end thank Punchdrunk for providing much of the author's inspiration in imagining the circus.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Dick Twittington 28: Normal decent people

This week on my Twitter feed, theatre provides me with disappointments, but on the other hand it also has more topless wresting so *scales gesture*

Irate customer: "You most certainly did NOT send me a reminder email!" Me: "Really? That's weird cause... you replied to it."
10:28 AM - 18 Sep 13

Are there any show pics online of the *relevant* people in Midsummer Night's Dream? You know who I mean. Google is failing me.
12:22 PM - 18 Sep 13

OK, the official Grandage Season website does have some photos acknowledging that AMND is more than just one scene, so that's something.
5:54 PM - 18 Sep 13

Friday, 20 September 2013

Book review: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade

Despite a theatre habit I'll cheerfully admit is an addiction, there's still plenty of "classic" plays I'm not familiar with yet. So it's not surprising that there's even more "must-read" books that I haven't got round to, but as usual kindle offers come to the rescue. This time with Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, subtitled The Children's Crusade to reference the youth of most of the Allied soldiers in World War II. The central event is the bombing of Dresden, during which the lead character Billy Pilgrim is a prisoner-of-war being held in the titular slaughterhouse - ironically making him one of the few survivors.

In fact the bombing itself is barely described, instead the narrative jumps around Billy's life, from his time in the War from capture onwards, to his later days when he returns to the US and becomes a successful optometrist. But the biggest event for him is one he "remembers" after an accident, when he announces that he was once abducted by an alien race and taken to be shown in their zoo, where he found out about their fatalistic view on life, as they don't see linear time but all events as existing simultaneously on some level.

As well as a rather moving little comment on a man creating such an elaborate coping strategy for the unpredictable tragedies of his life, this also provides the structure for the way the story's told, with Billy "time-travelling" backwards and forwards between critical moments of his life. I found it a simple and effective little satire, and it's incredible to think it's still considered controversial in certain parts of the USA.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Dick Twittington 27: Actual intent to cause harm

This week on my Twitter feed, theatre continues to be secretive, or not to happen at all.

Kilburn - nice to see one that doesn't look exactly the same as all the rest.
3:07 PM - 11 Sep 13

Well after #2, it follows that #1 must be next #secrettheatre
7:09 PM - 11 Sep 13

A man on this bus thinks he has discovered some unique new insights about the shallowness of celebrity culture. Spoiler: He hasn't.
9:42 PM - 11 Sep 13

Monday, 16 September 2013

Book review: The Long Earth

Terry Pratchett only seems to have got more prolific in recent years; The Long Earth, which he co-writes with Stephen Baxter, is the first in a planned new fantasy series that plays on the ever-popular theme of parallel universes. But where quantum theory sees every decision spin off into a different reality, so that infinite universes exist with tiny differences, The Long Earth is a multiverse where our Earth - here called the Datum Earth - is the only one that's inhabited, by humans at least. And the multiple other Earths stretch out to a notional East and West. A few years into the future, blueprints for a mysterious device are posted on the internet, and the result is a "Stepper," a machine that allows people to move along by one Earth at a time. Faced with a seemingly infinite number of fresh new planets just as the original one's resources are starting to run out, humanity's instinct is to colonise.

The main thrust of the novel follows Joshua, a young man born between worlds who's acquired a natural affinity for stepping as a result, and his journey with Lobsang, a disembodied entity who claims to be a reincarnated Tibetan, but may in fact be a computer program that's become sentient. They travel West through the Long Earth, partly to research the different realities but partly to be the first to travel millions of steps away from the Datum. There's a few plotlines running through their journey but largely this is a scene-setting novel that builds up the writers' fictional universe, and given how little hard plot it has I found it very entertaining. Beyond things like the design of the Stepper device (it requires a potato to work) there's little of the comic side of Pratchett, but instead there's an interesting central relationship between the loner Joshua and the rather smugly omnipotent Lobsang.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Book review: Frozen Out

Perhaps with an eye on the popularity of Scandinavian crime novels, Quentin Bates sees if Iceland, where he lived for ten years, would also do the trick in his own series of thrillers. It was also one of the first countries to go bankrupt in the financial meltdown, so that offers another dimension to explore in a country whose leaders are suddenly faced with a particularly desperate situation. So Frozen Out, which introduces rural policewoman Gunnhildur or Gunna, sees her investigate an accidental drowning she's sure is actually murder, and find it leading back to a sell-off of government assets.

It's quite enjoyable so I'll be catching up with the next one at some point, although partly because I felt as if there were quite a few loose ends being left and I wonder if they might lead somewhere further in the series. And the Icelandic naming conventions make it trickier than usual to keep up with who the various characters are (instead of surnames Icelanders use patronymic or occasionally matronymic names - I did find it amusing that some Icelanders have surnames, but it's generally considered a bit pretentious.)

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Dick Twittington 26: Whatever gets you through the day

This week on my Twitter feed, a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon finally yields a photo of an unfortunately-named rowboat, and I fret over how much of a theatrical secret to reveal online before one of the professional critics cheerfully spoilers it for everyone.

You know, I'm sure we'll all get used to those blue conversation lines once they've been on Twitter for a few months or years... Oh.
11:09 AM - 4 Sep 13

Ugh. When you get hired specifically  to make judgement calls in boss' absence, then get bollocked for doing it #fuckyouWednesday
5:27 PM - 4 Sep 13

Just realised I started University TWENTY YEARS AGO. I'm so old, I'm legally dead.
7:26 AM - 5 Sep 13

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Book review: Un Lun Dun

Having seen China Miéville's books highly rated and wanting to try them out for some time, my entry point, as it usually is these days, was decided by which of them was discounted for kindle. This turned out to be Un Lun Dun, his entry in the all-ages fantasy field, which sees two teenage London girls drawn to a battle in a parallel version of the city, UnLondon. When London got rid of its smog problem in the last century, it actually moved over to UnLondon where, like many other inanimate objects. it acquired a conscience and, in this case malevolent, personality. Zanna and Deeba are fated to stop it from taking over both versions of the city.

Although Miéville acknowledges the influence of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and other alternate London stories, he comes up with enough skewed geography and colourful characters to make UnLondon unique. What I particularly liked though was his messing with the conventions of fantasy, particularly the trope of the "Chosen One" which gets punctured pretty early on. And once we're in a story where the sidekick has to do all the work, it's open to having things like the quest narrative dismissed as well. (Also, the fantasy trope about cats being particularly mystical animals is quickly thrown out of the window. They're just idiots.) In any case I enjoyed this one and will give some of his more adult-oriented work a go as well - I get the impression cities are a recurring theme in his books.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dick Twittington 25: HIT IT WITH A HAMMER!

This week work has shamelessly got in the way of my talking bollocks on the internet, so my Twitter feed has been on the quiet side.

Finsbury Park
3:37 PM - 28 Aug 13

Ooh, I'm tired. *Hot Boy In Suit walks past with perky nipples poking through shirt* HELLO, I AM WIDE AWAKE.
3:28 PM - 29 Aug 13

Tube train gets stuck halfway along platform at Clapham North. Driver's solution: HIT IT WITH A HAMMER! This strategy is successful :o
9:40 PM - 29 Aug 13