12 Rules for Life…essential reading

I have just finished reading 12 Rules for Life An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.  It was a truly excellent book and I also listened to it on Audible too told by the author himself.  A professional clinical psychologist who has taken great time and great effort to try to explain the world and a way to live within it.  It is a valuable book which I think anyone would benefit from listening to.  That said the sheer hate he is subjected to by people who frankly strike me as a bit insane.  ‘Hate Speech’ they call it.  Well sadly for them the contents of this book are rational, incisive, provable and backed by experience and history.  I could find no fault with it.  It resonated with me.

If you wish to know more please go to Google and look for reviews of this book and you will see what I mean (Financial Times, Guardian etc).  History will repeat itself if we are not careful.  Live a good life, do good, gain in experience, be grateful, value free speech, respect the Christian tradition, raise a family well and take care of your children and parents.  It is a great book and I challenge anyone to take the notion that what it says is wrong based only on a narrow ideological basis.  Nihilism is a dangerous thing and must be combated just like the attempt to destroy the very foundations of the civilisation which has brought life and prosperity to all us poor apes.

Go HERE for the penguin books page on this title.  It will be the best money you will spend this year.

I should also point out that George Orwell and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are greatly admired by me and I shudder in terror of the left wing now.


Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A short look at Children of Time the winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award
by Adrian Tchaikovsky which I have just finished listening to on Audible.

Desperate to find a new home amongst the stars, the last remnants of the human race which persist in the ruins of an earlier stellar empire are thrown out into deep space. Hundreds of thousands  in cryo asleep aboard a colossal colony ship until a habitable planet is located. Eventually they discover a world which was ‘successfully terraformed’ by Professor Kern during the gone era of the Empire.

Left Abandoned by Humans, this new planet isn’t the unoccupied Eden they had hoped for and is populated by two other forces who fight for power and territory.  They are not men..not even close.

Until Children of time the author had really focused on Fantasy and hadn’t turned his hand to writing science fiction novels. It is a move I’m glad he made as Children of Time is not only a rewarding, memorable novel but one that can take its place amongst the finest science fiction.

The story alternates between the humans on board the colony ship (Gilgamesh) and the changing creatures on the terraformed planet. These creatures have been given a helping hand to evolve after a nano-virus that was meant to uplift monkeys instead finds the most promising of creatures on the freshly terraformed surface. We get to see how creatures such as spiders and ants could evolve in a short space of time (relatively speaking). The book travels forward as these creatures evolve while aboard the Gilgamesh the opposite happens. Devoid of the knowledge required to effectively repair or improve their ship, life for the humans gets difficult.

There is a sense of wonder and immersion, being carried along on an alien world with hosts both familiar and strange at the same time. The novel also has the grand vision that is a characteristic of a Peter Hamilton’s space opera. It’s a combination that works perfectly managing to describe the evolutionary steps of earth-like creatures in a realistic fashion. Its clear the author has a fondness for insects.

The way that future technology is described is both modern and creative. This distant view of our culture and society, while a small part in a much larger story, really strikes a chord. It’s the way that the uplifted race of creatures are described that sets the book apart though, the juxtaposition between human and non-human is both reflective and distinct.

Children of Time Explores themes of religion, evolution, sexism and the nature of humanity along with what it takes for a species to call something “God”. The book also provides an effective example on just how evolution can work and just what makes one species superior to another. It’s a mind-blast, thought provoking story just full to the brim with ideas. The book that essence of the classic science fiction novels, that sense of wonder and unfettered imagination but combined with this is the charm of a writer who really knows how to entertain, how to spin a good story. Essential science fiction and a book not to be missed.


Artemis by Andy Weir a review

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.   Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Artemis. The new science fiction novel by the writer of The Martian, Andy Weir.  I picked it up on Audible and hence listened to it rather than reading it.  It was narrated by Rosio Dawson and ran at just under nine hours which I did in two sessions.  I was greatly impressed by The Martian and a follow up for such a success would be very difficult…so..how was the story?

So, what is Artemis? It’s…a few things, actually. The top of which is, it’s heist story. On the moon. It’s not just that, of course. The protagonist, Jasmine (“Jazz”) Bashara is being offered an opportunity to change her life…we’ll get on to that shortly. What I’m saying is that, though this is a heist story, one where careful planning and unexpected reversals are the order of the day, it’s also a story about a woman looking to make something of herself, and the book is as much about character and personality as it is about chases through vacuum and dubious law enforcement.

The world well, it’s in some ways familiar, in others…less so. The moon is a harsh place, at least externally. It’s cold, dead, and the slightest mistake could kill you. There’s a certain sterile beauty to it, to be fair – but Weir has built a moon which can kill, and emphasises the fragility of life in that environment. The larger part of the world, though, is in the city which humanity has settled. It has a certain retro vibe to it – domes rising out of the moon rock, habitable areas underground as well as above. Relatively small, the cultural cadences of science and technology are interspersed throughout – this is a people who make up for their lack of numbers with intellectual capital and skill. The city bustles and thrives, and the industry around it – aluminium, for example – helps sustain it; it certainly feels both alive, and familiar – and at the same time, ever so slightly strange.

Character-wise – well, the main focus is on Jasmine. I have a lot of affection for Jazz, as she’s known – a smart-mouthed young woman, with a laser-like intelligence and an impressive facility for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or otherwise putting her proverbial foot in it. Still, she has a sharp tone, and a degree of hustle and charm which it’s a lot of fun to read along with. We pick up some of her history through the text. This lets us explore wider issues as well, like how parenting, or nationality work on the moon, or the role of currency in the context of moon-living. Jazz is energetic and cheerfully self-serving, and if there’s hints of larger issues there – guilt, issues with authority, family difficulties – then they help make a more nuanced character.

Jazz is backed up by a fairly large ensemble cast – from snide EVA instructors who also happen to be ex-boyfriends, to seemingly baffled scientists. Jazz’s father, a man seemingly confounded by his daughter’s ability to do absolutely anything other than apply herself, steals every scene that he’s in, with a combination of pragmatic competence and an obvious love for his daughter that pours off the page. There’s others of course – engineers in life support, and a particularly persistent lawman. I think my only complaint is that we don’t see enough of them. They’re there, and serve the plot rather well, and give Jazz the contrasts and banter in her life that we need to see – but I’d love to have seen them in more depth.

The plot…well no spoilers. But it’s a lot of fun. In some ways it’s a slow burn, as facets of a plan come together. But there’s enough going on at every stage to keep you locked in. When things do kick off, then there’s heart-in-mouth moments aplenty, tension broken with chases, brawls, and the occasional explosion. It’s a journey in exuberant prose, which is taking joy in both the science and discovery of it all, and in the personal dramas, the horrible mistakes, the bare-knuckle recoveries and the personal triumphs.

It’s not The Martian, but that’s a good thing. Artemis is strong enough to stand on its own. It’s clever, fast-paced, tense, and carries moments of sparkling humour and emotional weight. If you were a fan of The Martian, then yes, you should give this one a read. If you’re coming to Weir’s work for the first time – this is very much worth the time.

So that is my review.  I must also mention that the author did an excellent job of ticking all of the diversity boxes without causing any offence which is a hard thing to do. Kudos!


Bladerunner 2049 as it was for me

“Every civilization was built on the back of a disposable workforce, but I can only make so many.”

I had waited a long time.  I had waited before I knew there was anything to wait for.  Anything to anticipate.  Then when I knew there would be more my heart sank.  For I knew…I knew..that it would bring despair.  That it would fail to emulate what Bladerunner was to me and that was a cornerstone of my artistic identity.  When the date was announced for the new film Bladerunner 2049 I just had to see it.  I had to.  I had to know.  So when tickets came online they were bought and to the cinema I went.

So…how was it?

I will ignore all that has been said about it being boring…you don’t get it.  I will ignore the lack of cinema revenue…who cares it will be a legend.  I will ignore the pedants who laugh at it…no one will remember them.  My thoughts after nearly three hours in the seat is that Bladerunner 2049 is a masterpiece of film making and it restored my faith in the medium.  The best film in a decade.

The universe set up in the original film survived and was expanded.  Atari and the Soviet Union are both still going strong.  The visuals were stunning and the music…souring and epic.  For me the giantess of the virtual billboard was a highlight.

A core tenant in the film was the nature of what it is to be Human and the reactions of the Human with the Enhanced and now the Virtual too.  All too relevant for the world as it is now and as it will soon be too.  After all her eyes are blue but they should be green.

I could wax on for an age.  But I will not.  I loved this film and I will continue to do so.  Do yourself a favour and see it.  Also do yourself a favour and ignore the critics and their screeching about feminism and other issues..they will never be happy.  This film is a gem.


Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell


“I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards. I only twice remember even being seriously angry with a Spaniard, and on each occasion, when I look back, I believe I was in the wrong myself.” – George Orwell.

I have been a long term reader and fan of Eric Blair (George Orwell) ever since I was a teenager.  Not the Orwell of 1984 or Animal Farm but rather the earlier man of essays and of books such as Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia (not to mention the sublime Down and Out in Paris and London).  Time permitted me to read Homage to Catalonia over the last week during a time of great joy and a friend’s wedding celebration.  It is a book well worth reading if you are interested in several different aspects of life, politics and writing.  It is auto-biography, it is a war memoir, it is a social account and it is a man’s take upon the Spanish Civil War.  Read Orwell and learn about the workings of the world.  Here are some thoughts and if you want to get a copy of this book it is very easy (not the first edition above!) it can be had for pennies from bookshops and elsewhere as it has been in many editions.   My own is in the bin now, water damaged and smelly it was due for composting.


Orwell went to Barcelona in 1936 to report on the Spanish Civil War. He was so struck with the progress of the workers’ revolution there, the camaraderie and the hope, that he decided this state of affairs was worth defending, and enlisted with a militia unit. His unit soon went to the front, where it stood nearly idle for several months and did little fighting. The unit returned several months later to what seemed like a different city, in the throes of inter-party fighting as the Russian-backed communists attempted to take control of the war effort. Orwell’s unit returned briefly to the front, but while he was hospitalised (due to a bullet caught in the neck,) its members were declared illegal, and he was forced to flee the country.

Most of us are more familiar with the Spanish Civil War through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Unlike that novel, Homage to Catalonia paints an affectionate portrait of a brave, but naïve, effort that was doomed from the start by international intrigue. Orwell’s affable co-combatants are poorly equipped, crawling with lice, and little interested in fighting, which is lucky because they’re left on an immobile front where if the food isn’t great, the cigarette ration is at least adequate.

This book is indeed an homage, to a brief time in a small place where equality was real, but fleeting, and to the people who were there to live this hope. It also shows us the moments when Orwell became disillusioned with communism, leading to his best known works. (It may difficult for us to imagine, but we need to keep in mind that in the 1930’s, the violence and cynicism of the U.S.S.R. were still widely unknown, and there were many active communists all over the world.) Thus, this book, in addition to being highly enjoyable, is vital to understanding a mindset now remote and alien to us, and a time we mostly know nothing about.

The power of this book is in its indictment of the foreign press and the hypocrisy of international communism. Each did its part to muck up the war effort and betray the people it purported to defend, and Orwell explains as clearly as possible the complex international forces that wasted the war effort and opened the door to fascism in Spain.

Well worth reading and in case you wonder…the world is not so different now.  Be careful what second hand accounts you believe.


Review – Electronic Dreams How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer


Having gotten myself an Audible account and some credits I took a gander at the vast number of audio books in the purchasable range carried on the website.  This one caught my eye.  Not just as it’s title is the same as one of my good lady’s favourite ever movies but also as I was a fan of Clive Sinclair in the 1980’s…not that I knew his face or name…but I did have a ‘Speccy 48k’ and boy did I love it!  So what is Tom Lean’s book about?

How did computers invade the homes and cultural life of 1980s Britain?

Remember the ZX Spectrum? Ever have a go at programming with its stretchy rubber keys? How about the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, or Commodore 64? Did you marvel at the immense galaxies of Elite, master digital kung-fu in Way of the Exploding Fist or lose yourself in the surreal caverns of Manic Miner?  For anyone who was a kid in the 1980s, these iconic computer brands are the stuff of legend. In Electronic Dreams, Tom Lean tells the story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their worries of electronic brains and Big Brother and embraced the wonder-technology of the 1980s.

This book charts the history of the rise and fall of the home computer, the family of futuristic and quirky machines that took computing from the realm of science and science fiction to being a user-friendly domestic technology. It is a tale of unexpected consequences, when the machines that parents bought to help their kids with homework ended up giving birth to the video games industry, and of unrealised ambitions, like the ahead-of-its-time Prestel network that first put the British home online but failed to change the world.

Ultimately, it’s the story of the people who made the boom happen, the inventors and entrepreneurs like Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar seeking new markets, bedroom programmers and computer hackers, and the millions of everyday folk who bought in to the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives.

I enjoyed the book and it expanded my knowledge greatly about the subject of micro computers but also of the social aspects of 1980’s Britain.  If you enjoyed Elite or Jet Set Willy or any of the other ground breaking computer titles of the era then you will enjoy this book.  Especially fascinating was the end of the book where the author lays out how the Raspberry Pi came into being and the Sinclair Vega too.  The world turns and turns again.  If anything Britain is more exciting now for computers and gaming in that manner than it was in the golden 1980’s.  Of course real gaming uses miniatures and books but every now and again I enjoy a game of Joust just like the next man in his late 30’s!

If you are at all interested in the subject I recommend this book and if you have some time also the excellent BBC documentary film of a few years back ‘Micromen’ which tells part of the story in a grand way.


All You Need is Kill or Live, Die, Repeat Review

I treated myself to a night at home not doing any work and rather spending time with my good lady and watching a science fiction film.  I know…how dare I!  Moving on from that the film we choose to buy (I tend to just buy DVD’s as renting them is now very difficult and downloading does not suit me) was Edge of Tomorrow or Live, Die, Repeat or All You Need is Kill.  Take your pick of the title.  Though the last title is the book the film is based upon.  So sitting in the dark with a beer or two how was it?

Well as an adaptation of the book it was quite a bit different which was sad really as the setting in All you need is Kill was to me better than a d-day recreation set in London and northern France.  As a movie though Live Die Repeat was very good with a nice look and a lot of action.  Here is the synopsis:

“The epic action of “Edge of Tomorrow” unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.”

It is well worth checking out when you have a chance if you are a science fiction film fan.  Also it was good to see Bill Paxton back in the army!

So the book.  I have owned the book since near its English language translation date in the VIS Media edition in 2005.  I always thought it would make an excellent Manga but never thought it would be a Hollywood A lister live action film.  Here is the synopsis of the book:

“The story is told from the perspective of Keiji Kiriya, a new recruit in the United Defense Force which fights against the mysterious ‘Mimics’ which have laid siege to Earth. Keiji is killed on his first sortie, but through some inexplicable phenomenon wakes up having returned to the day before the battle. This continues and he finds himself caught in a time loop as his death and resurrection repeats time and time again. Keiji’s skill as a soldier grows as he passes through each time loop in a desperate attempt to change his fate.  After several dozen loops, he realizes his fate is tied to that of Rita Vrataski. He uses his knowledge of the day to get close to her and her mechanic, from whom he gets a copy of her massive axe, a weapon he learns to use well given the boltgun normal troops use runs out of ammo and jams easily. Realizing he is a fellow looper, Rita confides in Keiji, telling him of the system the Mimics use. There is a central nexus that can loop the day, as well as several antennae, all of which signal the loop to reset. Contact with an antenna is what trapped Keiji in the loop. Only by first killing all the antennae and then the nexus can Keiji escape. The Mimics constantly adapt to Keiji’s attacks, but he and Rita manage to eliminate the nexus, only to have the loop reset. After telling Rita this, she acknowledges that they missed one antenna. On the last loop (#160) they proceed to eliminate the antennae again, and then Rita attacks Keiji, explaining that being trapped in the loop has modified their brains so both of them are similar to the antennae, meaning one of them has to die before killing the nexus, else the loop will continue indefinitely. Keiji manages to kill Rita and then the nexus, and is hailed as a new hero of the Unity Army.”

Its a very original novel and its story works very well as a text, better than as a film if not using a narrator.  Confusion and despair mixed with a foreboding of events that will happen, have happened and will happen again.  If you have the inclination to read the book then you should and do so before you see the American adaptation of the book.

A last mention needs to be made of the alien creatures ‘Mimics’ which are described in the book but the film brought to CGI life.  It is a shame that no ‘making of’ book exists to be bought since I would purchase it.  The work that went into the design of the aliens was large and done in tandem with the designs of the armoured suits worn by troopers in the movie.  I got this information from two short documentaries included on the DVD.


The Quatermass Experiment – 1st Edition Paperback


While out and about I managed to get a little steal of a book.  Its an original 1st edition print penguin from 1959 in excellent condition of The Quatermass Experiment by Nigel Kneale.  Its a script not a novel as the Quatermass Experiment was a six part ground breaking television mini-series in the 1950’s broadcast by the BBC.  For those interested in science fiction and especially British science fiction this series was vitally important for the future creation of not only Doctor Who but also films such as Alien and series like the X-Files too.

The book itself is not very impressive by modern standards.  It is very much a product of its times much like the story is.  Drab, plain and poor the book gives off an air of a time when things were grim and tight and also grey.  But it will be great fun for me to write the scripts for its been many years since I saw Victor Carroon slowly change into a monster.   I saw it on TV as a child of some ten years old back in 1980’s and its fair to say it left as big a mark on a young me as Robocop did and Aliens too but in a different way.  A creeping horror of change and alienation too.  The final cathedral scene I know almost word for word.

If you have not heard of or seen Quatermass then I suggest you do.  The book might be hard to get but the TV serial is out there and BBC4 made a single new episode in 2005 which is also very good.

I could not find another of this book for sale online at the time of writing this post but an estimate of its value compared to others of the time would be eighteen to thirty pounds.  So I am very happy and the book is an excellent aesthetic object too.


Drama – Yes, 1980 – 100th on the List

In a previous post I said I was going to track down the top 100 albums in the Prog Rock magazine count down.  Well I began that journey by purchasing downloads of the one hundreth, ninety nineth and ninety eighth albums on the list.  I began at the top as it seems right to do so and work towards the top ten.  I don’t know how long this will take me and I doubt I will review every album on the list but I will refer to it and let you know as I go.  So….Drama by Yes.  How was it?

“Machine Messiah” and “Tempus Fugit” have rightfully gone down in history as two of the best songs on this album but as I listened to this album ten times over the last three days in the car and at home and by headphones and speakers I felt that the other tracks fell quite short of expectations.  I know its 100th on the list but this is my first experience of Yes as a band so that might have a lot to do with it.   There was a change of vocalist and line up for this album but I did not look this up until after writing down my thoughts.  It does show.  Until I encounter Yes again I will not know if the departing of Jon Anderson as singer made a difference to quality but it did seem to affect the album to my ear.   There are several very weak tracks there including “Does It Really Happen?” which is really, really boring and drawn out.

So purchase it or not?  Well I enjoyed it and if you can get it for under a fiver like I did and you like prog then go ahead.  Amazon link HERE.