Blue Monday

Like probably everyone else with an internet connection, we have seen the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 and one thing that really leapt out at me was the sound track.

If you are going to set a film in 1984, you can’t go wrong with a bit of New Order.

I thought I had a version of this song somewhere, but it turns out that I don’t and this discovery led to my wandering the dusty highways of Last.fm and YouTube and the discovery that there is a cover of Blue Monday recorded by Health for Atomic Blonde. This is one of the many films on my “must get around to watching” list.

But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to mention Orkestra Obsolete, a group of masked musicians who have rather stunningly managed to perform the song using only instruments available in the 1930s. It really is incredible.

Five Things #22

Domesticated by Timothy Bastek is a zombie story that reminds me of the fact that I never got around to seeing Fido.

Denzil delves into the strange history of Neutral Moresnet.

Tremors recently turned 30. Jennifer Ouellette celebrates the most perfect B movie creature feature ever made.

First it was wolves, now it is otters. Thirty years after they were declared extinct in Flanders, the animals have started to make a comeback. There’s still a long way to go, but things are looking positive.

Jamie Foster and Christopher H. Hendon explain how to make the perfect cup of coffee – with a little help from science.

He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy

Terry Jones died yesterday at the age of 77.

I remember, many years ago, reading Starship Titaninic, a spin-off from The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy which Jones agreed to write on condition that he could do so in the nude. Or so Douglas Adams claims in the introduction to the novel.

Terry Jones is, of course, best remembered for being part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and as the director of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, in which he also played Brian’s mum.

This, for my money, is one of the funniest films ever made — if not the funniest. So here is the highlight of a film full of highlights.

Invader

It’s been the best part of a year since I discovered CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series, of which Invader is the second novel, and I was very pleasantly surprised at just how easy it was to slip back into the world of the Atevi. It’s fortunate, too, as this novel leads pretty much directly on from its predecessor.

Nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared into the heavens, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the atevi, it unexpectedly returns to orbit overhead, threatening the stability of both atevi and human governments.

With the situation fast becoming critical, Bren Cameron, the brilliant, young paidhi to the court of the atevi is recalled from Mospheira where he has just undergone surgery. But his sudden and premature return to the mainland is cause for more than mere physical discomfort. For during his brief absence, his government has sent his paidhi-successor, Deana Hanks — representative of a dangerous arch conservative faction on Mospheira who hate the atevi. And though she should depart when Bren is once again able to fill his post, no recall order comes.

Cut off from his government and haunted by the continuing threat of assassination, Bren realizes his only hope may be to communicate directly with the Phoenix as the spokesman of the atevi — an action which may cut him off for good from his own species. Yet if he doesn’t take this desperate and illegal action, he may be forced to helplessly bear witness to the final destruction of the already precarious balance of world power.

As with Foreigner, Invader not only centres on the character of Bren Cameron, but resolutely refuses to look beyond the character. What he knows the reader knows and nothing he doesn’t know is given to the reader at all — and there is a lot that he doesn’t know.

Cameron’s job is to act as the sole point of contact between the Atevi inhabitants of an alien world and the human population that was stranded there two centuries previously. This puts him in the unique position oh having to navigate not just the diplomatic relationship between the two species but also the increasingly factional mess of human politics and the, potentially lethal, Atevi political environment. Added to all this is the unexpected return of the starship that turns a difficult situation into a nightmarish one.

If this makes Invader sound like a book that is primarily about politics, it is. It is also utterly, utterly gripping. A large part of this comes from Cherryh’s ability to ensure that you can fully appreciate the consequences of the endless discussions.

There is so much going on in this novel that it takes a while for everything to fully sink in. This is no bad thing as you really do get a feel for the sheer alienness of the Atevi, both as a species and as a culture. This came across, for me at least, much more strongly than in the first novel and presents a culture for which attitudes that humans take for granted simply don’t exist.

Invader is a superb combination of political thriller, hard-sf contact novel and anthropological discussion. I’m sorely tempted to go back and read it again, but I also really want to know how Cherryh pulls everything together in Inheritor, the third part of this sub-trilogy.

Quote of the day: Anticlimactic

Revolutions unleash euphoria because they create tangible images of change and inaugurate, at least in the fevered minds of their supporters, a new epoch. Brexit can’t do either of these things. The problem with a revolt against imaginary oppression is that you end up with imaginary freedom. How do you actually show that the yoke of Brussels has been lifted? You can’t bring prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps back into the shops, or release stout British fishermen from the humiliation of having to wear hair nets at work on the high seas, or unban donkey rides on beaches, or right any of the other great wrongs that fuelled anti-EU sentiment – because all of it was make-believe.

Fintan O’Toole

Of beer and beavers

Sunday saw Macsen competing in the Flemish karate championship, which left me at home with William and Alexandre. After a morning playing board games, we decided to take advantage of the bright, dry (but cold) weather and head out to the Totterpad, a nearby nature walk.

Bernard the beaver lives in his beaver castle next to the visitor center. When he wakes up one morning, he notices unknown footprints around his castle. He decides to look for the maker of those strange traces. Along the way he has to walk over a tree bridge, crawl into a bird’s nest, do a totter trail and much more.

It’s a nice walk, and one we have followed a fair few times. It’s not too long, but there is plenty of opportunity for exploration and several activities along the way.

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I am also rather fond of the fact that the walk ends (or starts) at the recently refurbished visitor centre and bar, De Watermolen.

The pub was a lot busier than I’d expected so, after having ordered a drink each for all of us, we had a bit of a trek to find an available seat. While looking for a seat, I kept hold of the hot chocolates in order to minimise the risk of hot drink spillage in a crowded bar. This left the twins to handle everything else.

I think the sight of a nine-year-old wandering around a bar, beer in hand, may have raised a few eyebrows.

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The walk home was shorter and more relaxed, the boys having finally burnt off some of their energy, until we reached the point at which we exited the path. Here there is a dry ditch surrounding a picnic table and the twins thought it would be a good idea to roll down the hill.

It’s been dry all weekend, so I thought nothing of it. Until they stood up. Covered, from head to foot, in mud.

This is why we have a washing machine.

Macsen came fourth in the championship. A good result that only just missed his being on the podium.

Il Mandaloriano

We don’t have Disney+ and we don’t have any intention on signing up to a streaming service anytime soon. Consequently, I haven’t seen any of the Star Wars spin-off series The Mandalorian.

But if it was anything like this spaghetti-western inspired trailer, I would change my tune in an instant.

Five Things #21

KT Bryski provides a very different take on the story of Red Riding Hood in The Path of Pins, the Path of Needles.

In 2008 Rian Dundon spent 9 months on the road with Fan Bingbing, China’s biggest movie star, and gained a firsthand look at the country’s celebrity-industrial complex.

There are exactly two wolves in the wild in Flanders at present. Pups could be on the way.

Nick Tyrone discusses three things the left gets wrong. Repeatedly.

Ben Orlin presents The Game of Snakes. All you need is a pen and a bit of paper.