Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Alrightreads: Cathedrals

Last year, I mostly read short stories that amounted to around 1,000 pages per writer. This year, I decided to read lengthy single works of around 1,000 pages each instead.

Then I realised I didn't really want to do that, outside of a couple of intriguing yet intimidating books I've been putting off. So sometimes/mostly, it'll be a few shorter but still hopefully substantial things making up that arbitrary total, hung loosely off a theme or something.

I've already read Ken Follett's heavy cathedral novel The Pillars of the Earth (a decade ago, in an attempt to impress a girl who liked it). Here are some other books about cathedrals.


Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris)

1831 / Audiobook / 592 pages / France

****

When I studied literature at university, my choice of modules was mainly dictated by avoiding overlong and clich├ęd Romantic and Victorian novels like cholera. I've tried to read Dickens a couple of times since, but even in passive audiobook form it's been a chore. But this one – which seemed to be a Gothic quasi-horror story largely set in a cathedral – was intriguing enough to commit to. I don't mind being bored when it's atmospheric.

It's absurdly padded with digressive essays on the decline of Gothic architecture, the barbarism of medieval justice and other opinionated topics that really belong in supplementary journals where students writing essays about the novel can track them down, rather than interrupting the already dawdling story every other chapter for the rest of us, and Hugo's innovative subversion of convention is cancelled out by his reliance on fairy-tale coincidence elsewhere, but the surprisingly grim ending tipped it in my favour. I haven't seen Disney's version, but I'm going to guess they didn't close on the cradling skeletons motif.


T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

1935 / Ebook / 88 pages / USA

***

Eliot was presumably making a meaningful political point by dredging up this 750-year-old crime when he did. But since you can find parallels to current affairs anywhen and anywhere, the murder of Thomas Beckett was probably just something he wanted to write anyway.

Since I don't normally read or attend verse plays for fun (unless some cheapskate events site offers single press tickets to shoddy Fringe productions in exchange for befuddled reviews), I didn't get a lot out of it. The scene-setting chorus overtures are nice and poetic with memorable lines, it's a shame the dialogue and plot kept interrupting them, really.


William Golding, The Spire

1964 / Audiobook / 223 pages / UK

**

Style is usually enough to win me over for want of substance, but this just bored me throughout. Books that trap me in someone's deranged mind can go either way, and I found the hubristic Dean intolerable. Which is the point, but I just wanted to get it over with. It's clever, but so are a lot of things I'm not interested in reading.


Philip K. Dick, Galactic Pot-Healer

1969 / Ebook / 144 pages / USA

****

These stupid, self-imposed reading challenges pay off sometimes. Outside of an epic PKD marathon, I probably never would have encountered this obscure delight if it didn't have this fortnight's keyword in it.

We're in similar dystopian doldrums to Dick's previous, more famous novel, only with a more sarcastically satirical bent (unless Do Androids... was funny too, but that aspect went over my head at 16). A fixer of broken pottery living in a broken future follows his predestined Hero's Journey to Sirius V, summoned by a senile elemental being to help raise a sunken cathedral up from the hellish depths. What drugs was this guy on?!? All of them.

It's not one of PKD's most inspired or insightful tales, but I had fun.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Reviewing Buffy the Vampire Slayer


More worthless insights from an outdated rewatch. I finally got around to watching Angel some time after writing all this, and ended up enjoying it more than my premature berating here predicts. You'd think I would have learned not to pre-judge after writing off Buffy as conventional high school crap for a few years. It was only that sometimes.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reviewing Star Trek odds & sods


Seasons 1 & 2 of the '70s animated series, season 3 of the '60s original, season 4 of Enterprise and a bunch of films.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reviewing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


Deep Space Nine turns 25 today. That's gone quickly, especially since I last rewatched and retrospectively reviewed it all when it turned 20. Here's that, reposted all on one long, laggy page.

If you're interested in what some random guy thinks about what he thinks is the best Star Trek series, you might get something out of it. Though I recommend Terry J. Erdmann and Paula M. Block's excellent Deep Space Nine Companion instead, if they ever get around to releasing it in ebook.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best of 2017, Not from 2017


I didn't spend as much time this year seeking out the finest epicurean morsels of the year and all the previous years there have been.

I spent most of the time working, being over-protective of a blind kitten, reading through exhaustive bibliographies of authors it turns out I'd already read the best bits of anyway, and pretending to be a Filipino woman on YouTube in a misjudged business enterprise that ended up losing money, but at least allowed me to experience some vicarious racism, gender dysphoria and sexual harassment, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

But it was either write this or get on with more of that pressing work. Gan on then. Hope you had a good year!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Reviewing Millennium, Harsh Realm & The Lone Gunmen


My virginal reactions to the X-Files' sister show, spin-off and Chris Carter's failed second franchise. Not particularly insightful (I recommend The M0vie Blog instead), but it was either put them here or put them in the bin, and these unreliable ratings can be helpful for my own selective rewatching.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Reviewing The X-Files, part 2: seasons 6-10


The 1997 film already did a pretty good job of segregating the first five years of The X-Files into their own protected, rose-tinted bloc where they would always be praised over what came next, deservedly or not. The jarring move from Vancouver to Hollywood just made compartmentalising easier, and the steep decline in quality certainly boosted the position.

It's not all bad. Some of it's almost as good as the older stuff. But a disappointing amount of it is disappointing. Then they brought it back, which was alright.

Part 2: The Hollywood years (& Vancouver reprise).

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reviewing The X-Files, part 1: seasons 1-5


I watched The X-Files right from the start when I was nine, thanks to my dad letting me stay up illegally late on a school night when my mum was at an evening class or something.

Five years ago, I watched the whole series again (some of those later episodes for the first time). This is what I thought about them. Supplemented by mythology updates when I watched selected episodes with the wifey more recently and felt the need to chronicle any minor changes of opinion.

Part one: The Vancouver Years (a.k.a. the classic years. Mostly. Often).

Friday, December 15, 2017

Ranking the M. R. James stories


Wooooooooo, it's Christmas! Which means it's time for spooky stories, but only if you're British and at least a generation older than I am (and often wish to be).

I didn't have the pleasure of being creeped out by these tales as a child, but reading 'The Mezzotint' with my ears on one of my Edinburgh walkabouts is one of the few times I've recaptured that innocent chill in adulthood. Probably because it reminded me of that scary bit at the start of The Witches where a child gets trapped in a painting. At least I wasn't deprived of Roald Dahl.

Even if none of the others succeed in raising a goosebump or ruffling a feather, reading The Top 40 M. R. James Stories is still going to be a falsely nostalgic pleasure. Pass the imaginary Christmas cake. I miss British desserts. I don't belong in this time or place.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reviewing the classic Doctor Who serials + extras


Not a judgemental ranking this time, because I watched these over the course of a few years and it's not like I can remember the subtle nuances that make 'Warriors of the Deep' slightly more or less poor than 'The Horns of Nimon.' Instead, judgemental ratings and reviews in chronological order, copy-pasted from my old TV blog onto one conveniently unwieldy page.

I didn't watch these in the correct sequence (6-7, 4-5 and finally 1-3 with breaks in-between), so I may become noticeably less aware of continuity and influence as I go along. But I know what I like. I'll throw in a top 10 at the end if my first-impression reflexes are that valuable.