alexsarll: (default)
Went to the eerie free-standing church tower in Crouch End last night for an evening of music and ghost stories. They had it done up wonderfully, at once properly uncanny and not too terrifying for such kids as were brought along...and then blew it completely. The first teller seemed to be reading his tale for the first time, and it wasn't like the material was going to save him when it had Mayor Richard Whittington in the 17th century (or, at one point, the 19th) and gargoyles falling where no gargoyle had been. Site-specificity is not a cheap way to add heft, it needs work. We left still disagreeing over whether the subsequent cellist's faux-rap was outright racist, or just really shit. A missed opportunity.

Last weekend, though - that was the first big weekend of the summer. You could even measure it from Wednesday (because normally Thursday is the new Friday, and I had Friday off) when, in a happier use of a normally disregarded space, the funny little community hall on Whittington Park hosted Philip Jeays' comeback show. At first a little uncertain after 18 months away, by the end he looked ten years younger and reminded what a gift he has. The support included two acts who were good if they were character comedy and alarming if they were not, plus - most unusually - a quite good poet, Sophia Blackwell. Don't think I've seen that happen since Murray Lachlan Young.

Then into the long weekend proper, celebrating lovely [livejournal.com profile] xandratheblue's birthday. First comedy; Josie Long (whom I'd never seen do a full set before) and Thom Tuck. Thom's show this year didn't make me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe, unlike his last one (and unlike John-Luke Roberts, who with Nat Metcalfe had done the first Edinburgh preview show I caught this year - yay local comedy mafia). But it's lingering with me like few comedy shows I've seen. I'd like him to get famous, at least cultishly Kitson-style (because I somehow can't see him doing arenas). Then on Friday, to East London and its already famous (though oddly, not to other cult East London businesses) cat cafe. Which does indeed have a lot of cats, even if only two of them seemed particularly keen to talk to us. I suppose if you wanted guaranteed friendliness, you'd have a dog cafe instead. Up to the Geffrye Museum, one of the dwindling band of London museums I'd never visited (it has good chairs), and pubwards for the evening. Saturday, picnic; no pinata this year, but my first ever go on Cards Against Humanity, which is every bit as excellent as the Daily Mail's hatred of it suggests. Plus, someone brought a dog! See above re: friendliness thereof.

On Sunday, because it was if anything an even lovelier sunny day, I went to sit in a municipal building to listen to a grumpy man. But it was Jonathan Meades, one of our finest grumpy men, so that's OK. The Stoke Newington Literary Festival is somehow even more North London than I'd expected; you even get given a free atheist periodical on the way in.
alexsarll: (default)
It is, as has been widely observed, Spring. Markedly earlier than last year, albeit marred by the loss of several trees which always made my commute a little less of a chore (lost to developers' cupidity, too, rather than the storms). Though I did also get to see some of the more impressive consequences of the storms when I took a trip down to the margin of the English Riviera to see the Dawlish destruction (and peculiar retail complex Trago Mills, which was a scene of carnage in an existential rather than a weather-damage sense).

Back in London, I've been to a model railway show, which apart from its inherent delights (tiny trains!) was a real corrective to any idea that the crowd at the Geeks Inc Doctor Who and comics pub quizzes could be considered particularly male-heavy or poorly-socialised. I've learned that some pubs think a table booking is for a two-hour stretch (yes, that is 'pub', not 'prestigious restaurant'). I attended a late opening at the Wallace Collection and enjoyed the empty rooms more than the performances, especially when we found the armour you could try on. I've taken pointlessly precarious routes across the junction of the Limehouse Cut and Bow Creek, had the first ice creams of the season, marked Purim and encountered the usual run of new pubs, some to be cherished (the North Pole and its range of oddly appropriate ciders) and others less so.

Not very many gigs lately, and two of the ones there were were at Paper Dress, a thoroughly Hoxton boutique/venue hybrid which is a lot less annoying than that description would have guaranteed a few years back. Both Mikey Georgeson and the Soft Close-Ups did pretty well there, which I suppose indicates that they at least pay proper attention to sound &c, rather than treating the juxtaposition of functions as sufficient gimmick in itself. Would that all venues could say the same. The last time I went to Power Lunches, they were steadily running out of drinks through the evening, in the manner of shambolic venues everywhere. This time, they had a solution to that - don't have anyone serving (upstairs) until the first band takes to the stage (downstairs). And, just to make absolutely sure there's a rude cunt talking at the back of gigs at your venue, why not hire him as the sound engineer? Though even he had the sense to shut up during Quimper. As who wouldn't, because while they're lovely folk offstage, during the performance they seem to channel something altogether alien and unfriendly (this is a good thing, obviously). Next up was Pete Um, of whom I've heard much and by whom I've heard a little, but whom I've never seen live. This turns out to have been a major oversight. Somewhere, in a world where the story of pop begins with and is dominated by John Shuttleworth, punk sounded like this.
Had something of a disagreement with the minicab driver after; fortunately, weaponised posh accents won the day for the cause of justice. See, they're not just for destroying the structure of the nation.
alexsarll: (crest)
So that was Christmas. Wondering whether to take the decorations down today or tomorrow; will Sunday evening or Monday morning have its inherent melancholy more heightened by the task? There were moments when I felt suitably festive - a binge of spooky BBC festive classics and mulled cider, seeing the Covent Garden lights and the miniature (but still pretty enormous) London made from lego in a walk-through snowglobe, the afternoon party with so much booze and so many small people one could barely move - but it always seemed to dissipate again. I suppose the late getaway, with the added stress of the transport Christmapocalypse, was always likely to shred that careful accumulation of misty goodwill.

I don't appear to have updated on my general movements since mid-October, either. Homerton, for instance, turns out to have some OK pubs and bars now, even if they are fuller still of beards than other areas of East London (the Islamic Republic possibly excepted).
The Museum of Childhood - wonderful, if it didn't have so many live children on the loose. Lots of toys one remembers fondly, at least one I used to have and knew even at the time was a bit shit, but the item that transfixed me most was that fabulous mother=-of-pearl Chinese diorama, like blue-and-white porcelain's pattern somehow brought into fragile, solid life.
My year's ticket for the Transport Museum has now expired, but I did manage to get in a visit without the Cthulhuchild who - fond as I am of him - does just tend to want to play on the trams and buses. Whereas solo, I can look at vintage posters and disused typefaces and letters from Victorian commuters, which for some unaccountable reason are things of no interest to toddlers.
The Inns of Court in autumn are fabulously autumnal. And do me the service of saving me a trip to Cambridge, because they feel so much like a college I never quite got around to visiting, and so the nostalgia is less pointed than if I went back now to one of the ones I did.
The Earl Haig Memorial Hall in Crouch End has finally opened up, its imperialist trappings intact, but now host to all manner of entertainments for the slightly-less-manic-than-we-were local. Perfect timing, really, given all the attention its namesake will be getting this year.
Lance Parkin, my favourite Doctor Who writer, launched his very good biography of Alan Moore, my favourite comics writer, with a live interview (and film screening, and so forth). The footage is here, though I've not listened to it myself in case I am too embarrassingly audible as the one person thoroughly amused by the line "What can Brian Lumley teach us?"

The slightly too pat, but still moderately fun, revenge-on-idiots comedy God Bless America appears to be the only film I've seen in ages, until I finally got round to Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa last night. Which was...quite good? Fairly amusing, surprisingly engaged with the very real plight of local radio in the 21st century, but not half so side-splitting as I'd been given to understand. There was also the Doctor Who anniversary, of course, which for all the furious initial back-and-forth on other, more rapid-response sectors of the Internet, seems to have bred a fair degree of consensus. With which I agree: 'The Fiveish Doctors' was amazing, ditto An Adventure in Space and Time bar Reece Shearsmith. The Day of the Doctor was a stunning achievement in making concentrated fanwank a coherent and exciting show for die-hard and casual viewer alike, which made the saggy mess of The Time of the Doctor all the more disappointing. But thank goodness it all came right at the end, and hurrah for Capaldi.
alexsarll: (default)
A few weeks back, Livejournal stirred into something approaching life, and in the manner of the old days there was A Meme. About what people were up to a year ago, five years, ten. And the nostalgia of it all...well, people sometimes forget that the '-algia' in there is pain. That was an apt precursor to The World's End. Shaun of the Dead was already a film about the pain of growing up, so stack the best part of another decade on top of that, then go see it with some approximation of the old gang, and even a film assembling this much comic talent (and there are plenty of laughs) is going to feel like a twisted knife in places. I can't recall such a bittersweet comedy which is still so successful qua comedy since Withnail. Part of the power is in the way it dodges polemic: yes, refusing to grow up is seen as a sad and sorry way to live, but so is growing up. In so far as there's any kind of answer, it's the knowingly grand and ridiculous grab for another, impossible option which reminds me of the Indelicates' 'Dovahkiin'. It's not just a self-regarding elegy, mind - it also has lots to say about how the new cinema ideal of bromance is no more realistic or healthy than the Hollywood take on romance. Which is obviously no less saddening. I'm going to miss the Cornetto Trilogy, not mollified by their being in part films about missing the films you grew up on.
Also seen at the cinema (on the same day, which I don't believe I've ever done before - it does the trailers no favours): Pacific Rim, in which Guillermo del Toro has giant robots punch monsters, and vice versa, in a delightfully solid way which always feels like a Guillermo del Toro film, until the humans start interacting with each other when his normal sureness of touch deserts him, and even normally dependable actors fall oddly flat (one excellent and un-publicised cameo aside). And not at the cinema, but on the same day as its cinematic release, A Field in England. Which I applaud, even while thinking that a little more forethought about the casting might have made it more instantly convincing as the psychedelic horror it wants to be, rather than the oddball comedy as which it inadvertently opens.

More nostalgia: the Buffy-themed bash at the GNRT. Even more so, back to the Woodbine for the first time in a while, and the last time was itself the first time in a while too. As if to emphasise how long it is since that was a regular haunt, there's foliage growing into the Gents' and a wine called Tempus. Subtle symbolism there, Life. Still, there have been times of living too. Celebrating the Solstice atop Primrose Hill, and walking back from Mr B and the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra along the dusky Parkland Walk, eternal moments when the level of drunk and the setting are exactly as they should be and one feels no longer apart from the world but in contact with the infinite and suffused with joy and peace. Took [livejournal.com profile] xandratheblue to Devon and, in the five years or so my parents have been there, this was the first time I swam in the sea, as against paddling, because for once I'd timed it right weatherwise. And we found a dragon skull on the beach. Then to lovely little Sherborne, and up Dancing Hill, which is in fact rather steep for dancing but I guess satyrs are nimble. Back in London, we were greeted by St Paul's and it's blue trees as a reminder that, lovely as holidays can be, this is the place to be. Though we did then go see Eddie Argos in an Edinburgh show about holidays, which might have made more sense before rather than after our own. Still lovely, mind.
(Other Edinburgh previews seen: Henry Paker, being powerfully bald, and Jeff Goldblum and his prawn (aka Ben Partridge). Not seen near so many this year as the last couple)

Wrapping up, since who knows when I'll get round to posting again: having chance to dance to Pink for the first time since Don't Stop Moving stopped moving, and 'Elephant Elephant' for the first time full stop, was a delight; I like the view from Telegraph Hill, though not the walk there in the sun (and it should have kept the old name, Plowed Garlic Hill); and I love how in a European city the Holy Thorn Reliquary would be in the cathedral, what with having part of Jesus' crown of thorns inside, but in London we just stick it in a back room of the museum, because we basically have the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark but let tourists wander around it 'cos we're cool like that.

*I've seen the Indelicates and Keith Totp (&c) twice since I last posted, and the Indelicates don't even play London that often anymore. Even seen the very seldom-sighted Quimper, who are coming into their own with the new live set-up, all disturbing projections and shadowed lurking. Also Desperate Journalist, who already had a good soundscape going, but are a lot more compelling now [livejournal.com profile] exliontamer has started really going for it on stage. And Mikey Georgeson aka Vessel aka Mr Solo, formerly a frequent fixture (and I think probably still the performer I've seen live the most times) for the first time in a year or so. He was, of course, excellent - the new tracks as good as ever, in particular 'I See What You Did There' and the waltz which sounds like imperial phase Bowie working with Tom Waits.

...

Sep. 16th, 2011 12:08 pm
alexsarll: (Default)
The weekend again already, at least if one is using up annual leave, and as per last week it doesn't look to be the most raucous of weekends, but is nonetheless deeply cherished for all that. There are a lot of people moving away from Finsbury Park lately, and for all my science fiction-inspired futurism, on a domestic level I disapprove of change. Still, at least by happening in autumn it's seasonally appropriate (as ever, I prefer 'pathetic truism' to the nonsensical term 'pathetic fallacy' - because weather and human moods do tend to match up).
Often, the moments in life of which one feels proudest aren't really suitable for the internet; they're better held close and secret. But last Sunday, while picking up a book that makes dinosaur noises for my Cthulhuchild, I overheard a customer asking the shopkeeper where he should start with Avengers comics. And un-English as it was, I 'Excuse me, if I might assist'-ed, and explained the situation, and by the end of it the fellow was ordering the first volume of The Ultimates (because it's better than the originals, and much closer to the films, which were what had inspired him to ask in the first place). So I'd supported my local independent bookshop, done some comics evangelism and helped a slightly puzzled shopper, all in one. I fear this may make me part of the Big Society.

Beyond that...well, it's all been a bit science-fictional. Had my first games of Cosmic Encounter, a game which manages both to be very simple to pick up, surprisingly tactical, and completely different each time depending what combination of alien powers the players get. Went to the British Library's Out of this World exhibition, full of manuscripts, old editions, life-size props (though I could tell the TARDIS was a fake - no warmth or hum) of science fiction classics. But 'science fiction classics' as defined by someone who actually knows their stuff - Olaf Stapledon got due respect (they even had the original hand-drawn timelines for the millions of years covered in his majestic Last and First Men), and John Brunner was well-represented too (I never knew he'd come up with the computer sense of 'worm'). So much there that I'd love to go back if only I hadn't come along so late in the run, and a perfect gallery for it too, somehow. If I had one quibble it would be the absence of Simak, but then everyone forgets about Simak nowadays, and in an odd way that fits the backwoods, leaving-the-city-folk-to-do-city-things nature of his work. Seriously, though - melancholy pastoral SF. It's excellent.
Oh, yes, and there was Torchwood. Of which the best that can be said is that about half of the last episode was quite good, and maybe five minutes really kicked arse.
alexsarll: (crest)
On Friday I watched Saint Etienne's Finisterre film. Which was quite reminiscent of the Robinson film about London I watched a while back, except that being St Etienne's, it was still in love with the city. Not blindly, never that - it reminded me of GK Chesterton's (biased, but not wholly untrue) observation that believers are allowed moments of doubt, whereas sceptics don't allow themselves moments of belief. I'd just read a link [livejournal.com profile] alasdair had posted to Iain Sinclair on the Boris bikes, reading which I'd wondered - does Sinclair never have a day in London - the city that's made his name - where everything goes right, the birds are singing and people are smiling? I do. I had one when I went to the library and Tesco and the park after watching the film which acts as a sort of primer for days like that, in its meandering way. You don't have to be a St Etienne fan to enjoy it, so long as you're a London fan; there are occasional appearances from the band, but just as people in cafes or the like, because the film is no more or less their story than anyone else's. It's the story - or rather, a story - of the greatest city on Earth.
(Something else it had in common with the Robinson film - it wouldn't play properly. One scene in the middle stuck, and once I was past that, it ground to a halt before the end. When I get institutional loan DVDs of feature films, they always play fine. But once it's a meandering art film, glitcharama. Why is this? Are the discs weedier and less resilient, or are the fans more careless?)

Then on to the first tolerably large weekend of the new year: a wonderfully messy Nuisance on Friday and a West Country-style cider party on Saturday (complete with far too much Wurzels on Spotify), then a Sunday of culture/weird sh1t. The Museum of Everything is Peter Blake's collection of oddities, a sort of 20th Century Sir John Soane's where stuffed rats play cards while the rat police sneak up to raid them, miniature circus rides spin far too fast, old dolls and clowns are as creepy as ever, and a three-legged duck gets to look as stupid in death as he did in life. Even the gift shop (£25 for a candle?) and the loo (a door at either end? That would unnerve me even if I hadn't seen Zombieland the day before) are rum and uncanny. I don't think it's around for much longer but it's definitely worth a visit while it lasts. The evening was a Jackson's Way talkshopinar. Achieved! Nor has the week got off to a bad start; last night's bout of Monsterpocalypse was the first game I've beaten [livejournal.com profile] johnny_vertigen at in months. And quite the victory, too: any game where your giant robot can twat the other fellow's Godzilla-type with his sword, and then impale him on a big spiky alien building before a barrage of tank fire finishes the job, is a game of which I would approve even had I not been victorious.
alexsarll: (bernard)
A few weeks back I wrote about a Ray Bradbury story I read which made me feel terribly sad that in the intervening years we haven't made more progress into space. Bradbury himself just restated much the same thoughts, which is nice - but then, by a freakish transformation which would not be out of place in his own books, turned into a silly old fool. "We have too many cellphones. We've got too many Internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now." Oh dear.

I've been listening a lot lately to the Spoiler Alert! EP, the work of masked musicians who quite coincidentally resemble Eddie Argos and Keith TOTP. Now, as a rule I don't like songs which simply restate the plot of a book or film, because it tends to feel clodhoppingly Literary and a bit sixth form (hence 'The Seventh Seal' being a major reason why I think Scott 4 is the worst Scott Walker solo album called Scott). But possibly because of the sheer lunacy of this project - trying to fit decades of convoluted, multiple-writer backstory into one pop song, Spoiler Alert! works. In particular, the song about Booster Gold brings out an aspect of the comic which I'd never really considered - the extra layer of secret identity implicit in a hero who has to carry on acting like a berk around other heroes, while covertly saving all of space and time behind the scenes. And, it's a lovely song. Whether it will have any appeal whatsoever to the distressingly large proportion of people with no idea who Booster Gold is, I could not say.

Otherwise: I've seen the artist formerly known as [livejournal.com profile] verlaine, back from the frozen North for a quick visit; I've been up Primrose Hill for the first time this year, which proceeded to do a fairly good impression of said frozen North; and I've finally seen the British Library's maps exhibition, which is gorgeous but has the problem of all themed or single-artist exhibitions - after three or four rooms of beautiful, enormous old maps, whatever wonders are in the next room can't help but feel, quite unjustly, like more of the same.
alexsarll: (crest)
Finally, someone's talking seriously about getting rid of Tube drivers. Let's start by ditching the people who are paid to get on the DLR, nick the front seat one carefully positioned oneself to grab at Bank, and then pretend to drive just as one was doing oneself before being so rudely interrupted.

Another local comedy preview this week, which I think it would be fair to say was a little less polished than the first, plus two gigs with a Georgeson connection; the Soft Close-Ups, on a stage covered inexplicably but beautifully in confetti, fit a cover of Mr Solo's 'Astrology' into the set, alongside a does-it-count-as-a-cover of Luxembourg's 'About Time'; the rest of their set is as expected, but it's not as if they play often enough for these songs to lose their sparkle. David Devant themselves, on the other hand...maybe it's like Larry Niven's concept of mana as a finite resource, but I find myself wondering if all the belief the World Cup is taking up means less iconic energy to go around elsewhere, because until the encore they are merely 'very good', as against the usual 'magical'. Perhaps part of the problem is that I have seen in the pub beforehand that Foz? has a swanee whistle, a kazoo and a duck call, but none of them make a noticeable show during the gig. It's like having a gun on the wall in the first act and then not firing it by the end of the third. Except quackier.

Spent yesterday in the centre - and without sighting a single elephant, though I did happen upon Postman's Park at last. The goal of the expedition, though, was the Hunterian Museum. Supposedly it's a resource for surgical education, but most of the stuff there can serve no purpose except freaking people out. The disembodied circulatory system of a baby, in particular, will follow me through my nightmares, and there was a syphilitic cock in a jar whose eye follows you around the room. Some of it is simply random - a jar containing a tapir's anus, another with the nipple of a horse - while other relics are celebrity underskin, like Jonathan Wild's skeleton or half of Babbage's brain. Hideous, yet wonderful. Very London.
alexsarll: (seal)
So there was enough to Friday that it got its own post, but there's been plenty of other stuff too. Impressive performances by Blood Angels and White Witches, the first semi-civilised sit in the park sociably reading the paper session of the season, and an attempt to celebrate Aug's birthday in spite of the birthday boy being incapacitated (hey, Jesus gets that treatment, and he wasn't even in Lifestyle). Plus - the Horniman Museum, essentially a massive collection of creepy stuff (and some peculiar musical instruments). It is famous for its impressively overstuffed walrus, but the taxidermy hall also contains the severed heads of several dogs and a spare fox for visitors to stroke - though the one item which really took me aback was the poor bloody passenger pigeon. They also had some mice which were still alive, or at least I really hope they were because they were definitely moving. Elsewhere, other items liable to terrify small children (and others) include ritual masks, instruments of torture, and quite the most lively/deathly statue of Kali I have ever seen. Oh, and there's an aquarium in the basement. Obviously. Where else would you keep the furry crabs?
Afterwards we sat in the sun with excitable doggies, and then I got to see how South and West London connect. I always presumed they did somewhere, I just wasn't quite clear on the details before.

Also - Doctor Who! 'The Time of Angels' is the first episode this series which I've seen twice, and the second time it's not just better, it seems shorter - no longer than an episode of the original show. Which is unusual, and brilliant. Rewatching it after the two multi-Doctor anniversary extravaganzas (and a couple of delicious sonic screwdriver cocktails) emphasises how much Troughton there is in Matt Smith's Mr Grumpyface performance, though what makes him truly magnificent is that he has elements of all his other predecessors in there too. And 'Time of Angels' itself...so far we've had Moffat writing an establishing story, simple classic Who. Then we had him writing an incoherent mess of a Rusty-style dystopia. But this is what we'd come to expect from his contributions - creepy, tense, potentially even better at giving kids nightmares than 'Blink'. He's mixed the Weeping Angels in with Aliens and Ring, shaken well, and run off cackling. I love it. But he still has space for mucking about as well, because if you know you can be scary you don't have to be po-faced about it. Hence Mike Skinner, masturbation jokes and that wonderful line about the brakes. I love it.
alexsarll: (bill)
Saw two of my favourite bands over the past few days - also, incidentally, the two bands I think of whenever some fool asks why young bands aren't addressing the issues of the day. Any time you see such a diatribe, remember the options: the writer is unaware of The Vichy Government or The Indelicates, and hence too ignorant for anything he says to be worth attention; or else the writer could not understand their lyrics, or did not consider them sufficiently political because they made no mention of 'Tony B Liar more like', in which case he is too stupid for anything he says to be worth attention. Both bands are confident enough that their sets were pretty much stripped of the old favourites, and both are creative enough that it barely registered because the new stuff is at least as good. Where matters diverged was in the support. The Indelicates had England's finest chanson man, Philip Jeays, solo and even better that way, wowing an incongruously young section of the audience; a particularly melodic and vaguely Springsteen incarnation of Keith TOTP & his etcetera; and the increasingly lovely Lily Rae. Vichy, on the other hand, were lumbered with one Joyride. Given they caused only sorrow, and stayed in one place (the stage) when we really wished they'd depart, I wondered whether this name might be cause for a Trade Descriptions case, but apparently not. Ripping off The Fall and the Mary Chain as ineptly as I've ever seen, and that's saying something, they managed to be thoroughly rubbish in spite of having one member in a Girls Aloud t-shirt and a song with the chorus "I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do".

Just finished Max Adams' The Firebringers - At, science and the struggle for liberty in nineteenth-century Britain, which is a frustrating bloody book. The main problem I had was no fault of Adams' - he overlaps quite a bit with Richard Holmes' Age of Wonder, which I'd not long read. But the comparison does show how Holmes' 'relay race' structure serves him brilliantly, while Adams lacks restraint and tries to tell too many stories at once, breeding confusion and occasional repetition. I was mainly reading the book in so far as I wanted to know more about John Martin, the painter who "single-handedly invented, mastered and exhausted an entire genre of painting, the apocalyptic sublime". I've loved his work ever since I saw his final great trilogy, Judgment, in what is now Tate Britain - it hangs there still, though very badly situated. He was big news in his time, though critical opinion was not kind then and is even less so now; as far as I'm concerned he still sits only a very little behind his friend and contemporary Turner as one of the best painters, never mind British painters, ever. Adams, on the other hand, likes him more than the critics but less than the Regency public. Then, for whatever reason, he has attempted to make this a group biography - perhaps because he was told they sell better now, on which more later. So we also get the other Martin brothers: Richard the soldier (his autobiography is alas lost, so he mainly appears in 'mights'); Jonathan (yes, confusing, but in an age of high child mortality it happened a lot) the religious maniac who set York Minster ablaze; and William, who started as inventor and ended another lunatic, riding around on a self-designed velocipede with a brass-bound tortoiseshell as a helmet, selling pamphlets about how he'd been swindled, a few of the stories true but most sheer paranoia.
Except the Martin brothers are still not enough, so they become a spine for 'the Prometheans', an undeclared, unrealised movement united in their desire to free mankind. Their membership includes Shelley, Godwin, the Brunels, various politicians...or does it? Because Adams' definitin of Promethean ideals seems more Procrustean; obviously most of his posthumous conscripts don't quite fit it, for which they are ticked off. Shelley was too extreme in his declarations, hence unpublishable and useless - but the Reform Bills were too timid and compromised. There is still good stuff to be salvaged from among this historical kangaroo court, but it's a trial.
And then, of course, the publishers clearly told Adams that The Prometheans wouldn't sell, so the title had to be dumbed down to The Firebringers. It's a bit of a mess, but not an uninteresting one.
alexsarll: (death bears)
This one's going to get geeky, so let's start by establishing that yes, I do sometimes engage in more socially well-adjusted activities. Well, if you can count going to the V&A (they have so much pretty stuff, but what is it *for* when lots of that stuff would be equally at home in the British Museum?), or attending a Britpop night in a Geneva t-shirt, or hanging out with [livejournal.com profile] fugitivemotel and at one stage uttering the phrase "Oz Season 7, starring Wizbit". And OK, at the party I attended on Saturday I did have a conversation about the Sisters of Mercy's much-better-than-other-bands-called-Sisters cover of 'Comfortably Numb'. So yes, it would seem I am in fact a hopeless case. Oh well.

It was September when I last posted a general State of the Comics Union moan. Since when, not much has changed. I've dropped an increasing number of series which, even if I vaguely want to read, I know I'll never want to reread. More are coming - when Astonishing X-Men and Ultimate Avengers reach the end of the current stories, they're out, because they're not bad little superhero romps but nor are they worth more than a quick read courtesy of the library and, if I've mis-guessed what the library will get in, I'll live. Buffy was in line for the same treatment after the sheer galling idiocy both of the identity of the season's Big Bad, and of the manner in which said identity was revealed (online via fake leak, not in the comic itself) - but Joss Whedon wrote the most recent issue himself and reminded me that it was seldom the big stories which made Buffy so much as the little moments, and this was they. Of course, the next arc is by Brad Meltzer and is going to have a Mature Readers warning, between which and his previous work we can doubtless expect some gratuitously rapey mess which gets me right back to quitsville.
But there's just so much coasting going on - and miserable coasting at that. Both DC and Marvel claim that a bright new direction is coming once the grim'n'gritty carnage of current events is done, but I've heard it all before (and I'm barely been reading anything from DC in ages, they're in such a joyless tangle). At Marvel what seemed like a brilliant idea for a while (businessman Norman Osborn aka the Green Goblin talked himself out of responsibility for his crimes and ended up effectively running the country, as the very rich always seem to manage - ring any bells, bankers?) has just been plodding on and on and remorselessly on. And now it has finally reached its endgame - Osborn and his forces attacking Asgard, home of Thor and his fellow gods, which J Michael Straczynski's run on Thor had relocated to Oklahoma. But the comic telling this story, Siege, feels from its first issue more like it's going through the motions of amending the status quo than like the epic story it should be. Brian Bendis, the writer, has previously had problems with the pacing in the middle acts of his big event comics, and this one was shorter so should have been better, but it's as if he's cut not the padded kidriff, but the kick-ass opening.
There's still good stuff, of course; of the titles I praised in September, Ultimate Spider-Man and The Boys are still delivering. The Walking Dead gets better and better, and I don't even much like zombie stories. Vertigo, previously responsible for Sandman, Preacher and The Invisibles among others, has become relevant again with Mike Carey's The Unwritten and Peter Milligan's Greek Street, two very different examinations of the unexpected legacy legends and fictions can have in the modern world. But, will either of them last? The economics of comics are so horribly marginal, it can never be guaranteed; both writers have a string of prematurely-cancelled titles behind them. Word of another casualty has just come in; Phonogram's Kieron Gillen has been doing some lovely work on a space-based screwball comedy X-Men spin-off called S.W.O.R.D., but weak sales mean it ends with the fifth issue. Meanwhile, he's trying his best on Thor but the aforementioned Straczysnki run left him with having to pick up from such a moronic start point (Latveria Is So Bracing!)* that he's really swimming against the current.
Another writer I usually think of as reliably great, Grant Morrison, is in more position to be master of his fate and work, but isn't really putting it to best use. His Batman & Robin hasn't maintained its strong start, getting bogged down in themes he's already done better elsewhere; I feel a real lack of anticipation for the imminent Joe the Barbarian; and as for his Authority...well, OK, it's not really his anymore. It's Keith Giffen scripting Morrison's plots, because Grant stormed off in a huff. And Giffen's a competent enough writer, usually, but it turns out that he can't write British. So Morrison's most thoroughly, heartbreakingly British lead since Greg Feely in The Filth now talks about leaving things in his other 'pants', and his first 'apartment'. The issue of The Boys set amidst the baguette-jousting inhabitants of the village of Franglais had a better ear for dialect than this.

And as if that little diatribe weren't bad enough, today the main thing lifting me out of the sense of 'meh' which comes with this horrible sinus-y cold is the storming victory my new-look Tyranid army managed in last night's game of Warhammer 40,000.

*I love Babylon 5 - mostly - but JMS' comics career has been one frustration after another. Either he loses the plot, or he falls out with the publisher and storms off, or in extreme cases, both. People told me his Thor was excellent but having been burned before, I waited. And I finally read the first two collections recently and lo and behold, this was one of the cases of 'both'. There's a lot to love: instead of talking in cod-Shakespearean English as previous writers so clumsily attempted, his Asgardians speak formally but coherently; it's the themes which echo Shakespeare now, with the prince uneasy on his father's throne, the adviser who whispers poison in a good but naive ear. And the abiding question: what do gods do when their legend is over? If they survived Ragnarok, what now? Yes, in a sense it would have been a better theme back in those days when we were told we'd seen the End of History, but it's still a fascinating one.
However. There are scenes in post-Katrina New Orleans and war-torn Africa which demonstrate that Straczynski hasn't learned a damn thing since his legendarily bad Amazing Spider-Man issue where Doctor Doom stood in the wreckage of the World Trade Centre and wept. And, though I've yet to read the third volume which fully explains how he got to where he left the series, I've seen enough to know that yes, what looked like a stupid idea which Gillen was obliged to pick up, was also a stupid idea approached from the other end.
alexsarll: (seal)
I hadn't been all that excited about Waters of Mars. I try my best to avoid spoilers, but I'd still encountered enough to make me very, very excited about Tennant's final outings as the Doctor and the Christmas regeneration. Especially after the lacklustre Planet of the Dead, this just seemed like another contractual obligation, a roadbump in the way. Until I saw the last trailer with the Doctor telling the crew of Bowie Base One that he was very sorry, but this was a fixed point, and he had to let them die. Then, suddenly, I was excited. spoilers )

Not the only Who showing at the moment, of course, because there's also The Sarah Jane Adventures. Except, half of this series has been written by the same Phil Ford who collaborated on Waters of Mars, and yet all his teatime stories have all been utter drivel. Yes, you can say 'it's only a kid's show' - and that's precisely what Ford must do, because every one of his stories has been an exercise in dumb 'will this do?', as against fine work by all the other writers. But the worst of the lot was last week's outing, Mona Lisa's Revenge. To spoiler you less than the trailer does: Clyde, the rebellious one of Sarah Jane's kid sidekicks, is suddenly revealed to have always been a gifted artist. So much so that he has won a competition (with some really bad graffiti-style girls-with-guns work) and the class have been invited to see the unveiling of the Mona Lisa, on its first loan outside the Louvre. A loan to a gallery run by a man who was apparently barred from the Louvre for his obsession with the Mona Lisa, so that obviously makes perfect sense. Except, oh noes, the Mona Lisa has come to life! Where she is played by someone who looks nothing like the Mona Lisa, can't act, and has apparently been chosen just because somebody thought it would be jolly funny if for no apparent reason, the Mona Lisa had a Northern accent. Now, all of this is pretty poor in and of itself. But what makes it really special is that the Mona Lisa has already been key to a Doctor Who story. Not some pissy little book or audio or whatever, either, but one of the best stories in the original series' TV history, the Douglas Adams/Tom Baker/Lalla Ward classic City of Death. Ford is writing for a spin-off while either never having seen this story, being too stupid to remember it, or being arrogant enough that he thinks he can go clodhopping all over it for some cheap laughs which don't even come off.
But hey, at least he's not writing the series finale.
Oh, and while we've had occasional updates as to what original kid sidekick Maria has been up to since she moved to America, her dad, nice Alan Jackson, can now be seen as priapic, indolent English professor Matt Beer in Channel 4's so-so new comedy pilot Campus. Which is quite disturbing.
alexsarll: (crest)
Sometimes we all get anxious - if time is money then it explains how time and money can get wrapped into a sort of unified field theory of worry which then starts pulling in everything else, however outlandish. And London, being not half so stony-hearted as some have made her out to be, tries her best to cheer you up, pulling aside the curtain so you catch sight of side-streets you've never seen before in all the times you've gone down that road, but you're so convinced that you're in a hurry that you mark them for future investigation, so she makes them more and more enticing until finally you crack and trot down there and suddenly, even though it looks like a normal enough little street, the light and the birdsong and the breeze all come together and counteract that knot of troubles and everything's alright again. And you carry on along your way, lighter of spirit, and accomplish your missions and find time to drop in on the British Museum too, where while looking for something else entirely you find a statue of the Remover of Obstacles which contains at least enough of his essence to convey the appropriate sentiment of "Hey, we got this! Relax." And you know that something will turn up - it always does.

Went for another walk later on, to take in the fireworks - and I've no idea what most modern Britons are celebrating these days, whether it's an expression of anarchist tendencies which I can hardly begrudge even if they have chosen an iffy figurehead, or if they just like blowing sh1t up. Personally, commemorating the defeat and brutal execution of the seventeenth century's answer to al Qaeda still works for me, but whatever it's nominally about, the lights, and the bangs, and the smell of gunpowder in the air..it's magical in itself. And this year there was no magic in the air on Hallowe'en, in spite of all the witches and vampires on the streets, but it's stupid to be purist about these things, for the nature of the magical is not to be constrained by formulae - if it were just another science then what would be the point?

In spite of not having to fit myself around a working day at present, I still find myself fitting more or less to a standard diurnal schedule - most of the time. Last night was one of the exceptions, charging drunkenly around Youtube looking for gems I half-remembered or never caught, like this Whipping Boy video, and making the sad discovery that 'Stranger Than Fiction' by Destroy All Monsters is not half so good as I remember. I also watched '£45 zombie movie' Colin; obviously the same thing that made me keen to see it (zombie Al!) is the thing which most hampers my suspension of disbelief, but even so it has some haunting moments. I worry, though, that telling the story from the zombie's point of view, making the zombie-killers such unsympathetic characters, will be very counterproductive come the zombie apocalypse.

Other items of interest:
- Grant Morrison and Stephen Fry are pitching something for BBC Scotland.
- A rather entertaining drubbing of Florence & the Machine.
- "Presenter Lauren Laverne has signed up to write a series of novels for teenage girls." Anyone else remember when that news would have been terribly exciting?
alexsarll: (seal)
I could just about follow the logic behind the scheduling of this year's Torchwood series; putting the five episodes across the five nights of next week to make an Event instead of just another series, and if people are out, well nowadays there's always iPlayer. I don't know whether it will work, you understand, but I can see why they think it might. What I don't get is then amping that up even further by having three radio Torchwoods too, and putting them on over the last three days of this week. Eight episodes over ten days is surely too much, and it doesn't help that the first one, 'Asylum', (all I've listened to so far) is utter nonsense. Jack is apparently now a slipshod racist and Ianto can quite happily do all the stuff Owen and Tosh used to do, so one wonders why they were ever needed in the first place. Gwen is still Gwen, ie annoying and wet, and all three of them can seemingly be overruled by PC Andy, who goes through about four different personalities in the course of 45 minutes, none of them remotely appealing. Oh, and contrary to what we may have seen over the course of previous episodes, apparently Torchwood has no experience of friendly dealings with non-threatening visitors from the Rift. No, really, WTF?
Still, if you want to listen to them (and yes, I know I'm going to persevere), remember that they'll start vanishing from next Wednesday.

Went to the Museum of London yesterday for the comedy, getting several blasts from my own past in the progress, but while I really enjoyed Milton Jones and Gavin Osborne, I was rather shocked by what's happened to Simon Munnery, from whose set I slunk away when he started talking about how much he loves his children. Until then there'd still been plenty of proof that this was still the warped genius behind Alan Parker: Urban Warrior and The League Against Tedium, even if he was maybe between flashes of inspiration right now - but just as songs about the artist's adorable children tend to suck, so does comedy. Except when it's about fooling them into eating cabbage, that bit was good.
alexsarll: (bill)
If you like Seth Rogen films, Will Ferrell films, basically any of the good comedies that have been coming out of America lately, you must see The Hangover. Went into it somewhat uncertain - against all those interlocking sets of funny guys, I didn't really recognise anyone in this except the dad from Arrested Development. But it is hilarious. There's little I can say without spoiling it, and you probably know whether you'll like it from the set-up; four guys go for a stag night in Vegas. They wake the next morning to find the room trashed, a tiger in the bathroom, and the groom missing. They have no idea what happened in between.

Raced through the last season of Battlestar Galactica this week and can't help but feel disappointed. she was a grand old lady - spoilers below and likely in comments )

Finally succeeded in seeing the Wellcome Collection yesterday. I had expected something more thoroughly medical in theme, but between the sex toys and torture implements and pictures of Wellcome himself in fancy dress with the 'tache to end all 'taches, I conclude that it's not that far from Sir John Soane's, just with a little more pretence towards being something other than one rich bloke's collection of crazy stuff.
alexsarll: (death bears)
The villain stands triumphant in the House of Commons, bloodied corpses on the benches to either side; comics are done about three months in advance, minimum, so when this was being written and drawn, there's no way anyone could have known that by the time it came out last week, that would not be the mid-story 'oh no, how can our heroes save the day now?' moment. That is no longer a cliffhanger, it's a feel-good moment. And, given the villain in question is the bloodsucker Dracula, one rich with poetic justice.
Marvel's version of Dracula seems to be deeply unpopular with readers of a certain age, but I don't mind him; more than I can say for the recent-ish Marc Warren version, which I foolishly attempted to watch over the weekend (vampirism is a bit like an STD and Victorians are hypocrites, DYS?). And I wish that were where I could leave the vampire topic, but over the weekend, I was cajoled into doing a very bad thing. Having been drinking for some hours, I was convinced to watch Twilight, and for all my ire at the very principle of a True Love Waits vampire story...it's not that bad. Though it left me with far more longing for a) the Pacific Northwest b) vampirism for myself than for that self-loathing pillock Edward Cullen.

Yesterday, a small group of those of us with whose services British industry has inexplicably and temporarily decided it can do without went for a lovely little wander around Bloomsbury, looking at comics and small blue hippos and getting bvkkaked by those fluffy seeds which are everywhere this spring. But in case that left everything too cheery, we finished it off with a couple of episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist, an anime based on a manga which had always looked to me like it was at the fluffy, Naruto end of the market. And yes, it has someone who goes all stylised and cute when people call him short...but it also appears to be a harrowing tale of magical misadventure, fascist government and implied genocide. Which is obviously brilliant. Plus, it has a camp alchemist called Alexander Armstrong, who had better declare it Pimm's o'clock by series' end or there'll be trouble.
And then home for the last ever episode of the police corruption horrorshow that is The Shield. I wasn't satisfied with every beat of it; spoilers )
alexsarll: (crest)
On Friday, the weather was nice enough that I realised I didn't have to come back home in between picking up my comics and late night opening at the Natural History Museum - I could just wander through London as spring woke it up. Not that it was exclusively an outdoor tour; pausing at the National I made the momentous decision that The Fighting Termeraire is no longer my favourite painting in the world ever. Fortunately, however, my new favourite painting in the world ever is only two along on the same wall, and also by Turner - Odysseus Deriding Polyphemus. I'm not linking to them because if ever there was a painter who doesn't reproduce well on screen, it's Turner. But it has even more magic in the light, and less of a sense of the passing of wonder, and I like the rocks. So that's that settled. Then on down to Bonnington Square to confirm that the daffodils are out, alongside various other spring-y flowers I fail too hard at botany to identify (though I suspect the white ones might be snowdrops), and along to Battersea Park, which until now I had only seen across the river, mysteriously pagoda-ed. It still feels a little mysterious when you're in it, all twisty paths and grottos, and the pagoda (unlike muck public art) feels just as curious up close as it does from a distant, rather than merely municipal. Battersea's an odd one, though - the Battersea Arts end is genteel South London, but approaching from Vauxhall you enter the park via a rough as guts district I can only presume is the mythical Nine Elms. From here, presumably, spawn also the chav brood who kept asking me for fags in the park, presumably convinced that they would eventually catch me out and get me to admit that I smoked.
The Museum late was considerably more civilised than the Science Museum's in terms of crowds, in spite of/because of having far less of the museum open for them to explore; the whole upstairs was shut, ditto the dinosaurs. All the shops were open, obviously. Still, wine and giant sloth, so hardly a dead loss.

Feeling Gloomy on Saturday night; unfortunately, there was one more band than I expected, and worse still I caught almost all of their set. Maddison, I think they might have been called. Avoid. Then on to The Firm who, in a nod to the old days, were in need of a bassist. Fortunately Simon Drowner stood in, and all was well. The Drowners remain, as the name hints, massively Suede-y, though also drawing a lot from the Manics, including the incongruously heterosexual drummer (who looks like Dan Snow and takes his top off after one song). And then Jonny Cola & the A-Grades, who have come on in leaps and bounds since I saw them last, now coming across like proper glam stars. Though I do feel that 'We're All Gonna Die' is such an obvious set closer that carrying on past it for two songs might not be the best way to organise the set.

On Sunday I wasn't going to go to the New Royal Family video shoot, because I had other plans and, as I said to a Sex Tourist on Saturday, I wasn't sure about being "that guy who's in all the New Royal Family videos". Then I got a text cancelling Plan A and thought, sod it, there are worse ways to be typecast. Even if I do always seem to end up having to feign disapproval of them; I'm a little worried that, like some soap villain, people will start to believe I genuinely am trying to stop them entertaining The Kids. Or I would be if I could act. Good times.

WWVMD?

Feb. 18th, 2009 11:52 am
alexsarll: (bernard)
Anyone know how to find the Search toolbar in Mediaplayer? I didn't even know there was one, but having seen it in action I want it, yet am experiencing IT Fail in finding it. Hurrah for pressing random buttons.

I was unaware until I happened past it on Tuesday, but there's a new Book & Comic Exchange branch in Soho, just up from the MVE on Berwick Street. Which isn't quite so bursting-at-the-seams as Notting Hill yet, but I still got a pretty good haul - the Spider-Man's Tangled Web collection with the Garth Ennis/John McCrea and Peter Milligan/Duncan Fegredo stories for £3, the one issue I was missing from the Morrison/Millar Flash run (a rather lovely Jay Garrick one-shot, 'Still Life In The Fast Lane'), and an issue of Warren Ellis' Doctor Strange run. Except it turns out he only did plot, not script, and what's the point of a Warren Ellis comic without inventive insults? The whole thing is a bit of a mess, though, even with some of the art coming from Mark Buckingham; it was part of the Marvel Edge line, which was Marvel's attempt to get some of that Vertigo action, which is here represented by such cringeworthy details as Strange's cloak being replaced with an Overcoat of Levitation...
I was in that neck of the woods because I'd been invited to lunch at a health food place in Covent Garden. Accepting which, and then being off the sauce all day, was clearly foolishness, because last night I was quite as ill as I've been in years. TMI ) And of course, when your time's your own then sick days lack even the compensatory charms they hold for workers.
Before this kicked in, though, I also had chance to make my first visit to the Wallace Collection, which I think maybe made a better home than it makes a museum. The stuff they have is generally the sort of stuff which makes for a good background, rather than something I wish to stand and contemplate - although the gender balance amuses me, rooms of arms and armour balanced by all that froofy Rococo stuff.

Won the pub quiz jackpot on Monday, but only just - we were exactly as far off the tie-break as one other team, and then in the tie-break tie-break, which was essentially guessing a random date, we were only one day closer than them. Perhaps it was the tension of that which undid me last night? Nah, I'm still blaming the so-called healthy living.

edit: More comics news just in - DC Announces 'After Watchmen - What's Next?' Program? And it has been amazing me how the Watchmen trade is now *everywhere*, although that is a mainly happy amazement as opposed to some people's reaction, so this is a smart move. So what comics are DC suggesting as the next step?Read more... )Whenever I think DC might be regaining some small fragment of the plot, they pull a stunt like this.
alexsarll: (magnus)
Proxy Music are the only time I've ever seen a tribute band where I've also seen the real band. Well, I once saw a Smiths tribute and I've seen Morrissey live, which I suppose the Eno hardcore might say is the same thing - although pleasingly, and contrary to what I heard, they're not entirely an Eno-era band. The shouts for 'Dance Away' failed to provoke a Step Brothers-style riot, and acknowledging that even Eno knows Stranded is the best album, they played a stunning 'Mother of Pearl'. If they have a problem it's that their Bryan Ferry is too naturally beautiful and too good a singer, but I suppose it's easier to find that than someone overcoming his deficiencies with sheer force of character like the original, who by definition would probably be busy being famous in his own right.
The Lexington, aka relaunched Clockwork, is not bad either. They've gone for a whiskey joint feel downstairs, like the Boogaloo with a more dedicated palette, but also got in more draught at prices which are the cheaper end of London pub. Plus, if people are still dancing and drinking they seem happy for a night to carry on past the advertised end time for, ooh, about 90 minutes when I left and it was still going strong. Recommended.

When all hope seemed lost, when the forces of darkness seemed to have triumphed and even our best and brightest to be unable to salvage things this time - Grant Morrison finally managed to write an issue of Final Crisis as we knew it should have been written. Where previous issues have been incomprehensible in a DC continuity frottage sort of way, this was incomprehensible in that joyous 'Grant's brain's exploding!' way we know and love. I am hesitant to quote it because I don't want to spoil it, and because I have little comment to add beyond wanting to punch the air pretty much every page. Those of you who read the collections - it will be worth reading this one, and putting up with the mess earlier, just for this ending. Although you might be best off waiting for an omnibus which includes all the Morrison components ie 'Submit' and Superman Beyond and 'Last Rites' too, because I can understand why people who didn't read those found it baffling. But as with Secret Invasion - if spin-offs are being written by the writer of the core series, why aren't people reading those too? What kind of mentality reads a comic Because It's An Event and not because they like the creators?
In an exit interview Morrison insists there were no rewrites - which I find implausible, but whatever. He also confirms something I've long suspected, that he really has no affinity with the character of Wonder Woman.

Went to the Science Museum's late session on Wednesday - what this means is, there are no bloody children cluttering the place up, so you can play with all the toys, and there's booze. Free booze if one member of your party is star enough to find a laminated 'free drinks' card lying around, which one of ours did. Go her. We were late in on account of a science jam when we arrived (the queue was around two sides of the fairly sizeable building. I am beginning to fear queues, I have seen too many lately). I was entertained by Foucault's Pendulum (chiefly on account of reading the book recently, it bored everyone else), loved the stargate-y laser-y thing (it had no placard I could see, so not that educational, but still awesome) and accidentally set off George III's microscope. Science!
In other Science! news, saw a guy at Russell Square yesterday who had about a dozen wires in his head, Just normal wires, in various colours, coming up from the back of his collar and then connecting to his scalp at various points where they went at least under the skin, and possibly further.

Teetering

Jan. 23rd, 2009 05:41 pm
alexsarll: (magnus)
I'm surprised more hasn't been made of Mick Harvey leaving the Bad Seeds. Mick's been working with Nick since The Boys Next Door, and I've always wondered how much of what we think of as Cave is in fact Harvey, particularly when listening to Harvey's other projects. I suppose now we get to find out.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond's second issue confirms that this is the comic Final Crisis should have been. Yes, Grant Morrison is reusing his old tropes again - breaking the fourth wall, Limbo, the self-evolving hyperstory, creators trapped in creation - but here there's a manic, fizzing joy and ingenuity I'm not getting from the parent Rock of Ages reprise. Some great 3D sequences, too - though should you happen, as I did, to look out of the window with your glasses still on, it brings a real moment of Crisis terror - RED SKIES!
Elsewhere in comics, Bendis' Dark Avengers may not have any lines to equal the best of Warren Ellis' Thunderbolts run, but in so far as it's taking that series' concept - Marvel's biggest bastards given the keys to the kingdom - to the next level, I'm very much interested. Thunderbolts, meanwhile, has gone deeper and darker under Andy Diggle, and this issue includes a considerably more substantial Barack Obama appearance than that meaningless fluff-piece of a Spider-Man back-up strip, albeit to considerably less fanfare.

Have been left with a nagging sensation that I've not used my leisure to best advantage this week, to the extent that I started getting quite angry with myself/the world and had to go wander the British Museum for a while to calm down. Silly, really - even aside from the nebulous business of Seeing Nice People, I've watched another Losey/Pinter/Bogarde masterpiece, Accident; seen the Soft Close-Ups and Mr Solo; and made a reasonably good start on Ulysses, so it's not as if I'm flicking myself off to Trisha just yet.

I know list articles are intrinsically pointless, and I know they're designed to provoke quibbling, so I'm not going to get up in arms about the omissions from the Guardian's Novels You Must Read, or the times where they've chosen a book which isn't the author's best. And I should be glad, I suppose, that one of the seven sections was science fiction and fantasy. But since when was Kavalier & Clay, The Man Who Was Thursday or The Wasp Factory science fiction or fantasy? They may not be dull enough to be literary fiction, but none of them takes place in a world that is not the consensus version of this one - except in so far as they are not true. If we say that the fictional comics in Chabon's book make it an alternate world, then so does the fictional MP in The Line of Beauty, and down that line every book bar the most tiresomely domestic becomes SF. Which would amuse me at least a little, it's true, but is patently nonsense.

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