I could insert a whine about how unproductive the long weekend was. I could bitch just that little bit more about the utter failure the client meeting was (short form: it got cancelled, but only after I’d left for it). But you’ve heard a tonne of the former, while the latter got hashed out on Twitter and Facebook at the time.
So instead, I thought I’d do a bit of waffling about books wot I have read and films and tv shows wot I have seen in the last few weeks. I’m not going to do full-on reviews or anything of that kind – I just really want to throw out some recommendations.
- The Celts – Alice Roberts
This is the book that goes with the BBC documentary series she and Neil Oliver did which aired in the latter part of last year, though you don’t have to have seen that to enjoy this, and enjoy it, I have. Non-fiction books can be quite dry, but this has a lovely style to it – I think I read it in less than a week – and it covers some fascinating history and even more fascinating theories. It’s also got a really good list of further reading which, as time (and money) allow, I’m going to be delving into. Just one question: what did the Isle of Man and Manx do to get repeatedly left out of the list of remaining celtic areas/languages?!
- Dynasty – Tom Holland
More history; this time of the classical variety. It’s not as easy to read as The Celts – but that’s more to do with the subject material (reading about
Caligula’sGaius’s excesses is never easy, Nero’s worse and let’s not even mention Tiberius’s activities in Capri!). In so far as a non-fiction book can be a sequel, this is – Tom Holland’s first book was called Rubicon and covered the period of Roman history that led up to Julius Caesar taking control of the Roman Republic. Dynasty, then, deals with what happened next, upto and including the death of Nero. You need a scorecard to keep track of who is married to who (Roman patronims will be the death of me someday, I’m sure), but there are family trees to help out, and it is absolutely fascinating to see that political maneuvering really hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. (Okay, there’s a lot fewer literal executions these days – but there’s still plenty of metaphorical ones!)
- Orientalism – Edward Said
Speaking of dry non-fiction, this book is practically the poster child for it. The first two thirds of it are a slog (and if your academic French is a bit non est, you may struggle with the quotes), but I found the last third was worth the effort because – to me – it really rather highlighted and explained a considerable number of reasons why the situation is what it is in the Middle East. (That said, this is not a book that’s gone onto my re-read pile. As interesting as I found that last third, I routinely used the rest of the book as an insomnia cure!)
- Beowulf – Return to the Shieldlands
Let me get one thing off my chest about this: how is there no storm of complaint that this is a Game of Thrones knockoff?! (I would suspect that, like a lot of fantasy writers, George RR Martin was at least slightly inspired by the original Anglo-Saxon poem, but this is not the poem!) I mean, even the theme music and opening credits are at least “inspired by” the theme/credits for GoT although there’s rather less nudity/sex/violence (mostly because it was broadcast at 7pm on a Sunday evening on free-to-air TV!). Let me get a second thing off my chest: the casting is another thing I’m surprised no-one has commented on. In this case, though, the casting is a good thing. I don’t think I’ve seen a British production with so many non-white cast members in before (which is, when you think about it, a pretty terrible indictment on British productions). There are also vastly more women in this than I was expecting – and they’re not just reduced to minor roles and damsels in distress either. And a third thing: are all the characters in this just screamingly dumb or what?! (And herein lies the real issue with this show.) Some of the characters get away with it by virtue of being young/inexperienced, but how does the well-trained healer not spot the very obvious poisoning case? How does a woman smart enough to be left in charge by her dead husband not realise her brother’s out to get her when he’s being as unsubtle about it as Elliot Cowan’s playing it?! And why for all the love of sweet monkey fritters did no-one suspect the guy with the funny accent and natty beard of not being who he said he was?!! Gosh darn it, he was claiming he’d been held captive for ten days or more and yet he looked like he was freshly bathed and shaved when they found him! (While we’re at it, whose decision was it to give Elliot Cowan that wig? He just looks silly. Oh, and the over use of pleather is rather troubling, too…) All in all, it is quite entertaining – the dialogue is snappy, the fight sequences are good, the locations (all in County Durham/Northumberland) are absolutely stunning and the overarching plot is interesting – it’s just badly let down by the use of the idiot ball. Lastly, am I the only person who thinks Elliot Cowan and Tim McInnerary look really rather similar? It took me three episodes to convince myself that, no, Abrecan was not about to start complaining about lorry loads of paperclips or behave like Lord Percy. (What’s really weird about this is that I didn’t have this problem with Elliot Cowan in Davinci’s Demons – don’t get me wrong; I noticed the resemblance, but Lorenzo Medici was never as outright cartoonish as Abrecan. I think that’s what does it.)
Why yes, that would be genre whiplash you’re feeling – sorry! I bought myself the box set of the whole series for an early Christmas present last year and I’ve been steadily doing a rewatch since. I’ve now reached the end of season eight and I can’t help feeling that season eight would have been the perfect place for the show to end. The last episode of s8 is just a perfect ending – it’s almost a shame they got a reprieve and had a ninth season (which is not to say season nine is bad – just that season eight was a better finish). My only other comment (which is possibly tantamount to herasy in the fandom but *shrug*) is: I like Jo better than I like Stella.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I need to rewatch this again, but when I’m not arguing with my computer equipment so I can give it the concentration it deserves. That said, it was still really enjoyable even under those distracting circumstances, although I’m not entirely sure I’m exactly sold on Kylo Ren or Poe Dameron – the former just sounds like a teenager in a snit most of the time; the latter comes across as the used-car-salesman C3PO was supposed to be. I’d have been quite happy if the latter had just stayed dead. (Then again, I could just be a bitter Rogue Squadron fan there – and I may also be just a touch miffed that Denis Lawson turned down a cameo role) Have to wait and see what episode VIII brings as far as he’s concerned.
So there you go.
There won’t be a post this time next week because *drumroll* I’m on vacation, but normal service will resume on my return.