Month: March 2015

Quote(s) of the day

Some of my favourite Discworld quotes:

Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don’t seem to have the knack.
– Guards! Guards!

The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.
– Jingo

He’d noticed that sex bore some resemblance to cookery: it fascinated people, they sometimes bought books full of complicated recipes and interesting pictures, and sometimes when they were really hungry they created vast banquets in their imaginations – but at the end of the day they’d settle quite happily for egg and chips.
– The Fifth Elephant

Sin is when you treat people as things. Including yourself.
– Carpe Jugulum

People -think- they want good government and justice for all, yet what is it they really crave, deep in their hearts? Only that things go on as normal and tomorrow is pretty much like today.
– Feet of Clay

He had always thought that heroes has some special kind of clockwork that made them go out and die famously for god and country. It had never ocurred to him that they might do it because they’d get yelled at if they didn’t.
– Jingo

There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot be easily duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
– Small Gods

The trouble with being a god is that you’ve got no one to pray to.
– Small Gods

The kingdom of Lancre operated on the feudal system, which is to say, everyone feuded all the time and handed on the fight to their descendants.
– Carpe Jugulum

It is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads, they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.
– Jingo

I remember my own granny sayin’ to me that a lady should always wear something in bed because it keeps a man int’rested, which is why I gen’rally find it convenient to keep my hat on.
– Nanny Ogg

books I’ve read lately

headerCMYKHoly Cow! by Sarah Macdonald

I’m usually not a huge fan of travel books – to me they can often feel like sitting through a stranger’s long tedious slideshow of What I Did on My Holiday. This author though spent some time actually living in the country, and India always fascinated me (and ok, I really liked the colourful book cover). I’ve been to India about nine years ago, and if I hadn’t travelled to Egypt a couple of years previously I’d probably have found it as much of a culture shock as Sarah did on her first trip. It leaves her absolutely hating India and she swears to never return again; however when her partner moves to India for work she follows him to New Delhi and tries to make a life there.

At first Sarah pretty much hates India all over again and is appalled by the poverty, noise, pollution, sexism, but after a near-death encounter with double pheumonia she decides to go on a sort of a spiritual quest and explore the many faiths present in India – Sikhism, Judaism, Hinduism, the beliefs of the Parsee among others. It made for an interesting reading, though I couldn’t help but feel that in the end all of her religion-hopping was rather superficial (though to be fair, she might have simply intended her book to be light reading rather than Religions 101). Though her partner is the reason for her moving to India, their relationship isn’t explored in great depth either and he remains a very sketchy presence. But you can see how Sarah warms up to India and learns to appreciate it, and overall the book was very entertaning.

Before-I-Go-Sleep-resized2-193x300Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson

This was one of those insanely addictive books where you skip a TV program you’d normally watch because you just have to know what happens next dammit. The premise certainly grabbed my attention – it is about a woman in her late 40s who, because of a past trauma, had lost most of her memories past the early childhood and is unable to form new ones for longer than a day. Every day, Christine wakes up as a clean slate, with no memories of the past day or the last week or the last twenty years. Her only human contact is with her husband Ben and a neuropsychologist who is interesed in her case and encourages her to keep a journal, which she finds and reads anew every day at his prompt. The journal in fact is most of the book and we follow Christine from day to day as she tries to piece her life and her past together. It’s to the writer’s credit that the journal entries avoid being too repetitive and instead feel like each one builds on what happened the previous day.

I find the themes of identity and memory absolutely fascinating, what are we after all without our memories? Because Christine is the sole point of view of the book, it always makes you question everything: are her memories what they appear? Are they real or simply projections and wishful thinking? How much can she trust anyone, or herself even?

Unfortunately, the ending was a letdown. I figured that a book like this must have a big dramatic twist somewhere, and I half-guessed it without trying too hard. The reason I only half-guessed it was because the full twist was too far-fetched and silly to even consider. It got more improbable the more I thought about it, and though the book ends on an ambiguous note the resolution still feels far too neat and happy. Shame because, until the last few pages, the book had me 100%.

1421010234753On Writing by Stephen King

I thought it was a fantastic craft memoir on par with William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade. It’s split into halves: the first one is where King recounts the events from his life which shaped him and his writing, and the second section is advice to budding writers, served in an engaging, no-nonsense manner. I wouldn’t call myself even a wannabe writer; though I’ve always had a vague ambition of writing my own fantasy novel one day I just don’t have the kind of burning desire and need to write King is talking about. Still, I love reading about the craft of writing, why particular stories work or do not work, how to structure sentences and paragraphs etc. My two favourite peeves of King’s in this book were the passive tense (really how much more gormless a sentence like The meeing will be held at seven o’clock sounds as opposed to The meeting’s at seven); and the use of adverbs in dialogue attribution. I wonder what he thought of Harry Potter books because J.K. Rowling freakin’ loves her adverbs.

Thank You for Discworld Terry

Terry Pratchett passed away today. I’ve known about his Alzheimer’s for years but despite everything I was always hoping he’d be with us for a while longer, certainly longer than 66 which is no age to die at all. And while Alzheimer’s is a tragedy for anyone, how much more cruel it is to happen to one of the sharpest, brightest minds in writing.

I’ve been a huge fan of Discworld for ages – I think read Carpe Jugulum first and then worked my way through the rest of the novels in a rather haphazard manner. It was and remains one of my most-loved fictional universes. I loved the inventiveness, the silliness mixed with the seriousness, the wit, the ear for dialogue, the social commentary and satire, but I think that what drew me in most of all was the sheer love Pratchett had for his characters. So, so many memorable characters – Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Vetinari, Cohen the Barbarian, the Librarian, Death, Susan, the wizards, the witches, the Watch, the gods. To be totally honest, I haven’t truly loved a Discworld novel since Wintersmith; the later books had their moments but Terry’s illness undoubtedly took a toll. Still, I feel so sad at the thought that all those characters’ stories have come to an end and there will never be a new Discworld novel to look forward to again. Unless someone continues them of course, but it will never be the same.

I don’t believe in afterlife but sometimes when a person like Terry Pratchett leaves this world I’d really really like for one to exist. I’d like to think that right now Terry is walking the black desert while having a deep conversation with Death on what a puzzling species humans are. And that whatever awaits him at the end of the desert is awesome.

The Imitation Game

the_imitation_game_a_pI had a discount movie voucher to spend before the end of February, so I decided to see The Imitation Game, which had stuck around the local cinemas for what seems like ages now. Despite the good reviews, I’ve resisted seeing it for a number of reasons; one, it didn’t look particularly cinematic. Two, biopics these days have become something like a grown-up, Oscar-baiting version of comic book movies – there are zillions of them and most of them are terribly formulaic and/or mediocre. And three, as much as I like the guy, did I really want to see Benedict Cumberbatch play yet another socially clueless genius?

Well, the movie does fall into some biopic potholes, but at least it tells its story way better than something like The Iron Lady which was rushed, bitty and had nothing going for it except the central performance. And I was dead wrong about Cumberbatch (god I just love typing his name!) – he’s not only fantastic at portraying aloof geniuses but he’s also great at making them distinct. His Alan Turing is highly intelligent and socially abrasive/inept just like Sherlock, but he feels like a completely different person in mannerisms, body language, speech etc. From what I gathered Turing’s anti-social tendencies were probably exaggerated for the dramatic effect, but still it was a memorable and very affecting performance, and it really helped to elevate what’s basically a solid movie into something more special.

Keira Knightley was very good as Joan Clarke, a sole female member of Turing’s team who also becomes his friend and, for a while, fiancee. She values the mind and the connection she has with Turing so much that she’s still willing to enter the marriage when Turing finally tells her that he’s a homosexual. I’ve seen criticisms that the movie plays coy with Turing’s sexuality and they do have a point; other than his boyhood crush on a fellow student we’re mostly told about it. I don’t think it’s too cynical to suggest that it was done in order to make the film agreeable to those in the audience who are quite prepared to sympathise with a man persecuted and hounded for his sexuality, but aren’t comfortable with it actually portrayed onscreen.

Like pretty much any British-made movie The Imitation Game had some familiar faces from popular TV series; a regular from Downton Abbey popped up and I really enjoyed seeing Charles Dance of Game of Thrones do his best Tywin Lannister death stare. Oh and I also spotted a guy who was the Duke of Buckingham in the first season of The Tudors. My favourite of the supporting cast though was Mark Strong as the jaded MI6 agent who is both rather sympathetic to Turing and has no problem manipulating him the way he sees necessary. I really enjoyed the interactions between Turing and his team and the moments of workplace comedy.

I suspect that the real-life story of cracking Enigma has been simplified like hell, but oh well just as well since I suspect that the technical side of it would probably sail right over my head. Also, I thought that the last scene between Turing and Joan was very Hollywood, but you almost can’t blame the screenwriter for wanting the poor broken guy to be told by somebody just how important and amazing his work had been. I thought it was the good Hollywood bullshit kinda in the same vein as Oscar Schindler breaking down in front of his workers at the end of Spielberg’s film – it’s something you just want to have happened.