The Islanders by Christopher Priest. Curious and original book set on a world where there is a "Dream Archipelago", maintaining a fragile neutrality between two warring continental powers. It's a collection of linked stories, many in the form of "gazetteer" entries, which graduall come together to give you a picture of some characters and events.
Like much of Christopher Priest's work it's on the border between science fiction and mainstream literature: there's a haunting atmosphere to many of the stories, and an emphasis on character and relationships.
However, without a linear narrative there's not much narrative energy to the book: it's great to read, but there's nothign pushing you to pick it up, so it took me a while.
Well-written and carefully constructed, it's definitely worth reading if you like books in this area.
What I'm Watching
Saw La Strada on disc. Classic Fellini movie about a wandering entertainer in Italy who effectively buys a teenage girl, Gelsomina, from her mother to be a clown/apprentice.
Very well-made, with an excellent portrait of the gritty detail of a marginal life on the road. However I found the tragic melodrama a bit hard to take. Gelsomina is realistically passive, but wished she'd take one of her numerous chances to DTMFA.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw the first two episodes of the new series of "Black Mirror". Didn't see the first series: I have mixed feelings about Charlie Brooker: he can be funny, but I wish he'd just switch the TV off and read a book if he hates it so much.
The first one "Be Right Back" started out well,with a creepily plausible service that looks at social media and private emails from a deceased person to simulate messages from them. However it got more like conventional SF/horror and sillier towards the end, which made me lose some interest.
Preferred the second one, "White Bear", which held the surprises till later in the episode, and seemed a bit more contemporary.
Spent a long weekend with my parents, together with my sister and her kids who were visiting, and my brother. Really good to have the whole family back together again, which rarely happens now, haven't had this kind of reunion for a few years My newest nephew is just three months old, and remarkably easy-going for a baby, seems happy and laughing most of the time.
However there were a couple of dark clouds. My father's Lewy Bodies Dementia seems to be accelerating: he's noticeably a lot more confused than he was last time. This might be the last time we get together with my father still reasonably OK.
Also, my wife was too busy with work to join us, unfortunately.
Random musings on politics
Can't remember if I've said this before, but it definitely seems to me that the political left and right have swapped places from when I was young
in the Seventies and Eighties.
Back then, the Right were impressively united and disciplined about getting into power. The Left were disorganized: ideological puritans weakened the centre-left parties electorally by insisting on extremes or defecting to minor parties, themselves constantly infighting. The Left were in favour of free speech: the Right tried to enforce public morality by McCarthyite witch-hunts and Clause 28-like rules on education. The Right engaged with contemporary economics: the Left were economics-denialists painfully insisting that nationized car and steel industries were better than private competition.
These days, the leftist parties seem more disciplined: in America the Obama-era Democrats put up a united front, while the Republicans are weakened by Tea Party puritans who insist on extremes; in the UK, UKIP suck in some Conservative support, and the Conservative right use that threat as an excuse to veer right themselves. The Left try McCarthite media tactics like the attempt to keep Orson Scott Card out of DC comics, and try to police free speech. The Right are economics-denialists, firstly claiming not to believe or understand the basic concept of Keynesian stimulus, but also ignoring the last few decades work on market imperfections, still firmly insisting that real markets must always be stable and efficient.
Not sure what it all means.
Politics. Work programme fails, but though flawed, not much can be expected. The Fading Conservative Brand. "Whereas politics used to be something one undertook after gaining experience in other careers, it is now a stepping stone...to bigger money." Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks. Let's be clear:
Orwell argues that the sins of obfuscation and euphemism followed inevitably from the brutalities of his political era. In the age of the atom bomb and the Gulag, politicians reached for words that hid unpalatable truths. By contrast, our era of vague political muddle and unclear dividing lines has inspired a snappy, gritty style of political language: the no-nonsense, evidence-backed, bullet-pointed road to nowhere.Articles. Ian McEwan: When I Stop Believing in Fiction. Spartan myths. Peter the Great statue in Deptford. Why I hate the cult of Bill Hicks. Why the Pentagon hates Obama's drone war.
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