Thanks to a complicated mixup where I booked a day off and didn't need it to look after the toddler, I ended up with a whole working day to myself lately! Went into town and saw a couple of exhibitions. Crossed Waterloo Bridge and had a look at the buildings that have gone up. Went to Primark and bought a £2 hat. Then went to the cinema for the first time in two years.
My terminal insomnia is back but the toddler is sleeping a bit later some days, so I get to watch stuff in the morning sometimes too.
What I'm Reading
Half a War by Joe Abercrombie. Final novel in the Shattered Sea trilogy. The first volume seemed a little weak, but the second and third volumes are very good: vintage Abercrombie with cynicism, blood, violence, nice lines and memorable characters.
This one brings the series to a great conclusion. Well worth reading if you like low fantasy
What I'm Reading 2
The Last Panther by Wolfgang Faust. Described as a memoir by a tank commander, this book describes the experiences of a Panther soldier in the battle of the Halbe Kessel in the closing stages of World War Two. Encircled by Soviet forces, the remnants of the German Ninth army made a desperate attempt to break out and fight their way to the Elbe river and surrender to the Americans instead, rather than be sent to probably death in the Gulag.
Though the writing is a bit amateurish, this tells a harrowing and tense story, full of both tension and gritty technical detail. The brutality and violence around are a shocking reminder of the horrors of war.
Unfortunately, as the story unfolded I became a bit skeptical about how much of this could have happened to the same guy. There's no one incident that seems impossible, but it seemed hard to believe that so much could happen to this one guy. I was hoping it was an exaggerated but genuine memoir, but from Googling and reading reviews, the tank nerds seem convincingly certain that the whole thing is a work of fiction. There are subtle technical and historical details wrong, nobody's heard of the author and it seems unlikely that such a memoir would just appear out of nowhere so much later.
So, I feel pretty cheated though I found it compelling at the time, and the overall battle unfolded as described. If you read it, read it as a novel.
What I'm Reading 3
The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino. Myth-based fantasy novel, translated from the Japanese. A priestess in the underworld tells the story of her death, and how her goddess came to be there. I liked this a lot. It manages the difficult trick of mixing the style and elements of a myth with the more naturalistic feel of a novel. Has a decent plot, thorough world-building, and interesting characters. Might be a bit lacking in pace for some.
Saw the Celts exhibition at the British Museum. Enjoyed that a lot. There's some great stuff there: huge numbers of torcs, kilos-heavy jewellery that they used to show how they were strong as well as rich, shield, swords, cauldrons. What's particularly interesting is that very little is known of them, so you have presumed-gods holding a deer by the neck in each hand, but nobody knows anything about the story behind it or the names of the gods.
The exhibition is at pains to point out that the word "Celt" doesn't really mean anything. The Romans used it very vaguely to mean "any European who's not part of our Mediterranean culture", but never applied it to the people then living in Scotland or Ireland. These days it gets applied to Scots, Irish and Welsh, but they didn't necessarily have anything to do with the Italian Gauls. So it can basically mean a wide variety of people and cultures.
Good exhibition, worth a look
Also at the BM is Drawing in Silver and Gold, an exhibition of metalpoint drawings. That's when you drag a thin stick of metal over paper with a rough layer applied. The advantage is that these look pretty much the same as when they were drawn. Fascinating to get up close with Leonardos and Raphaels, and some of the work here is exquisitely beautiful. Very glad I saw it, though the £8 price tag is a bit steep for one large room.
What I'm Watching
Saw The Martian at the cinema! I liked the book, and the film brings it to life brilliantly. Ridley Scott does a great Mars. The 3D is used well for the swirling duststorms and space scenes. Fortunately they seem to have resisted the urge to dumb it down too much or add more plot elements. Though there are a few awkward moments where you have to pretend that nobody at NASA would have heard of a gravitational slingshot.
Very glad I saw that. Looking forward to my next movie trip, presumably in 2017 some time...
What I'm Watching 2
Saw The Zero Theorem on DVD. Terry Gilliam makes his usual movie again: this time it's Christov Waltz as a sad man working for an oppressive corporation encountering an MDPG free spirit who might give him a chance of escape.
I liked some of the visuals, especially the adverts that follow you down the street, and the vast array of forbidden-stuff icons in the park.
Getting a bit fed up of the old Boomer schtick of "Oh I have a decent-sized house and a steady job but I'm not self-actualized or some shit" though. Job for life with an oppressive corporation that lets me live in a huge abandoned church right in the city centre? Sign me the fuck up.
What I'm Watching 3
Saw I'm So Excited on DVD. Comedy about the crew and passengers of an airliner in trouble deciding to party their troubles away.
Felt I ought to see at least on Pedro Almodovar movie. Seemed decent enough but not really my cup of tea.
Socioeconomics. David Willets: Pensioners prosper, the young suffer. The Sharing Economy is the Shabby Economy. The Jobs Miracle looks mostly miraculous in London. The age of the torporation. Effect of CEOs on performance less than thought. IFS: Pensioners now have higher incomes than the rest of the population.
Sci/Tech. Fieldwork fail.
Politics. Portugal: The Fallout From The Greek Crisis Threatens European Democracy The Tory assault on housing associations is another betrayal. "Cracks in dam" over court charge. Selling Britain by the yuan. Labour's plans for the railways. Demonstrator cleared of being responsible for a sticker someone else stuck.
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