Archive for March, 2010


my first thought when i heard this, was ‘oh my god, this is the most awesome news i’ve had all year’ (you can tell it’s been a rubbish year for me so far). the second thought i had, was ‘this could be really really shit’. of course, my third thought, was ‘who cares, this is going to be the best thing to happen in ages!’. as you might be able to tell, i’m pretty damn happy that one of my favourite cult films ever – Tron – is getting a sequel only 28 years after the original came out, in the form of Tron Legacy. you can watch the trailer if you click this link here!

i can’t remember when i first got to watch the film, but seeing as it was released a year before i was born, i’m guessing it was on tv at some point in the late ’80s.  for years it was one of those films that were just a vague memory from my childhood, i couldn’t remember the name of the film, and i could barely remember what happened in it, apart from the super cool bike chase sequences and the laser frisbee fights. it was only years later when trying to describe this obscure film from my childhood to a flatmate at uni (after years of baffling anyone i mentioned it to), that they said casually, ‘oh, you mean Tron, yeah, it’s ok’. finally after all these years, i could actually go into a shop and seek out this lost film from my childhood. a similar story surrounds my quest to find Krull, after years of wondering what the hell that awesome film i saw in 1988 was, with only the flimsiest of details to describe it to blank-faced friends.

anyway… onto Tron Legacy. the good news is that they’re retaining some of the characters and actors from the original, with Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles as Flynn and Tron, although the setting comes over 20 years into the future of the original, as Flynn’s now grown-up son discovers the computer system his father disappeared into years earlier. the film even has John Hurt and Michael Sheen making appearances, and as if the film couldn’t get any better, Daft Punk are doing the soundtrack, and rumoured to be performing cameos in the film itself. from the trailer, it looks like the futuristic, electro-neon feel of the original film has been maintained, with the now dated (though advanced for 1982) special effects given a makeover for the year 2010. it’s too early to be making predictions or reviews at this point, but with the news that Tron Legacy will be presented in 3D digital and Imax 3D, i’m fairly sure that it’s going to be a massive hit, and i actually can’t wait until its december release date, later this year.

co·pa·cet·ic

adjective slang
fine; completely satisfactory; OK

not sure exactly where this comes from, but i’m assured that it’s a perfectly cromulent word. internet speculation suggests that it’s got roots in prohibition america, or black parlance in 19th century southern USA when used by jewish shopkeepers. everything i’ve found on the internet seems to dispute exactly where it comes from, but nevermind. it’s still a good word to describe my weekend, which was most copacetic.

Hot Rod was always my favourite transformer. when i was growing up, my two brothers had huuuuuge collections of transformers toys, with one collecting autobots and the other collecting decepticons. all i was left with was a couple of small crappy toys that had sparks fly out of the back of them as you dragged them across the floor (which were obviously pretty cool, but nowhere near as cool as massive robot toys that turned into guns, sports cars and fighter planes). unfortunately, when transformers was still being published by marvel comics, i was just a little too young to be getting into them, so all my memories come from the toys and the 1986 animated transformers movie, which i somehow managed to procure a pirate copy of at the age of 7.

i’ll probably alienate most of the people reading this now, but i always thought Optimus Prime was a bit of a dick. i mean, for a start, he just turned into a big truck. Galvatron/Megatron turned into massive guns! and  Hot Rod’s sports car was infinitely more kickass than either Prime or Ultra Magnus’ freight trucks. added to this, Prime was killed by being chucked over a cliff by Megatron and proceeded to hand leadership over to the biggest pussy on the autobot side. it was only once Hot Rod came to the rescue and relieved Ultra Magnus of his duties that everyone was saved from being screwed over by the planet eating robot, Unicron.

apparently, one of his catchphrases was “action is my middle name”, which is pretty cool, as long as you forget that another one was the slightly more rubbish “wisdom will always defeat firepower”. like most transformers, he could fire lasers out of his arms, but he also had a retractable saw blade in his arm , which let’s face it, pisses all over anything Ultra Magnus or Optimus Prime had. in fact, the only downside to his whole character, was when he had to take on the crappy name of Rodimus Prime, upon taking over leadership of the autobots. but then again, i guess crappy names kind of go with that job.

everybody needs good androids

androids, everybody needs good androids,
androids, should be good and should be true,
androids, though we’re only made of metal
androids, have feelings,
androids, have feelings,
androids, have feelings too…

i love robots, and of course by extension, androids too. anyone who likes Red Dwarf will probably recognise where the above lyrics come from, and that program was just one of the many tv shows, films or books that use androids, robots or computers as central characters. as a sci-fi fan, you’re hard pressed to find a piece that doesn’t utilise some kind of artificial intelligence, but what i want to know, is why the hell do robots rock so much?

the beauty of sci-fi, is that it opens up whole other worlds (both literally and figuratively) that you can’t experience in standard fiction. artificial intelligence is something that has always been seen as an almost unattainable dream in the real world, and as such, sci-fi enables us to explore the ends of our imagination, or conversely, experiences much closer to home. robots are one of those things where you can really stretch those boundaries. you want a robot who acts, looks and thinks like a human? look no further than Super-Toys Last All Summer Long (later adapted for the film A.I.) by Brian Aldiss. how about self aware robots who long to be human, the so-called ‘Pinocchio trope’? just look at Star Trek‘s Data, or Andrew in Asimov’s The Bicentennial Man. let’s look at the other end of the spectrum… for robots that shoots bullets out of their hands, see the T-X in Terminator 3 or ED-209 from RoboCop. we’ve even got robot planets that swallow other planets in Unicron from Transformers: The Movie, or Minds capable of caretaking entire orbitals in Iain M. Banks’ Culture series. robots can pretty much do anything we want them to in fiction (if not in real life… yet) and this makes them superior in many way to organics, who are necessarily restricted by the limitations of the human (or alien) body. what many novels/films etc then tend to explore is whether this technological superiority is a worthwhile trade off for the loss of the human spirit, or often how these artificial intelligences can lead to further exploration of what makes us uniquely human.

luckily for people like me, for every robot desperately seeking to discover the secret to humanity, there’s another one who’s gone crazy and is hellbent on killing as many humans, with as big an armory of weapons, as possible. because in the same way that androids are infatuated with humanity, sci-fi fans like me are fascinated with everything about robots that is different to us, whether it’s their vast intelligence (see Deep Thought in hhgttg), their massive guns (ED-209), or their psychotic tendencies (HAL 9000). just for robot’s sheer awesomeness, i salute them, and in the event that robots do ever take over the earth one day, i hope that this blog survives long enough for them to read it as i pledge my unending loyalty to our new cyborg overlords.

ps: watch out for an occasional robot of the day series!

i resolved this year to finally get off my arse and start reading again, so after a brief foray into the world of 1984 and Winston Smith, i decided to work my way through the backlog of Iain M. Banks novels that i have lined up on my bookcase. i’ve not read Look To Windward before, but i knew it was a part sequel – inasmuch that the two stories are set 800 years apart – to Banks’ first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas. in fact, the titles of the two stories come from the same T. S. Eliot poem, The Waste Land

Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you. T.S. Eliot

the story starts off flitting between three different characters Ziller, Quilan and Zlepe, unusually leaving you guessing as to who the main protagonist of the piece is. This ambiguity continues throughout most of the book, leaving you never quite sure which, if any, of the characters you’re supposed to be sympathising with. Ziller, a stubborn yet gifted composer from the planet Chel provides many of the laughs in the book, as he struggles to cope with the smug representatives of the Culture who try to persuade him to meet with the Chelgrian emissary, apparently sent to persuade him to return from his self-imposed exile on the Masaq orbital. Major Quilan, the man sent to retrieve the errant composer, on the other hand is a hard, outwardly emotionless individual, yet inwardly tormented by the death of his soulmate and wife in the Chelgrian civil war. Culture academic Uagen Zlepe threatens to become a major character until about two thirds of the way through. by the end of the novel, the reader might be forgiven for wondering exactly what purpose Zlepe serves as he appears to contribute nothing to the eventual outcome of the plot, a red herring in the culmination of the story. however, on deeper analysis, while Zlepe’s storyline never converges with Ziller and Quilan’s, it serves to reinforce some of the wider themes encountered elsewhere of death, civilisation, immortality and the fact that even the Culture pales into insignificance in comparison to other forces found throughout the universe.

one of the oddities of Look To Windward is that throughout Quilan’s story, we have just as much idea of what his mission entails as he does himself, which is to say – not much of an idea. as mentioned earlier, this gives the effect of not actually knowing who the main protagonist is for quite some time and it is only as other ancillary characters (such as Ziller, Kabe, Zlepe etc) fade into the background, that we see not only the extent of Quilan’s deep involvement in a plot to destroy the hub Mind, but also the cementing of his position as the true tragic hero of the novel. Quilan’s unexpected accomplice in his partial redemption is of course the Culture hub Mind, who as the novel goes on, reveals similar feelings to Quilan, of loss, grief, guilt and emptiness.

what i found interesting in Look To Windward was the likeability of almost every character. the Culture representatives mostly exhibit the same smug civility found in the majority of Banks’ novels, Quilan’s sombre, dutiful nature was offset by his grief stricken interior, and even his companion, the militarian Huyler, whose consciousness is implanted into Quilan’s mind becomes a hero of sorts when his true role as Culture agent is revealed at the conclusion of the novel. in fact, the real villains of the piece – the Chelgrian Puen and their co-conspirators – are never truly revealed or focused on. what this has led to, is criticism from many fans of hard sci-fi and Banks’ earlier work, that Look To Windward is short on science and high on emotion. while it is true that there is barely a hint of action throughout the whole novel, i found myself taken on an emotional journey that dipped, turned and somersaulted like any of the great sci-fi action novels i have read. the final few chapters in particular, as Quilan and the Mind’s deaths play out left me close to tears with the highly charged finale to Ziller’s symphony perfectly coupling the exquisitely choreographed deaths of the bereaved Mind and Quilan. once again, a Banks novel has left me utterly shocked, yet elated at the end of it. my only problem now is trying to decide whether to pick up another of the Culture series, or to give myself a break from the emotionally charged Banks style, by going for something harder, like Ballard, Clarke or Stapledon.

cor·us·cate

  1. To give forth flashes of light; sparkle and glitter: diamonds coruscating in the candlelight.
  2. To exhibit sparkling virtuosity: a flutist whose music coruscated throughout the concert hall.

i discovered this word in a guardian review of a book i’ve just finished reading (Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks, blog post in the pipeline). it’s such a beautiful word, whatever context you’re using it in, but the way the guardian used it to describe banks’ novel gave me one of those moments when you think the word must have been invented, just for this one use…

“ever since his first novel, the wasp factory, in which the narrator didn’t even know his/her own sex, Banks has demonstrated an exceptional flair for misdirection: the more you know him, the more you distrust every apparent fact. there’s a word to describe this quality of writing. it was a favourite of E E “Doc” Smith, an SF writer of the old school who used it whenever one of his spaceships was blasting the hell out of another: coruscating.” Guardian review: Look To Windward

i guess before i start this blog, i should write a little about myself so that future readers (if there are any, i’d hate to be too presumptuous) can look back and see who wrote it, and why they’re reading it.

first of all, i’m ted, a boy/man from bristol (uk) who is in the process of trying to break his debilitating internet addiction. i know, i know… if i’m trying to break an internet addiction, why the fuck am i starting a blog? well i suppose this is an attempt to chart my progress as i ween myself off message boards, halt my endless wikipedia sessions and drastically cut down on the daily chore of ‘checking my internets’.

hopefully, this blog will mostly be a series of posts about my bid to re-engage with my love of the english language. i’ll try and keep you updated on books i’m reading, occasional ‘word of the day’ posts, thoughts about grammar and the way we use it, and other perhaps more banal offerings from my day to day life. this may variably include anything from the latest sci-fi book i’ve read, to telling you about my day out at the football. the world is my oyster, and if nothing else, this will at least be a decent way of remembering what i’ve been doing with myself when i look back on my wasted life a few years down the line…

note: as the more grammatically pedantic among you may have noticed, i don’t use capital letters. please rest assured that this isn’t due to ignorance on my part, but merely an affectation borne through years and years of posting on internet message boards to save time. call it laziness if you like, but i prefer to refer to it a little more kindly as ‘house style’

anyway, that’s enough from me… i hope you enjoy the blog!