Friday, January 25, 2013

It's the Friday video post! R'ha – sci-fi short

Amazingly, this sci-fi short movie was pretty made by just one guy (probably spending a lot of time in his flat in just his underwear). I have to say, the visuals are almost perfect – plus the story works too.

No doubt this guy is going to get some kind of job in Hollywood. It is such a brilliant piece of work that it really does make me feel very very inadequate!!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Do you like alternate history stories?

I'm quite a fan of alternate history stories. It all started for me when I read Fatherland by Robert Harris back in '92, but I've come to discover that this sub-genre of storytelling has been a part of popular culture for a great long time, stretching as far back as medieval times. Alternate history and alternate reality sometimes go hand in hand, so I guess I'm treating them as the same thing.

My first encounter with the whole 'alternate' idea was from reading the excellent 'Zenith' comic book series, which featured in British comic 2000AD. The story centres around a self-absorbed and lazy English superhero who is reluctantly enlisted to help overcome inter-dimensional beings intent on destroying earth. Making a point of being set in an alternate reality, Zenith begins by featuring a flashback to the end of World War Two when Berlin is destroyed by a nuclear bomb. When I first read it, I didn't 'get' the whole alternative history thing and thought the writers has made some sort of mistake, knowing that the first atomic bomb targeted Hiroshima in Japan. In fact, some anally-retentive reader wrote in to Tharg the editor, explaining in great detail the facts surrounding Hiroshima and smugly pointing out how the writers were incredibly stupid for getting it wrong the only for Tharg to patiently explain that it was an alternate history story.

With a story arc that covers three series (or 'Phases'), the alternative reality idea is explored further and further revealing several different realities of Earth (including one where dinosaurs and humans co-exist). I really enjoyed this series and regard it as a clever re-imagining of a tired superhero genre with a British twist to make it interesting. Needless to say, there were plenty more alternate reality stories to discover.

I remember watching the American TV series 'Sliders', which I only managed to catch the occasional episode of. The premise was simple: a small team use a device to 'slide' between alternate Earths via a wormhole vortex. Upon their arrival, they learn about how things are different to their home reality (Earth Prime) and overcome various plot challenges before jumping through the vortex into the next world. Because the slider device is faulty, they don't know where they'll end up next and are ultimately trying to find their way back home to Earth Prime. From what I can tell, the show was a bit of a shambles production-wise and over time veered away from the original premise (which focused on the different alternate histories of worlds visited). I remember enjoying what I saw, but always got the impression that the vision and the budget never quite squared up to each other.

When I read Robert Harris' book, I was intrigued by the concept that imagined a world where Hitler had won WW2 and the 'Final Solution' remained a terrible, dark secret. I thought this way of writing was new, but later discovered that countless alternative history novels had been written, including HG Wells 'Men Like Gods' and Philip K Dick's 'The Man in the High Castle' (of which, at the time of writing, I've not yet read).

It seems the idea of Hitler winning the war is nothing new. Len Deighton's 'SS-GB', published in 1978, is about a Detective in Nazi-ruled Britain investigating a murder in London that sparks interest from the highest echelons of the Nazi SS. Evidence of a conspiracy begins to unfold involving the British resistance and a plot to free King George VI from his prison in the Tower of London.

Back in 1964, just nineteen years after the war ended, 'It Happened Here' imagined what it would be like to see Nazi Stormtroopers roaming the British countryside. I've only seen clips, but what makes this film so terrifying is that it's so close to the time of the conflict that it's almost like watching a contemporary documentary. You can see a clip here:

I've only read a couple of alternate history books in the last few years. One is The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss, which imagines a world where America never gained independence from the British Empire. Set in the 60s, it's a very steampunk-ish world of biplanes and airships featuring a seasoned cop on the trail of Nationalist terrorists. I very much enjoyed this story, which had pace and ingenuity. It was fun to read about Americans drinking warm beer and using shillings for currency. I did feel, however, that is was missing a decent map (which I think is an essential for alternate history books, to help orientate oneself as a reader), although the book's Wikipedia page has a basic one to look at.

The other book I've read recently is The Mirage, which came out last year. Imagining a world where the Arab nations are the superpowers, it depicts the US and Europe as breeding grounds for Christian fundamentalist terrorists intent on attacking the arab states. Bagdhad is the equivalent of New York – a muslim cultural metropolis home to the world trade towers which are destroyed by the aforementioned terrorists in 2001. Washington DC is much like present day Baghdad with a 'Green Zone' occupied by Arabian and Persian troops after the attacks. What makes this story interesting (a secret service agent investigating a Christian suicide threat) is the notion that, essentially we are all the same (obvious, I know) and given the right circumstances, anyone could find themselves part of a global terrorist network.

I hope to read more alternate history titles in the future when I get the chance, although looking at the Uchronia website (a website dedicated to alternate history / reality fiction), there seems to be an overwhelming number of stories to choose from, so I'm not sure where to start!

The good thing about this particular genre is that the possibilities are truly limitless. If two parallel universes can be distinguished by the different locations of a simple atom (so the theory goes, I believe), then I can't imagine authors will be running out of ideas anytime soon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's the Friday video post! Homeboy Sandman (Getting to grips with the art of rap)

A friend from uni who I'm still in touch with via Facebook is a big fan of rap and hip-hop – not the big money commercial crap that's on mass-media moronic music stations, but the (apparently) decent stuff that not many people have heard of.

He's highlighting the good stuff via his 70 elevators blog, and I was intrigued by the music video from Homeboy Sandman, hence today's post.

Here I am, a middle-class near-40 year old blogging about rap music. Hah! Well, now I can say I'm down with the kids. Sort of.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Review of 2012

Thankfully the Mayans were wrong ... or rather, the people that thought the Mayans had predicted the end of the world (which they didn't) were wrong, and we managed to get through 2012 mostly intact.


And so, because I'm still here, I've written my annual round up of 2012 – that year that, um, was.

2012 has been a hard year for me, with many changes and pressures from all sorts of angles. If I could sum up the last twelve months in three words I'd probably go with these: tiredness, illness and busy-ness! That's not to say it's all doom and gloom. I've actually had some great times, it's just that I've had to experience them through something of a zombified fug. Oh, and I'm not saying 'woe is me' or anything. I know plenty of people who've had a harder twelve months that yours truly, so please don't think I'm complaining because I'm not. I'm just, you know, telling it like it is.

The most obvious thing to mention is the birth of No. 2 son, Edward. Unpredictably, he is very different from his older brother and so for us going from one to two has been big adjustment in a lot of ways. For the first few weeks he ate, cried and slept (as the little sprogs do). It was OK for a while, but as the weeks dragged on it got more and more exhausting. Ed has, so far, not been a great sleeper like his bigger brother was. Wifey has only had one night of 6 hours sleep. Other than that, the longest stretch has been 4 hours – and that's since April. I've been fortunate to have a bit more sleep, but not enough to feel fully normal so I can't say I'm my usual self at present. Admittedly things are slowly improving and Ed is beginning to get to grips with this wonderful thing called sleep. It has, however, been, eight months of pseudo-torture. Saying that, I must make the obligatory gushing comments about how cute Ed is and how proud I am of being a dad etc. etc. which is all true but being so knackered all the time don't half take the shine of things.

Anyway, to continue the moaning thread, I have another subject to tackle - illness!

Yes, not only have I suffered sleep deprivation on a hallucinatory scale, but plague and pestilence have darkened our doors and it has not been fun. For the first part of the year I was fine, but when the sleep deprivation thing kicked in I think my usually reliable immune system decided to give up. I have had numerous colds, flus, coughs and some weird thing that felt like a kidney infection but turned out to be a virus that rendered me virtually immobile for several days that even now I am still experiencing the after effects (albeit extremely mildly). Even though the actual time spent being ill is far less than being 'okay', the unusual frequency has clouded my view of the past year.

Right – that's enough moaning! What else have I got to say about the year?

Well, work has been the usual rollercoaster ride of uncertainty, chaos and fun but I am quietly confident about the next twelve months. We started employing three youngsters (well, they're under 25 which is young to me) thanks to some government funding which has helped massively. This time last year, being the eternal pessimist, I had my doubts about the future but I feel the complete opposite now about things. January through to April are likely to be extremely painful financially but I do think that the company has a good chance of pulling through and doing reasonably well by the autumn.

Faithwise, I have found 2012 to be a year of frustrated stagnation. Spending quality time with God has proven highly elusive and I don't feel like I've moved forward in my faith at all. This is annoying because I know that there is so much more I can learn about myself and God if only I put in the time. Not only that, a stagnant faith can veer toward no faith at all – which is slightly worrying.

On a positive note, I feel that God has been challenging me about how I handle situations, encouraging me to learn to 'chill out' a bit more. I've found that for almost every challenging situation I've found myself in, a solution has come along soon enough and that everything was fine. Panicking doesn't solve things any quicker or easier, and usually a sense of humour wards off any sense of despair and hopelessness.

Also, we had a great time in Bluestone, West Wales for our holiday back in July. The weather wasn't brilliant, but there was plenty to keep us amused and have a decent break. The weather did, however, make us think long and hard about going abroad in 2013 – which we will be doing (hurrah!).

So, what am I looking forward to in 2013?

Well, assuming my hunch is correct, I'm looking forward to things going well at work (no doubt there will be plenty of challenges which is handy given what I said above). I also expect we'll be buying a new car at some point. Our current vehicle has served us well but is beginning to cost us lots in upkeep and I fear it will get worse the more we use it. How we're going to pay for it ... well, that's an interesting thought. Our kitchen will need a new ceiling (ulp!), thanks to a leak I discovered just before Christmas. It will be a good week of disruption but worth it in the long run. Lastly, we have booked a holiday in Western France in the summer so can't wait for that (hopefully we'll actually get to see some sunshine...).

I don't have any resolutions as such but hope that God will help me to mature as a person in 2013, becoming a better dad, husband, friend, relative and work colleague (no mean feat, that!).

I just need to remember not to take things toooo seriously.

Happy New Year everyone!