Someone I was at university with got elected as an MP in the byelections on Thursday night. He was a few years older than me, I didn't know him, only had occasion to speak to him maybe 10 times, if that (he was a close friend of an acquaintance). Still, he's been an internet entrepreneur, and is now an MP.
Too much fucking perspective, man.
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Happy belated birthday to musesfool
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The Butler Report on the intelligence failures that led to the WMD claims came out earlier this week and showed the same fatal desire of the establishment not to start throwing blame in any direction but instead conduct a forensic examination of the evidence then fail to deliver any sort of verdict except the narrowest of judgements based on asking the fewest searching questions possible. See also Hutton Inquiry.
I did hear that the one question Butler was terrified he would be asked was "should the prime minister resign on this issue?". It's alleged that he had three answers but no one knew which one he would give. In the end Butler wasn't asked and the government is claiming the report as a partial vindication because the intelligence was dodgy and they didn't know.
However, someone in the government removed the caveats that stated that and instead presented a case that was wrong. I think that's a resigning matter.
There was some vile little weasel of a junior minister on Any Questions, whose whiny, toadying references to "Tony's integrity" and "bravery" made me want to shove his teeth so far down his throat that he'd be pushing his toothbrush up his freckle to clean them.
I notice the Bush administration doing the same kind of PR operation, saying that an honest mistake was made and that all of those involved are honest people with personal integrity, as if that's some kind of defence. In fact, the amount of spinning of the reports of weapons of mass destruction leads me to believe that their integrity is the last thing we should accept without question.
Since when was presumption of personal integrity a defence for deception? I could not be more disgusted with this prime minister.
I've put some real effort into it, but no, it turns out that I *couldn't* be more disgusted.
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Okay, so I went and looked at fanfic_hate. I deleted my first, ill-tempered response to doing that. [Aside to grifyn: Aye, if you like].
Sweet crispy Elvis, what a trainwreck. It's like all the loonies came out for one last playtime. No throwing bile in the sandpit, children! Please stop hitting each other with the toys. Please don't work out your bizarre persecution complexes anywhere near me, ya big freak.
I have to confess though, that something snacky said made me laugh until I wept but otherwise, it was all a bit manky.
I have bitched about bad things. Mostly affectionately, I hope, though sometimes not, but almost always in private, as it's best done there. Unless of course it's in the Parthenon galleries of the British Museum, because that was comedy *gold*.
Bitching under a pseudonym is like pulling on a balaclava to moon the vicar on the street. Yes, no one knows it's you but it upsets the vicar and many people are going to wish that the cold would give you dangly bulbous piles the size of plums.
I've not really worked through that simile, have I? What if you don't wear a balaclava, what does that get you?
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One of the things about mainlining fanfic that I found was that it's pretty much the reading equivalent of going to Random Kebab Shop when you're drunk -- you might end up with something wonderful and nutritious, but frankly, the odds are not good and nor is your judgement.
I felt vaguely guilty about spending so much time reading yes, wonderful things, but also some of the most terrible purple prose and crackheaded toss-for-plots stories. Hours and hours wasted, albeit enjoyably.
I think I felt all of my other reading should be *serious* and *important* and *worthy*. As a consequence I've spent the past two years often reading books that bored the tits off me. Crude, but there you go.
One of the rather lovely things about emerging from that state of Must. Read. More. with regard to fanfic, is that I no longer feel as though I should be reading serious, important, worthy tomes.
I've rediscovered the joy in reading books which are not necessarily any of those things, because I'm reading things I can discuss with other people again.
About four months ago, they were promoting that BBC Big Read poll of the 100 most popular books as voted for by what the BBC insists on calling "YOU! The GREAT! British public!" (Yes, yes, whatever, begone with your enthusiastic sucking up) and they had a three for two thingie at Waterstones, so I picked up some of the books I didn't have already, including one called Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
It turns out that this a YA book and I quite see why enough kids would be motivated to get online and vote it into the list.
It imagines a world that's very like apartheid South Africa but also a lot like modern Britain. The world is divided into two groups along racial lines: Noughts, who have almost nothing, and Crosses, who control the wealth and the reins of power. Noughts and Crosses. Blankers and Daggers. The two narrators of the book, in alternating chapters, are Callum McGregor, a very intelligent Nought who is one of the first to be accepted to a Cross school under a controversial school integration policy, and Persephone Hadley, the daughter of a government minister, who is his best friend. Sephy, of course, is a Cross, but the two have always played together because Callum's mother was nursemaid to Sephy and her sister.
The story follows Sephy and Callum as they grow up and fall in love despite the opposition of everyone around them -- and what happens when Callum's older brother Jude joins a militia rather like UmKhonto we Sizwe, which is dedicated to the overthrow of the status quo.
And the most important *and* least important thing to note is that the Noughts have white skin, and the Crosses black.
Sometimes I think that only supposed children's books are allowed to tackle this kind of role-reversed 'imagine we're South Africa' fantasy. When it's done by adults, they can be accused of over-simplification of a difficult situation or even racism.
Yes, this is also a drastic over-simplification but it remains very powerful by pointing up the insidious ways in which racial differences can be highlighted in a fundamentally unfair and racially regimented society. There are all kinds of sharp little digs about everything from use of information and identity cards to what is considered proper use of language and the beauty ideal.
You couldn't make much of a case for Malorie Blackman being a great writer. Her prose is functional, terse, albeit with a nice line in sarcasm. In general, she's thumpingly obvious: don't seek subtlety here, you won't find it. However, she's got real gifts as a storyteller and as a creator of very flawed characters that it's easy to sympathise with. Sephy, in particular, is well-drawn, going from idealistic but naive to world-weary.
But what Blackman really likes is to take the reader, punch him in the gut and then kick him while he's down. Then stamp on his goolies for good measure. I like that in a writer.
Everything that can go wrong for the McGregor family does, and almost nothing Sephy does helps. At the end, almost everything is destroyed and the ending made me wail "No! You can't do *that* in a book for children!"
Except, of course, you can when it's for young adults and that's the logical worst-case scenario.
I immediately went out and bought the sequel, Knifedge, which led to a further good kicking from Ms Blackman, because it was just *painful* to read what happened to Sephy.
There's also one brilliant and wrenching sequence in which Jude beats a Cross woman who loves him (and who he loves) because of his own self-hatred. It gave me goosebumps.
The reader as masochist.
I will be buying the third in the trilogy when it comes out too because I *have to know* what happens next. (this is exactly what happened to me with Harry Potter. I picked up the first one because I read something, the next thing you know I'm buying Chamber of Secrets in hardback because I have to know what happens next. It's a good and bad feeling)
This book hasn't found a US publisher. I don't know whether they think it wouldn't sell, whether its examination of racial politics is too bludgeoning or too ticklish or whether in the present climate, it's unconscionable to have a (sort of) 'hero' who is also a political terrorist. Anyway, I am happy to post it to anyone who wants to read it, so long as they don't mind posting it back when they're done.
Also read this fortnight:
The Windsinger by William Nicholson, most famous (to me anyway) as the writer of Shadowlands and the script doctor on Gladiator. It read almost like a spec for a very expensive film script.
I loved the world he created. It seemed incredibly well visualised, if less well thought out. Also events didn't unfold one out of another so much as come along because Nicholson needed to move his (irritating little bitches of) characters from A to B. There was an outbreak of Incredibly Handy ESP, which pissed me off and if I had been in that world, I would have smacked Kes by the end of chapter 10, the ridiculous child. It was one of those books with surface beauty and a couple of wonderful characters -- the emperor, the older Haths -- but in general I found it disappointing. It's won some awards. That always makes me think that I have been stupid and missed something.
The Truth by Terry Pratchett (again) You can tell that Terry Pratchett has worked in local newspapers and knows where all the bodies are buried.
Tell Me Lies by Tony Strong. This is an unusual police procedural/psychological thriller, based on a true story and believable even when you don't want to believe it.
Ros Taylor wakes from a drugged sleep in her flat to find that she has been raped and the date carved into her back with a knife, and her flatmate has been murdered. During the investigation that follows, Ros becomes close to one of the detectives, who admits that the police know who the killer is, but don't have enough admissible evidence to be certain of a conviction. Ros decides to lie, to say she can definitely identify the accused man as her attacker.
From there things spin wildly out of control and the end is horribly logical but entirely unpredictable.
Like most of the new British thriller writers I've read (Mo Hayter being the most obnoxious example), Strong likes to dwell on the vile things in life -- one section told me more than I ever needed to know about London crack whores -- and he loves his forensic science. I thought he was occasionally sloppy in his writing as well, resorting to cliche and leaving ends untied. The male protagonist is a bit inchoate and never comes to life as clearly as Ros.
Yet despite these caveats, I was enthralled enough to read the last 150 pages in one huge gulp and I *loved* the twistiness of the last third.
Again, I'll send this to anyone who wants to read it.
Stasiland by Anna Funder. Anna Funder is an Australian Germanophile went to live in East Berlin and became fascinated with the workings of the Stasi and how that impacted the reunification of Germany.
I'm only halfway through this but it's beautifully written and a real warning in these times of heightened surveillance and endless terror alerts.
Next week I am off work. All week. No work at all! :::dancing commences:::