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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Favourite TV: Dead Like Me

18 Year old Georgia Lass finds out there is an afterlife the hard way – by being killed in a bizarre accident when she’s struck by a toilet seat falling from an orbital space station. Luckily for her she’s already been ‘reaped’ by Rube (played superbly by the outstanding Mandy Patinkin). On that day Georgia (known as George) joins the ranks of the undead whose job it is to take peoples souls just before they die.

On the face of it this sounds like a particularly gruesome premise for a show. But on the contrary it’s funny (in an off-beat sort of way), quirky (most definitely) and thoughtful. Any series revolving around death is inevitably going to be ‘heavy’ from time to time but the quite sublime writing takes this show well beyond any mundane concerns. The acting by all concerned – especially Ellen Muth who plays George, Laura Harris who plays Daisy (who is, incidentally, drop dead gorgeous) and Jasmine Guy who plays the feisty Roxy, is universally excellent. Even the annoying Mason, played to perfection by Callum Blue, manages to round out this amazing cast.

This short lived character based show (only lasting 29 episodes) revolved around the lives of the small tightly knit group of reapers, who not only have to come to terms with their own deaths but also their new profession – often whilst holding down a boring day-job. Their instructions are handed out on a daily basis by the enigmatic Rube on post-it notes with sparse details of the soon to be deceased’s name, location and ETD (Estimated Time of Death). The new girl, George, is the focus of the series. We get to know about her life and that of the family she left behind. Her mother Joy (played by the totally gorgeous Cynthia Stevenson) sees her relationship with her husband fall apart and has to cope with her other daughter Reggie (played by Britt McKillip) who quickly goes off the rails by stealing toilet seats.

Obviously hard to put into words this is a delightful, funny, definitely strange series that deserves to be tried (if you haven’t seen it before). Give it a few episodes to grow on you and I think that you’ll really enjoy it. I certainly did.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Iraqis Claim Marines Are Pushing Christianity in Fallujah

by Jamal Naji and Leila Fadel for McClatchy Newspapers

Thursday, May 29, 2008

FALLUJAH, Iraq - At the western entrance to the Iraqi city of Fallujah Tuesday, Muamar Anad handed his residence badge to the U.S. Marines guarding the city. They checked to be sure that he was a city resident, and when they were done, Anad said, a Marine slipped a coin out of his pocket and put it in his hand. Out of fear, he accepted it, Anad said. When he was inside the city, the college student said, he looked at one side of the coin. ‘Where will you spend eternity?’ it asked. He flipped it over, and on the other side it read, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16.’ “They are trying to convert us to Christianity,” said Anad, a Sunni Muslim like most residents of this city in Anbar province. At home, he told his story, and his relatives echoed their disapproval: They’d been given the coins, too, he said.

Fallujah, the scene of a bloody U.S. offensive against Sunni insurgents in 2004, has calmed and grown less hostile to American troops since residents turned against al Qaida in Iraq, which had tried to force its brand of Islamist extremism on the population. Now residents of the city are abuzz that some Americans whom they consider occupiers are also acting as Christian missionaries. Residents said some Marines at the western entrance to their city have been passing out the coins for two days in what they call a “humiliating” attempt to convert them to Christianity. In the markets, people crowded around men with the coins, passing them to each other and asking in surprise, “Have you seen this?” The head of the Sunni endowment in Fallujah, the organization that oversees Sunni places of worship and other religious establishments, demanded that the Marines stop.

“We say to the occupiers to stop this,” said Sheikh Mohammed Amin Abdel Hadi. “This can cause strife between the Iraqis and especially between Muslim and Christians . … Please stop these things and leave our homes because we are Muslims and we live in our homes in peace with other religions.” A spokesman said the U.S. military is investigating. “Multi-National Force-Iraq is investigating a report that U.S. military personnel in Fallujah handed-out material that is religious and evangelical in nature,” the spokesman, Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, said in a statement e-mailed to McClatchy. “Local commanders are investigating since the military prohibits proselytizing any religion, faith or practices.” Multi-National Force-Iraq is the formal name for coalition forces in Iraq.

In interviews, residents of Fallujah repeated two words – ‘humiliation’ and ‘weakness’. “Because we are weak this is happening,” said a shop owner who gave his name as Abu Abdullah. “Passing Christianity this way is disrespectful.”

“The occupier is repeatedly trespassing on God and his religion,” said Omar Delli, 23. “Now the occupier is planting seeds of strife between the Muslims and Christians. We demand the government in Fallujah have a new demonstration to let the occupier know that these things are humiliating Islam and the Quran.” The controversy over the coins that Iraqis said some Marines are passing out comes on the heels of a tempest triggered by a U.S. sniper who used the Quran, Islam’s holy book, for target practice. The sniper was pulled out of Iraq after Iraqi police on May 11 found a Quran with 14 bullet holes and graffiti on the pages. In Islam, the holy book is never to touch the floor, let alone be defaced. Iraqi leaders condemned the actions, U.S. generals apologized and President Bush offered a personal apology to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

In Fallujah, Mohammed Jaber saw one of the coins and said he thought of the bullets lodged in the Quran, the torture of Iraqi men at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and the rape of a 14-year-old girl and her murder and that of her family in Mahmoudiya. “Now we have this missionary way by these coins,” he said. “We feel the Muslims are weak and we hope that we will reach a point when we are strong to let them know what is wrong and what is right.”

[So….. Promoting Christianity at the point of a ‘sword’. Crusade anyone?]

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Top 10 Records

I’ve just been listening to one of my favourite and (probably) one of the best albums ever recorded. So it got me thinking – why don’t I do a Top 10 Favourite Records post? Of course I just couldn’t keep it down to 10 but at least I kept it below 100.

So, here are my Favourite Albums – in no particular order:

Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd

War – U2

Snowflakes are Dancing – Tomita

Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette

Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow

Gorillaz – Gorillaz

Debut – Bjork

Hounds of Love – Kate Bush

Tidal – Fiona Apple

Holywood – Mariln Manson

Grace under Pressure – Rush

Word gets Around – Stereophonics

Release – Afro Celt Sound System

August & Everything After – Counting Crows

Without You I’m Nothing – Placebo

Play – Moby

Beautiful Freak – Eels

Construction Time Again – Depeche Mode

Under my Skin – Avril Lavigne

Silver Side Up – Nickelback

Becoming X – Sneaker Pimps

Something Like Human – Fuel

Zerospace – Kidney Thieves

Republica – Republica

Argus – Wishbone Ash

Infest – Papa Roach

MTV Unplugged – 10,000 Maniacs

Eyes Open – Snow Patrol

Fallen – Evanescence

Gran Turismo – The Cardigans

Eye to the Telescope – K T Tunstall

Nevermind – Nirvana

The Battle of Los Angeles – Rage Against the Machine

Come Clean – Puddle of Mudd

Ricks RoadTexas.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Mercedes Thompson is a mechanic in the Tri-Cities. Her neighbour is an Alpha Werewolf, her ex-boss a Gremlin and her best client is a member of the Vampire Mafia. Mercy is hardly normal herself – she’s a skinwalker able to transform in seconds into a coyote. Hers’ is a strange world and it’s about to become stranger and much more dangerous. When a wandering, half starved werewolf shows up at her garage looking for work she takes pity on him. Unfortunately for all concerned he’s on the run from a mixed ‘pack’ of lone werewolves and humans bent on stopping their secret becoming public knowledge. They will stop at nothing to remain hidden from human sight including murder and kidnapping. Fur and silver bullets are about to fly and Mercy Thompson is in the middle of it all.

This was yet another example of the burgeoning sub-genre known as Urban Fantasy. Based in modern cities, rather than ancient castles and forests, these books concentrate on the supernatural creatures living amongst us – even our next door neighbours - including witches, werewolves, vampires and demons. Most of them are decent hard working folk who just happen to be different from the rest of us. Others have less regard for humanity. This is where the hero comes in – or more often the heroine. The central character is usually a strong, independent woman who just happens to be either a supernatural creature herself or a half-something. Often dragged kicking and screaming into the action she proves pivotal to its resolution and becomes a stronger more confident person when the dust settles which often entails kicking supernatural ass and taking names. I must admit (as you may have noticed) to being a big fan of this sub-genre. It’s fun and feisty. If you liked Buffy, who I think is largely responsible for this whole literature, than you should generally love this sort of thing. Obviously the quality of the writing varies but in this case there’s nothing to worry about. Pat Briggs writes well, her characters are fully formed and interesting. The action is believable (in context) and keeps you wanting to turn pages. I have the next two books in the series – recently picked up in Canada – and am looking forward to reading them, especially when the line “She doesn’t know what she is, and there’s no one left alive to teach her” jumped out from this book. I predict great things for Ms Thompson.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thinking About: Global Warming

We’ve just had the warmest start to May since the 1770’s when accurate recording of the climate began. In the same week came the report that Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere have reached 385ppm which is the highest level for 650,000 years. I for one do not believe that this is a coincidence.

It has been pretty clear now to most people that the world’s climate is changing. Too much is happening in too many places around the Earth for it to be dismissed as just an aberration that can be ignored. Despite that feeling and the steadily accumulating facts we persist in doing little or nothing about it. I know many people who recycle, who use a plethora of energy saving devices, who car pool or cycle to work or (like me) use public transport but I think that we all know that this is not enough. With the best will in the world the public alone cannot do enough to stop the seemingly inexorable growth of CO2 in the atmosphere. For that we need concerted action from Governments around the world and from Big Business too. Despite some evidence that this appears to be happening more and more it’s clear that such efforts will not be enough to stop the worst effects of Global Warming. We all need to do a lot more. NASA’s chief climatologist, James Hansen, is clear as can be on this subject. He said recently that “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.”

That’s about as stark as it can get. If we are to preserve our civilisation we need to do something – actually quite a lot – now. Not in 10 or 20 years but now. Personally I think that Hansen’s warning will fall inevitably on deaf ears because we (humanity) don’t want to hear such things. Many people, normally but not exclusively in the developed West, believe that we can have it all, that there is in effect no limit to growth. Unfortunately anyone who has studied biology or has watched fungus grow in a Petri dish will know that when resources give out eco-systems collapse. Unlike some of the Deep Greens I think that we can have sustainable growth and that we do not have to go back to a simpler time in order to eek out our lives in some kind of fantasy medieval world. But our present civilisation is untenable. Business as usual can only lead to disaster on a truly staggering scale. Only a radical shift in the way we go about things will be enough but, as I’ve undoubtedly said here and elsewhere, I think that we as a species are just too stupid and selfish to do that. I predict that it will take at least two and probably three major climate related disasters to wake governments up to the danger of uncontrolled Global Warming. I can only hope that these disasters don’t come too late for us to start the recovery process without truly appalling draconian measures being required. The later we leave things the worse it will be, maybe not directly for us but I fear that our children and grandchildren will hate us for the world we will leave them to struggle in.

Depressing aren’t I?

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Favourite Movies: A Knight’s Tale

On the face of things this is a very silly movie. It revolves around the ambition of William Thatcher (played by the late lamented Heath Ledger) – a Thatcher’s son who wants to be a knight. Unfortunately for William you have to be of noble birth to do so. Fate steps in with the death of his master during a tournament. William steps in and wins the day – just. From then on William enters tournaments, steadily becoming a jousting machine and working his way up the ranking. Facing him (periodically) is the dark knight Count Adhemar (played superbly by Rufus Sewell) who intends not only to unhorse William but also take his love interest (played by Shannyn Sossamon).

Any sane person would say that this movie could not have possibly worked. It’s a strange mixture of modern and 14th Century with little or no attempt at historical accuracy – including Mexican waves at jousting tournaments & medieval dances set to David Bowie numbers. The language is very modern as is the attitudes of the cast. It is neither a comedy, an action film, nor a love story but contains elements of all three. It is, to be honest, a mess of a film – and yet…… for some reason the movies ‘flaws’ become its strengths. The acting is generally superb – especially by the supporting cast of Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk and especially Paul Bettany. The jousting scenes are dramatic and exciting – so much so that I can really see it as a future televised sport. Finally the film has, more that any other attribute, a warm heart at its centre. It may be silly but it will leave you smiling at the end of it. A classic feel good film.

Oh, and before I forget: I should make very special mention of Laura Fraser as Kate the blacksmith (who was most definitely my love interest in the movie) and James Purefoy who played Edward, Prince of Wales (who CQ was drooling over and I could see why).

Cartoon Time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Religious belief 'falling faster than church attendance'

By Matt Barnwell and Amy Iggulden for The Telegraph


Organised religion is in near-terminal decline in Britain because parents have only a 50-50 chance of passing on belief to their offspring, a study claimed yesterday. By contrast, parents without faith are successful in producing a new generation of non-believers, it said. The report identified institutional religion as having a "half-life" of one generation, as children are only half as likely as their parents to say that it is important in their lives.

The generational decline is too advanced to reverse, the report suggested, as the proportion of people who believe in God is declining faster than church attendance. Dr David Voas, who oversaw the study at the University of Manchester, said religion would reach "fairly low levels" before very long. "The dip in religious belief is not temporary or accidental, it is a generational phenomenon - the decline has continued year on year," he said. "The fact that children are only half as likely to believe as their parents indicates that, as a society, we are at an advanced stage of secularisation."

The findings appear to contradict the commonly accepted theory that people "believe without belonging" - the idea that religious belief is robust even though churchgoing is in longer-term decline. According to the survey, which was based on 14 years of data from 10,500 households, the importance of belief in God fell by 5.3 per cent to 32.5 per cent between 1991 and 1999. This compared with a fall of 3.5 per cent in the proportion of people who attended church services over the same period and a 2.9 per cent decrease in the proportion who said they were affiliated to a particular religion.

The Church of England reacted with disbelief at the suggestion that faith was declining, and said that parental influence was not the only factor in preserving inter-generational belief. "There is an assumption that people 'catch' religion from their parents, but many people come to faith through the grandparents, schools, and their friends," said Steve Jenkins, a spokesman. He said that the study had not released "proper evidence". "There is nothing to back up the claims, and our recent statistics show that congregations are actually increasing, as is the number of ordinations." Last year 564 people were selected to become new clergy, the highest figure in six years. And congregations in 2003 had increased in size by 1 per cent.

But the National Secular Society, which has 3,000 paid-up members, welcomed the survey results. "We find [belief] embarrassing as a country and it is time we accepted that," said Terry Sanderson, the vice president. "People may say they believe in Christianity but if you question them even slightly it becomes clear that they cannot accept the central tenets of its faith - they don't believe in its supernatural explanations."

The study, which used figures from the British Household Panel and British Social Attitudes surveys, found that parents had the greatest influence on children's beliefs, and that although a child with only one religious parent was half as likely to inherit their faith as a child with two religious parents, the decline could be slowed by the fact that religious parents tended to have more children. The study also found generational decline evident throughout the Islamic and Jewish faiths, but from a much higher starting point.

[Interesting… if true.]

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just Finished Reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Reality by Jim Baggott

If you have ever wondered “Is that for Real?” then this is definitely the book for you. Asking questions like ‘Is money real’ and ‘What exactly are Space & Time’ the author slowly strips away any normal sense of what is and what is not actually real. After a little over 200 pages you will be convinced – as I was – that pretty much anything we thought of as reality actually turns out to be nothing more than a necessary illusion.

Baggott starts with the social fabric of everyday life and has the ostensible mission of looking for the foundations of our reality. Chapter after chapter he keeps digging to see how far the rabbit hole goes down. As he unwraps each argument to find nothing much inside he comes to the conclusion that the foundations we seek are not actually there, being, as much seems to be, no more than a convention we hold in common with others in order to get on with our lives.

It’s a sobering thought that not even the bricks and mortar around us are as certain as we would like them to be and that we largely create reality in our own heads never knowing what ‘real’ reality is actually like (if it even exists). I find it fun to play with ideas like this and try them out, to taste their flavours and ponder what, if anything, it all means. It is most certainly a head trip and after reading this book you will realise, if you haven’t already, that we’re not in Kansas any more.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Even more Good Quotes:

Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes and wishes he was certain of. ~ Mark Twain

Religion deserves no more respect than a pile of garbage. ~ Henry Louis Mencken

Religion easily—has the best bullshit story of all time. Think about it. Religion has convinced people that there's an invisible man...living in the sky. Who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money. ~ George Carlin

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Where Eagles Dare by Alistair Maclean

On the eve of the invasion of Europe disaster strikes. General Carnaby, one of the central planners for the second front, is shot down over occupied Europe and captured by German forces. He is taken to the Sloss Adler – the Caste of Eagles – deep in the Alps. In a desperate attempt to rescue him a hastily thrown together team of British and American secret agents is dispatched with orders to succeed or die trying. The very outcome of the war is at stake. Or is it? It quickly becomes clear that little is what it first appears to be and that the leader of the rescue team has a very different agenda.

As this is one of my all time favourite films I was both interested in and apprehensive about reading the source material. The film is actually very close to the book and often lifts dialogue wholesale. Likewise the plot and timeline are almost identical including the very strange addition of an anachronistic helicopter. This both made it somewhat interesting but also fairly boring – having basically removed any possible surprise or suspense. It also turned out that the differences that did exist in the original novel where, on the whole, improved upon in the movie with the possible exception of a hidden ‘cat-fight’ between two very attractive women. But I digress…..

Taken on its own merits this is a pretty fair thriller with some nice twists and turns. In conjunction to the film it provides a quite interesting look at the original intentions of the author but offers little else. All in all though this was a reasonably entertaining read.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MPs challenge 'doctrinaire' bishops

Anushka Asthana for The Observer

Sunday December 30, 2007

Roman Catholic bishops are to appear in front of a powerful committee of MPs amid fears that they are pushing a fundamentalist brand of their religion in schools. Bishops have called on parents, teachers and priests to strengthen the role of religion in education. In one case the Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O'Donoghue, instructed Catholic schools across much of north-west England to stop 'safe-sex' education and place crucifixes in all classrooms.

He also wrote: 'Schools and colleges must not support charities or groups that promote or fund anti-life policies, such as Red Nose Day and Amnesty International, which now advocates abortion.' In a 66-page document, O'Donoghue called on teachers to use science to teach about the 'truths of the faith', only mention sex within the 'sacrament of marriage', insist that contraception was wrong and emphasise natural family planning. The Bishop of Leeds, Arthur Roche, sent a letter to parishes warning them that Catholic education was under threat following attempts by the local council to set up an inter-faith academy.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the parliamentary cross-party committee on children, schools and families, said he had heard of other cases and felt that behind the scenes there was 'intense turmoil' about the future of Catholic education. 'A group of bishops appear to be taking a much firmer line and I think it would be useful to call representatives of the Catholic church in front of the committee to find out what is going on,' he said. 'It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers' money after all.' Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, asked to meet Roche about the possibility of setting up an inter-faith school in the area. 'The bishop took a long time to agree to meet and eventually we set a date in May,' said Sheerman. 'But just before we were due to meet - during the May elections - he had a letter read out in every parish church in Kirklees and Calderdale, a really big area, accusing politicians of trying to dilute Catholic education. He said Roman Catholic education was under threat.'

In Fit for Mission, the document written for schools in the Lancaster diocese, O'Donoghue wrote: 'The secular view on sex outside of marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and Aids, and abortion, may not be presented as neutral information ... parents, schools and colleges must also reject the promotion of so-called "safe sex" or "safer sex", a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against Aids.' The bishop also called for any books containing polemics against the Catholic faith to be removed from school libraries. 'Under no circumstances should any outside authority or agency that is not fully qualified to speak on behalf of the Catholic church ever be allowed to speak to pupils or individuals on sexual or any other matter involving faith and morals,' he said.

The report has outraged non-religious groups, who accused the bishop of trying to 'indoctrinate' pupils. In a letter to Secretary of State Ed Balls, the National Secular Society wrote: 'What happened to a well-rounded education - which is what British state schools are supposed to provide?' Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the society, said: I do not think the state should be funding Catholic indoctrination.' He highlighted a poll released by the US group Catholics for a Free Choice showing that most Catholics across the world believed using condoms was pro-life because it prevented the spread of HIV and Aids. Teachers expressed concern that the bishop's instructions could damage the health of teenagers who chose to become sexually active despite the church's teaching. 'Irrespective of the strongly held views of those in the Catholic faith, it is absolutely vital for the future of children's wellbeing, health and safety that they receive proper sex education,' said Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. O'Donoghue said it was 'absolute rubbish' that what he was advocating was indoctrination.

[It’s not about control is it…? Really it isn’t…..]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thinking About: Intervention

I believe that help should be offered to those who need it and given to those who request it. I don’t believe, however, that we should intervene in people’s lives if they neither need nor request that intervention. People should be allowed (and expected) to be masters of their own destiny as much as they are able.

The same applies to countries. No matter what system of government they are under and no matter what internal policies they use we should not intervene in their destinies unless we are asked to do so. This is one of the major reasons why I opposed and still oppose the Iraq war. Iraq was patently no threat to us – immediate or otherwise – and little threat to its neighbours (despite the war with Iran or the invasion of Kuwait) and its internal politics, no matter how objectionable, were none of our concern. Of course I found the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein repugnant but that repulsion is not, and should not, be enough to warrant any kind of direct intervention – and especially not military intervention – in that countries destiny. It is for the people of Iraq (or Tibet or elsewhere) to decide their own fate and it is not for the West to decide what governments are legitimate and what governments must be toppled.

The debacle that is Iraq should be a salutary lesson in what not to do in international politics. Even if the situation eventually calms down enough to be called some kind of success (whatever that means) we have to ask ourselves if it will be worth the price in lives, suffering and not least in monetary terms, because if Iraq is anything to go by it will take millennia and more money than is rationally conceivable to save the world from itself.

The idea that the misguided intervention in Iraq was for humanitarian reasons is both laughable and offensive. If we are there for those reasons then why aren’t we also in Darfur or Zimbabwe? Was the humanitarian need in Iraq more pressing than elsewhere or was it that Iraq had huge oil supplies that the West (in particular America) wanted to secure for the future? Of course the issue of intervention is in the news again with the situation in Burma. The military junta there is preventing much needed aid reaching its people because of a paranoid fear of western influence. There has even been talk of forcing aid into the country without the co-operation of the junta – basically helping them whether they want it or not. This is of course understandable when we see people dying who could otherwise have been saved. It is however wrong to do so. We could topple the Burmese regime fairly easily no doubt but should we be in the business of going to war with every nation which does not behave in a civilised (in other words Western) manner? I think that the answer is clearly no. Countries should be allowed (and expected) to look after themselves unless they ask for help – and their peoples should be given the responsibility to topple their own governments when they become too oppressive. It is not and should not be the responsibility of Western powers to impose Western values on the rest of the world. This can only lead to disaster and endless war. We cannot and should not be in the business of reshaping the world in our image regardless of our humanitarian sensibilities.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Video Time.

One of the (many) things I enjoyed during my recent trip to Canada was some very funny adverts. Here's one of them.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Just Finished Reading: The Mocking Program by Alan Dean Foster

On the mean streets of late 21st Century America, Detective Inspector Angel Cardenas is investigating a grisly murder. Unfortunately things become complicated from the very start when the corpse appears to have multiple identities one of which is linked to a crime lord and his missing wife. As Cardenas digs deeper into a tangled web of futuristic crime he is assailed by hired assassins and machines with murder in mind. Slowly, as he figures out the reasons behind a series of crimes he begins to realise that everything revolves around the contents of an 11 year olds brain. In it she holds to secrets of a criminal empire which some are determined to hold or destroy at any cost in lives and collateral damage.

With the combination of the Cyberpunk genre and the name of Alan Dean Foster (who is one of my favourite authors) I really did think I was on to a sure-fire winner here. Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that Foster had ‘phoned in’ the authorship of this book whilst seemingly half awake. The plot was frankly ridiculous and fragmented, the characters deeply unimpressive and the set-pieces often simply ludicrous. This was deeply disappointing coming from an author of Fosters calibre and I barely had the energy to finish it. With few redeeming features this was a train wreck of a novel which, quite frankly, should never have been published.

I think I really need to improve my game at this point before I give up reading SF all together. Maybe I need to operate, at least occasional, a bit more outside my comfort zone? I’ll have to see what I can come up with. Definitely new authors and new genres I think. Maybe I’ll even surprise myself?