Para-ranting

As time moves on I’m getting tempted to write about the recent distractions in my life especially that there’s been a few. The first and foremost, my daughter, but I already boasted about her earlier, so will refrain from it this time. Her subject does, however indirectly, lead on to one of the projects I’m working on, which is an educational board game for kids and adults taking place in the solar system. The first draft is nearly completed, so we’ll be doing some test plays with my son next week. If all goes well… well, then I’ll let you know.

On another note, I wanted to share some of the good things I’ve seen and read recently. First was the ‘door wedge’ style novel “Great north road” by Peter F Hamilton. A murder mystery/action fiction set in futuristic world where the only know alien life form is inadvertently hostile and alien to the point of working under different physics rules. I’ve seen some complaints on the net about this book, mainly because of the level of detail given to the police investigation. However, although I can see why that could be seen as a negative trait by some, the narration is so fluent, I didn’t feel I was losing time reading about it.

Speaking of great sci-fi visions I have to mention the few good movies I’ve managed to watch in the past few weeks. Admittedly not all of them new, but hey – c’est la vie. Firstly, I’ve finally got to see the ‘Elysium’, which was visually stunning, though had predictable story-line. What I really liked about it, was the vision of ultimate gated community and relentless use of robots and drones to control the population. Tim Maughan reviewed it very well here, so I will refrain from further comments, just stating that it was well worth watching.

Secondly, slightly fresher picture, was the ‘Edge of tomorrow’ with Tom Cruise. I know that a lot of people don’t like Cruise because of his Scientology connections but frankly, on the screen I prefer to judge him as an actor. And when it comes to acting, he does a good job, no questions asked. ‘Edge of tomorrow’ is a story of alien invasion on Earth that did not go well for the humans. It was actually a relief to watch it, while still having in memory the boring ‘Battle for Los Angeles’ or even ‘Pacific Rim’ (don’t get me wrong I loved the latter movie because of the BIG ROBOTS but it had a story as flat as a pancake). Although ‘Edge…’ geographically spans through several countries, most of the story is neatly compacted to a single day’s events. Somebody called it a combination of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers and Source code and it’s not a far fetched comparison, as it borrows from those movies a lot. The CGIs are smooth and visually it’s a feast. The tone of the movie, despite the backdrop of invasion and soldiers dying by the dozens, is rather light and tends to veer of towards wit, fun and action. All in all, a good evening entertainment.

Finally, there was ‘Utopia’ upon which I stumbled accidentally few weeks ago and its first few minutes swept me off my feet. First of all I have to admit I’m wary of European  sci-fi series, which is I admit, a bit ridiculous, but there you go. There reason for that is I’ve seen few and they lacked some kind of finishing touch that would make their otherwise interesting stories, compelling. Having said that, ‘Utopia’ represented everything I was looking for in a mystery/conspiracy/sci-fi series. Let’s start with story arc. Being aware that a lot of people haven’t seen it, I’ll just say that the characters (who are – with few exceptions – a regular bunch of people) and their personal stories neatly intertwine with the evil (or not so?) corporation agenda that is indeed world spanning. The actors are decent and I have a high praise for Neil Maskell for his fantastic creation that will haunt my dreams for years to come. Now, I have to admit that for a couple of episodes I wasn’t sure if ‘Utopia’ will turn into a bizarre comedy like ‘LEXX’ or not. The credit for that goes to Cristobal Tapia De Veer, who’s weirdly joyful compositions thrown in contrast to the scenes of brutality and remorselessness are a big part of the series’ charm. And while mentioning scenes of brutality, although corpses are not short in supply, the creators managed not to show most of the actual action, which seems to be the ache of a lot of American productions. What finally needs mentioning and praise are the outdoor shots, which are done with high colour saturation and add to the general surreal atmosphere of ‘Utopia’. Definitely worth watching.

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Since this post took me over a week to write in small instalments, there’s one more thing alas a major one to mention. BristolCon 2014. Posts and blog entries pop around with high praise and rightly so, still I decided to add to the pile. This was the third time I’ve attended BristolCon and as far as one day conventions go – it’s a perfect blend of panels, workshops and ‘off-the-record’ discussions. This year As always, I came back with a backpack full of books. Some of them purchased, some swapped on the book exchange table which debuted this year and seemed to be an immediate success. One of them was a comic album ‘Hector Umbra’ by Uli Oesterle. Great artwork, interesting, intricate story lines and the colours! The sentence that summarises Hector: Hellboy and John Constantine, meet Hector Umbra. He’s got a cooler record collection than either of you. Read it, you won’t regret it.

This years BristolCon was also my first time participation in a panel discussion on author’s inspiration. We’ve covered subjects spanning from Bible through Moliere, Agatha Christie and Joanne Hall to Dan Brown, archeology and movie inspirations. It was a scary type of fun, but I hope to repeat it some time again. I then went to a workshop with Pete Newman on ‘getting unstuck’, which was accidentally very helpful. I say accidentally because going in I was not sure if I was really stuck or whether I just lacked the kick in the back side to push on (bit of both it turned out). I also owe Pete thanks for his ‘just 50 words’ advice which made me white a couple thousands words in the last few days. The day closed with a gaming session of ‘Ricochet Robots’ and ‘Warewolf’ which made me regret not living nearer to Bristol.

Summarising a fantastic day of excitement, laughter and interesting conversations that requires a massive thank you to Jo Hall and all the organisers. I shall definitely be there next year. May BristolCon live long and prosper!

And to revive and old tradition of mine, I leave you with something for the ear. Or even two. Or more if you happen to have any lying about. Enjoy.

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