Films, Reviews

Rebuilding Bond: Thoughts on Skyfall

The best Bond car ever is back


I worked out earlier today that I’ve seen every Bond film since Die Another Day in the cinemas, and it’s been a mixed bunch. Die Another Day is, of course, pretty terrible, taking all of the excesses of the Bond series too far. I loved Casino Royale, but I though Quantum of Solace was too lean and slight to be really good. Going into Skyfall, then, the question I ask is: is the Bond series still worth my time, or is it too old and constrained by its 50 years of cruft to remain relevant?

OK, first, I’m going to hit the standard Bond stuff. Continue reading

Books, Reviews

The proto-thief: Thoughts on Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief (Arsène Lupin, #1)Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief by Maurice Leblanc

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“When the last horseman had passed, Sherlock Holmes stepped forth and brushed the dust from his clothes. Then, for a moment, he and Arsène Lupin gazed at each other; and, if a person could have seen them at that moment, it would have been an interesting sight, and memorable as the first meeting of two remarkable men, so strange, so powerfully equipped, both of superior quality, and destined by fate, through their peculiar attributes, to hurl themselves one at the other like two equal forces that nature opposes, one against the other, in the realms of space.”

I first read a Lupin novel back in high school- I can’t recall which one, but I’ve been meaning to read more ever since. This collection, the short stories which kicked it all off, are an interesting bunch.

First published in 1905, Arsene Lupin is one of the prototypes which every cat burglar of the 20th century can be said to owe a little- a classy gentleman who steals the most difficult treasures from impossible rooms. His media descendants are numerous-  Thomas Crown (The Thomas Crown Affair) and Jean de Flambeur (from The Quantum Thief) being two notable lifts- not to mention the anime character Lupin the Third. By modern standards, many of his thefts are simple, relying on confidence tricks rather than elaborate gadgets. Nevertheless, he’s a charming character to follow- he’s sure of himself and composed, urbane and cultured.

So, to the stories. The short stories in this collection are all written as if dictated to Leblanc by Lupin, and they have a lightness of tone that makes them fun to read. In this book, we see Lupin get arrested, escape from prison, con other thieves out of loot and pose as a detective. We also get a bit of an origin story.

At the time, short stories were published in magazines, and each story here is quite self contained. as such, they can be a little disjointed- I’d have liked, for example, to see more of Ganimard, Lupin’s detective nemesis. Most of the stories are let down a little by no clear antagonist- it’s only in the last story that Sherlock Holmes (apparently lifted without Conan Doyle’s knowledge) makes an appearance and acts as a true challenge to Lupin’s thievery.

Sherlock Holmes is probably the best comparison- anyone who’s read the Sherlock Holmes short stories will find much to like here. In many ways he’s Sherlock Holmes’ polar opposite- he’s charismatic and warm, where Holmes is stand-offish and calculating. In many francophone countries, Lupin has a similar cultural cachet, and it’s a pity that crossovers weren’t as much of a thing back then- I’d have loved to see a proper collaboration. Conan Doyle apparently lawyered up after the short story in this volume- Lupin’s foe becomes “Herlock Sholmes” in later volumes. I think I prefer Lupin to Holmes- he’s less of a jerk, and he speaks to the clever criminal in all of us- the guy who genuinely enjoys his work, and commits his crimes without violence.

I’d recommend this to anyone who’s into Holmes or heist movies.

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Cities of Dreams (Part 2)

Bayer and his wife taken to a house in Rhode Island for debriefing, one of several facilities in the area near the Newport naval base. During his interrogation, Bayer gave several intelligence leads and locations of several previously unknown projects that the Soviets had been working on, including at least one munitions factory that had slipped the CIA’s notice. Notes from his interrogation mark Bayer as reserved but in high spirits, all too eager to share his information with the west. Of Julia, however, there are few notes- she is recorded as having little English and being little use as an intelligence asset.

Where the CIA and the broader military took great notice, however, was in Bayer’s knowledge of the plans for a Russian Arcology.
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Books, Reviews

Grim Visions of the Future: Thoughts on “Pump Six and Other Stories”

Pump Six and Other StoriesPump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When looking at a collection of short stories, it’s sometimes hard to come to a conclusion about a recurring theme. With Pump Six and other stories, however, it’s easy: Paolo Bacigalupi thinks we’re horrible and we’re ruining everything.

Each story in this collection is pretty much an example of a planet where we’ve screwed it up, and I think they possibly get even more cynical as they go on. The first story, “A Pocketful of Dharma,” is probably the most playful, a gangstery tale with a pretty interesting Macguffin.

I was creeped out by the second story, “The Fluted Girl.” It’s a bit of a fuck you to celebrity culture, and there’s almost a casual cruelty to the whole thing that’s quite confronting. “The People of Sand and Slag,” darkly comic, is probably the farthest future out of any of the stories, with the characters having a casual sociopathy that’s pretty funny. Very much a Transhumanist story, the three main characters are all far beyond our current morality.

“The Pasho” is about as far as the collection goes into fantasy, a reasonably straightforward tale of a homecoming, anda rumination on the gulf between generations and changing relationships between cultural groups.

“The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man” are set in the same universe, where large agri-corps have pretty much created a monopoly on food and we’ve well and truly run out of fossil fuels, powering everything by stored kinetic energy. I preferred Calorie Man, as it had more sympathetic characters, and it’s possibly the most hopeful out of all of the stories in the collection, or at least ends on a more hopeful note. Yellow Card Man is a much more cynical tale, with desperate people doing despicable things to survive.

“The Tamarisk Hunter” is my favourite out of the whole collection. Being from South Australia, the driest state in the country, water rights and flow from upriver is a central issue, and even though the titular hunter is upriver it really struck a chord. It’s a nightmare to think that one day we’ll have to shut down communities so that there’s enough water to go around.

“Softer” sticks out to me as a bit of an odd addition, as it contains no speculative elements. It’s disturbing, but slight.

Bacigalupi is also fixated on birth, or at least on population control and the effects of the environment on children. “Pump Six,” “Small Offerings” and “Pop Squad” all deal with babies in a way, and they’re all doomed in one way or another.

Bacigalupi is a very good writer, with a poetic turn of phrase and some fantastic SF concepts. I get the sense, however, that he’s a pessimistic man. The whole collection seems to be a warning about how we treat the environment, and that if we keep going the way we’re going we’ll be in trouble. It’s a very good collection, and I’ll be seeking out his novel.

I don’t however, share his cynicism about the future- the idealist in me hopes that we’d be able to overcome some of these grim fates.

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Cities of Dreams: the history of Project LAPUTA and America’s arcologies (Part 1)

Recently declassified CIA files have shed new light on one of the most interesting secret programs from the Cold War

Ramadge Point, Alaska, is one of the nicer points in The Last Frontier. Today a national park, it’s hard to imagine that this quiet new-growth forest was once the site of one of America’s strangest top-secret programs

It’s no secret that during the Cold War, the United States and the U.S.S.R. were competing on a number of technological fronts. The most well-known of these is the space program, and conventional and nuclear weapons programs were new types of brinkmanship that these two global superpowers engaged in. There were the bizarre ones too, such as the LSD soaked MK Ultra program and the New Age First Earth Battalion Program. One area that doesn’t get much attention is Project LAPUTA, the US Government’s Arcology project.

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Books, Reviews

This Collection of Thoughts On This Book Is Full of Spiders:Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It!

That’s one nasty headache

This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It (John Dies at the End #2)This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read John Dies at the End for the first time earlier this year, and was blown away by it. The combination of pop culture slackers with creepy and clever internet conspiracy horror was new to me, and the author could certainly turn a phrase.

So, to the sequel. Unlike the first one, which was almost three short novels linked together, this one tells a sustained story, of a parasite outbreak in the city of Undisclosed. The parasites, dubbed “spiders,” are creepy as fuck- they infect people by crawling into their mouth, consuming and replacing their tongue, and then tapping into their nervous system so they don’t know they’re infected. Some of the infected monster out, and the book plays with a lot of zombie tropes in the outbreak and how the threat is dealt with. There’s also some clever jabs at video games and the way that crises are reported in the media.

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