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a journal of the plague year [deconfined reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2020 by xi'an

Watched two Korean films, Train to Busan and then Psychokinesis, both by Yeon Sang-Ho. The first one is a mostly traditional zombie action movie, loosing one character after another to the disease with a few funny moments. The second one is also involving supernatural features, rather poorly done, but it offers some political satire on a corrupted real estate project that make it somewhat tolerable. If barely.

Read (an old, cellar-relegated, somewhat mouldy) Henning Mankell’s Sidetracked (book #5 in the Kurt Wallander series), which was good enough to be enjoyable, albeit with a serial killer plot (always a lazy plot idea!), but it definitely made me regret the Martin Beck books of Sjowall and Wahloo which had a stronger social and political perspective (to the point of this book sounding like a pale replica). The more because Maj Sjowall passed away in early May. (Having survived Wahloo by 45 years and never revisiting the series.)

Baked more breads, including rye bread, and experimented with new dishes, like a jollof rice attempt with wild garlic, which tasted a wee too mild and took more time at the cleaning stage of the cocotte (French oven) than the cooking one. As it is one of these rice dishes like tahdig that call for a slightly burned bottom! Cooked several clafoutis with garden cherries and strawberries. Started making weekly rhubarb compote since available at the farmers’ market.

And now growing tomatoes and beans and peppers and onions and potatoes and butternut… We also found a woodcock most unusually and inexplicably stranded in the garden, feeling the worse for a cat attack as shown by a few feathers in the grass, but it was impossible to catch and hence protect from all the stray cats in the neighbourhood. After a day or two, we did not find any remain of the bird, so it presumably escaped.

Also watched A Sun (陽光普照), a psychological Taiwanese film about an “ordinary” family unraveling when the youngest son goes to jail. With an astounding Muter Courage as the central character. And a surprising sequence of characterial twists in the story that makes the movie less bleak that the first 30mn could induce, revealing layers in most characters that were carefully left hidden in the beginning of the film. (Except for the unfortunate girlfriend of A-Ho, who hardly utters a word and never seems to join the family.) With a beautiful final shot relating to the early years of A-Ho. (As one character is named A-Ho and another one A-Hao, it took me a while to spot the difference and stop thinking there were two parallel time-lines in the story!) A really strong film!

Succumbed (!) to ordering and reading the True Bastards, by Johnathan [pardon my] French. Which is the second volume in the Lot Lands trilogy and about as fun as the first volume, although the role of cursed magics is somehow over-done. But the change in this book from a male to a female viewpoint is definitely a worthwhile rarity in fantasy novels, showing how much harder the main character, Fetch, has to work to lead her troop of ½ orcs. And a constant threat of being belittled as such by other characters. (Any resemblance to real life problems being obviously coincidental!) Don’t expect real depth though, from the plot which keeps running in hogs’ circles to the point where everyone seems to be the hidden relative of everyone else (still alive!) to the underlying message, if any!

Got tricked by a Guardian article into watching The Vast of Nights. Frankly, I do not understand the praise heaped upon this academic-oh–so-academic exercise in film making! Yes, it does sound like the Twilight Zone, as the story is the usual trope on aliens being here with only the military being aware of it, trying to bank on their advanced technology, &tc. The hapless characters confuse agitation and action, while speaking, speaking, speaking all the time… It should have been a radio show. In the 1950’s. Not in the current times, already awash in conspiracy theories (although, far from it!, the film is clearly seen as an exercice de style recreating the mood of a 1960’s rural town in the South of the USA, with an endless sequence in a vintage car park).

a journal of the plague year [confined reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2020 by xi'an

Watched TV series His Dark Materials produced for the BBC, which is much much better than the earlier film, as the actors are all fabulous—first and foremost Lyra, but also Ma Costa, the Gyptian Muter Courage—, the gypsy community is given a much stronger role, the characters are deep and complex, as eg Mrs and Mr Coulter, both ready to sacrifice kids for the greater “good” without appearing as absolute monsters! The special effects are a wee bit deficient as often with BBC productions but not enough to make a case. Although I sort of cringed each time a bear moved!

Read The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, which I noticed standing on my son’s bookshelves. The original Shannara Trilogy was one of the very first fantasy books I read in English in my undergrad years (after Lord of the Rings of course and possibly The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which did not leave me with an everlasting feeling of superlative literature, to say the least. This avatar of the original Sword of Shannara trilogy did nothing to improve my feelings as the plot is lazy at best, with super-powered villains suddenly acting, last second deus ex machina rescues, endless internal debates, heavy hints at treacheries and double-treacheries, and, worst of all!, intrusion of 20th century technology, e.g., computers, AIs and robots, that the far future characters make sense of. Only suitable for a time of lockdown and even then… I should have left it on the bookshelf! Incidentally, one fight scene against a cyborg was highly reminiscent of the black knight scene in Holy Grail!

Watched by chance Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. For the first time. And was totally un-impressed. Highly pretentious construction falling flat from being a modern reconstruction of antique dramas, endless dialogues (which could have been cut by half if removing all the occurrences of fucking from them), boring and threadbare story, and artificial characters that essentially make no sense. I cannot fathom why this film is so highly ranked..! (And even less to witness it being compared with Rashomon!)

Read [part] of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳) but, lockdown or not, I simply could not finish it. Despite its fantasy approach to Chinese martial arts, which I usually enjoy (at least in planes!), and some proximity with the Judge Dee stories by van Gulik, the story felt very contrived and somewhat out of reach, plus [not yet] Genghis Khan being depicted in a fairly positive way [at least in the part I read]. Too irrealist for my reading buds, I presume…

Cooked plenty of new dishes, thanks to the delivery of weekly farmer boxes, from radish stems & buckwheat pancakes to celery roots purées, to fregola sarda (leftovers from ISBA 2016!) con acciughe, to chard gratins, to pea pod and cauliflower core soups, to flaxseed bread and buckwheat naans (as we ran out of wheat flour). We also managed to use and survive most of the out-of-date cans and bags that had stood forgotten in the back of our cupboard… Not visiting a supermarket for two months was actually most pleasant, living very nicely from the above mentioned farmer boxes and the occasional delivery from a cheesemonger, and supplementing weekly visits to the baker with attempts at home made bread.

Read Matha Well’s Murderbot diaries, my first read on a Kindle!, for free courtesy of Tor. Starting with All Systems Red, which won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Locus Award, and the American Library Association‘s Alex Award. Very good if somewhat classical (Blade Runner anyone?!) trope of the rogue robot turned autonomous and human, so human! This is a sequence of novellas which means a fast-paced story and an efficient style. (Including a less exciting third novella, due to a lazy scenario.) More mind-candy à la John Scalzi than profound literature but quite enjoyable for a quick read during lunch or tea break! But which induced me to buy the first and incoming novel in the series,  Network Effect. (To be commented in a subsequent entry…)

Leading to (re)read the Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi, the last volume in the series being just out. Very lazy buildup, in the traditional spirit of a few people driving the future of the entire Universe, with unlimited resources and unrestricted hacking abilities, but with funny dialogues, as usual with Scalzi. In this binge (re)read, I actually realised the frustrating intricacies of Kindle ordering as (i) I could not use my account and hence none of my associate gains (ii) I could not merge several accounts and (iii) prices varied a lot between using directly the Kindle and ordering from…

And even growing some salads and radishes over the two months and eating them before the end of the lockdown, as the weather in Paris was quite mild most of the time. Although it meant a daily-basis fight with slugs. The arugula did not resist that well, though…

Reading Tade Thompson’s Rosewater for more than a month, having trouble keeping my concentration as the story goes in loops and not a particularly well settled plot. With a central idea of an alien race taking over humanity a few cells at a time. Which reminded me of Greg Bear’s Blood Music I read during the first year of my PhD. The book has some appeal, from being located in Nigeria 30 years from now to America having completely vanished from the map after Trump pulled the ultimate drawbridge. It won the 2019 Arthur Clarke Award after all! But I found it too hard to complete to even consider embarking upon the next two volumes on the trilogy…

A Memory of Light, Chapter One

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on September 29, 2012 by xi'an

After releasing the prologue to A Memory of Light, By Grace and Banners Fallen, for sale, Tor made a gesture to Jordan’s fans desperate for the latest volume of Robert Jordan’s and Brandon Sanderson‘s the Wheel of Time byputting the first (short) chapter on line a few days ago… (The following is obviously of no interest whatsoever to those who have no read the preceding volumes!)

“Feral dogs hunted through the rubble for meat. They looked up as the wind passed, their eyes hungry.”

The very beginning feels like a prologue, with the traditional image of a wind going across the land and reporting on the desperate prospects facing its inhabitants. Then it turns into the—as well—traditional feature of the main characters taking quick decisions on truly major issues and as suddenly discussing trivial matters. And arguing against one another, as they have been doing for the previous 10,188 pages of the series!

“Pregnant. Pregnant with his children. Light! He had only just learned of it. Why hadn’t she been the one to tell him?”

Maybe the most surprising item in the chapter is the fact that Rand only learns now about Elayne being pregnant. I do not remember anything about this from the previous books, but this late in the pregnancy, this sound inexplicable! Esp. given the Bond existing between them… And the way he reacts to Elayne having not told him is equally subdued. This whole chapter reflects what Leigh Butler called “the Jesusing of Rand”, going from half-mad to philosophical and collected in the previous volume, Towers of Midnight…. Making us feel like facing a new character! Anyway, the whole chapter fits into the style of those previous books, things happening at a reasonable pace but still hindered by unnecessary details and inane conversations. May the Last Battle come as quickly as possible!