Mixed media, Wednesday 15 October 2014

We watched Edge of Tomorrow on Sunday, and it was good.

Strong performances from Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in the leads, and the balance of action and humour was just right. The situation lends itself to Groundhog Day comic moments, but they aren’t overplayed. I liked that the film didn’t spend a lot of time on exposition. It assumes that you will understand what’s going on, and that you can keep up with the time loops. The ending is flawed, but not bad. They couldn’t quite figure out how to shut it down cleanly…so they just didn’t.

(Disclosure: we received a promotional copy of Lock In from Tor Books)

I was very reluctant to read this. I like Scalzi’s books in general, but the core idea of Lock In, that a worldwide epidemic has left a proportion of the population in a locked-in state, pushes phobia buttons for me. It’s something I think about regularly, and not in my happier moments. It’s on my mind whenever I look at my music collection in iTunes, and see how many long my 4+5-star rated playlist is (currently 2134 songs, 6 days 9 hours play time). I crave new music, and I think about how long I could handle listening to the same collection over and over again. Would that collection be enough of a seed for a serviec like Last.fm or Spotify to build me an ongoing stream of new things I would like?

It’s a phobia. It doesn’t have to be rational.

Anyway, after figuring out that the book is more of a science fiction police procedural (one of my favourite genre blends) than about locked-in syndrome as such, I finally made a start on it. And because it’s Scalzi, it’s a very easy start. Engaging characters, fast-moving plot right from the start, believable setting, and a breezy writing style make the pages fly by. The mystery genuinely depends on the science fictional ideas, rather than merely resting on them as a backdrop. The only quibble I had was that the ending felt too familiar. Not the revelation of whodunnit as such, but its execution. Scalzi has a penchant for writing climactic scenes that involve smart characters all sitting together and exchanging smart dialogue to explain the super-smart resolution they’ve figured out, and Lock In has one just like that. I suppose that’s like complaining about a pizza for being covered in cheese, though. Lock In is packed with great ideas, but it didn’t leave me feeling thrilled.

(Bear in mind that because of my initial reaction, I was probably applying a certain amount of emotional distance to the book throughout, so your experience may be very different.)

I ordered The Magicians’ Land by Lev Grossman and Echopraxia by Peter Watts from Transreal last week, and they arrived yesterday. Echopraxia takes place in the same universe as Blindsight, one of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read. I’m feeling somewhat scared in advance of starting Echopraxia, but in a good way.

Also been playing a lot of Elite: Dangerous lately, and it’s still good. Because Elite involves a certain amount of nostalgia for me, I did a search the other day for “The Micro User”, a the BBC Model B magazine I used to eagerly await, and copy-type code listings from. (Saving to cassette tape!) Found an archive of scans at http://8bs.com/tmucovers.htm. 1984. Those issues. Wow.