Two Tribes – Chris Beckett

two tribes cover

“Harry Roberts describes a shallow valley, like an indentation in a quilt, with green pastures and tress on either side.”

When a 23rd century historian discovers journals from two people writing about each other and the same events in 2016, she’s inspired to try to tell their story, pieced together from writings and an abundance of social media records. Harry is an architect and ‘remainer’, Michelle is a hairdresser and pro-Brexit. Can two people from such different ‘tribes’ ever get along? And what of the alienness of life before the Warring Factions conflict, global warming, and all the other things that have changed life in our future?

To be honest, I didn’t really like this book. And yet, I didn’t hate it enough to stop reading. It was, despite the subject matter, easy to read and well enough written, with the exception of some very false-sounding, clunky dialogue near the beginning (not quite “Hey sis, you know our deceased parents who…” kind of level, but shades of it).

The sci-fi framing tale felt like a bit of a bait-and-switch for what turned out to be a particularly long diatribe about Brexit. Sorry, but yawn. Harry is dangerously close to a ‘Gary Stu’, having all of these revelations about how he must examine his default view, that there are two sides, it’s not pro-this and anti-that, middle versus working class, education versus prejudice, blah blah, aren’t I so reasonable and the only person actually thinking! This is balanced by making him somewhat of a pathetic character, and the main story is some tortured love affair that is probably meant to be very Romeo and Juliet, or at least West Side Story.

Meanwhile we get regular little glimpses into the future ‘now’ of the narrator, and discover that as well as obsessing over these two opposite characters, she’s decided to add a layer of fiction with groups of leavers and remainers who may or may not develop into those ‘Warring Factions’ that broke the country. Anything interesting in how things pan out, however, is covered in a few lines of exposition at best.

The last line almost makes it all have a point, albeit rather suddenly, but to be honest it just wasn’t that interesting getting there. I’m surprised it wasn’t more of a slog to read, although it was irritating rather a lot of the time. I’m sure the author was aiming for being impartial, and he does have a few good observations, and yet there are still not-quite-subtle prejudices in the viewpoints, some of which I’m not entirely sure weren’t slightly offensive to at least one group, if not all.

So… can’t recommend. There are interesting moments of how a future society might view our obsession with the likes of social media, or our unthinking privileges, but overall it’s a thinly dressed up attempt at expounding some ‘clever’ viewpoints, shoved into the mouths of some fairly unlikable characters who in the end I just really wished would shut up.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 33 chapters
First published: 2nd July 2020
Series: none
Read from 25th-29th June 2020

My rating: 4/10

Artemis Fowl (2020)

artemis fowl poster

Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12-year-old genius, who’s about to find out that his father (Colin Farrell) might not be all that he seems. Can he use his over-sized brain to rescue Fowl senior when he’s kidnapped? More to the point, can he do so when it turns out dad’s stories of fairy folk and magic aren’t exactly stories…

I’ve read a couple of the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer, and found them entertaining enough. That I’m not a huge fan of the books might have allowed me to enjoy this lacklustre adaptation a little more than I might otherwise, but it’s still got more flaws than not.

Where to begin? Production values were obviously high from the House of Mouse, so it does look pretty good – Fowl Manor is a house to drool after. The fairy world isn’t quite as impressive, and we spend so little time there that if you haven’t read any of the books it all might feel a bit baffling.

And yet, if you have read the books then I suspect you’re going to be either disappointed or just a bit perplexed at some of the translations on screen. We are pointedly told that Artemis is a genius, but very little of that comes through in his behaviour, and absolutely none of the ‘criminal mastermind’ that the books and movie poster led you to expect. Dom Butler doesn’t get enough backstory, but then again, neither do any of the other characters.

I’m not sure any of it quite hit the mark. Things are just so bland, poorly introduced, and never quite capturing a sense of why I should really care. None of the cast stood out well, but Dame Judi Dench has an awful ‘Oirish brogue’ and the huge misstep of actually, pointlessly, announcing “Tawp o tha murnin'” for absolute cringe value.

It’s not unwatchable, but it is a large amount of “couldn’t you have done any better with the material?” and overall felt largely pointless and oddly dull. Shame – and, advice is to swerve.

Released: 12th June 2020 (streaming)
Viewed: 12th June 2020
Running time: 95 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 4/10

Learn to Sleep Well – Chris Idzikowski

learn to sleep well cover

“Insomnia is one of the most common sleep complaints, chronically affecting between five and ten percent of Americans.”

If there’s one thing that would help my – and most of our! – health more than anything, it’d be improving the quality of my sleep. I struggle to nod off, wake early, and am generally just too ‘busy-minded’ to relax. So, any advice from a book like this would surely be of help.

Alas, this is not that book. It is filled with advice, but to be honest it came across as irritating pseudoscience – picking and choosing random bits of ‘research’ to support what they want to say, no real referencing. It’s fine as conversation, not as ‘information’. And oy, the waffle! For instance – why do we sleep less as we age? There are a dozen ‘maybes’ presented as if by some kind of expert. I hate this kind of thing!

It’s not all bad. For a start, the art work is rather lovely – this is a coffee table book, with sleep as the theme. And later chapters are much more readable, losing the cod-science and simply reporting on folk remedies and cultural approaches: things like feng shui, meditation, hot baths. All good folksy things to try, they might or might not help but shouldn’t hurt, and I have no problem with any of this – just the tone at the beginning.

The section on sleep disorders, however, brings me back to: you are not the kind of authority I think I should be taking advice from on more serious issues. And that’s kind of my problem with the book.

So. Looks good. Has gathered a pile of topics around sleep. Shouldn’t be taken as any kind of authoritative text, despite the early tone.

NetGalley eARC: 160 pages / 6 sections
First published: March 2020
Series: none
Read from 2nd-30th March 2020

My rating: 4/10

Simplify – Bob Hillary

simplify cover

“How to stay sane in a world going mad.”

This was such an utterly frustrating book. The premise sounded so appealing – get off the treadmill of modern life, find ways to make life, well, more simple. And there is a small amount of that here. Alas, there is also a huge amount of hippy, trippy talk (despite repeated assertions that “I know that sounds hippyish, but it’s not” – urm, are you sure?) that totally put me off. And I’d suggest that 90% of the book isn’t about making life simpler, but rather about becoming an ‘Earth Warrior’ and doing better by Gaia (insert eye rolling). There’s nothing wrong with that idea, but that is not what I picked this book up for.

Right from the word go I was having my doubts. The author seems to have had the kind of idyllic childhood not usually seen outside of Enid Blyton novels. So when he starts to extol the virtues of growing your own veg and going completely off grid, I think it has to come with a huge pinch of salt: it’s one thing reclaiming something you remember fondly from your youth, but I rather suspect your average townie would struggle a lot, lot more at the attempt. In fact, the idea that this is automatically ‘simple’ and happy-making is simply not true.

This ‘new way’ sounds much more like a very old way, and while there’s merit in that, it’s not what I’d hoped for from this book. This isn’t what I’d call advice on simplifying life so much as abandoning large swathes of it for something entirely different – and that is *not* a simple thing.

The advice given could be beneficial – things like reconnecting with nature, downscaling (decluttering), more mindful use of the internet etc – but also could have been presented far better, imo. Going too extreme was just a turn off. Also, the ’21 practices’ to help simplify life were highly repetitive, so I’d say there’s more like a dozen. None of it is particularly novel.

Overall, I had high hopes for this, and was utterly disappointed.

NetGalley eARC: 113 pages / 5 parts, ~15 chapters
First published: 10th March 2020
Series: none
Read from 13th-20th February 2020

My rating: 4/10

Ad Astra (2019)

ad astra poster

Short review: vastly over-hyped, massive disappointment.

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is the son of the most heroic, lauded astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones) that ever was. Alas, McBride senior disappeared sixteen years into a mission to the edge of the solar system, to try to track down intelligent alien life. Twenty-seven years later, the Earth is in terrible peril from energy surges that seem to come from.. yup, the edge of the solar system. Space Com, a company with worryingly large amounts of power, suspects Roy’s father is to blame – but, that would suggest they have reason to think he’s alive…

So far so good. There were many paths that the filmmakers could have taken this story, at least one of which was suggested by the trailer. But, this is not that movie. I am rather stunned by the fantastic reviews this film is receiving; based on those, I would think I was watching a different movie! Yes, it looks gorgeous, but it’s slow, mopey, full of highly irritating inaccuracies and stupid actions, the story makes no sense, and that voice over – eeep! And please don’t tell me that I just don’t ‘get it’ – the whole void of space vs void of inner life blah blah needs to be paired with something that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes, cringe, or nod off.

One comment I’ve seen in a few reviews is how ‘realistic’ the space stuff is. Urm, absolutely not! There’s not enough gravity on the moon to make dust hang in the air like that; lighter gravity on non-Earth planets isn’t shown; you CANNOT get a ‘boost’ from a shockwave in space like that, and antimatter doesn’t… oh, I give up. Each and every one of these had me cringing. The so-called ‘deep and introspective’ nature of our astronaut ‘hero’ was no excuse for pouting, stupid behaviour, and moments that clearly defied all training. The thing is, if you’re going to make a film set in space I think you either need to go big and silly (e.g. Flash Gordon) or you need to live up to the claims of being ‘realistic’ – this halfway nonsense is just a mess.

And still, y’know, I could have forgiven a lot if the film wasn’t full of randomness that didn’t really fit. The attack by ‘space pirates’ – what was the point of that? Killer baboons! And, why was that research being carried out so far out into space? Other characters flit in and out, and it sort of fits the theme that they are largely meaningless (poor Liv Tyler should have learned from Armageddon), but still. Grrr.

I sat through the mess, thinking this was the kind of film that pulls everything together in the third act, suddenly enlightening the audience and making the slog worth it. No. As seen throughout the movie, there’s a lot of build up to… nothing. And oy, don’t get me started on the total lack of repercussions for anything!!!

Okay. Deep breath. Mostly I am just stunningly disappointed in this film. There are small things that are really well done: the opening disaster; the use of silence (if only Gravity hadn’t gotten there first); the brand names on the moon, the $125 for a pillow and blanket – little nods to the future state of mankind were intriguing. But overall, I think this was just a damp squib, trying to be ‘intellectual’ and failing miserably, and quite frankly too much of an irritating mess to be worth seeing even for the possibility that you’re going to be one of those raving about it.

Released: 18th September 2019
Viewed: 23rd September 2019
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 4/10 – it looked great, but… everything else o.O

Crawl (2019)

crawl poster

I would never have chosen to go to see this movie, which is one of the problems with – or strengths of, depending on the film! – Cineword’s Secret Screenings. There is such an excitement to not knowing what you’re about to watch, but that was tempered with the audible grown I and many other audience members let out when the title card came up.

I spent the first ten minutes or so wondering if I’d be making a hasty exit: I do not like horror movies. The tension builds as we go from Haley (Kaya Scodelario, Maze Runner) competing in a swimming contest, to heading off into a hurricane to track down the semi-estranged father (Barry Pepper, Battlefield Earth) who isn’t answering his phone. Alas, the ‘crawl’ of the title doesn’t refer to her swimming stroke, but rather the storm-flooded crawl space under the house, where she finds her father’s bleeding body.

And then… well, to be honest knowing absolutely nothing about the movie really helped up to this point, so if you want to leave know I’ll understand 😉

After one rather spooky moment, the revelation that this is a ‘creature feature’ was the only reason I stayed – and, I really wish I hadn’t bothered. Plus side, it’s not actually scary – well, jump-scares, rather than unsettling. There is gore a-plenty, but nothing that was going to disturb my precious sleep. Downside: everything else.

Oh, it’s daft. There is not just a huge dollop of factual ‘error’ (no, a person cannot outswim an alligator!), but a total lack of internal consistency. Sometimes it was too dangerous to venture past the piping, other times it was fine to make a run for it, or pause in the open to check for a phone signal.

This isn’t exactly Jaws for a new age, much as it probably wants to be. It’s a silly man-against-invading-nature ‘thing’, and the rather moronic plot-driving elements made me regret giving it my time. If you’re a fan of the genre, your mileage may vary greatly, but I’m really really not – and this did nothing to change that.

Released: 23rd August 2019
Viewed: 29th July 2019 (advanced, secret screening)
Running time: 87 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10

The Easy Way to Mindfulness – Allen Carr

Easy Way to Mindfulness cover

What if there was a simple, no-effort way to reduce stress, free yourself from anxiety and depression, and increase your happiness? This book’s not quite promising to magically transform your life into rainbows and unicorns, but it’s not far off!

I actually am a huge believer in the power of mindfulness, and meditation, and have experienced a positive change in my life from years of both. However, I’m by no means an expert so any help is more than welcome. Step forward this ‘Easy Way’ title, from the people who apparently devised the best quit smoking method ever – surely a good credential?

Well, they seem to think so, as the book half-reads as a giant advert for the system and previous books – which I found massively irritating. Even discounting those bits, the examples tend to go back to smokers – which was beyond irrelevant to me, and actually left me struggling as I have no experience to connect to such an addiction. Could I move the example over to, say, tea or chocolate? Not so much – unlike smoking, there isn’t the same black-and-white it’s awful, and quite frankly I don’t really want to give up tea or chocolate (having done both at certain points) so this “every smoker absolutely wants to quit” message is again pushing me away.

So: I’d suggest that this is perhaps a book for people who have or want to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, etc, perhaps even using the Easy Way method, and want to go deeper into the mindful techniques that they’ve already used for that.

I did quite like some of the imagery: head in a box of flies-that-are-your-issues, mindfulness is not trying to squish the flies but rather taking your head out of the box. One chapter (13) in particular resonated with me, about the struggling against things being more stressful than the thing itself; life is change, go with the flow etc etc.

However, while there are little bits and pieces like that throughout the book – and these are handily summarised in a final chapter run through (that could, I suspect, have been the outline for a better stab at the full content) – I felt it could have been much better written, with a lot more flow. Paragraphs don’t always follow from the previous one, but rather jump around a little, and the content of each chapter isn’t necessarily as strongly linked to the title as I would have expected.

It really doesn’t help that every single chapter seems to include heavy advertising for the quit smoking clinics and previous books. This is shoe-horned in regardless of whether it actually fits with the mindfulness concept under discussion, which was hugely off-putting. And then the last 10% of the book is a list of clinics’ contact details and previous books o_O

Overall: it’s got some useful advice buried in the advertising, and I suspect that if you’re already a member of the Easy Way audience this might resonate more with you, but I couldn’t help be disappointed that it wasn’t a little more helpful, a little more on-topic (I am hugely interested in mindfulness, after all!) and a little less advertisement for a product I have no use for.

NetGalley eARC: 197 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 15th October 2017
Series: part of the Easy Way series of self-help books
Read from 3rd-7th October 2017

My rating: 4/10

The Mummy (2017)

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is not a very nice guy, using his role as army reconnaissance as an excuse to loot antiquities from warzones. However, he’s about to get his comeuppance when a mission goes a little awry, and he ends up uncovering the prison-tomb of a cursed Egyptian princess with a dark thirst for power and death.

This new version of The Mummy (with absolutely nothing to do with the Brendan Fraser/Arnold Vosloo version) is the first in an intriguing new ‘Dark Universe’ series, supposedly bringing all those old Universal monster movies back to a new audience. Based on this, though, I’m not going to hold my breath that we’ll see any more of the series…

Because, yes, the reviews were right and this movie is quite a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, in the right frame of mind, but it’s got very little to recommend the effort, tbh.

First off, the plot: it’s not very different from the previous version(s), in that an ancient evil is awoken (through greed, mainly), and starts stalking the person/people responsible in an effort to regain power and facial tissue and generally take over the world or something. Other mummies are raised as minions (not actual Minions, which would be hilarious, just small-m-minions to do all the legwork) whilst the big bad does a Terminator-esque slow march towards folk, whining about something or other before sucking faces off. Does anything else happen? Urm, not so much.

There is that element of ‘shared universe’, which adds a clunky layer of exposition to the movie. Here is a group tackling evil. I think. Something like that. Did I care? Hmm.

And of course, the cast. Cruise is at least trying to break the mold a little, and spends half the movie in a concussed, confused, vaguely drunk kind of a state – urm, okay… At least it’s better than Annabelle Wallis as the brains of the piece, who brings a strangled, mouth-full-of-marbles quality to a truly dreadfully written role. The pair share less chemistry than… than… well, than the rest of the movie, which is entirely chemistry free o_O

On the plus-ish side, Sofia Boutella does reasonably well as the Mummy, particularly with the physical demands, although the character is hardly well rounded. Jake Johnson gets to have a good time as the comic relief buddy, but tonally it’s all just a little off – and that’s half the problem, nothing entirely seems to fit within this movie.

The other half of the problem is the awful dialogue. I shall say no more – and wish the scriptwriters had thought of that!! o_O

So. No, don’t bother. The action levels could be vaguely fun (I do get the impression the rest of the movie was just an excuse for the airplane crash), but just so disappointing and uneven that I’m sure there are many, many better options for your cinema bucks.

Released: 9th June 2017
Viewed: 23rd June 2017
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10 and that might be generous

BladeRunner 3: Replicant Night – KW Jeter

“Wake up…”

I think the best thing I can say about this book is that it’s very worthwhile to read something a bit rubbish once in a while to make the good stuff look good! o_O

Not having been too impressed with the previous volume, Edge of Human, I had hoped that a second sequel (to the movie, Blade Runner, rather than the source book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) would move further away from the film and have a more interesting plot. Which it almost does, but not before we land slap bang in the middle of the movie – literally, as Deckard advises on a dramatisation of his hunt for the missing (5? 6? ;)) replicants. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but there are a lot of references to visuals in the movie that seem like trying-too-hard in-‘jokes’ for a book. Yes, Mr Writer, we’ve seen it too, thank you very much.

There is quite a lot of repetition here. I suppose some of the ‘real life’ turned to fiction is merited, but then it just keeps happening, constant little dropped references to “oh that bit that only real fans like me would remember”, and it gets really grating, really fast.

Which is a shame, as by the halfway point, there is a really quite fascinating new story line introduced, which had me glued to a large chunk of the book wanting to know what was going on. Alas, I’d have to suggest that the whole thing is handled less than well, and what could have been vastly interesting is turned into another superficial layer on the same-old that we’ve had more than enough of already.

The last book in the series has, like this one, been on my shelf for over a decade, so morbid curiosity will get me to the end, I’m sure. I’m not offering any recommendation, however.

Paperback: 309 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 1996
Series: BladeRunner book 3 (of 4)
Read from 3rd-10th January 2017

My rating: 4/10

BladeRunner 2: The Edge of Human – KW Jeter

“When every murder seems the same, it’s time to quit.”

I reread Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? last year, and was yet again amazed at just how different it is to the film it inspired: BladeRunner. Given both are feted parts of sci-fi culture, the surprise here isn’t that someone decided to try and come up with a sequel (to the movie), it’s that they make so much of an effort to bridge the gap between the two formats.

The central premise of this book comes from a mistake: a mention of six escaped replicants, when the movie then only deals with five. Of course, director Ridley Scott offered his own answers to this with several director’s cuts, so the mystery is already obsolete. Then again, if you weren’t so keen on the shift in direction there, this might offer a different view.

There’s also great scope in the main theme here: what is it that makes us human, and can artificial intelligence get so close to ‘real’ that it is indeed life?

Alas, it all descends into something of a messy sprawl. Too desperate to join book, film, and grander concepts, none felt satisfactorily handled. Instead, we get something of a rehash of the movie: the same replicants, the same BladeRunners, the same issues. Throw in those attempts to paper over some of the gaps between movie and source material – I mean, did anyone really care if J.F. Sebastian was John Isidore renamed, or a separate character? – and… yeah o_O

There is something quite visual in the story telling –  I can see the strain to describe scenes that would have played out better on screen – but ultimately there’s just too much reliance on trying to picture Harrison Ford delivering the lines, rather than developing the character.

This is actual my second read of Edge of Human, but I wouldn’t have noticed from the reread – it left that much of an impact, clearly! However, I’ve had the other two instalments on my shelf for about a decade, and an urge to finally (!) get around to them, particularly before the new BladeRunner 2049 movie hits the cinema later this year. I highly doubt any of these books will have influenced that sequel, but curiosity remains.

Paperback: 340 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1995
Series: BladeRunner book 2 (of 4)
Read from 21st December 2016 – 14th January 2017 (reread, previously Nov 2007)

My rating: 4/10