Book Review: The Spherical Trust by Mjke Wood

Image result for the spherical trust by Mjke Wood
The Sphere of Influence, Book III. The Spherical Trust

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2018
Publisher: Copperbird Press
Length: 421
pages
Kindle Edition:
£2.99

Synopsis

Bob Slicker is back, with stature. But being King of the Sphere of Influence isn’t everything he imagined. He’s convinced someone’s out to get him.
Elton D Philpotts has never been away, and he also has new-found status. But being a Finance Director isn’t everything he imagined. Is someone out to get Elton, too?
Only one man has an ego big enough to carry two such massive grudges, but Martin Levison is gone, lost in deep space with no route home. So who else wants Philpotts and Slicker dead?
The threat is bigger than one man. This time there’s more to save than a lost planet or a ragtag band of mercenaries. This time the future of the whole Sphere of Influence is in play.

The final chapter in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, feels like it’s been a long time coming; but worth the wait!

In Deep Space Accountant, the hero came in the unlikely form of Elton D Philpotts; the titular accountant, who has little confidence and an obsession with numbers bordering on OCD.

With The Lollipop of Influence, the previously odious, and sweaty, Bob Slicker had to team up with navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, to escape the planet they had been abandoned on.

The Spherical Trust brings the whole cast together – including the re-emergence of arch enemy, Martin Levison. We get to meet Elton’s parents; albeit briefly in his father’s case, but Polina Philpotts is a woman to be reckoned with, I really liked her. She is one of those practical, common-sense women who knows politics, isn’t intimidated by it and will chain herself to a rock to save a beauty spot – we could do with more like her in the real world. (And this is where the title comes from – think National Trust!)

This third book ties together the previous two in directions I had not imagined would be the case. It has nearly all of the characters racing across known and unknown space; bouncing from planet to planet in the Sphere of Influence, in a dizzying race that accelerates not in a machine-gun blazing, cinematic, all-American heroic manner, but in that bumbling British style that has many comic moments.

There’s a lot about how we, as a species, take our environment for granted; without being preachy – if there’s one thing Mjke Wood does not do, it’s preach. Like when Elton discovers where all the waste goes:

Elton pondered on it. He looked at the size of the pipe, vibrating with the onrushing surge of excrement. He thought of the volumes he’d seen gushing in from all corners. He thought about the time frame, one hundred and sixty years. Out there, somewhere in space, was a place where you would not want to crack open your spacesuit helmet for a nanosecond, because there was one mighty bad smell.

I could not see how Wood was going to tie everything together; especially when he incorporated the Teddy’s – child-minding teddy bears, introduced killer bees and a whole section of a planet devoted to Norwegians who loved to sing at all hours of the day. I could not envision how certain events could be addressed in a single book; such as how to save a planet, how the bad guy gets his comeuppance (if he does), and what do all those numbers mean?!

But he does it. And he does it well.

There is a quintessential Britishness to Wood’s writing, like Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Wood has lovingly crafted characters who are appealing; for the most part, silly; a lot of the time, and prone to making mistakes like the rest of us. We follow the multiple viewpoints through interstellar blunderings, cringing board meetings, ripped pants, assassination attempts, and waste management. Wood has a, seemingly, effortless style that can be deceptive, his work is very easy to read, but it is not light on the science in science-fiction. He does not shy away from dealing with scientific terms, there’s mathematical problems he has evidently had to solve, such as the time differentiation between planetary travel and enough technicalities to keep readers of hard sci-fi happy.

If there was a criticism I would make, it would be that I think it could have been longer. There was a lot of information to compact into a novel this size – though I can understand the author wanting to keep all books in a trilogy of similar length. I would, for instance, have liked more about Russ Kurosov the muscle-bound Commando who had a special ‘Jim’. A the end of the trilogy, a note from the author reads, I have ideas for stand-alone novels set in the Sphere, with new characters, new problems and new insanity. I can only hope that Kurosov is one of those selected for further investigation!

Oh, a little addendum – there’s an Easter Egg throughout the story. I had one of those hang on a minute moments. Copperbird, the huge corporation that runs all sorts from prisons to heated boots, is the imprint the books are published under!

I’m giving The Spherical Trust

4 Stars

Advertisements

Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date:
2008
Publisher:
Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group
Length:
536 pages
Paperback:
£12.99

Publisher’s Synopsis

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but its going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. Its past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

https://firstlaw.fandom.com/wiki/Last_Argument_of_Kings

Back in January 2017, I wrote a review of The Blade Itself. I ‘won’ it in a book swap. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year journey for me into the world of Logan Ninefingers and his motley band of Northmen.

What to say about a trilogy that got mixed reviews and a massive following that led to a well visited wiki Fandom, that I was, on and off, submerged into for three years?

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie – he writes amazing characters.

Logan Ninefingers is Still alive. Continues fighting, and is drawn into, not only personal conflict in the North, but the greatest battle in the Union. Last Argument of Kings finds him questioning himself more and more – is he a good man, or an evil man? Is he fit to lead his band, or best serving as a follower? Should he allow his barbarian, mindless, other self; The Bloody Nine, to take control in battle, or give up and welcome death?

Ninefingers has been our prime MC throughout the trilogy; as it is him who begins the first book and ends the third, and as he matures, so his view on his own lifestyle is called into question – can a man so steeped in blood and violence opt for a peaceful life – does he even deserve it?

Abercrombie has given us a (anti)hero who could easily have been a pedestrian D&D style character, but despite what some critics say, I do believe he develops. He may not stop fighting, but he lets us know, via internal dialogue, that he wishes the whole bloody affair over and done with. His is a cerebral development; strangely, given that he’s a mercenary, a killer – a murderer. I say it’s cerebral because Ninefingers thinks about what he has done and how he came to be where he is. He thinks about how it might be if he changed, and realises that because he has so much history of violence and a reputation for it, then the chances are pretty slim. This is a melancholic chapter in his, and the reader’s, journey.

Related image
Logan Ninefingers.
Image from
comicvine.gamespot.com

Jezel Dan Luther returns to Adua, his home city. Physically scarred from his journey to the West (Book II: Before They Are Hanged). He is still a young man with dreams to match, yet changed by his experiences. He is a little less brash, a lot less selfish – and in for a terrible time. He thinks to marry the woman he loves; Ardee West. He thinks to settle down into some well-paid post of Captain. Jezel, unlike Ninefingers, gets little chance to think, he must do as he is told; because of the position he finds himself thrust into. His choices become shockingly limited; despite his new-found role, and he can only react to situations. Jezel does his damnedest to be a decent man and feels thwarted at every turn. In the first book, I reacted to Jezel as, I’m sure Abercrombie meant me to, with contempt. He was a superficial, selfish little shit. In this final book, I desperately wanted it all to work out for him.

Image result for jezal dan luther
Jezel Dan Luther.
Image from GeeklyInc

Superior of the Inquisition, Sand Dan Glokta, is still in the secrets trade. We still get that oppositional internal dialogue when he speaks with others; A shame to leave such lovely company…but when duty calls. He thinks after a short interview with Arch Lector Sult. Glokta probably changes least of all. This could be attributed to the fact that a man so crippled and steeped in politics and up to his elbows in others blood and bile hardly has much choice. He cannot run; literally, he would not be able to hide for sure, and he knows that at any point his bloated corpse might end up floating down the river. But Glokta still held my interest, why? Simply because he sticks to what he knows best, which is staying alive. There are, however, two very touching scenes. One involves his old fencing friend from his youth, Collem West, the other involves West’s sister, Ardee. It is interesting to watch Glokta in the face of helplessness, he always expects the worst outcome – but for two instances, he hopes, not for himself, but for Collem and Ardee.

I have to admit to having a lump in my throat when Glokta encounters his old friend who has been struck down with a hideous disease.

Of course there are many, many other characters who deserve mention – The Last of the Magi; Bayez, The Dogman, Black Dow, Ferro Maljinn, Severard, but I couldn’t do them all justice in a simple blog post.

There are few men with more blood on their hands than me.

Logan Ninefingers knows all about fighting and death, and there is a tonne of it in this book. The battles are hideously well written. The fight on Crummock i’Phail’s hill fort is astonishingly violent and immersive. It was like being behind the wobbly wooden barricade with them, as they waited in the dawn mist watching Bethod’s army waiting to move. Fingers, limbs, heads, every possible body part is pierced and sliced and skewed and bludgeoned. How on earth Abercrombie found so many words and phrases to describe death in battle is beyond me. It isn’t a huge cinematic blockbuster of a war, it’s one of those horrible localised battles; sure there’s hundreds of men involved, but we are exposed to the horror of hand-to-hand fighting, the smells and the grunting, the feel of steel sliding on bone. We see our ‘hero’, Logan Ninefingers do a truly horrible thing. In previous books we have seen skirmishes and battles, we have seen blood and guts, but this battle is truly mayhem. How can the reader possibly relate to the character after committing such an atrocious act? But here’s the thing, I did!

The final battle in Adua is equally violent, with a dash of Bayez’ magic thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, battles in films and books can be so expansive, so huge that we cannot really get a feel for what is going on. Abercrombie gives us snapshots of the city through the eyes of each character as he, or she, struggles to survive. This way we see what it is like to be a refugee from one’s own home, the starving peasant, the soldier who actually is scared, ruination where once stood beauty.

It’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s depressing. And so it should be. War is no fun for anyone; even those who signed up for it in the first place – because it is fucking dangerous, and we can feel this in the people fleeing, in Jezel’s desperation to lend a hand, in Ninefingers mad rush into a row of pikemen, in West’s hasty assault with his cavalry and infantrymen. And I was totally engaged.

I have read reviews that said the writing is ‘clunky’. I have read that people found it boring, or everyone dies (everyone doesn’t die by the way). I thought the writing was succinct, none of that Tolkeinesque, flowery stuff, just your good, solid writing that I feel fits the style of narrative. I still like that Abercrombie kept the chapters as seen from different points of view, and the internal dialogue is wonderful. It isn’t fantastic writing – but then again, I’m not sure what that means – a thoroughly academic command of the written word AND the ability to create an amazing story AND engaging characters AND…whatever else?

But it’s a fantastic tale well told.

Boring? Boring?! I can’t imagine what they were reading. This is not a boring book. It keeps the pace of the previous two, action, violence and intrigue, interspersed with quieter moments to alter the pace. Abercrombie manages to avoid clichés very well, the whole thing could easily have tipped into another fighting fantasy book with swords and sorcery and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t. I’ve picked up loads of books in the fantasy genre and then tossed them aside after a couple of chapters (and that was being generous in some instances).

Not to spoil it, but everyone doesn’t die. Some do – I’m not saying who – some survive in the same way they always have; by their wits or by violence, and some survive because they bend with the times.

We don’t always get what we want – could be the moral of the story (if there has to be one). Or, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

You see, like real life, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Is there a ‘happy ending’? I’m not sure, but I was not expecting that.

I always have a little sad moment when I complete a book, and this was no exception. I’m going to miss drinking wine with Ardee, struggling down dank staircases with Glokta, and wrestling with my conscience with Logan Ninefingers. I’m not sure I can leave it all behind, I might have to go after other titles by Joe Abercrombie – and that for me is what makes a good, if not great, storyteller.

FIRSTLAW_BLADEITSELF_VOL1_COVER_jpeg_rev3
Cover of first volume of The First Law comic book covering The Blade Itself.
Image from GeeklyInc

I’m giving Last Argument of Kings (and The First Law trilogy)

5 stars

#IndieAuthors: It’s Trending on Twitter

Good morning all.

Image result for indie author month banner

There’s something rather wonderful happening on Twitter this morning. In fact, it will be a month long happening.

#indieauthors is surely on it’s way to ‘Trending’ right now, with writers and readers from across the globe sharing their book titles and buying like there’s no tomorrow.

I believe the tag was started by @agletterman, a writer who joined the #WritingCommunity on Twitter a few months ago and has posted daily, almost, about writing, authors, the craft of writing and has been encouraging other writers to interact and share their questions and solutions to issues ranging from – what do I do when I have writer’s block? To should I kill off my darlings?

I don’t know who began the #WritingCommunity hashtag – I like to think I had a hand in it, but can’t be sure – it would be interesting to find out where, and with whom, it all began, but one things for sure, it has taken off big style. The Writing Community on Twitter has been an extremely supportive online arena, especially in the light of the political shenanigans and depressing news stories that abound, and the Tweets that are reportedly ‘vile’. Many people have said they hate Twitter because it’s a cesspool of hate and vitriol, back-biting and denigration. Not in the #WritingCommunity.

So what’s an Indie Author?

Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition. If you see yourself as the creative director of your books, from concept to completion and beyond, then you’re indie. You don’t approach publishers with a longing for validation: “publish me please”.

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/what-is-an-indie-author/

Being an #indieauthor does not mean you are working and publishing alone, without an agent or publishing house. You might do this and self-publish and go with a small press and, or, start your own independent publishing company. There’s a lot of flexibility in being an indie author.

So why is #indieauthor and #indieapril a good thing?

Well, when someone sets out on the creative path there is no-one to tell you what to do. You create whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever style suits you. Sounds great doesn’t it? But it can feel isolated for some, lack constructive feedback, lack praise for successes. (*Writers, you can see my ‘How To Embrace Twitter As An Aid’ blog here.) Writers work alone (mostly). We spend days, months; sometimes years, crafting a single manuscript; MS. Emotions are poured onto the page, imaginations fired up, a world envisioned and told for others to read. But for those who are not brimming with self- confidence, or who do not have contacts, or have never had the good fortune – and luck does play a huge part in whether or not you get taken on by an agent and published by a known press – to be taken on by a publishing house, where does one go?

You might decide to use something like Amazon CreateSpace, or set up a website with an author page to sell your books. But there are over 200,000 books published annually in the UK alone. How do you get your little self-published or indie title noticed in the avalanche of words? It’s an extremely difficult task – besides, who wants to spend fifty percent of their time doing the business side of things when they could be writing another book?!

The Twitter community of writers is doing it’s damnedest to support each other in many marvellous ways. And #indieapril is the latest, and hopefully will be an annual ‘event’. It allows all the shy and retiring types to put their work out there. It allows the socially awkward to promote themselves, it allows people who have been rejected by agents another chance to be heard, it allows any age, race, gender/genderless, class, creed; whatever, to say – I am a writer and I have this book that I am proud to share..

So whether you’re a writer or not, pay a visit to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, say ‘Hi’; they’re a friendly bunch. Find the #indieauthor or #indieapril, and discover new up and coming authors, buy a book – hell, buy half a dozen if it’s for you e-reader – and help support creatives who normally don’t do much shouting or arm waving – I might be gobby, but an awful lot of writers are timid creatures, please be aware.

Image result for indie authors

Book Review: The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

Genre: Fantasy Noir
Pub First Date: 4th April 2019
Publisher:Kyanite Publishing
Length: 350 pages
Paperback: ARC copy from author for review purposes

Titan City, 1933

The wizard Anson Walker’s cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother. Her kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a cosmic event every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. As Anson dives into the criminal underworld of Titan City, he uncovers an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and dredges up feelings he thought long gone. Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the sinister forces arrayed against him?

Some readers may not have heard of the Fantasy Noir genre before. It is one of those sub-sub-genres that is becoming popular; like Diesel, Stitch and Elf have emerged from the genre of Steampunk. From Fantasy has emerged Alternative, Dying Earth and Futuristic. Also Dark, or Noir, and if you are familiar with the term from cinema, then you will have an idea where Alexander Thomas is coming from.

The Magician’s Sin has, as it’s lead, Anson Walker; ‘Exterminator’, who shares more than a few characteristics of the hard-boiled PI about him – though he does, in one scene, make protestations to the contrary. He’s mature (don’t know how old), intelligent to a degree, cynical and has a smart mouth. He swears and spits and smokes, I like him. I have a weakness for Marlowesque characters with snappy lines and a quick delivery – Anson Walker has a few snappy lines, I would have liked more.

He is ’employed’ – I use the term loosly as she doesn’t pay him, by Caroline Dupree, a young woman not only growing and finding herself, but along the way finds what or who she is and what she is capable of. She develops very nicely as a character, though some of her early growth happens a wee bit too quickly for my liking; she seems to accept the remarkable with remarkable ease.

I really enjoyed the opening scenes, where we are introduced to Walker – and his skills as a wizard. I became quite attached to the Dupree family in their little domestic, after work setting. There are some pretty neat descriptions of characters and places – of the MC: ‘Anson was lanky like a shadow at sunset.’ Of a group of Russian gangster types: ‘Their grim, flat faces were slate tiles.’

I found some of the dialogue stilted, in that it did not flow in a manner conducive to helping move the scene forwards, or it felt unnatural, or innappropriate for the scene. I can’t, for example, imagine discussing much at all whilst in the middle of a three-way fight with an Amazon.

Yes, I did say Amazon, as in mighty female warriors. This was another sticking point for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, I love noir, I love horror, and superheroes, and mythology – you see where I’m going with this? Thomas has included all, and more, of these beings into one story, and for me, the scene outside the nightclub lost all psychological realism – simply too many varieties of beast; vampires, werewolves, Japanese demons, medusa-like women and ogres. This nightclub also has the strange ability, I don’t understand how, it’s not explained, to have people from different eras in the one place – from Roman Legionnaires to Mark Twain. Again, my suspension of disbelief was suspended a little too high.

I think Thomas has come up with an interesting idea, with a great main character and supporting cast – one called Chevron grew on me, and Thomas piqued my curiosity with this guy. The Aberration is a great concept about when the magical energies will be weaker, or at least in flux and it has an exciting finale.

It’s a crazy mix of 1930s detective noir, comic novel, superheroes and mythology, that I’m not 100% convinced Thomas has pulled off. I feel he could have had one story thread, a single arc and one or two fantastical beasts, and it would have been just as good. Sometimes it feels as though the author got over-excited and wanted to fit in as much as possible, and in parts, smacks a little of a D and D game – the amazing devices, shining orbs and jewels, and very powerful magic. I don’t believe I am the target audience for this novel – though I do like all the elements, it’s too ‘noisy’ for my tastes, but if you like your fantasy stuffed with humanoids, feisty women and a snarky lead, then this will be just your thing.

But despite my reservations…

I am curious to know what happens with the two characters in the end scene…will they be back for a second outing? We’ll have to wait and see!

The Magician’s Sin is Coming to E-book, Paperback, and Hardcover 04/04/2019, courtesy of Kyanite Publishing.

I’m giving The Magician’s Sin

3 Stars

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer or, How to embrace Twitter as an aid.

Years ago, I watched the film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner starring Tom Courtenay. It’s a great film, very British, very much of it’s time; made in 1962. But it has a quality that resonates and made a lasting impression on me.

Courtenay plays Colin Smith; a rebellious teenager in a poverty-stricken town in northern England, who enjoys running as an escape from his harsh reality. He gets caught stealing and is sent to a reform school. The governor wants to impress officials and so forth by promoting sports as rehabilitation. Colin gets inducted to race against a prestigious rival school.

I won’t tell you the ending – that’s not the point of this post – what I am interested in is how this compares to writing. I’ve been growing my connections on Twitter recently, via the #WritingCommunity. There are people who write who are very much engaged with a wider community, not just their immediate friends, and who make an effort to help others to connect through list-making, shout-outs, #FollowFridays and so forth.

Now I’m a lot like Colin. I like my own company, I positively revel in the times that I spend alone, so that I can immerse myself into my world building, characters and narrative. I love to run alone, not only that – I want to run alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sociable; when I am required to be. I don’t have anxiety about meeting people – I just don’t want to – I am not anti-social; I don’t behave inappropriately (well, not often!), but I am unsociable by nature; when I want to be.

Writing is a bit like being a long-distance runner. You might rise early and limber up with some brief exercises, or set about your working day in a casual manner. Regardless of when you write, where you write, or how you put the words down, you will do this alone. And alone you will be until you have finished the process. Then you will edit; alone. The whole process of creating, editing, re-writing etc. might take you months, even years. Only you can do this, no-one else. It’s your ideas, your work, your creation. Then you will send your work off – and receive rejections – alone.

This does not mean you have to be lonely. For those writers who struggle with this isolation, the community of writers on Twitter might be somewhere to reach out and relieve that feeling. There are professional writers as well as amateurs. Published and unpublished. Dabblers and specialists.

I have experienced authors who reach out and lend a helping hand; such as @garethlpowell. Gareth is an award winning science fiction writer, you’d think he would be too busy, but no, he gives of his time on a daily basis. A new arrival on Twitter, @EliselsWritinYA, stormed onto the writing scene by listing ALL the writers she followed, classified them and sent numerous Tweets out into the community. Elise Carlson just dived straight in there in her very first month.

The point is, you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be. I have encountered new ‘Tweeters’ who are very apologetic, filled with trepidation, are shy about announcing their presence. But I reckon 99% of the time, they find a warm welcome into the #WritingCommunity – sure, you get the odd dick who tries to tell you how things should be (I may even be one of those dicks myself at times), but you can be sure that you will make connections; maybe even friends. You can let off steam, ask questions, get moral support in times of need.

It will not, I hasten to add, make you a better writer! This can only be done by dedication, application, self-criticism and honesty.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring once said – “Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.

So, back to Colin. The title of the film suggests he himself is lonely, not at all. The runner in this instance is a metaphor for choosing to be alone – so he isn’t actually ‘lonely’. Colin has chosen running so that he can, not only escape his mundane, poverty-ridden existence, but to allow time to develop his own thoughts, and through this, he comes to understand the societal differences and class divisions of the time. Colin sees through the authority figures; especially that of the prison governor, and the image conveyed to others of their ilk, and what really lies beneath. Colin questions; if only in his own head, the establishment.

As a writer, you will probably be doing some of the same things, questioning authority; of a character’s parents, the government he or she resides in, that of movements, peers, received opinions, taught mythologies.

You will live inside your own head until you have completed your idea.

You may work alone – but you don’t have to be lonely.

Film Review – I Think We’re Alone Now

Official Movie Poster

Genre: Drama/Sci-fi

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning

Released: 21 January 2018

Director: Reed Morano

Production: Automatik Entertainment, Exhibit Entertainment et al.

**SPOILER ALERT**

Synopsis

Del is alone in the world. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in his small, empty town, content in his solitude and the utopia he’s methodically created for himself — until he is discovered by Grace, an interloper whose history and motives are obscure. And to make matters worse, she wants to stay.

Google. https://g.co/kgs/sCh7zM

I watched this on Netflix (UK)

I came to know Peter Dinklage’s work, as so many other have, through Game of Thrones. Then I saw him in Death At A Funeral and Elf, both roles which I thoroughly enjoyed him in. I hadn’t heard of I Think We’re Alone Now; just found it whilst surfing through Netflix.

After watching, I looked up a couple of reviews; they weren’t very positive, and I wondered what critics were expecting when they saw Dinklage was starring in a post-apocalyptic drama. I went in with no expectations.

**SPOILERS**

It’s post-apocalypse America and Del is alone in a small town; believing himself the last man alive after some unspecified event that has caused everyone to die – quite quickly it seems, and some months prior to these events. Del has settled into a routine in the library where he works, still collecting and cataloguing books, as well as cleaning up the deceased and their homes. We see a man who has respect for the dead – or do we? – who quietly enters homes, tidies up, empties fridges of their rotten contents, disinfects around, and then wraps the bodies he finds and takes them on his truck to be buried outside of town.

Del in the homes of the dead

It appears to be a peaceful existence; even in his solitude. He lives in the library and maintains a routine of cooking, eating, washing (he even brushes his teeth), fishing, maintaining the library (for whom?), and burying the dead. It’s a semblance of normalcy, we understand that this is how a man alone can stay sane.

Then Grace arrives. She is young, brash and upsets the routine that Del has built. When Grace accompanies Del on one of his ‘corpse clean-ups’, she watches how he dumps the bodies in the ground and tells him that her father was a preacher, that when she passed bodies on her way here she held her breath. They begin a routine of silence and breath-holding from then on.

Grace

We know next to nothing about Del’s and Grace’s previous lives, only what they choose reveal to each other. Del seems self-contained and content in contrast to Grace’s head-banging restlessness, and I think that’s how it should be; we are watching them through each other’s eyes. However, a tiny glimpse into Del’s previous existence comes in the poignant reply to when Grace asks if Del ever gets lonely, he replies, “You know what? I’ll tell you when I felt lonely. I felt lonely when it was me and 1,600 other people in this town. I was pretty fucking lonely.”

The main oddity is when Grace is sorting her hair looking in a mirror – she has a recent scar on the back of her neck.

And then Grace’s parents turn up. Del, unhappy at the initial intrusion, now exhibits signs of agitation. Grace had told him there was no-one else alive. Grace had told him her parents were dead – Grace lied. Her father finds Del, in his quiet solitude, in the library, and tells him he should join them out on the West Coast, they have doctors who are doing things with the human mind, cutting edge stuff, the loneliness of being outside ‘the fold’. They whisk Grace off,; but not before Grace desperately tell him these people are not really her parents, and Del is alone again.

Peter Dinklage as Del

Predictably, Grace has touched a part of Del that remembers/needs human contact. He sets out to find/rescue her. There is no-one as he drives for days across the country. He swaps his vehicle at each road blockage; where bodies lie desiccating inside cars, in dust-blown towns, until he finally drives over a rise and sees the lights of a large town. Stunned, he locates the house (Grace’s ‘father’ wrote it inside one of the library books) and Grace, who is wired up to some monitor device, filled with tubes and stuff, which Del releases her from.

Downstairs, they are met by the ‘father’, who does little to stop them, but tells Del that in the same way Del is keeping his town clean, they are doing the same here – but with the citizens! “They don’t have to remember what happened before. They don’t have to live in the past. There’s no before. There’s only from now on. Isn’t that beautiful? To not have to remember anything?”

It’s kind of creepy; as is he, so it’s a delight when Grace kills him. As Del and Grace drive off, we get a Stepford Wives moment – slo-mo citizens going about their beautiful lives, in beautiful sunshine; jogging, gardening, drinking beer on the lawn, smiling and content.

I know some people felt cheated that this film turned out to NOT be a last man in the world scenario. But we have seen lots of post-apocalypse stuff, and lots of man/woman alone against the odds and I think this film makes us adjust our attitude to togetherness – it’s not about survival after a disaster, its about connectedness and that, now cliché quote of John Donne’s, ‘No man is an island’. Despite Del thinking he can cope, and has made a lovely little routine, and thinks he is happy – he isn’t really, and Grace reminds him that man cannot live alone.

There were a couple of aspects of the film that didn’t quite ring true for me, but nothing that disrupted the narrative. The dialogue is quite sparse, only the ‘father’ has a chunk of dialogue, and by the time he arrives, I felt settled into Del and Grace’s routine and wanted him to go away. In fact, at the beginning, I did feel like Del when he and Grace went ‘shopping’ in the supermarket, and she asked him what he missed the most, and he replied ‘Quiet.’ He had become so used to his isolation that he was reclusive – and I could relate to that.

Is there an underlying meaning in I Think We’re Alone Now? I think so. It isn’t an action film, there isn’t much dialogue – it’s contemplative. And not only are we being asked to contemplate isolation; initially, but the sharing of our lives with others; even another who is not necessarily, or initially compatible. Grace and Del are dealing with loss in very different ways; he through routine and solitude, she through having her memory wiped. There is a wide gap in their ages, but a little romance does blossom, which is also the reality that bites when Del decides to save her.

The ending, I feel, is almost portrayed like an invitation to join ‘the fold’. You could; like so many people do, choose the easy option and live a life of ‘apparent’ bliss, have a house, a car, a job, hobbies, friendly neighbours, sunshine and lollipops. The film’s ending is the most brightly lit section – throughout it has been blue-tinted greys and dark shadows. Now, as they leave what I presume is meant to be California, we get clear blue skies, palm trees, colourful bicycles and clothing; perfect America? All intensified with an eerie score of suggested discordance. It begins to ‘wind up’ in tension as Del slows the car – is he wishing he could join them? Is life too hard to go on back up North? Does he imagine it would be easier to be one of the herd? His thoughts are interrupted by Grace and the single pronouncement of his name, and they’re moving again. The music rises in pitch and blossoms into a beautiful conclusion as they drive off.

You can take the red pill or the blue pill. Live in a David Lynch-like world of white picket fences and lies – or get on with reality. Utopia is what we make it.

Lonely Days For Del

I’m giving I Think We’re Alone Now

4 stars

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is little-star.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is little-star.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is little-star.jpg

Black Javert

David Oyelowo as Inspector Javert

Over the past six weeks the BBC has been showing their latest adaptation of Les Miserables (UK).

It seemed from the start that what a lot of people concerned themselves with was the colour of Inspector Javert’s skin – he was portrayed by David Oyelowo – and whether a black actor should be representing a copper in 19th century France.

Let’s not call anyone racist, as many folk are probably genuinely puzzled by his inclusion into this, perceived, #whiteworld. As a white person myself, I cannot help the world I grew up in – white family, white friends, white neighbourhood. I would guess that over 90% of children in my schools were white, but in my Primary school class there was one girl of Chinese parentage and one boy who was Black British. But overall it was a very white world.

This was not my choice. Children do not choose where they grow up. We are the result of our culture and upbringing. So if the people on social media question David Oyelowo’s casting, then let’s accept it as simply that – questioning.

It’s the naysayers who can make things uncomfortable for the rest of us white folk. “No!” they say, “No way could a black guy become a police officer in that period.”

One of the things Victor Hugo hi-lights in his story, is the way people are born into a class system and, mostly, die in that class they were born to. However, some rise above it. Jean Valjean, a convict, rises at one point to become Mayor of a small town. Inspector Javert was born in a prison to a Fortune-Teller mother, his father is also a prisoner. His beginnings suggest that he may never rise to the top of the class system, but he becomes a law enforcer, and this world has it’s own hierarchy. For one man, change is the force that makes him a better man, for the other it is what breaks him.

Most people will have heard of Alexandre Dumas; author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. A similar thing happened when his books were made into films and TV shows – at least in the UK – white actors all. And yet, Dumas was himself a Person of Colour. Are we to believe that he only wrote white characters?

Alexandre Dumas

And what about that claim that black people could not rise to prominence?

Dumas’ own father, became a military General and served with distinction. In 1879, Severiano de Heredia became president of the municipal council of Paris – he was bi-racial. Blaise Diagne was a SenegaleseFrench political leader and the Mayor of Dakar. He was the first black African to hold a position in French government in early 20th century (in 1899 he also became a Freemason!) There are other examples.

In the UK, Norwell Roberts was the first black officer in the Metropolitan Police force – 1967. However, recent research has revealed that actually, one of our first (recorded) black officers was John Kent, who served from 1837 in Carlisle. The point is this –

Yes, a black person could have become a police officer in 19th century France!

We must also remember that this production – Les Miserables by the BBC, is entertainment. And the actors are just that, actors. They aren’t really those things they portray, so some level of flexibility of mind is not a great ask. For my part, I thought Oyelowo portrayed Javert wonderfully. Rigid with indignation, self-satisfaction, obsession and possibly shame, he cannot, he realises, continue after experiencing the self-sacrifice of Jean Valjean. That final moment we see as he determines to commit suicide, the agony of his inability to commit himself to the act – then the clarity of understanding that his life has been wasted – he could have been a better man – and finally truth descends, no more tears, he is ready to die.

Also, in the spirit of Victor Hugo and his representations of the struggles of humanity – might we not come to be less poor of mind and spirit ourselves; as well as physicality and station in life, if we could just be more accepting and open-minded about each other – regardless of skin colour? If we do not open ourselves up to possibilities and change, if we retain and do not question what we learnt in our childhoods, then might we all just be Javerts?

*Three images of David Oyelowo from BBC iPlayer – https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer