(July 16 – July 22)
It’s back to school for the Kinderbesten this week, which means back to the school routine for me. Namely: getting the beasts ready in the morning; making lunches in the evening; and enforcing a reasonable bedtime.
In the end, it turned out that I was so worried about mornings becoming hell again that I massively overcompensated. Lunches were made, clothes laid out, breakfast things left ready the night before. Consequently, we were a full ten minutes early to school on the first day. This over-efficiency mostly continued through the week too (helped, I have to say, by the Kinderbesten being pretty damn good at getting ready).
It made me realise that being too organised, that following a routine too aggressively, had partly de-anchored me from that very routine. Sure, we were all ready on time, which was a pretty big success—but we also ended up with a big chunk of time spent standing around in the cold waiting for school to open. Being too early for something is still, technically, poor scheduling.
After a few lengthy hiatuses, the Elderbeast and I finished watching Lost In Space (the new Netflix version) on Monday. It was really good and I’m definitely ready for more. I enjoyed that the show introduced a compelling family dynamic while avoiding the now-cliched dysfunctional family route: the Robinsons in this version are a highly functional family, albeit one with a few wounds to heal. Equally, giving both the robot and Doctor Smith a new spin allowed the writers an extra few layers of intrigue and threat, while including a number of other colonists gave this first series a much broader canvas series to play out against.
Of course, the downside of finishing (and enjoying) a series is that I, typically, haven’t felt like starting anything else new (TV-wise) this week. So I didn’t.
For Friday Horror this week we watched Train To Busan, which was astonishingly good. A zombie movie with all the thrills and a whole bunch of emotions thrown in for good measure. It reminded me at times of the classic 1970s disaster movies, particularly The Cassandra Crossing, but also struck me how well it could work as a 28 Days Later prequel. It’s a tad slow to get going, but once it gets down to business it’s truly relentless and doesn’t stop to give you a break until a closing scene that will have you weeping gently into whatever snack or beverage you’ve chosen to accompany the movie with.
Later in the weekend I continued my Dirty Harry marathon with the third instalment: The Enforcer (a.k.a The One With The Hippy Terrorists). It’s a perfectly decent movie, but definitely began to feel less like a Dirty Harry movie than the first two.
I was struck by two things on this viewing. Firstly, how much like a late seventies TV production it looks. Watching this film is almost like settling down for an episode of The A Team, obviously with added violence, gore, language, etc. I know we’re at a point now where TV and movie production values can pretty much pass for each other, but when I was growing up there was typically a much more profound difference: you only need compare the original Battlestar Galactica TV series and, say, The Empire Strikes Back to see it.
The second thing—which probably should have struck me years ago—occurred as I was once again trying to rationalise my appreciation for the Dirty Harry movies, their obvious right wing politics, and the softening of Harry Callahan’s character through these first three instalments. I realised that Eastwood almost always plays the outsider in his movies: a renegade (Dirty Harry); a rebel on the wrong side of a corrupt system (The Outlaw Josey Wales); a near-mythical figure who exists on the fringes, or beyond, of conventional society (Unforgiven, High Plains Drifter). Even when he’s unambiguously the hero (In The Line Of Fire) he’s still presented as someone out of his time.
The potential message here is that, whoever or whatever the antagonist in these movies might be, the real enemy—the real ‘other’—is, in fact, the rest of the world.
I’m continuing to read From A Certain Point Of View, the book of Star Wars short stories. I’ve been progressing in fits and starts, so I’m still at the point of the narrative where the characters are in Mos Eisley (remember, this book plays around the outskirts of the plot for A New Hope; or Star Wars, if you’re a purist).
The standout tale for me this week has been a caper following four or five barely glimpsed aliens from the cantina scene. They may not have been given names in the movie, but a quick look at Wookiepedia reveals that they not only have names, but remarkably detailed backstories as well. And we should all take a moment to remember those who gave up their time so that this could come to pass.
Anyway, this particular tale brings several of these characters to rich life, and depicts how the events that transpired in the cantina that day—specifically those revolving around Luke, Ben and Han—end up having a huge impact on those lives. I’m a big fan of coincidence when used well as a narrative tool (think: the butterfly effect) so that’s probably why this one was a big winner for me.
I’ve also started listening to Redshirts, by John Scalzi, on Audible. It’s mostly a delight: the story is hilarious; the narration by Wil Wheaton is spot-on (especially the bits that are definitely not in Klingon because that’s probably trademarked). The only thing that lets it down (slightly) are scenes like the below:
“Bla bla bla,” character said.
“Bla bla bla,” other character said.
“Bla bla bla,” character said.
“Bla bla bla,” other character said.
Basically there’s an excess of dialogue tags. Now, every bit of writing advice you’ll ever read will tell you to only use ‘said’ or ‘asked’ when writing speech because it’s distracting to the reader if you get too creative with that sort of thing. While reading, your brain is programmed to automatically skip through dialogue tags (which is why it becomes distracting if a writer does something different). However, the audio version really highlights the repetition because your brain can’t ignore the rhythm and repetition of spoken words quite so easily. It’s only a couple of scenes, but it’s almost comedic when it happens and I have to wonder how Wheaton managed it without rolling his eyes.
(Funnily enough, a short while after this, I saw John Scalzi tweeting about much the same thing. Turns out several of his novels were released before audiobooks became a big thing in his career. It was only after listening to the audio versions that he realised how jarring it could be, and now makes a conscious effort to write for listeners as much as for readers).