Cultural Round Up: October

I’m getting in early this month. My link for today is for the non-fiction afficiando – the countdown of the Top 100 Feminist Non-Fiction books. Much food for thought in there.

BOOKS

Chasm City Alastair Reynolds  This book has reinforced and totally confirmed me as a complete Alastair Reynolds fan. A stand-alone book set in the universe of the Revelation Space trilogy, it is engrossing and compelling. It draws on the fictional world of those books, but is easily accessible read alone, or could be read as a precursor. It took me a couple of chapters to really get engaged, but after that it was absolutely page turning. It explores very cleverly concepts of identity and memory, as well as privilege and boredom, madness, ambition and redemption. The writing is really taut and the characterisations completely engaging. It isn’t always an easy read, but it certainly is a compelling one. The idea of psychotic dolphins driven to madness and giant goldfish held for ever in some kind of stasis are amongst the fascinating science fiction images the novel generates. And the intelligence behind the writing is palpable. For any thinking science fiction fan, it is an absolute must-read.

TELEVISION

Rome Season 2 ep 1-8 [Some spoilers] Like the first season, this season is wildly uneven. I am yet to watch the final two episodes, but up until that point there have been episodes which have been totally engrossing and ones which were almost unwatchable. The bout of rape and torture across a couple of early episodes was frankly gratuitous and it took me a while to come back to it after that. I think it is sad they changed the Octavian actor – the earlier Octavian was one of my favourite characters, but his replacement is very unlikable. Which leaves one with few characters to actually like. It is slightly disturbing when you find Mark Antony one of the most attractive of the people you are viewing. It was nice to have actual battle scenes which were quite impressive, and the scene where Pullo kills Cicero is an absolute classic. However, it is a watch-with-caution affair, and I can’t say I’ll be rushing to a repeat viewing.

The Slap  ep 1-4 This is well-made, believably scripted drama, to a point. It has been well-casted, and the performances are terrific. However, and it is a big however, it feels all a bit stereotyped. Violent Greek man echoing his violent father; career woman who never wanted babies gets pregnant and dilemma ensues; hippie parents lax with discipline; young girl with father issues fixated on older man; over-bearing Greek mother, blah blah blah. The over-determination of the characters makes it feel all a bit contrived. It veers from feeling intensely real in parts, to some stereotyped display of archetypes in others. And again with the unlikeable characters. If the situation wasn’t so over-determined, it might feel a bit more convincing. And yet, somehow it remains quite compelling, particularly as I am interested to see how it will resolve itself. I will admit I have read the book. I don’t think though that the series has encouraged me to remedy this.

ART

The Big Draw National Portrait Gallery This was not so much an exhibition as an interactive day of activities. We took small boys along to check it out. We participated in three activities – building 3D “drawings” using cornstarch foam pieces, drawing to music and making a collaborative drawing with coloured dots. These were all fun, well-organised and had people to assist and lots of equipment available. Interestingly, there were almost as many adults and children building sculptures (see mine below) and the drawing to music was actually dominated by adults who actually had some talent (unlike myself).

While the activities were well organised, less good was signage or direction to other activities. I knew that according to the brochure there were other activities in other areas, but without helpful signs one felt a bit unsure about where to go. In the end we headed home after a couple of hours filled with these three activities, but I hope that if the Portrait Gallery does this next year (which I hope it does) it might be a little more directive about where one can (and should) go!

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Monthly cultural round up: June

This month, we’ll dive right into it.

Books

The Evolutionary Void Peter Hamilton This is the third book of a trilogy which I had been enjoying a lot, so it was with much excitement that I started it. Sadly, I don’t think it lived up to the other two. Perhaps it was that the Edeard parts which were so engaging in the previous two books, didn’t have quite the same magic. Or perhaps it was that the denouement lacked a bit of punch, with a number of major characters with very little to do. The massive imperative previously for some characters to do certain things (trying to avoid spoilers here) just sort of trickled away. Still enjoyable and still fun, but sadly not quite the finale for which I was hoping.

Peter Duck Arthur Ransome This is the first of the “adventure” Swallows and Amazon books with the children adventuring over the seas with Captain Flint and (as we know from Swallowdale) the imagined Peter Duck. Like the books which remain closer to home, Peter Duck is an engaging adventure with sly humour. Those adult of us reading may question the likelihood that a cyclone and earthquake would hit the island on the same night, but the small people readers are completely enthralled by it. Once again, easy-to-read, engaging fun which holds up well even 80 years after it was written.

Television

Game of Thrones season 1 (second half) So, last month I did complain that a few of the early episodes of Game of Thrones were a little slow. In the second half of the season we get the pay off. The politics come together, characters come to the fore and the episodes are gripping and exciting. Things you are convinced won’t happen do, and you stay glued to the screen through all of it. It is interesting how characters who seemed more stereotyped early in the season seem to break their shackles somewhat and how the story does not always go where you expect it to. Of course, questions remain like are there too many boobs? but over all, I think that the Game of Thrones  manages the balance and makes itself something that we are all now waiting for expectantly – next season is going to be a thriller. Must resist the temptation to read the books…  Other useful links include this illustrated guide to houses and relationships and the Buddy Comedy take on the first season.

Rome season 1 There were some interesting things about Rome and it was enjoyable, but it was not outstanding television. I think it suffered from too few central characters, which made much of the action seem somewhat contrived – the final explanation of why Caesar managed to get himself killed in the Senate (apologies if that is a spoiler anyone) was so contorted and contrived as to provoke one to say “yeah, right.” I also didn’t like the fact that the two central female characters were both quite so unpleasant and it was very hard to sympathise with either of them. I did enjoy the character of Octavian though – some very clever moments there – and also Marc Antony was rather entertaining. I also thought the depiction of the relationship between Caesar and his slave which rather well done. Nonetheless, while I don’t believe that we should fetishise accuracy in historical drama, some of the compressing of events did make it feel like Caesar was in power for a very short time. Over all though, I did enjoy it enough to contemplate watching series 2.

Art

The Art of the Brick Nathan Sawaya

On at Federation Square in Melbourne, this exhibition demonstrated what all good art should do – very strong technical skills but also imagination and inspiration. I think I was less impressed by some of the nonetheless highly impressive exhibits, like the large-sized Parthenon where the technical skill was mostly demonstrated, and more impressed by the ones like Mask which demonstrated a strong use of the medium to convey different ideas and emotions. A further up-side of the exhibition – it is something which small people will enjoy. It was also beautifully curated, with the white and black backgrounds allowing the colours of the Lego to shine. Well worth seeing, it goes beyond the nostalgia for those Lego Exhibitions I looked forward to every year as a child.