Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Book Reviews: January - 14th February, 2017.

A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson: Something of a potted guide to science history and not bad as far as it goes. The problem is if you know anything about science, you will think the science doesn't go as deep as you want it to go. Bryson becomes a little too fixated on the people who made science and, specifically, the people forgotten by science. Unlike the other books in the list, which I've read quite quickly, this was something I hadn't finished in 2016 and took me months to get through, mainly on train journeys. Another case where I find I never enjoy Bryson's books as much as I want to like them.

The Three Body ProblemLiu Cixin:  A strange book in that I found hard to get into simply because of the challenge of dealing with so many Chinese names and a treatment of Virtual Reality that felt a bit too much like Star Trek's holodeck to be entirely believable. I'd heard the book discussed on the Tested.com podcasts and I did begin to wonder what the fuss was about until the last third when it really picked up with some great science. That was enough to encourage me to read the next in the series. I'm glad I did. The Three Body Problem should be read as the prelude to two of the best science fiction books I've ever read.

The Dark ForestLiu Cixin: If the Three Body Problem only hinted at how good this series could be, the second book in the trilogy was where I became hooked. This book covering generations of human history and scientific advance. The world building is sublime.

Death's End, Liu Cixin: The last book of the Three Body trilogy was masterful. The ambition of the book is incomparable to anything I've ever read. It even puts the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey to shame. What's more: the science never felt like it slips into the fantastic. This even contains a version of light speed travel done in a way where it embraced the nihilistic nature of speeding across the galaxy. This is a book where entire civilisations of human life pass by in a sentence or are simply ignored.

The Conclave, Robert Harris: Read this in an afternoon. Even as a devout atheist, I'm always intrigued by books about religion and the politics of the church. This had all of that. Not sure why I recommend it but I do recommend it, whilst being aware that it might just be one of those books that presses all the right buttons for me whilst annoying the hell out of anybody else.

The Isle of Joy, Don Winslow: The only book I've had to force myself to finish. Winslow's The Power of the Dog was one of the best books I've ever read, comparable to Ellroy at his best (and only a touch less good than Mailer's simply brilliant Harlot's Ghost). This, however, felt more like a extended piece of research, using the backdrop of the early 1960s to produce a roman-a-clef that thinly disguises the world of John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. By the end, I warmed to it but not enough to make me want to pick another Winslow in the near future.

Old Man's War, John Scalzi: Another quick read (and another recommendation from Tested.com). This one hearkens back to the military sci fi of Robert A. Heinlein. Reads a bit like a latter day Starship Troopers. Quick read but highly recommended.

The Ghost BrigadesJohn Scalzi: The second book in the Old Man's War series. A sequel whilst not being a direct sequel, which I also thought better than the first book. Another quick read. I've not read this much science fiction for a very long time but I'm now reading entirely for pleasure and that's what this was. Highly recommended. In fact, the third book (The Last Colony) is the next on my reading list.

A Most Wanted Man, John Le Carre: I love Le Carre's work but always want to give new readers a warning that it's highly likely that they won't become a fan. It's sometimes slow moving and steeped in introspection. However, if you like spy novels containing people with ugly motives and real character flaws, then there are no writers who better straddle genre fiction and first class literature. Most Wanted Man isn't Le Carre at his best but it's still better than the best of most thriller writers.

The Night Manager, John Le Carre: Longer and therefore better than A Most Wanted Man, The Night Manager really is Le Carre at his best. I couldn't put it down. Thankfully, I hadn't seen the recent TV series. Ignore the reviews over at Good Reads, mainly written by women who read it thinking they'd be reading about Tom Hiddleston. This is a book filled with those emotionally complex characters plagued by idealism and often defeated by the grim reality of an ugly world. One of those books where I often find myself tutting, shaking my head, and thinking 'just great writing'.

A Very British Coup, Chris Mullin: Reread this for the second time in a year simply because it felt so relevant to modern politics. What would happen if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister? I expect pretty much a version of this story in which the forces of the establishment do everything to undermine the authority of the Prime Minister. If you believe politics is a rotten game, this is a book for you.

The Girl With All The Gifts, M.R. Carey: I'd seen Mark Kermode's review of the film and had it down as something I wanted to watch. When I saw the book on sale in Tesco for £3, I took a punt. A really quick read, which I had finished over a couple of sessions on a long Sunday. Typical (in a good way) post apocalyptic zombie survival fare which felt a bit like John Wyndam crossed with Richard Matheson. I've since seen the film which convinced me that I made the right decision. The book is far better than the movie but not necessarily great stuff, least of all because there were a few moments when it was evident he needed a better editor. One moment a character has her hands tied, the next she's flailing them about before they're tied again. Class this as a dumb but fun read which is a bit too derivative to be recommended too highly.


Friday, 22 July 2016

Three Recent Cartoons

Twitter bans Nero/Milo 

Murdoch replaces Fox News head Roger Ailes after women accuse Ailes of unwelcome sexual advances...

Corbyn faces Angela Eage in Labour Party leadership contest as divisions emerge over the renewal of Trident submarines.

Monday, 9 May 2016

One Left Over...

Drew four cartoons this weekend but that was one more than I needed. This one left over. I suspect it would be too surreal for most people's tastes.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Tuesday already...

Slightly non-stop week so far. Over at CapX, I've written 1400 words about Donald Trump who appears to know how to use social media correctly and benefits from advances in broadcast technology.

Meanwhile, over at TW&TW a piece about Boris and Jeb Bush and this last weekend's interesting developments.


Sunday, 21 February 2016

My new EU Referendum cartoon

Perhaps it's not a good cartoon. Zero retweets probably evidence of that. But this took too many hours to draw for me to throw it away with a forlorn sigh and determination to do better tomorrow. Maybe its just unfunny (wouldn't be my first or last) or perhaps people are in favour of this lot taking us out of Europe. I'm still undecided but, I have to admit, if I were to gather a room full of my least favourite politicians, six of these would feature (I don't dislike Boris who, I admit, does make me laugh). Tomorrow I'm going to spend writing and will attempt to write for the rest of the week. Drawn too many cartoons lately that have taken hours to finish.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

A Michael Gove Cartoon

A quick cartoon, drawn last night when it was first rumoured that Gove was about to do the dirty on Cameron as the PM still negotiated with the Europeans. I think this is my first attempt at anything like this, influenced by this Martin Rowson cartoon.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Just a Joanna Lumley cartoon...

Bananas, Politics, and Samsung Monitors

Over at TW&TW I'm talking about the EU referendum and bananas. To summarise: I have no bloody idea which way to vote and, when I do, it will be based largely on ignorance and gut instincts. The below graphic, incidentally, is probably my favourite of all the David Camerons I've drawn.

Meanwhile, over at CapX, I've been talking about the struggle the Republicans now face with Obama's nomination for the Supreme Court. Yet again, it proves how much more interesting American politics are to the anodyne version we have here in the UK.

Meanwhile in the non-virtual world: I need to get some of my recent cartoons finished. Because I've been drawing them for myself, they've not been getting finished. Next few days I think I'll make that a priority.

At some point I also have to think about doing something about this dreadful monitor of mine. I say it's dreadful now but it's been a great monitor. It's a Samsung SyncMaster 226BW but it's now approaching 10 years old. It has already died once but I fixed it by replacing its capacitors, the only time I've ever breathed live back into a piece of hardware through a soldering iron. That was a few years ago so the capacitors must be doing a good job but perhaps too good a job. I should have replaced this monitor before now. Its colour gamut is way off meaning that how I see my cartoons is very different to how other people see them. They perhaps think I'm colour blind or like extremely strong colours. I don't. It's just that this monitor makes everything duller, darker, and less vibrant. It also doesn't make for a good writing environment and I'm sure it can't be good for my eyes. Need to replace it but not sure if I can afford to. I could do with somebody from Acer or iiyama offering send me a 27 incher to review but I never get any offers to review things or when I do it's always something lousy such as thermal socks. Somebody emailed me recently asking to send me thermal socks and when I said 'please do' I never heard from them again. My feet have been cold all winter too. Damn marketing people waste so much of my time. Every day I have half a dozen of the buggers slip through my spam filters to tell me about a bloody gallery opening or a new restaurant in London. I often reply in a slightly sarcastic way but they never respond. Sometimes I wonder if they're really even people.

I'm rambling when I should really be working.


Friday, 12 February 2016

Hunt, Junior Doctors, Hand cramps

Before I sit down and do some proper work and write something, I'm typing this straight into the editor window, so forgive the typos and the poor grammar. I just want to record the fact that this cartoon too far too much effort and even as I look at it now, I realise I still need to finish it. The right side edge of the top panel is straight where I split it from the one below it. Should have drawn over it to give it that rough edge look. Originally drawn side by side, I thought they might look better stacked. Now I'm not so sure. But I'm not sure about much.

I'd drawn an earlier filthier version of this cartoon, in which Hunt engaged in some proctology, complete with sharp finger nail. It was badly received by all who saw it, though I quite liked it. More problematic was my drawing of Hunt. When that was brought to my attention, I was determined to fix it. And so began a mammoth session yesterday drawing and redrawing Hunt. By the end, I was getting hand cramps. I think, to be honest, I became Hunt blind. I had to publish this today just to stop my working on it. I'm trying to draw a cartoon a day but this one alone has taken two.

Today, I have to go back to the ugly murk of web building but hopefully get an article written later in the afternoon if my energy and/or interest doesn't wane. Bit of a miserable day so far...