Sunday, 14 October 2012

Curled Up Next to the Fire: A Quantum Murder

It's that old temporal mechanics trick again. It's been a little while since I've done my little "literary" segment of the blog. Such a little while, in fact, that seasons have changed and the title has come full circle from spring/summer's "Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree" to autumn/winter's "Curled Up Next to the Fire". I mean it is rather a tad chilly down here. If I had a fire and the time to relax curled up next to it, I would. But alas and begone with these lamentations, I have a book to talk about.

Today I'm going to babble about A Quantum Murder by British sci-fi author Peter F. Hamilton. First, a tiny bit of rambling context.

I've been trying to expand my sci-fi reading horizons for a good while now. I'll be honest, I watch far more sci-fi than I read. The journey began in 2007, as I was going to university, when I obtained William Gibson's irrefutably genius debut novel, Neuromancer. Since then, the road has been slow going, winding, but in the last year or two, I've been making far more steady progress. And in all the hours (cumulative, not continuous) I've spent in the little sci-fi section in the local Waterstone's (I refuse to adhere to their new spelling/punctuation thing, it's stupid), my eyes eventually came to continually rest upon the second book in the Greg Mandel Series and its intriguing title, A Quantum Murder.

Now I'm a little bit on the borderline of being OCD. I've reached a point where I can't read books in a series out of sync, not without good reason. So when I picked up A Quantum Murder, read the enticing blurb on the back then caught the part that said "Volume Two", I cursed and had to put it down. Luckily volume one, Mindstar Rising, was right next to it.

In classic whimsical style, I didn't blog about Mindstar Rising, though it was a very enjoyable book. So it gets this honourable mention before I blab on about A Quantum Murder.

Okay, so we're down with rambling context. Time for the relevant context.

From dates given in A Quantum Murder, I've surmised that the book is set around 2044, in a slightly broken England. It's decades since an event called the Warming caused sea levels to rise and changed not only coastline of Britain, but the entire climate as well. It's now a tropical paradise...or would be if the entire country wasn't emerging from a decade of communist rule under the People's Socialist Party (PSP), who aren't the novel's villains but their legacy and villainy pervade throughout.

The novel focuses on the murder of one Doctor Edward Kitchener, a renowned "quantum cosmologist" and general eccentric physics genius. It's one of those impossible murders - the security at his remote lab facility was too great for any of his potential enemies/rivals to get in. Which leaves his six resident students as the only likely suspects.

One of Kitchener's former students, a prominent scientist for British megacorporation Event Horizon, pulls some strings (namely runs to his boss, teenage billionaire Julia Evans) and Greg Mandel is brought in as a consultant. Greg is an empath - courtesy of a funky do-da called a neurohormone gland put into his head by the British Army, he is able to sense people's emotions. Not quite psychic but close enough to that he's able to sense whether or not any of the students have committed the murder.

Now it's probably been mentioned that I like superpowers and superpower related stuff. So to find a sci-fi novel set in Britain with a psychic protagonist...I was intrigued. After reading and thoroughly enjoying Mindstar Rising, I was looking forward to A Quantum Murder and I wasn't disappointed. A Quantum Murder was on a slightly smaller scale than Mindstar Rising, less jetting around and all, but there was plenty of psychic powers, intrigue and action to keep me occupied. But one of the most fascinating parts for me is England itself, the way Peter F. Hamilton manages to make this mundane country I live in sound so exotic and broken. It's been noted before when I've blabbed on about China Miéville and William Gibson, I have this tendency to get wrapped up in the setting. When a writer can create an incredible atmosphere and sense of place, unique even if I've been there and know exactly what it's all about, well, that's something a little bit special to me. Hamilton's 2040s broken (not dystopian, not anymore anyway) England is an engrossing place. Never has Peterborough (headquarters of Event Horizon and practically the focal point for England's fledgling economy) sounded so...well, important. It's never felt really...on the map for me (sorry, Peterborough. Nothing personal).

In some form of conclusion, I really enjoyed A Quantum Murder. There's one more novel in the Greg Mandel Series - The Nano Flower. Depending on how that ends, I might be sad that there aren't any more Greg Mandel novels. I've been rather enjoying them.

Right, time to stoke the fire and get reading so there can be a next time...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Life. Don't talk to me about life

I'm going with the wisdom of Marvin the Paranoid Android today because, well, Life has been really rather irritating lately with its consistent need to get in the way of pretty much everything. I've been meaning to update this blog for a long while but something always seem to come up. Once upon a many Moon ago, I never understood how people couldn't keep up with these kinds of things. In my youthful naivety, I thought it was easy. I am learning just how little I knew back then...


There's been a couple of things occurring in Life lately that I mean to babble about. The first being a subject that, I'll be perfectly honest, I never, ever thought in a thousand Moons that I would be blogging about. It's an event that occurred on Saturday. I went to the theatre. The proper theatre, with stages, plays, actors and all that jazz. I went to the see a Jane Austen play.

Honest to gods. This happened. Something else happened...

...I...enjoyed it.

Okay, so a little historical context might help here. I've never read Jane Austen. It just never seemed like my cup of tea - I like spaceships, epic space battles, things going *BOOM* in spectacular ways. So to be sitting in a theatre watching a stage adaptation of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park was not a natural state of being for me. But it's what happens when my beloved Oracle and I make very, very fast with one of the actresses (henceforth known by the call sign "Ember"), who portrayed a smouldering bad girl. Basically. She was cool and when she said "You have to come and see the show"(/words to that effect), one can hardly say no.

This is how I ended up watching Mansfield Park. And thoroughly enjoying it. Now, okay, it was 90% Ember's fault for being such a brilliant bad girl character, but...well, I realised something that was epitomised by something someone later said in the pub after the show - Jane Austen is basically all about the sex. It may be hidden beneath layers and layers of pomp and propriety, but dear gods...the majority of the characters spent the whole time trying to get into each other's pants. And for some reason, that tense undercurrent is extremely compelling. I've always been sucked in by intrigue amongst characters - let's face it, half of the fun of reading the Song of Ice and Fire series is all the back-stabbing and betrayal that goes on. Then the copious coitus.

So yeah...Jane Austen gets a thumbs up. Kudos, Ember. And Oracle. Between the two of you, you compelled me to enjoy Jane Austen.

Anyway, back in the world I normally inhabit, I watched The Cabin in the Woods.

Initially, I had not been too enticed to watch this film, despite the fact that Joss Whedon was involved. Yes, I'm pretty much a Joss Whedon fanboy. I have faith that if he's involved in it, I will watch it. But The Cabin in the Woods was a horror movie. I don't watch horror movies. I scare easily. Plus nowadays, most horror movies seem intent on just grossing you out with gore and torture. Well, actually, I think they're shifting to the psychological end of the spectrum again, but in the early 2000s it was all about the gore and the torture.

With all this in mind, The Cabin in the Woods looked like something I should have probably avoided. As is the theme for this blog entry, I was proven very much mistaken.

Though it must be said, there's lots of blood. I'd say it's easy on the gore, not as much as there could be, but bucket loads of blood.

The beauty, I think, with The Cabin in the Woods, lies in not knowing what it's about and thus going into it thinking it'll just be your average slasher flick. I had been told, long ago, that it wasn't, but my informant failed to elaborate. In his failure to elaborate, I enjoyed the film so, so much more when I discovered what it was all about. So in this vain...I'm not actually going to say much more. Other than it's a brilliant film, Fran Kranz steals the show (sorry ladies, Chris Hemsworth is pretty much eye candy here) and for a horror can be genuinely hilarious. So go forth and watch it!

And finally, I would like to touch upon something that is confusing and befuddling the living frak out of me since I first discovered it.

Ladies and menfolk...

...Gangnam style.

It's one of those things that was floating around the Internet and didn't quite know what it was. I had no desire to, really, until I found a video of MythBusters' Grant Imahara parodying Gangnam style. As a fan of MythBusters I had to investigate.

I found this.

And for some reason, I can't help but watch it. I still don't understand entirely what the frak is going on, only that this is mildly addictive and dear gods that tune is going to be in my head for the rest of the day!

Luckily this is one of those half-past midnight, nocturnal writing incidents, so the rest of the day isn't likely to be too much longer.

Oh, but this might be the most amusing parody - *Klingon* style!

So there we have it for my latest mad ramble through the scattered neurological chaos of my synaptic processes. It's nearly one o'clock in the morning and I've been talking about Gangnam style, so time for bed. But as my final thought, something to flush the addictive Gangnam style away.

(Song of the Mind: Learn to Fly - Foo Fighters