As with all scripts, what we have here can only be an indicator of the experience the authors are hoping will be created in a full stage production. IAs with all scripts, what we have here can only be an indicator of the experience the authors are hoping will be created in a full stage production. It’s one cog, and examining it in isolation exposes you to only a fraction of the intricate mechanism that is the finished product - without the director, set design, musical cues, lights, actors, and in this case what I assume are very complex practical illusions, it’s extremely hard to appreciate the whole from this one bit. I’m used to reading scripts and imagining the possibilities. If you’re not, and are not prepared to do some considerable imaginative legwork creating your own versions of all those things so that some approximation of the thing can spin out in your mind, then you’ll find this a very flat and soulless read.
I’m used to reading scripts for the stage (though it’s been a while), and this is an odd one. The structure - lots of tight short scenes with fast transitions, is more cinematic than theatrical, and there’s not a lot of nuance to the dialogue. A strong cast could no doubt add layers of depth and pathos that don’t necessarily spring off the page, but it’s a fast and manipulative movie sort of depth rather than something more suited to the intimacy of the stage. You would need a lot of money to stage this effectively, which of course the full production has.
All I’m left to really look at is the story itself. It’s not really the eighth book, but nor is it a post-script. It sits somewhere in between. Where the long shaggy dog story of The Boy Who Lived was an earthquake, this is something slightly seperate happening during a minor aftershock. While Harry and other familiar faces - including, thanks to the play’s time-travelling intersection with events from the earlier stories, some unexpected ones - are in play, the principals are their offspring, particularly Harry’s own son and that of his sort-of-nemesis Draco Malfoy. Both are struggling beneath the weight of legacy and expectation created by the myths and legends around their own parents, and the simple coda of the plays lies in how they try to come to terms with this. It’s a smaller and more intimate theme than the pyrotechnics of the production seem to demand, and it would be interesting to see whether all the dashing about and spell-casting drowns this best and truest bit of the tale in the theatre.
I picked these scripts up because I wanted to know what J.K. Rowling thought might happen next (and I am unlikely to go and see the show in London for the proper experience), and now I do. It didn’t disappoint, and made a virtue of some of the failings in her characters (Harry as an inadequate father, struggling with that knowledge after his own horrible childhood, etc), but nor did it have any real impact. I do respect the multi-medium approach Rowling has chosen to use in expanding her Wizarding World though - long may she continue to make interesting choices....more
A beautifully understated tale of mystery, consequence, memory, guilt, and state surveillance that's absolutely nothing like what you think a story noA beautifully understated tale of mystery, consequence, memory, guilt, and state surveillance that's absolutely nothing like what you think a story nominally about the last dogs on Earth is going to be. The pacing is slow but melodic, scattering in an array of directions before sucking everything back together by the close, and I found myself startlingly moved as the emotional landscape spread across the story's canvas came into sharp focus at the close. A very finely crafted tale, full of delicate nuance, and a wonderful way to be introduced to this author (with thanks to Sara for that introduction!)....more
A brightly coloured, semi-steampunk, trans-dimensional yarn about magical spy librarians curating the oddest and rarest fiction from the far corners oA brightly coloured, semi-steampunk, trans-dimensional yarn about magical spy librarians curating the oddest and rarest fiction from the far corners of the universe. Because BOOKS. This is tremendous fun. There’s little depth, only the scarcest explanation or backstory, no pretension, and a great deal of exuberance. If you’re in the right mood for it, this breezy fantasy will whistle you along breathlessly. It’s the first part of a series, but it ends well if you choose to stop there. I’ve bounced straight into the second book…...more
Less an explosive thriller, and more a pacier update of Agatha Christie’s classic, character-driven murder mysteries - a genre I haven’t dipped into fLess an explosive thriller, and more a pacier update of Agatha Christie’s classic, character-driven murder mysteries - a genre I haven’t dipped into for a very long time. The actual reveal is less important here than the slow build, which is at times disconcerting and at times utterly charming. Ware’s characters - gathered in a remote cottage for a hen night - are a discordant bunch, brilliantly depicted, and for much of the time I found myself sitting back and just enjoyed the hen party in its own right.
When things take a more malevolent turn you realise how effectively the author has put things in motion. The denouement and reveal made perfect sense, and were perhaps a little obvious, but there are enough red herrings along the way to make you keep doubting whether you have it right. I listened to the audio version of the novel, and should commend narrator Imogen Church for bringing the characters so distinctly and separately to life. They each have their own natural tone and energy in her reading that make them entirely unique from one another, at times making it feel more like a full cast at work rather than a single narrator. In all, a really enjoyable book - and in this instance the audio adds whole layers to the experience....more
An often unsettling or outright startling macro-level look at what might be coming for our species. The first part of the book speeds through a lot ofAn often unsettling or outright startling macro-level look at what might be coming for our species. The first part of the book speeds through a lot of ground previously covered in his previous volume Sapiens, taking a second look over the history of humanity and how we got to where we are. For some this might be a grumble, but the author shifts his perspective on many of those ideas sufficiently to allow you to consider them from new angles, and by the time he’s done you’re ready to better understand where we are now. From there, things get unsettling as Harari quickly and with very charming efficiency begins to debunk individual identity, free will, and consciousness, reducing us to collections of decentralised biochemical algorithms telling stories to ourselves that seem to have little purpose or meaning. From there it’s into the future - one in which humanity is increasingly unnecessary in the greater scheme of things, save as a collective of secondary data processing points.
While it may sound like the framework of any number of science fiction dystopias, the thinking behind it is extraordinary - and ultimately that is what this is, a vast thought experiment in which Harari presents a selection of possible futures that we may be walking blindly towards. He is at pains to also point out that the future will in all probability be none of these things, for it is almost impossible to understand a post-human universe unless you are, well, post-human. The ancestors of Homo Sapiens would have had no frame of reference to conceptualise what Homo Sapiens has become, and we have as little ability to picture what we will be in a hundred years time.
Where the book has real value is as a wake-up call. While the future direction may be speculation, the identification of the current trends that will take us there are eye-opening and evident all around. That we are embracing those trends as a species, on the individual and societal level, without any true understanding of their significance or potential outcomes is something that we can do something about. You can bet that governments and corporations are aware of these trends, and anybody who really wants to ‘take back control’ of this runaway world should make themselves aware too....more
Where for me the previous book started very strong and then delivered ever diminishing returns as it became more clearly fantastical, this second instWhere for me the previous book started very strong and then delivered ever diminishing returns as it became more clearly fantastical, this second instalment does nothing to re-engage me. Set primarily in the Victorian era (while failing to make much interesting use of the period), the story grinds almost to a halt where it should spring forward. Characters examine options, discuss implications, speculate aloud and to themselves endlessly about what might or might not have just happened/be about to happen, and get very little done. Some things do happen to them, but everything is external – the protagonists have lost all momentum of their own. I stopped caring halfway through and really had to push hard to reach the conclusion. There’s still potential in this series, but after a novel’s worth of pacing and navel-gazing I’m out....more
A fairly thorough user guide to the philosophical principles of the Stoic movement, and how their application might lead the reader to a happier life.A fairly thorough user guide to the philosophical principles of the Stoic movement, and how their application might lead the reader to a happier life. While a little longer than it needs to be, it’s a book that allows you to ask questions about how responsible you can be for how happy you are. Brown keeps himself out of the text for large swathes – which is a shame given how personable the book becomes when he does allow himself to be its primary case study – and allows the reader to take centre stage. If you’re in the mood to reflect, then this is a handy mirror. ...more
An initially agreeable urban dark fantasy that begins in a detailed and credible London, providing a protagonist who has crawled out of a murky past oAn initially agreeable urban dark fantasy that begins in a detailed and credible London, providing a protagonist who has crawled out of a murky past of low-level crime and begun to make a professional life for himself as a lecturer. As he gets pulled back off course due to some credible threats to his family that he must seek out old contacts to remedy the book is at its most compelling. However as the plot shifts into the fantastical it loses much of this flavour. While the scenarios the author conjures prevent this from becoming generic, it nevertheless begins to swap out the street-level grime for something with a more familiar fantasy flavour. Where the fusion of the two is strong this is addictive, but by the time the book stops – with no resolution, for this is unabashedly the start of a series – it has lost some of what made it catch the attention in a crowded market....more
This is a hot mess of a book following the misadventures of a time travelling institute specialising in first hand historical research. It's big plusThis is a hot mess of a book following the misadventures of a time travelling institute specialising in first hand historical research. It's big plus is the main character and narrator Max, who begins the book as a new member of the team. She's by turns funny, maddening, and likeable. A big negative is the rest of the cast who with only a couple of exceptions are wildly inconsistent creations often acting utterly out of character to serve the plot. Such as it is. Except it isn't really. The story isn't really a novel, but more a series of escapades told in chronological order. As the title states, it's just one damned thing after another until it stops. I spent much of the journey waiting for things to unify somehow, but they really don't and the experience ends up being frustrating. For that reason I'm unlikely to delve any further into this series - which is a shame, as I had high hopes before I realised I was on a voyage to nowhere....more
The latter part of 2016, it turns out, is a particularly interesting time in which to be reading this book. Upheavals in Western democracy have shakenThe latter part of 2016, it turns out, is a particularly interesting time in which to be reading this book. Upheavals in Western democracy have shaken many, and previously well-established assumptions about the way cultures will progress across the next fifty years have been falling like dominoes. Harari’s engaging narrative of why we’re human and how steps right back and sweeps across the history of the species to examine its developments. There’s some science, some history, and some fascinating speculations. Many will have an issue with the latter, and there were some points I felt were less well argued, but this book is a discussion not a lecture, and each potential fallacy is a jumping off point for your own speculations. I read this in the wake of Brexit and during the turmoil of Trump, and it cast a fresh perspective on how those cultural quakes came to pass (observations on how social grouping works humanity’s need to create greater powers - countries, religions, the Internet - to bond beneath were particularly on point). Harari closes the book with some speculation on the future and what we might become, which has more relevance than ever and makes his next book a must-read. Often eye-opening and reliably provocative, this is highly recommended, particularly today....more
To start with a positive - Joe Hill remains a gifted writer, capable of presenting even the most familiar scenes with fresh eyes and making them new aTo start with a positive - Joe Hill remains a gifted writer, capable of presenting even the most familiar scenes with fresh eyes and making them new again. I’ve been a fan of his for three books and countless short stories, and still am.
Less positively, this is the fourth of his novels and I hated it. Much of my loathing lies with the cast, who just irritated me. The viewpoint character, Harper, had so little agency she was almost impossible to root for. She jumps from protector to protector, and every time she takes a stand in her own right the plot shifts to remove her choices yet again. She’s in a near-perpetual state of rescue, and I stopped caring about her fate within the opening third of the story. The supporting cast aren’t much better. The world of The Fireman is neatly divided into goodies (the small group that forms around Harper) and baddies (everybody else), with very little in between. It’s a clean dichotomy which just doesn’t fit with the potentially sprawling apocalyptic backdrop of humanity brought to its knees by the strange infection known as Dragonscale. I didn’t believe in it, at all. Among the goodies there’s also a saccharine undertaste to the relationships that form, which for me grew cloying very quickly. Hill has in previous novels made a strange art of unlikely protagonists, but here strays too far into caricature for me.
But the most annoying thing for me was the waste of some really interesting themes. There are several, though the one I latched onto early was the notion of a disease which accentuates humanity’s urge to cluster into groups of likeminded souls which cease to acknowledge ideas from outside their bubbles. In the current reality, where the internet pushes us all into caves full of people just like us and makes other viewpoints distant hostile things, this is a rich vein to tap, but The Fireman plants the seed of the idea and then drives on without tending to it further. Had I been more taken with the characters then this might not have stood out for me so much, but in the void created by my dislike of them I was looking for something else to carry me through the novel and was disappointed.
Other people seem to have enjoyed this a lot. For me, it was a long time spent with annoying people I did not care for, like a train journey sat next to a talkative stranger who thinks he’s much more interesting than he actually is. That it’s splendidly written does nothing to save it....more