Tredennick's translation is getting a little old-fashioned now (it was published in 1954 and last revised in 1969), but this remains one of the more a...moreTredennick's translation is getting a little old-fashioned now (it was published in 1954 and last revised in 1969), but this remains one of the more accessible of Plato's works for the non-academic reader. It comprises four short works: Socrates' discussion with a friend before his trial; his speeches at the trial itself; a conversation after his conviction; and his last conversation and death.
What surprises the modern reader is the depth of humour and humanity on show. We expect classical texts to be dry, complicated and formal, but Socrates comes across as a real human being, mixing razor-sharp logic with gentle humour and even teasing. This is largely because his talent was not thinking but forcing others to think. He can also be frustratingly tactless, especially in the Apology (his speeches at the trial), almost goading the jury to condemn him.
After his death sentence, he spurns the chance to escape, arguing with infuriating logic that he is innocent because he has always been a loyal subject of Athens. If he ran away he would become guilty of subverting the laws of Athens and would thereby earn the death sentence he has already been given. His argument falls somewhere between Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative.
Phaedo: the final piece and longer than all the others combined; is the report of his final conversations with his followers and ends with him taking the prescribed poison and dying.
It's also the least satisfactory. Partly this is because Socrates' arguments seem too formally structured, giving the impression that this is really Plato's philosophy, and partly because the 'unassailable' logic about the soul and the afterlife is so obviously flawed. Several times he asks his audience whether they have any objections to his reasoning. "None, Socrates," they reply, while I'm jumping up and down saying, "Me, me! I've got one! Your theory is based on a huge assumption that you've said nothing to justify."
Still, if Socrates had all the answers then the next 2,500 years of philosophy would have been pointless. But the genesis of Western thought and critical reasoning is here. (less)
The Chain was a terrific film from 1985, following the house moves of several individuals and families through the eyes of the removal men, one of who...moreThe Chain was a terrific film from 1985, following the house moves of several individuals and families through the eyes of the removal men, one of whom has a passion for philosophy and keeps trying to explain Socrates to his uninterested colleagues. The story is loosely based on the Seven Deadly Sins. Most memorable is the miser Thorne, played in the film by Nigel Hawthorne, who takes the lightbulbs, door handles and even ash from the grate (for his roses), but loses everything because he accepted the cheapest quote and had all his possessions stolen by fly-by-night removal men.
We looked at it as a possible play, but it would need some radical adaptation to get it onto the stage. (less)
Admittedly, this review is based on seeing the National Theatre's film of its own 2005 production, so not all points hold.
The story plots the 18th Ce...moreAdmittedly, this review is based on seeing the National Theatre's film of its own 2005 production, so not all points hold.
The story plots the 18th Century lives of two boys and their obsession with one girl. One is the heir to a country estate who wants to devote his life to music instead; the other is the son of a thoroughly nasty character who takes money from unmarried mothers to send their babies to the Coram foundlings institution but then murders the children and pockets the cash. Not a nice man.
It's a compelling story, let down slightly by the failure of the two storylines to weave together. The National's production was let down by the intrusiveness of the music, which often drowned out the dialogue and is so prevalent that the show was practically an opera. It's other main failing was the cast, or possibly the director, who seemed to confuse running around, shrieking constantly and falling over with the more subtle art known as 'acting'. (less)
I'm not sure Terry Pratchett can write a bad book, but Wintersmith is unlikely to be many people's favourite Discworld novel. The plot is hardly gripp...moreI'm not sure Terry Pratchett can write a bad book, but Wintersmith is unlikely to be many people's favourite Discworld novel. The plot is hardly gripping and old favourites Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg seem to have been brought in to support a fairly weak cast. These include the Feegles: probably the most annoying characters in the whole Discworld series. If I were Scottish, I would probably find their stereotyped speech and behaviour offensive, but since I'm English it's merely irritating.
The plot concerns likeable teen witch Tiffany, who inadvertently becomes the love interest of the Wintersmith, the god of winter. She ambles around the rural areas of the disc, learning and dispensing witchy wisdom while trying to fend off the attentions of the Wintersmith and rescue summer. Some of the plot seems forced, with characters such as Roland being given a role simply because they were in earlier books and readers would wonder why they had disappeared. Horace the cheese seems to be there for no reason whatsoever.
As an opponent, the Wintersmith seems more of an annoyance than a menace, but the old witch Miss Treason is a lot of fun, keeping Tiffany on her toes while revealing the wicked and funny tricks of the real trade: helping people not through magic but by exploiting their credulity.
Yes, there's some trademark humour and clever philosophical musings that make Wintersmith a fun read, but Pratchett isn't really on top form here.
Note: The publisher deserves some criticism here. The book is labelled "A Story of Discworld". This, apparently, means that it's for young adults, which explains why it sometimes seems simplistic and shallow. But there's nothing to warn the uninitiated that this is YA. (less)
The only joke in this book is in the title. How far can you go with shed-based puns mimicking mild erotica? Not far, it seems. This isn't a book: it's...moreThe only joke in this book is in the title. How far can you go with shed-based puns mimicking mild erotica? Not far, it seems. This isn't a book: it's a novelty gift item and you can read it in ten minutes, but the joke wears thin after five. I only read it because a friend left it at a party. I'm a bit embarrassed to have read it at all.(less)
I was intrigued to know how Animal Farm could be adapted to the stage. The answer is, it hasn't been. My drama group had great fun reading it, but at...moreI was intrigued to know how Animal Farm could be adapted to the stage. The answer is, it hasn't been. My drama group had great fun reading it, but at no point could I see any drama going on. What we have is Orwell's classic prose in dialogue form, which would make a great radio play, with vague stage directions for the two or three bits of action (e.g. "There is a revolution and Jones is expelled").
The problem isn't that an imaginative director can't portray a cast of animals; it's that nothing really happens in the play. It's all talk with some very long speeches, which seldom makes for great theatre. I didn't think Animal Farm could be adapted to the stage. On this evidence, I still think so.(less)
It's fascinating to hear of a Jacobean play with a strong female lead who refuses to submit to her presumed role in society; one who, unlike Shakespea...moreIt's fascinating to hear of a Jacobean play with a strong female lead who refuses to submit to her presumed role in society; one who, unlike Shakespeare's heroines, neither recants nor is ruined. But that's as good as it gets. The problem with 'The Roaring Girl' is that it's a weak play, written to cash in on the career of a contemporary celebrity. Imagine a 24th Century revival of 'Jordan: The Musical'.
Dekker and Middleton's prose is as difficult as Shakespeare's can be, but has none of the bard's sublime lyricism or glorious imagery. Often it's hard to work out what the characters are saying or where the plot is going, even though it's a simple, indeed simplistic, story.
The young Sebastian, frustrated by his father's refusal to sanction his marriage to Mary because her dowry is too small, persuades Moll, a notorious figure in the London underworld, to pretend to be his fiancée. The ploy is simple: seeing the unsuitable Moll, his father will decide that Mary isn't so bad after all and relent. And, after a half-baked attempt to lure Moll into theft (foiled by her steadfast virtue), that's what happens.
There's an amusing sub-plot of wives tricking their husbands, and we see the machinations of a rogue called Laxton, but the complexity of the language left me uncertain exactly what he was up to.
The Roaring Girl came from a golden age of British theatre, but then, Hermann's Hermits came from a golden age of British music. It didn't stop them being rubbish.(less)
I haven't read much SF since I was a teenage fan of Asimov. I'm a big fan of Iain Banks, so who better to introduce me to the modern form of the genre...moreI haven't read much SF since I was a teenage fan of Asimov. I'm a big fan of Iain Banks, so who better to introduce me to the modern form of the genre, especially when I've just finished the magnificent The Crow Road, which he must have been writing at the same time as Feersum Endjinn?
SF writers have always grumbled that they're not taken seriously by the literary world, and clearly they're trying to do something about it. I found the complexities of the plot tortuous to the point of bafflement, with the book slowly resolving itself into four main characters operating in different places, with storylines that don't come together till the very end. Each is in a different part of a completely alien future Earth – one that includes its own alternative reality – which makes it a struggle to keep track of what's going on and to identify which details are important to the plot and which are mere colouring. It doesn't help that Bacsule toks in weerd fonetick teckst speek & u ½ 2 konsentrate reel hard coz it goz on 4 payjiz an payjiz lyk dat.
As far as I can grasp it, the Earth is entering a dust cloud that will extinguish all life. Two factions are fighting for control of some power that might save the planet. At various times they can transport themselves into an alternative reality; one that is infecting the real reality and where time moves at about 1,000 times the speed of the real world.
Gadfium works for the king and is trying to decipher the messages from a mysterious plain of stones, which she thinks might be messages from an earlier race of humans who abandoned Earth centuries before. Count Sessine also works for the king but keeps getting assassinated and is pretty soon down to his last life as he tries to work out who keeps killing him and why. Asura has no idea who or what she is but is trying to find out. Bacsule has lost his pet ant Ergates and is trying to find him. One, many or all of them might hold the key to saving mankind and saving the reader from his utter confusion about what is going on.
What Bacsule calls the "feersum endjinn" isn't even mentioned till the last page, and how it works and exactly what it does isn't adequately explained even then, as if Banks had collapsed over the line, mentally exhausted, hoping his readers wouldn't think it mattered.
This is Iain M Banks (he uses the 'M' to distinguish his science fiction from his literary fiction), so the characterisation is brilliant, there is a subtle vein of humour running all the way through and the prose style is masterful. In anyone else's hands this story would have collapsed under its own weight, leaving the novel with as much structure as a bowl of porridge.
You've got to admire Banks for the feat of imagination that created this richly detailed world and for holding it together all the way to the end. Considering the complexities of the plot and the bizarre universe where it takes place, I'm amazed that I understood it at all, though it still needed an unsatisfactory passage at the end where one character explains to the whole world exactly what was going on. That's always a sign of failure in any novel. And two days after finishing it, I'm not sure I could explain to anyone exactly what it was all about. (less)