April 20th, 2010

breaking bad

The City and The City

I posted about a week ago saying I was finding it difficult to get into China Mieville's The City and The City. However, I wanted to read a Mieville book, and as this was a noir-style detective story, I thought it was my best chance. I did stick with it, at first having (literally) bad dreams about it (waking up at 5am 'this makes no sense!'). Just after my last post I had a more constructive dream about the book, and this meant I had broken through into it, and I could then finish it.

For those who don't know, this book is about a detective working in a city which interlocks geographically with another city in another country, and both populations are enjoined to ignore the people in the 'other' city, walking past them without acknowledging their existence. Everyone obeys more or less consistently, and occasional infractions are harshly punished.

At the moment I am working 'in purdah'. That means we are not allowed to do any actions, or issue any words, which support one political party over another. I dreamed I was at work in purdah, editing a document to remove any references to the other city. Thus the story was integrated into my unconscious mind and I could finish it.

People often say the point or litmus of quality of science fiction is a 'sense of wonder'. I think the true point of it, beyond transient entertainment of the hour, is to slap your face and wake you up. That is, 'Notice your life for once'. For instance, experience the gravitational field you are walking through, which you don't even think about any more (or whatever: experience the fragility of your flesh, the chaos of your mind).
Collapse )
breaking bad

Breaking Bad season 3

I have now watched the first five episodes of Breaking Bad Season 3. I think the plan is that it will run for four seasons. We were discussing quality SF shows (or their absence) and I think it would be hard to over-estimate the importance of TV awards such as the Emmy in keeping quality shows like this on the screen despite lowish audience figures. A show like this will garner that saving recognition of artistic value which a more explicitly fantastic show would not (ETA by 'more fantastic' I mean a high quality show that's less mimetic than breaking bad would not be as celebrated). Although this may be unfair, Breaking Bad definitely deserves the awards and recognition.

Season 3 is very reminiscent of the Coen Brothers' movies. So, while it is on the surface a 'mimetic' show (if you like) below the surface is a spiritual allegory and a dramatisation of myth. At the moment I feel the storyline draws heavily on Faust. I feel this season Walter is possessed and protected by evil, symbolised by a plastic eye watching over him, and that Giancarlo Exposito (fine actor) as Gus Fring is Mephistopheles. I think there's a slight tendency in this season (and in some of the Coen's work) to map 'Mexican' onto 'evil' and the border as a the border between earth and hell, through which demons come, which is a bit problematic. I am not saying the makers of the film are racist, I think they would bend over backwards to be the reverse, but I think it is a problematic decision.

I'm not a massive fan of the Faust story because it seems to be a reaction of the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment: your science with its pride and intellectual curiosity will bring you earthly rewards, but damn your soul. Which I think is a pretty nasty message. Event Horizon was an SF film with a similar premise. But, in the long run I don't know whether this story will take Walter down to hell, or whether the Road to Excess will Lead to the Palace of Wisdom (as Blake said).

I think the young drug dealer Jesse Pinkman is the innocent Gretchen, who is lead astray by Faust, and loves him more than he deserves.There's a lot of supporting material on the web placed 'by' different characters in Breaking Bad, and here is an animated panegyric for Team SCIENCE created by Jesse Pinkman. It is packed with subtext of various kinds.

So, Breaking Bad began as a fairly standard black comedy, about a mild mannered guy straying from the straight and narrow, using a science gimmick each week to escape from a set piece problem. Then through season 1 to 2 the moral issues stopped going away, and season 2 ended with him killing hundreds of people and destroying his family and protege. As I say, season 3 seems to have him embedded in evil, vainly trying to escape back to what he was. I am fascinated as to where it goes next.
breaking bad

"Let's cut benefits"

Is this a real Tory poster or some kind of joke? The first few times I saw it today I thought it was a pretty weak joke, but it seems from this context in the Guardian that it's a real campaign poster put out by the Conservatives.

... as I type this I am reading the comments on the Guardian and the author of the article confirms it is real:
We had to check with the Tories that it wasn't (a parody). It is an odd consequence of this election when your first reaction on seeing a campaign poster is to assume it is a spoof

Then I typed something about party policies and employment, but I have just deleted that, you have made up your own minds on what you support, and there hasn't been a change of policy.

I think what has changed is the direction that Andy Coulson is taking their campaign, and the way the poster presents the policies. It looks to me like a refocus on the Tory home ground, giving up the reach-out to new supporters, and no longer aiming to be a uniting party. I assume it is a reaction to the consolidation of the Lib Dems in the centre ground. It's a significant last minute change of direction. I find it a surprising tactical choice, like the similar late lurch of John McCain to the right.