Review: My Criminal World

My Criminal World
My Criminal World by Henry Sutton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this – interesting idea too, a struggling crime writer getting caught up in his work a little too much. I liked the way you got snippets of the fictional author’s book throughout the main story, and got to experience some of the frustrations of being a writer, seeing how it all pans out. Great fun.

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books in 2013: progress report

A short catch-up of the plan to read the Great Unread Book Pile. I’m eight books into 2013, and there have been some cracking reads in there. I’ve still got to write up full reviews for each, but Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (@Beukes) in particular were absolutely brilliant.

I’ve kind of wavered from the TBR pile a little – I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of The Shining Girls from the lovely Hannah and Kate at HarperCollins (@KillerReads) which promptly bustled all other books out of the way and was devoured over the course of a weekend. Glorious stuff, time travelling serial killers and a girl who didn’t die. It’s out soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

Angelmaker has also gone and won The Red Tentacle Award for best novel at The Kitschies. Congratulations to Nick on both the award, and his epic suit.

Similarly ARCs of The Teleportation Accident, London Falling and Fade to Black also appeared. The first was so-so, with some lovely characters (well, brilliantly described and written characters), but doing… well, nothing that I could work out. Meh.

London Falling, on the other hand, was superb. A darker, nastier take on the magical London scene, kind of a grittier Whispers of London. Can’t wait for the sequel.

I finished Fade to Black yesterday. It was pretty good – interesting characters doing interesting things in a world that I’d not come across before. Again, there’s a sequel on the way and I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve had a couple of other recommendations to investigate, but am (at the moment) being good and attacking the TBR pile once more.

Read so far in 2013:
The Right Way to Do Wrong, by Harry Houdini
The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes
The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman
Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar, by David Millar
Railsea, by China Mieville
London Falling, by Paul Cornell
Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway
Fade to Black (Rojan Dizon Novels), by Francis Knight
Currently reading:
From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming (part of my eternally late BlogalongaBondathon)

 

So, dear reader. What books have you read and enjoyed lately?

Books: 2013

A record of the books I’ve read in 2013. Read:

  1. The Right Way to Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History’s Greatest Escape Artist, by Harry Houdini [nf, pbk]
  2. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes [f, pbk, arc]
  3. The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman [f, pbk, arc]
  4. Racing Through The Dark: The Fall And Rise Of David Millar, by David Millar [nf, pbk]
  5. Railsea, by China Mieville [f, e]
  6. London Falling, by Paul Cornell [f, pbk, arc]
  7. Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway [f, e]
  8. Fade to Black, by Francis Knight [f, pbk, arc]
  9. From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming [f, e]
  10. Hokkaido Highway Blues, by Will Ferguson [nf, pbk]
  11. Red Army Faction Blues, by Ada Wilson [f, pbk]
  12. The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Tracey Chevalier [f, pbk]
  13. Poison, by Sarah Pinborough [f, hbk]
  14. The Fire Witness, by Lars Kepler [f, pbk, arc]
  15. Lexicon, by Max Barry [f, pbk, arc]
  16. World War Z, by Max Brooks[f, e]
  17. Game of Thrones [book 1], by George R.R. Martin [f, e]
  18. My Criminal World, by Henry Sutton [f, pbk]
  19. The Machine, by James Smythe [f, pbk]
  20. City of Blood, by MD Villiers [f, pbk]
  21. Bigger Deal, by Antony Holden [nf, pbk]
  22. The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross [f, pbk]
  23. The Last Banquet, by Jonathan Grimwood [f, hbk]
  24. Solo, by William Boyd [f, hbk]
  25. The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch [f, e]
  26. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan [f, e]

Currently reading:

  • Moon’s Artifice, by Tom Lloyd [f, pbk]
  • The Palace Job, by Patrick Weekes [f, e]

Didn’t finish:

  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson[f, pbk] (Not often I don’t finish a book that I’ve started, but really didn’t get on with this one.)

Key: f – fiction nf – non-fiction hn – hardback pbk – paperback e – ebook (probably read on Kindle) arc – review copy

Skyfall – a spoilery review

Right. Here’s my review of the new Bond film, Skyfall.

First, the short spoiler-free version.
Awesome.

What? You want more? Hmm. Keeping it spoiler-free:
The best Bond in the best Bond film, bar none.

Seriously? That’s not enough? Right. You asked for it. Warning, spoilers abound within.
*flexes fingers*

I was serious about the best Bond. I fully admit that I was nervous when I heard that Daniel Craig was going to be Bond, but within 30 seconds of Casino Royale starting, I was sold. By the time we hit the opening credits I knew we were in safe hands.

I *loved* Casino Royale, by the way. More of that another day. I even quite liked Quantum of Solace, though mainly due to Craig’s Bond.

(I’ve had several discussions with people over the ‘best’ Bond. Connery is the popular choice here, though I have a huge soft spot for the Moore era, as that was the Bond I grew up with. Lazenby is highly underrated and Dalton could have done so much better with a half-decent script. I loved Brosnan’s Bond, though not his Bond movies which were sub-par at best. Yes, even GoldenEye. And the least said about the invisible Aston the better. I mean, who on earth wants an invisible Aston Martin? They’re bloody gorgeous!)

Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes, Skyfall.

It was with a little trepidation that I sat down to watch Skyfall. Were we going to get another Casino Royale? Or another Quantum of Solace-esque mishmash of confused plot?

Again, within 30 seconds of Skyfall starting, I breathed a sigh of relief.The old gun barrel opening wasn’t there, but the way Bond appears, stealthily down a darkened passage only to pop into focus in an artfully placed shaft of light?

Bond is back. Properly back. The pre-title sequence is breathtaking, starting with a car chase, then bikes, bikes on rooftops, bikes on trains, diggers! On trains! Piling one thing on top of another, pressure upon pressure, just the way a good  Bond sequence should.

Then that wonderful beat, that glorious split second where Bond jumps down from the digger (on a train!) as the back is ripped away from the carriage. Bond stands as the carriage behind him falls away and, cool and calm as only Bond could be, straightens his shirt cuffs.

I’ll say it again: Bond is back. Properly, properly back.

There’s the theme tune. After Casino Royale’s “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell (which I still rate as a decent Bond tune, though realise that I’m firmly in the minority here) and Quantum of Solace’s theme, which I really dislike with a passion, we get a full-blown Bassey-esque belter, courtesy of Adele.

This is a proper Bond tune, for our proper Bond. One which you can still hum days later. Big, brassy and bold. Utterly splendid, it wouldn’t feel out of place in any of the earlier Bond movies. Easily in my top 5. But that’s for another post, another day.

As for the film itself, it fairly rattles along at a marvellous pace, gleefully referencing Bond movies across the series’ 50 years. We get the classic Aston DB5, complete with gadgets, guns and gizmos. We get Bond escaping from mortal peril by runnning across the backs of komodo dragons, a nice little nod to Live and Let Die’s alligator farm. We get the Moore-esque comedy one-liner as Bond jumps on to the back of a speeding tube train. Brilliant little pieces which are scattered throughout the film like chocolate chunks in a particularly tasty ice cream.

In Javier Bardem’s Silva we get one of the best villains the series has seen for a very long time. Forget card-playing terrorist bankers. Forget media moguls trying to sell newspapers (if only I could). From his entrance in slowly descending Rocky Horror-esque lift, delivering a beautifullly paced monologue (what is it with villains and monologues?) as he slowly walked towards the camera, you just know Bond is in for a bit of a rough time. This is a villain with an actual honest to goodness reason for doing what he’s doing.

That moment where Silva toys with Bond, hand opening his immaculate white shirt, stroking Bond’s chest affectionately gives us one of Bond’s best lines:
“what makes you think this is my first time?”
He is an Eton old boy, after all…

Silva has one thing on his mind though, and it’s not Bond. The movie is all about M. M loses the NOC list – sorry, wrong spy franchise – and Bond has to get it back. It’s why Bond comes back from the dead. ‘Mummy dearest’ M is in trouble, so Bond drags himself out of his Heineken-soaked retirement to save the day. M finally gets the part she deserves in this, along with some brilliant one liners of her own. I loved the “well, you’re not bloody staying here” to Bond after his reappearance in her house.

On an aside, that was one thing which struck me – Silva goes through quite an elaborate series of Proper Villian shenanigans and plots to get to M, whilst Bond waltzes into her house, past lord knows how many alarm systems on a fairly regular basis. He hacks into her computer with a kind of bored ease, something the ubergenius computer hacker Silva appears to struggle with.

Oh, the hacking bits. Love. Especially the moment where Ben Whishaw’s delightful Q realises that Silva has hacked MI6 because he’s been numpty enough to plug Silva’s laptop into the network. Muppet.

I love that Q is back, drinking Earl Grey from his Q scrabble mug. Please, please let us keep him. And they’ve avoided another excruciating turn from John Cleese. Q has another nod to the franchise history with his lovely “what did you expect, an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that any more”. Marvellous stuff.

Skyfall is packed with glorious cinematography – the night time neon-lit sniper action in Shanghai is absolutely gorgeous, as are the Scottish highlands (though it’d take some effort to make them look bad). And I loved that the bulk of the film is set around the UK. Well, London and Scotland at least. Bond struggling through the rush hour tube was fun to watch.

As for the Bond girls, we’ve got Eve (the lovely Naomie Harris), who turns out to be more than expected and Severine and of course, M. Can we say Oedipal complex, boys and girls?

Severine was the trickiest of the lot – Bond sizes her up as being a former child prostitute and product of the sex trade, then goes right ahead and shags her anyway. Heartless swine that he is. Then there’s a moment soon after where Silva forces Bond to try and shoot a glass of whisky placed on Severine’s head, with what appears to be a flintlock of some description. The inevitable happens (though at Silva’s hand as Bond refuses to play Silva’s game), and Bond turns to deliver the line “waste of bloody good scotch”. Shocking and callous at first glance. But there was a beat, a fraction of a second where you can see in Bond’s eyes that Severine’s death hit him.

But this is the new Bond, hardened by the death of Vesper in Casino Royale, armour fully in place.

I could go on, but this is getting ridiculously long as it is. Silva is a magnificent Bond villain, and the only one from the series that comes to mind who actually gets what he wants, in the end. A brave move by the writers.

Ralph Fiennes taking over as M at the end of the film feels in a way like it’s the series saying “Right. We’ve cleared the decks. Bond has been set up. Q is here, as is Moneypenny. The old M is gone, the last remnant of the former series. Time for a new story.”

Where will they go next? I can almost see them going back to Doctor No – it’d be fascinating to see Craig and his new, realist, battered, bloodied Bond take on some of the classic Fleming stories.

Have you seen Skyfall? What did you think? Is Craig’s Bond the best Bond ever? Is Skyfall? I would love to know what you think.

My Review of Getting Started with Processing

Originally submitted at O’Reilly

Learn computer programming the easy way with Processing, a simple language that lets you use code to create drawings, animation, and interactive graphics. Programming courses usually start with theory, but this book lets you jump right into creative and fun projects. It's ideal for anyone wh…

useful introduction to Processing

By dakegra from Wakefield, UK on 7/16/2010

 

5out of 5

Pros: Helpful examples, Concise, Easy to understand, Accurate, Well-written

Best Uses: Intermediate, Student, Novice

Describe Yourself: Developer

This is a short but useful intro to Processing – it starts with the very basics and through a great set of useful and well-illustrated examples takes the user up to a reasonable level of understanding.

It’s not an in-depth book, but as the title suggests, is a perfect ‘getting started’ companion to a first foray into Processsing. It also lightly covers the basics of programming – for loops, functions and so on, so could be a useful primer for someone new to programming.

I really enjoyed working through the book and trying out the examples – it’s left me with a keen interest to try out more things with Processing and apply it to my own projects.

Great fun. Perhaps not ideal for experienced coders, but ideal for beginners and those wanting the basics of Processing explained neatly and well.

(legalese)