Sci-fi and fantasising

27 Oct

Over a month has flashed by since I last blogged, even though time also appears to be practically standing still. It’s just one of the weird things about 2020. “Time distort 4”, as Blake might say.

I don’t know how you are currently coping with the pandemic/restrictions, but I have reached the stage of fantasising about future travel, to the extent that I signed up for the Interrail newsletter (although they were offering a prize draw, so it’s not that weird) and started having vivid dreams about international travel.* This year I was supposed to be going to Leiden and Ferrara and next year I was hoping to visit Samothrace (the Netherlands, Italy and Greece respectively, since you asked). Now I may end up making it just one epic trip when this is all over, finances, schedule and vaccine allowing. For the time being, planning it in my head is keeping my spirits up.

In the meantime, I continue to make sourdough, practise Esperanto, learn calligraphy and work on my blanket. (I am also doing real work, including writing a novel, don’t worry.) The blanket, as you can see, is getting to be the size of an actual bed, which means that we are nearly at the end of 2020 – hooray! Just another foot or so to go.

Naturally I need something to occupy me while I crochet, as it occupies the hands more than the mind, and after working my way through the entire four seasons of Blake’s 7, I came bang up to date with Devs and Umbrella Academy, so you can have a mini-review here.

Devs

A beautifully-filmed mystery series about quantum physics written by Alex Garland – this is so up my street it should have moved in next door. What’s nice is that the science in this science fiction is not just a McGuffin or some extra colour, it’s fundamental to the plot. The ramifications of the science fiction take us to some pretty philosophical places, too (as sci-fi often does), dealing with questions of determinism and free will.

Some people found the low-key affect of the main character (Lily Chan) off-putting, and that spoiled the series for them. It didn’t bother me, however.

The gorgeous filming complements the ideas (it was nominated for an Emmy for its cinematography), with the various possibilities of the multiple universe theory played out on screen at the same time. Hypnotic and thought-provoking with tension and genuine shocks.

The Umbrella Academy

Somewhat more low-brow, whether you’ll like this or not probably depends on your feelings towards comic books (or graphic novels, if you prefer the grown-up term). It reminded me of the mid-noughties series Heroes quite often, not just because of the central idea (a group of people with supernormal powers try to prevent a catastrophe) but also because visually it embraces the fact that it is a comic book adaptation. Heroes used comic-style English captions when characters spoke Japanese; Umbrella Academy uses the screen space the way you might frame a page of a comic. In one scene, everyone in a large house is dancing alone to the same song. The viewer can see all the rooms in the house at once as if the front wall has been removed, and it looks just like the double-page spread of a comic might.

Talking of songs, the music in Umbrella Academy was very cool, very varied and often front and centre, especially in fight scenes. A selected soundtrack is available on Spotify.

The core of the show is the family of seven adopted siblings with various powers, and their relationships to each other, their unsuitable romantic partners, their unapproachable perfectionist father and their robot mother. And they have to save the world, of course, or at least try not to destroy it. Umbrella Academy is fun and often silly, but it’s not mindless. The characters are well defined, if not the deepest. My favourite in season one was Klaus, the drug-addled cutie who can talk to the dead, but in season two he grew his hair and a beard and became even more annoyingly self-obsessed than he had been to start with. Probably the most interesting character overall was Five, an overbearing fifty-something in the body of a fourteen-year-old.

I have yet to find another series to work my way through for the remaining foot of blanket, so feel free to chuck some suggestions into the comments. (It doesn’t have to be sci-fi, I do like other stuff too, believe it or not.)


  • Firstly to a large city in Brazil in a work capacity, where the traffic was crazy, the exchange rate punitive and you couldn’t move for Chinese restaurants, then to an unspecified mittel-European country as a backpacker who gets drawn into some kind of spy thriller. Yes, I have an overactive imagination. It’s part of the job.

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