Hottest 100 2014

Not live blogging the countdown this year, I’ve got better things to do with my time. But I am listening to it and can state with confidence that even without Taylor Swift it’s not a great year. Too much dull/shouty faux-gangsta rap, folky wailing and repetitive nauseous bollocks for my taste. But we’re only down to number 35, so maybe it’ll improve.

In any case, two of the tracks I voted for have come in so far. Here’s my full list along with the numbers they’ve come in as, which I shall update as appropriate.

Hopium – Dreamers {Ft. Phoebe Lou} – Number 82

First Aid Kit – My Silver Lining – Number 38

Banks – Beggin For Thread – Number 27

Sia – Chandelier – Number 9

Art vs Science – Create/Destroy

Asgeir – Torrent

Bertie Blackman – Run For Your Life

Bertie Blackman – War Of One

Sky Ferreira – 24 Hours

Megan Washington – My Heart Is A Wheel

Since I’m already complaining about how kids today don’t know good music when they hear it and how Triple J is nowhere near as good as it used to be, I suppose I should go full grumpy old man and mention the songs I totally couldn’t stand this year. There are two real stand outs – Grandma’s Hands by Meg Mack and Pickles from the Jar by Courtney Barnett. Both are actually decent tracks, but they played them so freakin’ much that every time I hear them I want to throw up. Needless to say, both have already turned up in the countdown, but hopefully this prove their last hurrahs before they’re shuffled out of rotation.

Hmmm, down to 30 and still no more of my choices. This could be bad…

So, four of my songs got in, and the winner was Chet Faker. Again. A bit much Chet Faker and way too much Alt-f’ing-J. Bah!

(I’ll do it all again next year though.)

It’s very Scary fighting Snake

Apparently my apartment complex has been invaded by snakes. Or possibly snake. There are posters up everywhere advising that a snake has been seen around the back of some of the units and that if seen again the local snake catcher should be called. I didn’t even know we had a local snake catcher, but nonetheless find myself reassured by his existence.

In any case, time for some snake music…

Meanwhile in another universe…

“Upon this very stone which you see here, knobbly and unadorned, the letters that The West reported may still be read, if one has the strength of will to approach the Coventry Markets. That I have done, and this I have read,

Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores, To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores

The change in the wizard’s voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled and the Elves stopped their ears.

“Never before has any voice dared to utter such unbelievable garbage in Imladris, Gandalf the Grey” said Elrond, as the shadow passed and the company breathed once more.

From VDNKh to Pobedy Park

I finished another of my Christmas books, the Russian sci-fi novel Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky yesterday. For those not in the know – as I was not until Helen mentioned it in an email a few months back – it’s a post-apocalyptic story set among survivors of world war three inhabiting a rebuilt society (of sorts) in the Moscow Metro system.

The setting is fascinating. Each station (the inhabited ones anyway) is its own town with its own government, customs and specialities. Some stations have banded together to form wider alliances, such as the Hansa who regulate trade throughout the system via control of the Circle line, the Communists who have taken almost complete control of the Sokolnicheskaya line, the neo-nazi skinhead Fascists who control a major interchange, and the mysterious Polis beneath the heart of the dead city whose inhabitants are said to live almost as well as people did before the war. Bandits, mutants, gas pockets, seeping radiation and worse things make travel between stations difficult – traveling from one end of the system to the other can take weeks, in contrast to the couple of hours it took back in the days when the trains ran. The surface is uninhabitable, plagued by dangerous creatures and lingering radiation that makes going outside without protective gear a death sentence. And even with a gasmask and environment suit the surface can only be braved at night – after decades underground the survivors’ vision has become so sensitive that the sun would instantly blind them.

As is traditional for such settings the story is that of a quest. The main character, Artyom, must leave his home station of VDNKh – under seige by terrifying mutants from the surface known as ‘Dark Ones’ – and deliver a message to Polis in the hopes of saving not only his home, but the entire Metro. We follow him on his dangerous journey and get to see the Metro and its inhabitants through his eyes. It’s a damn good adventure story, so good in fact that it’s sold over 500,000 copies in Russia alone and spawned a franchise with a sequel, stories by other authors, and two computer games.

That’s the good stuff. The other stuff, well…

The prose is not great. With a few exceptions it’s slow, pedestrian and stilted. Dialogue between characters is awkward and in some places so forced that you could envisage it being read off an autocue. A random example…

He spoke totally without accent, his pronunciation was no different than Artyom’s or Sukhoi’s. That was very strange – hearing pure Russian speech from such an unusual being. Artyom couldn’t shed the feeling that this was some kind of farce and the narrow-eyed man was only moving his lips while the bearded guy or the man in the leather coat spoke from behind him.

‘I shot one of their officers,’ he admitted reluctantly.

‘Well, good for you! You’re just the kind we like! That’s what they deserve!’ the man with the high cheek bones said enthusiastically, and the big, dark skinned guy who was sitting at the front turned to Artyom and raised his eyebrows respectfully. Artyom thought that this guy must mispronounce words.

See what I mean?

Given the book’s great popularity in its native country I suspect that this is all down to a quick, by-the-numbers translation by someone familiar with English on an academic or business level but with limited exposure to the language in a literary or informal setting. Which is a real shame as the story deserves much better.

In addition to being dull and stilted the translation has other issues. The different stations are highly important to the plot, but their names are mostly left untranslated. This makes it hard to get your head around the Metro as every location is a random string of syllables, completely bereft of meaning. Coming up with an English name for each station would have gone a long way towards both mentally navigating the Metro and creating atmosphere. ‘Sparrow Hills’ for Vorobyovy Gory,  ‘Clear Ponds’ for Chistye Prudy, ‘Mir Avenue’ for Prospekt Mir. At the very least ‘skaya’ could have been cut off the end of the names and either rendered as ‘Station’ or left off entirely. Alekseyev and Oktyabr are easier to get to grips with than Alekseyevstraya and Oktyabrstraya for instance.

And while we’re on the subject of station names, the map provided in the book is horrible. A bunch of stations important to the plot aren’t even labeled! Try and find Sukharevskaya on it, I dare you! I had to resort to looking a map up on Wikipedia to figure out what the hell was going on half the time. In addition to not including vital information for understanding the text, it does include information that really should be left to the reader to discover by actually reading the text. For the sake of avoiding spoilers I won’t elaborate, but it would have added a real sense of exploration to the story if the map started out limited to just what Artyom knows and you have to fill it out mentally along with him as the plot progresses.

Oh, and ‘Artyom’. Couldn’t that have been rendered as ‘Artie’ in non-formal instances?

While reading the story I was often pulled out of the action by thinking about how I’d rewrite certain passages. In fact, I think I’ll have a go with the example from above…

He spoke without an accent, his pronunciation was no different to that of Artie’s or Uncle Sukhoi’s. It was strange, hearing pure, unadulterated Russian from such an unusual looking individual. Artie couldn’t shake the feeling that his rescuers were playing some kind of joke, and that the narrow-eyed man was moving his lips while the bearded man or the guy in the leather coat spoke instead.

‘I shot one of their officers,’ he admitted reluctantly.

‘Good for you!’ enthused the man with the high cheek bones. “That’s what they deserve. You’re the kind of guy we like!”. The big, dark skinned man at the front of the cart turned and raised his eyebrows in respect. ‘Surely’ thought Artie ‘This guy can’t speak proper Russian?’.

Now I’m not saying it’s Shakespeare, but I like to think it’s better than the 0fficial version.

Anyway, translation issues aside it’s a great book and well worth a read if you’re into post apocalyptic fiction. Check it out, and be sure to come back regularly for my chapter by chapter unauthorised re-translation!

(Just kidding 🙂 )

Deus in Machina

Shocking isn’t it? I say I’ll start updating again, and then complete silence for weeks. I’ll claim the psychological shock of returning to work combined with the first day of said work coinciding with the hottest day in 18 years – 44.4º C to be exact (about 112 in the old money), which is the kind of temperature that requires the better part of a week to get over no matter how mild the subsequent days may be by comparison.

In any case, I survived both the resumption of the daily grind and mother nature’s seeming determination to kill me and it’s probably time I made some kind of update. So here I am.

Books. I have now finished some of the books I got at Christmas, in addition to The Martian which I devoured in under 12 hours. The latest Peter Grant novel for instance, Foxglove Summer. It’s quite a different beast to the previous installments as it sees PC Grant leave the familiar environs of London for the open countryside. Not to fear however, things out there are just as strange as in the big smoke – maybe stranger. Unless I’m mistaken it’s the longest novel in the series so far, but it doesn’t seem long – it flows along as enjoyably as any of the other books.

If I had one complaint it would be that it ends rather abruptly with something of a deus ex machina (or perhaps more accurately deus in machina). I have to wonder if Ben simply couldn’t stop writing and his editors had to cut him off. In any case it’s well worth a read and a worthy addition to the series.

The second book is Graham McNeill’s Gods of Mars, the conclusion of his Adeptus Mechanicus trilogy. While quite good, I feel that it’s not quite up to the standard of the previous two entries (Priests of Mars and Lords of Mars). Graham had a lot of balls in the air at the end of Lords, and it seems as if he wasn’t quite sure to do with them all in the concluding volume. As a result the various plot lines kind of smash together in an uneven fashion to bring them all back under control. That said, the characterizations are still great, the dialogue enjoyable, and a variety of Xenos we hardly ever get to see pop their heads up for a brief moment in the sun, which is always fun.

One thing I must take Graham to task for however is the sneaky references he keeps slipping in. Honestly, it’s like he has some kind of strange disease. I can accept for instance that the Imperium might well rescue and refit some burnt-out battlecruisers found drifting near the shoulder of Orion. And it is in fact logical that a cadre of weaponised hunting hounds (which are lean and athirst) might be named Tindalosi. But an ancient Adeptus Mechanicus scrying device named a Mars Volta? Seriously Graham, seek help before it’s too late! ;D

In addition to reading books, I went to see The Imitation Game with Rebecca and Dom. It was really, really good. Historically inaccurate on a number of points, but a really excellent movie. I was particularly impressed with the way they included explanations of cryptological concepts like cribs and cillies into the plot without having to load the viewers down with exposition. Although not 100% accurate it’s a fitting tribute to one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, and if you’re at all interested in Turing and Enigma then you should go and see it immediately.

OK, that wall of text should make up some for my lengthy absence. Now go and make your own damn entertainment! ;D

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