Month: December 2021

Domestic bookrooms

If you have enough physical books, enough money, and enough space in your residence to have a "domestic bookroom", you may well find How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Place Feel Like Home? fascinating:

Mr. Byers1 coined a term — “book-wrapt” — to describe the exhilarating comfort of a well-stocked library. The fusty spelling is no affectation, but an efficient packing of meaning into a tight space (which, when you think of it, also describes many libraries). To be surrounded by books is to be held rapt in an enchanted circle and to experience the rapture of being transported to other worlds.

I can think of people I know who will love this article and might aspire to this, but for all sorts of reasons to do with my finances and my circumstances – and how close technology has brought us to possession of2 a "personal library" I can hold in the palm of my hand – I just don’t aspire to have my very own "domestic bookroom," so this sort of article leaves me slightly cold.

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. Reid Byers, a computer systems architect who set out to build a private library at his home in Princeton, New Jersey and eventually published a book called The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom about that project which was the inspiration for this article. 
  2. I nearly wrote “ownership of”, but Amazon and Apple and the majority of book publishers and their legions of lawyers are very clear on the fact that we don’t own our ebooks unless they say so. I could own the room (but don’t) yet I still wouldn’t own the books in my personal library. 

For 2022

On the same principle that lots of us rewatched Soderbergh’s Contagion in the early days of the first lockdown1, HBO stands to do well with an adaptation of Station Eleven:

The show, based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 international bestseller, follows the survivors of a flu pandemic.

Despite the desperate realities of the world at present, it seems there’s a continuing thirst for post-apocalyptic stories. Station Eleven sees a devastating flu pandemic and follows its survivors as they they attempt to rebuild society.

It seems to be getting enough favourable reviews to suggest that it’s going to be worthwhile, and at the end of January 2022 it’s going to be available to UK viewers via STARZplay (which should mean it’ll be viewable through Apple TV+ or Prime Video and so on.)

HBO’s trailer for the US release makes the show look worth watching:

If, like me, you’re utterly unfamiliar with the source material you might find HBO’s Beginners’ Guide promo useful:

Me, I’m seeing Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel (both actors who I think did good work in past projects – Halt And Catch Fire and Yesterday respectively – that didn’t bring them the plaudits they were due) in a speculative fiction show that has some interesting ideas and I’m there. The only question is whether I pony up for a STARZplay subscription that I plan upfront to cancel after 1 month or whether I wait until the end of the first season then binge the entire season in the free trial period. I realise the latter option isn’t exactly playing fair with the spirit in which STARZplay offers a free trial, but then Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation have no doubt costed into their projections how many viewers will "abuse our generosity"2 like this.

My worry about Station Eleven would be that it’ll be in danger of starting out as an even-in-an-apocalypse-human-beings-need-the-arts-too story and by season four it’ll turn into a hellish even-good-people-discover-that-they-have-to-harden-themselves-to-defend-what-they’ve-got spectacle. It’d be a shame to see all that behind the scenes production talent devoting itself to ensuring the small arms deployed by the characters are definitely capable of bringing down a human being at twenty paces in the bloodiest and most final way possible so as to head off a social media shitstorm if some gun fetishist on Facebook posts a video proving that this inaccurate small arms detail is yet another sign that Hollywood’s Liberal Communist Elitists are disrespecting Real Americans again.

In fairness, neither the Wikipedia summary of the source novel nor the entry on the novel’s author in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggest that’s the direction a faithful adaptation would go in. Not to mention that HBO are probably not the adapters I’d expect to veer that far from the source material.

  1. I thinktwenty years from now the consensus will be that audiences mostly just wanted to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s corpse with the top of her head peeled off during her character’s autopsy. If they couldn’t have it for real, they’d take it in fiction even if it was embedded in such an unsettling story given the circumstances. 
  2. As they’d no doubt put it, if they thought that adopting the tone of a stuffy British TV executive who felt he or she was entitled to some of our money even where audiences were following the rules the producers laid down when making the free trial period offer in the first place would convince such miscreants to mend their ways. 

New On Netflix

Although I dropped my Netflix subscription three months ago I never did remove my RSS subscription to UK New On Netflix, so every once in a while I have the option of reminding myself of what I’m missing out on.1

Among the recent items that New On Netflix UK lists, I find this:

Please Hold The Line
Date Added: 23rd December 2021 […]

Description: This atmospheric documentary follows cable technicians in Eastern Europe as they visit customers’ homes and forge both technical and human connections.

Certificate: Suitable for ages 15 and up
Year: 2020
Duration: 1hr 26m
Audio: Romanian [Original]
Subtitles: English, French, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian

In fairness, for all I know this was the talk of the Romanian film and TV business a couple of years back, a bit of social observation with a commentary courtesy of a Romanian counterpart of Jonathan Meades that would be worth a place on BBC Four if the Romanian producers could just talk to the right people at the BBC and the description (which I’m guessing was provided by Netflix2) simply just doesn’t do it justice.3

Doubtless, Netflix would say I should resubscribe and watch it and find out for myself. But then they would, wouldn’t they?

  1. Yes, I do need to be very bored to resort to this. I do occasionally contemplate going back to Netflix and re subscribing for a month and bingeing their higher-profile stuff that seems to intersect with my interests, but then I remind myself of how much material was on Netflix and looked promising after I first subscribed to them but which I never got round to watching – the Gilmore Girls sequel, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, Stranger Things – and I realise that the issue is more that I just don’t want to be that big a slave to my TV screen. Much better to be a slave to the computer screen, obviously. Hence my spending time drafting footnote-heavy blogposts like this. 
  2. For the record, here’s how the plot description in the IMDB describes it: “Cable technicians in Eastern Europe navigate a modern-day Tower of Babel. With unflappable humour and a dose of philosophy, the technicians hold the line in a dissonant world.” Well, someone put a bit more effort into that. No guarantee it’s any more accurate than the presumably-Netflix-sourced version above. 
  3. No English-language reviews on IMDB, though the one working Critics Review there leads to this review in Italian or German. A quick visit to Google Translate takes care of the rest. 

Ack! Ack! AckAckAck!

By the time Tim Burton came to making Mars Attacks he was (rightly) pretty darned famous, which explains the cast he could get at the height of his powers:

Between 1988 and 1993, Burton made a string of classics: Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. So it was no surprise that some of the era’s biggest celebrities had lined up to make what is arguably the director’s weirdest and most divisive movie:****Mars Attacks!

“It was a strange and fun movie to make,” Burton tells Inverse.

_Mars Attacks!_stars Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close as the President and First Lady. The disaster-film pastiche also features Natalie Portman, Jack Black, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lukas Haas, Martin Short, Danny DeVito, and Tom Jones dancing in a desert with a bird of prey on his wrist.

Do not forget Tom Jones. None of us who watched it could. And the above list of successes omits Batman Returns, which may have been messy but it was the sort of mess that modern superhero films aren’t permitted to be. Also, it gave the world Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman, which was vastly better than what Halle Berry brought us a decade or so later.

For my money the good bits in Mars Attacks! were well up to the mark – the dogs with human heads attached, apparently just because the invading Martians could do that; the ineptitude of Jack Black’s GI trying to respond to the Martians opening fire; the Martians carefully toying with major US landmarks before knocking them over – and even the jokes that didn’t quite come off were quickly overtaken by the next visual joke that did work. That was one very fun film, even if US audiences didn’t quite see the joke.

Even after his remake of Planet Of The Apes five years later – a woeful mismatch of director and material, for my money – we still see the odd flash of the old Tim Burton in projects like Big Fish and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Unfortunately, all we can rely on Tim Burton for nowadays is his unreliable touch when it comes to choosing projects. (That, and we can rely on Burton trying to employ Johnny Depp as an actor long after that was a good bet.)

It’d be great to have the old Tim Burton back again someday. We’ve missed him.

[Via MetaFilter]


America is a strange place:

A friendly, if somewhat foul-mouthed, crow became a temporary mascot at Allen Dale Elementary School in November when the bird took up residence at the Grants Pass school.


It turns out, talking crows aren’t just something out of an Edgar Allan Poe poem. And this crow, or possibly and more in line with Poe, raven, knows at least 40 words.

“He knows a lot of words, I’m not going to lie,” said Daphnie Colpron on Thursday. “His vocabulary has expanded quite a bit in the last few weeks.”

How can you not want to read more after that?

[Via MetaFilter, which in turn led me to this earlier MeFi post]

, 18 December 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

In miniature

I feel slightly guilty that after reading Kris Howard’s A visit to Moominworld I found myself wishing that she’d written more about one of the early steps in the trip: a visit in Hamburg to the world’s largest model railway, Miniatur Wunderland.

The Snook was very sceptical about our destination, a place that I’d been told by many was THE tourist destination in the city…

We were only able to get timed tickets at 10:30pm, and it was still PACKED. It reminded me of the House on the Rock, in that it felt like an obsessive fever dream kind of place. Every fifteen minutes the lighting cycled through an entire day so you could see it all at night too. […]

Did I mention it has a giant working airport?? Model plans take off and land through holes cut in the walls while little luggage trucks drive all over the place. It was CRAZY. […]

I think my favourite part was getting a glimpse into the control room that runs everything. It looks like Mission Control! It takes a lot of computing power and smart people to keep all the little trains, planes, cars, trucks, and boats moving.

I have a feeling I’ll find quite a lot of material on the web about Miniatur Wunderland now I’m aware of it. I can’t help but notice that there’s not at present any part of Hamburg’s model railway depicting the United Kingdom. Imagine that: part of Europe where they can get by without thinking too much about accommodating the preferences of a small, disputatious island just off the French coast.1 Who’d have thought such a thing was possible?

Do follow the link to Kris’s site, both to see the pictures of all this and to read the rest of her post about their trip across northern Europe. It’s well worth a read.

  1. In fairness, they do make sure their web site has an English language option. I can’t help but wonder whether that’s aimed more at American visitors – the model railway does include parts of the United States – than it is those of us residing just offshore from the European mainland? 
, 18 December 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .


I wish I still had a working Mac so that I could festoon the screen with a Notchmeister.

Very silly, but then so is the very idea1 of the Notch.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

  1. Granted, it’s a stopgap until Apple are either satisfied that their implementation of behind-the-screen sensors and cameras can perform at a sufficient level, or can find a way to fit those sensors in the bezel of their devices. Give it a few years and the Notch will be a nostalgic memory, a bump in the road. 

Exquisite reading experience. Sub-optimal dining experience.

Some folks have very strange hobbies:

We headed to the restaurant with high hopes – eight of us in total, led into a cement cell of a room, Drake pumping through invisible speakers. It was sweltering hot, and no other customers were present. The décor had the of chicness of an underground bunker where one would expect to be interrogated for the disappearance of an ambassador’s child.

Earlier that day, we’d seen a statue of a bear, chiseled into marble centuries ago, by someone who had never actually seen a bear. […] And this is a perfect allegory for our evening. It’s as though someone had read about food and restaurants, but had never experienced either, and this was their attempt to recreate it.

I can honestly say I’ve never had a dining experience to match that. Arguably that’s a sign I’ve not led a sufficiently adventurous culinary life.

Another course – a citrus foam – was served in a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth. Absent utensils, we were told to lick it out of the chef’s mouth)

I think I can live with that.

[Via Daring Fireball]

, 17 December 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Invasion gets renewed

In the wake of the news that Apple TV+ have renewed Invasion for a second season, showrunner Simon Kinberg talks a good game about what he plans to do with the show:

[…] there’s a lot I want to explore with the aliens in subsequent seasons. I mean, there’s not a ton of alien information. There’s a lot of mystery and suspense, I suppose, in Season 1. And I think in subsequent seasons, you want to pay off that mystery, build more mystery, but start to really get a sense of the aliens as characters? What do they want? What are they doing here? How do we actually stop them? And that is fodder for some really interesting storytelling, again, filtered through the lens of really emotional characters, dealing with complex psychological stuff. Whether it’s guilt, or it’s love, or it’s remorse, or it’s anger or escape, whatever it is, I think the alien story for me is always going to be told through the filter of our characters.

The thing is, part of me wants to respect the show for sticking to a humans-only perspective on an alien invasion, especially when telling that story in a medium which all too frequently substitutes spectacle for exploration of how these extraordinary events affect ordinary people faced with extraordinary challenges.1 The thing is, though, the first season of Invasion worked spectacularly poorly on so many levels.

Full marks for not solely showing us the impact of the invasion on red-state American civilians,2 but the array of characters we followed over the ten episodes of the first season didn’t really get to develop all that much, and – with the exception of the Japanese Space Agency techie whose lover was apparently lost in space once the encounter developed – didn’t know much about how the wider alien encounter was going. We basically got to follow round a bunch of characters who were, at best, on the periphery of what was going on and stumbled along from episode to episode in the wake of the impending collapse of human civilisation. Beyond the basic empathy for any human finding themselves living through such an experience, I don’t think the series really had us engaged with the story they were being used to tell.

Most of all, I’m unconvinced that continuing that approach will bring us any of the things Simon Kinberg is suggesting in his talk of season 2 and beyond. Will we switch to an entirely different, and much better-informed, set of characters in season 2?

[Via r/tvplus]

  1. Contemplate The Tomorrow War for a good recent example of how poorly that can go. 
  2. Once we got beyond Sam Neill’s retiring Oklahoman sheriff’s appearance in the first episode. 

Firefly Returns

Subtract Joss Whedon and the original cast, and let’s see what comes of the Firefly reboot:

[…] Disney plans to reboot the series as an exclusive for its streaming platform Disney+. Disney had acquired the rights to the franchise after their 2018 acquisition of Fox. _Firefly_seems like the perfect option to diversify their current line-up for streaming.

Could be fun, could be awful. It’s way too early to know, given how little Disney have told us at this point.

Unless Disney’s plans are much further ahead than they’re letting on, it’s likely to be a few years before whatever this new series is shows up on Disney+, by which time Disney will be hoping that the current surge in speculative fiction on TV hasn’t faded away. It’d be funny to see Firefly: The Next Generation competing with the Battlestar Galactica reboot and whatever comes out of the interest in reviving Babylon 5 and Wheel of Time season 4 and For All Mankind season 6 and Foundation season 41.

I’m predicting a slew of opinion pieces in three or four years’ time, wondering why TV is so intent upon saving the world by recycling. What’s next: someone giving us a reboot of Dark Angel or Farscape or Lost?2

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. Provided the latter two are lucky and Apple TV+ keep funding the shows that long. Hope they do, though I have my doubts. 
  2. A big old Hell Yes! for Farscape, provided they promise to continue to use the Jim Henson Company to bring us at least half of the regular characters. 
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