One very sleepy deer

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Caught this sleepy guy in Dunham Massey on a walk round on the 29th. The weather was absolutely beautiful. Cold, as you might imagine during late december, but with the sun low in the sky, everything was absolutely stunning.

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Post-Truth is a Lie

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Every so often in human history, the fight for truth becomes extremely important, and often in a shockingly short period of time. Populism throughout the West is threatening to undermine a lot of what we citizens hold dear: a life lived without fear, hope for a future inclusive for all humanity, and the ability to come to understanding of the world. Many people will seek to block these hopes and values through obfuscation, trickery and out-and-out lying (now re-branded “post-truth”).

Humanity has proven before that we will not let them.

Star Trek Beyond (spoilers, obviously)

GO AND SEE THIS FILM. MULTIPLE TIMES.

Ahem. Sorry about that. But seriously. This is my favourite experience of Star Trek for years. Since seeing the first trailer for the 2009 Star Trek reboot, I had a huge buzz, an anticipation of the sorts of feelings Star Trek gave me when I was a kid and a teenager. The hope and excitement of seeing people I could relate to in such fantastical and quite literally awesome circumstances made me look to the future and back to humanity with positivity and wonder which has shaped my outlook through to adult life. It widened my scope of view to the entire universe. The horizon of exploration and endevour became infinite.

Now: 2009’s Star Trek was an exceptional film. I enjoy very much, to the point of it being one of my favourite films. The casting, aesthetic and story were fantastically well handled, and it brought Star Trek to a wider audience than I’d ever seen it reach. However, it left certain things to be desired, such as weirdness, the awe of the new and the philosophical moral centre of the best of Star Trek. These are not necessarily criticisms of the film. It did a fantastic job of setting up a universe of possibility whilst grounding it in a raw humanity often absent from the television series.

Similarly with Into Darkness. Whilst it was still an exciting, fun film, I was still left wanting regarding exploration and weirdness. There were promising allusions to all that: at one point Scotty does exclaim, “I thought we were explorers”, when he discovers the aggressive nature of their mission. Still though, still very much based around Earth, still all about human problems.

It was with absolute delight, then, that I watched Beyond. From the absolute outset we are given the new, the alien, the… well, the crazy. And all that with a lightness of humane humour. A good beginning.

There were several wow-inducing sequences, such as the entry into then subsequently the exit from the enormous and complex Yorktown space-station, home to millions. The recklessly imaginative destruction of the Enterprise. The mind-blowingly, edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster madness of the escape in the Franklin. It was just… just amazing.

But my glee didn’t arise simply from spectacle. More than its two predecessors, this story felt so wonderfully grounded in Star Trek lore. There are numerous nods and direct references to previous series and films, including the first non-Enterprise reference to the Xindi war. It might not have been the greatest story-arc in Trek history, but it was nice to hear it being talked about. Also good grief the character-work in this film is marvelous. This is by far the best use of this new cast and, if I’m honest, any Star Trek cast in film. The scripting is flighty and interactive – very little talking-headery here. Every character gets a moment, too, and not just a super-power moment. Yes, Scotty gets his exceptional engineer moments, but he also gets a few lovely human instances of compassion. Similarly, McCoy gets to be a superb doctor whilst also very prominently being a friend and confidant for Spock and Kirk in a way last shown to this extent in The Undiscovered Country. As I said, all characters get this treatment, the result of which is not just simply increasing your investment in them; I was left with a much greater sense of reality and possibility for growth, both story-wise and character-wise.

Talking of characters, the way Leonard Nimoy’s death was handled was just wonderful and extremely moving. As you might imagine, it’s dealt with in universe as the death of Spock Prime with Kelvin Spock acting as the audience-surrogate, a task handled with genuine aplomb by Quinto. The moment when he receives Spock’s belongings, and opens the photo of the original, Prime Enterprise crew… sent a shiver down my spine. Absolutely beautiful moment.

Overall, this was just a great film, and perhaps more importantly for me right now, a great Star Trek film, which left me really extremely excited about the franchise’s future, especially in the light of the recent announcement of Star Trek: Discovery. Now go and watch it hundreds of thousands of times so they make more films. Thank  you.

Review: Vacuum Diagrams – Stephen Baxter

I wish I could do justice to this book by writing it as beautiful review as it deserves, but I’m exhausted and feeling terrible after a bout of food poisoning from a terrible burger bought at three in the morning in Leeds at the end of a friend’s stag do over the weekend.

So apologies to Mr Baxter. I read Vacuum Diagrams during my honeymoon a couple of weeks ago and didn’t want to wait any longer to write happy words about it.

This is a wonderful book, exploring celestial history, from the universe’s birth to its premature death in four million years time. It’s effectively a collection of short stories, bound together by a framing narrative set in the sixth millennium; a bit of a history-through-characters sort of a thing. Frankly, I found the ideas more engaging than the characters for the most part, with a few major exceptions, and I was happy to immerse myself in the world-building, to the extent that one or two of the character-based stories rather felt like they got in the way.

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Go buy it, it’s lovely.

The world-building though, good grief. It was an absolute delight being led through Baxter’s infinite universe(s), endlessly inhabited, endlessly textured. Some of the ideas put forward are genuinely stunning: alien civilisations in the first microseconds of the universe, before physics as we know it have come into being, humans living at the extremities of collapsed stars, planets folded into themselves through further dimensions… That’s not even the weirdest or most shocking stuff in there. Despite the horror and dread of the xeelee and the photino birds, it’s a universe I’d love to spend exploring forever in a spaceship, but I’ll have to make do with exploring it on paper.

I read this book before the main body of the Xeelee sequence on recommendation, so I’ve got all that to come. Awesome times!

So read this book. I’m sorry this review wasn’t more elegant, (apologies again to Stephen Baxter). Read the book. Read it. I love it. You will too.

Now I’m off to fall asleep on the couch. Goodnight.

The Avalanches – Colours, with added Blade Runner, neural networks and daydreaming AI

Crikey, The Avalanches have a new song out! And even crikeyer, it’s really lovely! And strange. Definitely strange. It sounds like a really beautiful, balmy day at the beach after drinking a Long Island Ice Tea and getting slightly too much sun… But in a good way. Alternatively it sounds like Groove Armada bred with 60’s pop music then got fed through an AI deep dream or a neural network or something… But also in a good way.

There are vocals, and I can’t work out if they’re reversed or not. Perhaps they’re both? It’s like a song-as-a-vibe sort of thing, and it’s not a million miles away from their sound around the time of Since I Left You, except it’s probably less frenetic.

In essence, it’s an Avalanches song – it’s bizarre and really wonderful and incredibly evocative but extremely difficult to describe with any degree of specificity.

Just give it a listen, I’ve decided it’s my beach song for 2016.

Also below the music video, I’ve posted two other videos to give you an idea of what I was talking about regarding AI deep dreaming and neural networks. It’s trippy and it’s so amazing. The 21st century is crazy.

 

Below is the brilliant “tears in the rain” scene from Blade Runner run through a neural network then reconstructed and it’s hauntingly incredible. There’s an article about it here, which is well worth a read:

And here is a video of Google’s AI’s deep dreaming which is just cosmic: