There is a persistent view that refuses to be shaken that science fiction and fantasy are pure escapism. Usually, this view is from people with limited experience of the genre. People like Ian McEwan, who when promoting his last book was sniffy about the escapist aspects of science ficiton:(more…)
Open mic nights are wonderful spaces. They are brilliant places to try new work in front of audiences and get instant feedback. But more than that, they are places where you can listen to the voices of others and learn from them. It’s essential in these times to be in the same space as others and listen to their words.
Over the last year or so, I’ve been going to a lot of poetry nights in Bristol. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the different nights the city has to offer. I read, nervously at first, but then relaxing into having a space to speak. More than that though, I appreciate listening to varied voices in each night. The joy of open mics is everyone gets their turn to speak. So you hear a huge variety of people from all different backgrounds reading poetry. It can be hugely powerful to hear marginalised voices that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.
There are people in all open mics who turn up, read their pieces and then disappear. I’d argue these people are missing the point. You read your stuff, yes, but the whole point of the night should be to listen to the other people around you. The nights are not only about you. It’s an exercise in quieting the ego and making sure you stay grounded.
Making art, especially writing, can be a lonely business, so it’s nights like these that link you to a community of people who are doing the same thing. It shows you are not alone in your endeavours and helps you carry on. By listening to others, it also exposes you to different stories, different references, different ways of seeing the world.
Politicians and reactionary tabloids often push simple narratives as a way of managing dissent. The world works like this. Those people are not like you. They exploit and perpetuate prejudice for power. Open mic nights dismantle these simple stories. They allow you to hear other people’s stories from all different backgrounds and empathise with them. It can be incredibly powerful to be in the same room as people and hear their poetry. In these days where we form so many of our opinions online, it is essential to have real-life spaces where marginalised voices can speak freely. It’s also important for privileged people like me to be quiet and listen. Listening becomes a revolutionary act because you are giving your attention to others. It would be a better world if we stopped shouting and allowed others to speak. So stay and linger a while, engage with voices that are not your own. It might be good for you and the world.
It’s that time again when I examine what media I’ve consumed over the past twelve months and pick my favourites. Defining the best of anything is an entirely subjective act that nevertheless, I try to do every year. I’ve moved away from trying to pick the ‘best’ of anything as they are all different experiences, so instead, I have chosen a few in each category I like.
Let’s dive in.
Double Negative- Low
See, this is where the list is entirely subjective and changes from day to day. Is this album the most fun? Does it have the catchiest songs? Absolutely not. But it’s such a unique album whose sound perfectly sums up the chaos of the political situation of this year. After twenty-five years as a band, Low take a sharp left turn and bury their beautiful harmonies under layers of distortion and fuzz. At times it is like being in the middle of a maelstrom. It’s also got moments of quite stunning fragile beauty, such as the gentle and aching ‘Fly’. It’s absolutely not for everyone, but more than any other album this year, this album has grabbed me by the shoulders and hasn’t let go. They are also one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, hypnotising and powerful.
Cocoa Sugar– Young Fathers I listened to this album on a whim and I’m glad I did. Hard to pin down, their third album sounds like nothing else, spanning multiple genres from hip-hop to dance and gospel. It’s such a unique sound and is thrilling.
Wide Awake!- Parquet Courts Another new band for me. Parquet Courts made uncomplicated guitar music, but it has such propulsive energy and is so much fun that they deserve all the hype they are getting.
Bonfire Night– Talk Less Say More Technically this was released last year, but I only found it recently. Talk Less Say More (aka. Matthew Jennings) writes stupidly catchy electropop that sounds like nothing else. This is the last in the Three Birds trilogy and a suitable culmination of all that’s gone before.
Sorry to Bother You– A razor-sharp critique of capitalism and race roles, this is a bizarre and wonderful trip into an alternate reality that is not far from our own. Tech bros haven’t come up with the idea of voluntary slavery yet, but with the gig economy it can’t be far behind. It’s also very, very funny and uses humour to disarm you and lower your defences. There’s a part about two-thirds of the way through that I did not see coming at all. However, it’s not out of nowhere. The more you think about the final act the more it ties into the themes of the film. Urgent and angry, this is a film that demands to be seen.
Coco- Every time I go into a Pixar film, I swear I’m not going to cry. Then they hit me with another sucker punch. Visually inventive with brilliant music, this is a superb meditation on ageing, memory and of course, death. You know, kid’s stuff.
A Quiet Place- Monsters have taken over the world and have super sensitive hearing, so a family survives in near silence. Unbearably tense in places, this film explores every angle of its
I read 42 books this year, from non-fiction to poetry. You can’t compare any of the below and find a ‘best one’ as they are so wildly different to each other.
Blankets- Craig Thompson– An autobiographical graphic novel about falling in love as a Christian teenager. The art work is beautiful, expressing a huge range of emotion. What’s most impressive about it is how Craig Thompson takes a personal story and spins it into a meditation on religion and the trials of life and the stories we tell ourselves to keep going.
Stories of Your Life and Others- Ted Chiang I loved Arrival, so I was excited to read the original short story that it was based on. I wasn’t disappointed. Each story in this collection is brilliant. Ted Chiang packs more detail and ideas into a short story than most people put into a novel. This is inventive, thoughtful science fiction based on proper science.
How Not to be a Boy- Robert Webb In a similar way to Sara Pascoe’s Animal, Robert Webb blends autobiography with jokes and a serious examination of gender roles. Attempting to conform to rigid masculinity made him struggle throughout his life and made him bury his true feelings in booze. Despite that, it is a laugh out loud funny book, with jokes on every page.
That’s it for 2018. I’ll see you in
Let me know your favourites down below.
I finally got round to watching Whiplash. It’s a great film about a drummer, Andrew in a prestigious school who wants to be the best jazz drummer that ever existed. He’s shooting for genius, nothing less. He manages to draw the attention of the best music teacher in the school, Fletcher. Only problem is, Fletcher is a bully and his methods are abusive and dangerous. (more…)
As I stood before the seated figure, my stomach turned. Every part of my brain was screaming that the face before me was alien. It looked so lifelike. So much like a human. Then it moved and everything felt wrong. I moved on from the robot to the next exhibit, trying to shake the odd feeling those semi-lifelike eyes had given me.
This robot was featured in a fascinating Science Museum exhibition that details the cultural history of robotics. It was the Kodomoroid communication android that weirded me out. The combination almost realistic skin, blank expressions and slight movements gave me physical chills. The feeling I encountered was a strong example of the uncanny valley. By its nature, it is an uncomfortable feeling. Your instincts are to avoid the almost-human. Yet increasingly we find this feeling in the media we consume. It recurs again and again in computer games, in movies and in all culture around us. We have entered the valley and there is a long climb out of it. The robot I saw at the exhibition was just the latest example of a trend that has reached fever pitch in recent years.