Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Metal

By J F Lawrence

Disappointing post-apocalyptic "Shoot-em-up"

I read this hopeful from the book’s synopsis for a thoughtful, if pacey, sci-fi thriller in the Michael Crichton mould. However it really fails to deliver, descending very quickly into a formulaic post-apocalyptic “shoot-em-up”. The story portrays a remarkably rapid descent of American society into anarchy, in which our protagonists (led by two special-ops soldiers and an ex-military scientist) adopt a policy of “shoot first, think later” (the condition of the recipients consistently precluding any asking of questions).

The author is clearly very pro-gun, and uses the book to push the common justification of “if everyone has guns, we need mo’ guns”. Only one of the myriad interactions between the group and others completes with the exchange as agreed and everyone standing, the more usual outcome is complete carnage with the justification of “the mission” (to find a cure) being paramount. Those in the group with a more sensitive disposition all meet sticky ends, and only the “warriors” survive.

All this wouldn’t matter so much if the story had solid, consistent sci-fi underpinnings, but that’s not the case. The concept of a contagion with an element which rapidly corrodes common metals is a good one. However that is then elaborated past the point of believability, with almost the whole of mankind infected overnight by a cocktail of our deadliest diseases, which have somehow been engineered to produce almost no human symptoms but to destroy any nearby metal with not much more than a nasty look. The fact that we already protect ferrous metals in particular with coatings, by alloying or plating them with less reactive elements, or embedding them in bodies of glass, rubber and concrete is quietly ignored. This results in a situation where a gun can be protected despite repeated handing by wiping it with disinfectant, but someone obviously licked the Golden Gate Bridge and it collapsed.

A corollary of the in-credible science is very little discussion of possible solutions.  What there is, is inconsistent: there’s a list of the viral components and their metal targets, but a few pages later the priorities include one not on the list, and the list of “likely” vaccines ignores the fact vaccines for coronaviruses like COVID-19 have literally been developed within weeks of the viruses being identified. There appear to be other editing errors too: a note from the villain includes a hidden message, but the following discussion refers to elements which are not in the text, at least in the Kindle edition.

If you want a good fast-paced romp with lots of people being shot, this may be for you, but if you want a more measured thoughtful sci-fi thriller look elsewhere.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Book, Fiction, and Science Fiction.
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Review: Atomic Secrets

By John A Hopkins

Enjoyable romp through a plausible alternative history

The great thing about this story is the world it inhabits. It’s not our world, in which the Allies won a decisive military victory in WWII, neither is it the dystopia of, for example, The Man in the High Castle in which Germany won. Instead this is ironically the world of which Hitler dreamed, with Nazi Germany dominant across Europe, and an uneasy truce with Britain and America. The Germany the story paints is a clever amalgam of the Nazi state, and how West Germany evolved after the war.

In 1948 the Allies have the atomic bomb, and Germany is making substantial efforts to create their own. When an unexpected contact provides the opportunity for MI6 to sabotage that programme they have to take it.

The story reflects reality in clever ways. Britain really did attack the German nuclear weapons programme, most famously through the Telemark raids on the Norwegian heavy water plant. In this story, however, a more subtle approach is required, and the author cleverly adapts an attack vector actually used against a rogue atomic programme in our own century. While this is a work of fiction the technical elements are largely correct and clearly explained.

At one side of this tale are a group of British spies, operating under the cover of building trade relationships with Germany. Although not infallible they are dedicated and capable. On the other side are several officers of the Kriminalpolizei, the German police’s detective force. They are also honest and competent, the author avoiding the trope of the indolent or dishonest police officer and building some genuine sympathy. You want the British spies to succeed, but you also want this group of police officers to survive and thrive.

Between these poles sits a mixed cast of other characters each with their own agendas, developing rivalries different from, but not unlike those in the real cold war.

This is a relatively short book and the story rips along quite quickly, action and investigation developing quickly side by side. The Italianate denouement when it comes would fit right into an episode of Zen, with the agreed explanation and resulting punishments and rewards bearing a limited relationship to the truth, but given your ambivalent feelings for many of the German characters it feels quite satisfactory.

Amazon now labels this “A David Brook Novel”, and it is quite possible that the surviving central characters on both sides could re-appear. I would very much enjoy that.


In the interests of full disclosure I note that the author approached me to request a review, and provided a free copy of the book for that purpose, however the review above is very much my own.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Book, Crime / mystery, Fiction, and Historical novel.
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Olympus TG6 – Does the T Really Stand for “Tough”?

Snorkelling on the wreck of the Bajan Queen
Camera: OLYMPUS CORPORATION TG-6 | Date: 25-04-2023 14:38 | Resolution: 4243 x 2828 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 2.8 | Focal Length: 4.5mm (~25.0mm)

I don’t do a lot of underwater photography, but I like to have an underwater-capable camera for snorkelling on holiday, and it’s also potentially a good option for working in very wet conditions above seal level. For the last 10 years I’ve used a Canon S120 with the Canon underwater housing, which works very well. It shoots RAW, and I’ve developed a very slick process for correcting the white balance to produce colour-accurate shots which can be put through my normal workflow alongside the output from my other cameras. A few years ago I also flirted with a Panasonic GF6, again with a dedicated housing, and that also worked well, but I decided it didn’t give me enough extra capability to justify the larger size of the kit.

Unfortunately as I’m getting older my eyes are changing, and on the last couple of trips I’ve struggled to see the rear screen of the S120 through the combination of snorkel mask and housing. I therefore decided I needed to remove at least one layer of distortions and reflections from the chain, by buying a camera designed for underwater use. To work for me it would have to have good stills capability, a large rear screen, RAW capability and physical controls (I don’t get on with phones as cameras, again it’s largely an eyesight thing). Those requirements eliminated most options but the Olympus TG6 seemed to tick all the boxes.

I approached the TG6 with a bit of trepidation: a lot of reviews suggest that even though it is underwater capable as-is, you should still put it in a housing for serious use. Also I had a bad experience with one of its predecessors, the TG2, which failed dramatically on its first use in the sea. However most reviews were positive, and I decided to have a go.

Some of the issues with the TG2 have been fixed. The newer camera supports RAW, and has an extensive menu of underwater focus and white balance options. The screen is no larger than the Canon S120’s, but without a housing it is easier to see. Generally the TG6 a “high capability” small camera, with some features such as macro focus bracketing which I don’t have with any other camera. The external seals have been improved, with a clever double-locking mechanism to make sure they are shut and stay shut. Importantly, the camera survived two snorkelling trips without springing a leak, which shouldn’t be an achievement for this type of camera, but based on my previous experience, it is.

However I really struggle with the “tough” designation. By default the lens comes without any protection at all, so I shelled out an extra £35 on the LB-T01 “lens barrier”, which clips on in place of the filter ring and provides a neat “twist to open or close” lens cap. However on the second snorkelling trip I had to wade back onto the beach through some sandy surf. Some of the sand obviously worked its way into the lens barrier, and it jammed open. I await a replacement, and probably a future recurrence.

You imagine these devices being thrown into kit bags and dropped on floors, but if you do so you’ll rapidly scratch the rear screen out of usability. I carried the camera on its first trip in the side pocket of my snorkel bag. Just an empty, clean pocket in a nylon bag, nothing else in it. When we reached the boat the rear screen had picked up a couple of small but distinct scratches. I’ve just watched a program where they showed the “key scratch test” used on FitBit screens, but heaven knows how the TG6 would survive that. What’s annoying is there’s a very simple solution short of engineering the screen with genuinely tough glass – why doesn’t it come with a screen protector fitted as standard, and then you can just replace that when it’s damaged? I’ve fitted one now, but it’s a bit too late…

You still have to open either the USB port cover or the battery cover to recharge the battery. Why can’t it have an exterior charge point like a FitBit, or inductive charging like my toothbrush? Then if you set up WiFi to access the data you could leave the camera sealed for a whole trip, which would be much more secure. As it is I’m still not 100% convinced that the next time out won’t be the time the seals fail and it goes the way of the TG2.

Given my changing eyes I’ll hang onto the TG6 at least for a planned beach trip at the end of the year, but unlike some cameras, it’s a bit on sufferance and not an entirely comfortable relationship.

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Barbados – Mojo Reanimated

Thirs World with guest Biggie Irie at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 29-04-2023 00:49 | Resolution: 3400 x 2125 | ISO: 1600 | Exp. bias: -133/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/200s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 177.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Barbados has its mojo back.

We’ve been regular visitors to the magical island over many years now. It was a real frustration that our 2020 trip got cancelled with only a few weeks’ notice, and we couldn’t wait to return. We were lucky enough to get back at the end of 2021, and also in 2022, but between the impacts of a year of lockdowns and enduring Covid restrictions it was somehow changed. Yes, the sun still shone and you could still get a good meal (before the 9.00 curfew), but many of the touches we value were missing. Barbados’ mojo was (as no blues song has ever put it) not in an operational state.

Suddenly, this April, it’s working again. The most visible single indicator is the triumphant return of the Reggae Festival.  On Friday we were treated to a parade of well-loved faces and voices. Local girl Wendy Alleyne (OK, she’s probably older than I am) opened her sparkling set with the hilarious “I Am Still Here” (essentially “I’m Not Yet Dead”). The Fab 5 stormed in from Jamaica with all the old favourites, even if they can’t jump as high as before and no longer have their full brass section. However the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Third World, who’s stunning set encompassed reggae, rock, a bongo solo, Redemption Song on a cello, and the operatic “Con Te Partirò”!

Wendy Alleyne at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023 (Show Details)

Third World at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023(Show Details)

Third World at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023, and no, that isn’t Romesh Ranganathan on Bass! (Show Details)

There are other signs too. New restaurants have replaced many of those which failed during Covid. The sporting agenda is more or less back to normal and we got to our first polo match in 4 years.

Barbados vs Switzerland (Show Details)

The buzz is back. Wonderful!

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A Heretical Proposition

Matera, Italy
Caption: Ancient town of Matera (Sassi di Matera) at sunrise, Basilicata, southern Italy.

Here’s a heretical proposition: Quantum of B**locks is clearly the worst of all the “real” Bond films, but is No Time To Die the second worst? The release of a new Bond film is always accompanied by almost hagiographic sycophancy, but the reality is that No Time To Die is a very poor entry in the Bond franchise, if not an actively bad one.

It has to be said that the warning signs were apparent even before we got to the cinema: the over-long running time, the major changes in production team including the producers’ parting of ways with Danny Boyle, a long list of writing credits. These are common failings with horrors such as the execrable Pirates of the Caribbean 3, so didn’t bode well. However we arrived at the screen hoping for the best and wanting to be entertained. Unfortunately the film over-promised and under-delivered.

The problem isn’t the core plot of the film. This story could have been delivered with aplomb in a tight, flowing 2 hour package which kept up the Bond film standard. Instead it rambles with lengthy introspection more worthy of Jean de Florette. The action sequences when they come are fine, but several are also much longer than required and one, the fight through the villain’s lair takes so long it almost becomes boring.

The villain’s motivation is never really clear. If you’re going to launch a WMD which could kill off half the world’s population you really need to explain why. Call me old-fashioned but I like a bit of monologuing. Gert Frobe couldn’t speak English fluently, but his explanations in Goldfinger are exemplary. Rami Malek mutters darkly and you’re none the wiser.

The same story could have been told without killing off Blofeld, Leiter & Bond! These deaths, particularly Bond’s, set a horrible stamp of finality on the film which is hard to explain. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were “he fell in the canal and the body was never recovered”, but being respectively poisoned (in front of Bond), shot/drowned and blown up by a cruise missile are going to be hard to come back from…

What next? Does the next film start with Moneypenny waking from a horrible dream? Are they going to outsource the 00 section to some equal-opportunity collective? (That’s actually not the worst idea – in Edge of Darkness Harcourt and Pendleton get GLC funding via a black lesbian collective, maybe they could work that in.)

It’s almost as if the producers saw Avengers: Endgame and thought “we could do that”, but forgot that unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s a single somewhat key character in the Bond series. I know that this is Daniel Craig’s last Bond film, but the previous “last” films (those which were known as such at the time) are celebrations of the actor’s run, not a memorial service.

This is definitely a Bond film too far for Daniel Craig. He never looked truly comfortable in the role, but in this one he looks actively tired. I know this is supposed to be about his “feelings”, but he just looks worn out. Moore, Dalton and Brosnan all carried and acknowledged the grief of Tracy’s tragic death. Licence to Kill is largely driven by Bond’s desire for vengeance after Felix’s near death and his wife’s murder. Roger Moore was older than Craig when he did his last two films. But none of these resulted in a screen Bond who looked uncomfortable in his own skin.

The joke that during Bond’s retirement 007 has been allocated to a black woman falls flat. It ignores the fact that throughout Bond’s history (except, oddly, in the Daniel Craig era) there have been lots of strong female characters, many rival agents of comparable rank and ability to Bond. It doesn’t help that the new 007, Nomi is portrayed as solid and capable but almost deliberately unexciting. She’s underwritten and is not allowed to actually do very much – it’s left to the rather more stereotypical Paloma, a leggy high-kicking CIA agent in a skimpy dress to make a real impression.

As far as humour goes that’s about it. In common with the other Craig films this is dry as a bone. I prefer the world to be saved by someone with a quizzical raised eyebrow, nicely straightened tie, and an appropriate one liner for each despatched henchman.

Many of the other traditional markers of a true Bond file are also absent. The Bond team pretty much invented the signature stunt (think of the car jump in The Man with the Golden Gun, the ski/parachute jump in The Spy Who Loved Me, or taking a motorbike over a hovering helicopter in Tomorrow Never Dies), but aside from a couple of decent motorbike stunts there’s none of that here – it’s been abandoned to the Fast and Furious and Mission Impossible teams. (And remember, Tom Cruise is 6 years Daniel Craig’s senior, doesn’t look shagged out, and does most of his signature stunts himself.)

The body count is high, but mainly because too many people just get shot by machine gun, in long running battles. There’s no ingenuity to the resolution, just dogged determination to shoot the bad guys before they shoot you. If that’s the sort of film you’re making you don’t need Bond, James Bond, you need Casey Ryback.

With one exception the music is awful. The whiny alleged theme tune (as far as I can work out it fails the definitions of both “theme” and “tune”) drones on through a credit sequence which would never have met Maurice Binder’s approval. The incidental music is unremarkable, and unless I missed it the great Monty Norman theme is notable by its absence, maybe because there are few moments of real flair to justify it. This was another aspect of the film which suffered from a mid-production change of direction.

Did I like anything? I loved the Italian locations in Matera and Sapri, with the car and bike chase through the former probably, for me, the film’s high point. The scenes set in the Norwegian forest were good. The re-use of We Have All The Time In The World is inspired, but it does remind you that there’s a much better, 52 year old film about 007’s life and loves.

If this is really the final Bond film it’s a disappointing one. If not, then I have some suggestions for the next one…

It should start with Samantha Bond as Moneypenny waking from a bad dream, and pick up (with new cast) where Brosnan and co. left off. To cast Bond himself, find a 35-year-old actor who has already shown himself able to play a leading role with some flair and panache (Richard Madden? Kit Harington? Chris Hemsworth?) Make him debonair and suave, not a thug in a suit. Give him a sense of humour and write the lines and situations to exploit it. Balance this with a range of strong female roles of all ages, on both sides of the battle (remember, Die Another Day had Halle Berry and Rosamund Pike).

Re-create a healthy interest in stuff: clothes, cars, gadgets, locations, and shoot in a cheerful colour palette to match. If you can find someone who’s prepared to write and perform a proper Bond title song (e.g. Ivy Levan who did the one for Spy) great. If not suck it up and get the rights to Emma Bunton’s Free Me – a perfect Bond theme waiting ready for use.

And, this is most important, if someone suggests that the film should be about exploring Bond’s emotions: shoot them, with a machine gun.

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Review: Zero Limit

By Jeremy K Brown

Inadequate soapy knock-off of Deep Impact, with random numbers!

This is billed as “Artemis meets Gravity“, but it would be more accurate to say “Deep Impact meets Eastenders“. The main plot element is that a rogue asteroid mining operation accidentally puts the rock on a direct impact course for Earth, and thereafter it is basically a straight clone of Deep Impact, but with a Trumpian, dim demagogue president rather than an Obama-esque one, and a level of soapiness which would shame Eastenders.

The author seems to have a very poor grasp of mechanics, and the course of the asteroid is such that early on it’s “a little closer than the moon”, because the author doesn’t want something as prosaic as the speed of light getting in the way of chatty dialogue between the two central female characters, yet rather later on it’s “about four times further away”. Hang on, doesn’t that mean it’s moving away from Earth?

Other numbers and concepts seem to be equally confused. There’s a good thread about “moonborn” characters being demonised on Earth, similar to current Hispanic and Muslim immigrants to the US, but no explanation of how these amount to any significant numbers, especially given the acknowledged challenges of making the journey back if you were born in 1/6 g. There’s a comparison between the projected impact and the largest H Bomb, but a factor of 1000 goes missing somewhere, and you can’t help thinking that real scientists would use terms like “Giga” and “Tera”, and SI units, which have a well-defined, internationally-invariant value.

I finished the book because I wanted to write a review, but this is really one that wasn’t worth completing.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Book, Fiction, and Science Fiction.
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Review: The Spy. Why?

By Andrew Gross

Fictionalised re-telling of the Telemark story. Why?

While this is an enjoyable read, it prompts one big question. Why did the author feel that a heavily fictionalised re-telling of this utterly thrilling true story was needed? In the preface Gross says that he wants to tell “the story of how only a few brave men put an end to that threat”, but but then proceeds to invent a cast of central characters who are at best “drawn from” the real players and have their names changed. My decision to read the book might have been different if I’d realised up front the level of fictionalisation.

The central part of the book (between the commando raid and sinking the ferry) is almost entirely fictional, involving “Kurt Nordstrom” in not one but two love affairs. Now I get that “Kurt spent the summer of 1943 on the plateau eating reindeer and dodging the Germans” isn’t going to fill a lot of pages, but  a shorter more focused tale would have been fine. Once you realise that this section is what it is, it calls into question how much of the remainder is historic.

The irony is that a lot of this is unnecessary. By Gross’ own admission, the dramatic chase which separated one of the escaping Gunnerside team from the others actually happened, just to another character not the invented American, and the true story of how the plant’s night watchman interrupted the commandos setting the explosives not once but twice in search of his glasses is both funny and more dramatic than the way it’s told here.

Beyond that, the story has been told well, with less fictionalisation, several times in recent years. The BBC documentary accompanying Ray Mears’ excellent 2003 book was superb, with interviews of many of the real players. I thoroughly enjoyed the tri-partisan 2015 TV series The Saboteurs which succeeded in portraying the perspectives of not only the Norwegian commandos and their supporters, but also the British and Norwegian commanders, and key participants on the German side. Even the still enjoyable 1965 film sticks to the truth at least as much as Gross’ book.

The book was originally  published under the title The Saboteur, which makes perfect sense, but then got re-titled The Spy, which makes none, as there’s very little spying involved, and a lot of sabotage. Maybe this was to avoid an obvious clash with the international TV series, but it raises another “why?”.

If you want to read an enjoyable wartime romp with some real key events, then this book is fine. If you’d prefer to understand the background, achievement and the real players, track down one of the TV series.


Categories: Reviews and Thoughts on the World. Content Types: Adventure, Book, Fiction, and History.
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Review: Darwin’s Cipher

By M A Rothman

At last a good new techno-thriller, but maybe not murky enough?

I like a good techno-thriller, but since the death of Michael Crichton and with Phillip Kerr moving onto German detectives and unpleasant tales of first-person murdering pickings have been thin. I have enjoyed the works of Daniel Suarez, and the more “techno” output from Preston/Child and William Hertling, but having exhausted their catalogues I was getting a bit desperate for my latest trip. That’s when I found Darwin’s Cipher, the second novel from M A Rothman.

The basic plot is a simple one: advanced gene therapy being developed as a cancer cure is surreptitiously diverted into potential military applications, and both the medical and military uses generate very dangerous side-effects, which have to be contained or reversed. The story romps along at a good pace, the “techno” elements are well developed and fairly believable, and you come to like the competent, well-meaning central characters, turning pages enthusiastically to see if they can avert the apocalypse.

The writing is perhaps a bit weaker on the conspiracy side of the thriller.  There are lots of secondary characters with varying motivation: good, bad, and those doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. However these motivations are readily revealed and rarely change, and it lacks the sheer murk of a good conspiracy. Also whereas the technical elements are either tidied up neatly or left hanging deliberately, that’s not so true of the darker plot elements, and several key aspects are left unexplained.

That said, these are minor complaints. I did enjoy this book and I’ll definitely read Rothman’s other techno-thriller(s).

In an afterword the author explains that it’s very difficult to get traditional publishers interested in such material, despite the success of Crichton, Kerr and others.  That’s a shame, because it’s a genre which continues to intrigue me, and does have an audience. However it looks like we have to continue to go hunting to find the good ones, even before trying to discern the plots of the stories themselves.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Book, Fiction, and Science Fiction.
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Review: Software Design Decoded

66 Ways Experts Think, By Marian Petre, André Van Der Hoek, Yen Quach

A powerful reminder on the behaviours required to succeed in software architecture

This is a delightful little book on the perennial topic of how a software architect should think and behave. While that subject seems to attract shorter books, this one is very concise – the main content is just 66 two-page spreads, with a well-chosen and often thought-provoking illustration on the left, and a couple of paragraphs on the right.  However just as with The Elements of Style, brevity indicates high value: this book provides the prompt, the detail can be elsewhere.

The book should be valuable to many: If you want to be an expert software designer, this book provides an overview of the skills and knowledge you need to develop. If you want to recruit such a person, this provides a set of key indicators and interview prompts. If you are in one of those software development organisations which believes that quality architecture can somehow emerge by magic from the unguided work of undifferentiated coders, this might make you think again.

If you are, or think you are, a software architect, this book should act in the same way as a good sermon: it will remind you of what already know you should be doing, and act as a prompt against which you can measure your own performance and identify areas for improvement. It reminded me that I can sometimes be slow to listen to the views of others, or evidence which may change a design, and slow to engage with new technologies, and I will try to act on those prompts.

This book resolutely promotes the value of modelling in software design. Formal models and analysis have their place, but so do informal models, sketches, and ad-hoc notation. The key point is to externalise ideas so that they can be shared, refined and “tested” in the cheapest and most effective of ways, on paper or a whiteboard. We are reminded that all these are hallmarks of true expert software designers. Code has its place, to prove the solution or explore technicalities, but it is not the design.

The book also promotes the value of richness in these representations. Experts should explore and constantly be aware of alternatives, and model the solution at different levels of abstraction, in terms of both static and dynamic behaviours. Continuous assessment means not only testing, but simulation. If required, the expert should build his or her own tools. While solving simple problems first is a good way to get started, deep, early understanding of the problem space is essential, and experts must understand the whole context and landscape well enough to make and articulate design prioritisations and trade-offs.

I thoroughly recommend this book. It may seem slight, but it delivers a powerful reminder on the process of design, and the necessary, different thought processes to succeed with it.

Categories: Agile & Architecture and Reviews. Content Types: Book, Computing, and Software Architecture.
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A catholic Taste in Films?

I’ve always wondered about the phrase "a catholic taste", meaning "broad". Surely the way in which the Catholic religion (like most others) prescribes and proscribes certain behaviours and materials acts to limit rather than broaden an individual’s tastes? Apparently the phrase derives from Catholicism being positioned as "the universal religion", and hence "a catholic taste" (with a small "c"), means "a universal taste". There may be a bit of "getting the problem out of the way in the title" going on, but that’s the official version.

However our two visits to the cinema in the last couple of days certainly challenge this interpretation. Although the two films are at opposite ends of almost any cinematic spectrum, there was an odd and unexpected common thread in our viewing which bears a bit of introspection.

On Sunday, we went to see Assassin’s Creed. This is an energetic sci-fi and action movie based on the video game of the same name. While it’s not a great film, some of the parkour "chase and fight" sequences are amazing. Apparently it was done under "Bond" rules: if they could find someone mad enough to do a stunt for real, they went for it. There are also some pretty impressive sets, backdrops and costumes. The core action takes place in Andalucía in time of the Spanish Inquisition, Columbus and the Moor withdrawal from Spain. Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around a long running war between the Catholic church, in the form of The Templars, seeking ways to suppress human free will, which they see as driving the excesses of human violence, and The Assassins, who oppose them in the name of freedom. The Templars’ position, paving the road to hell with the best of intentions, is a clever plot device, and leads to some surprisingly insightful discussions of the human condition, such as an exchange between two senior modern-day Templars debating whether they need further methods of mass control when Materialism seems to be working very well…

Yesterday, we went to see Silence. I suspect few people will see both films, and probably not very many middle-aged couples, but hey, we have "a catholic taste", don’t we? By any objective measure this is the complete opposite of Assassin’s Creed: a thoughtful historical piece rather than a game-inspired action fest, slow and considered rather than frenetic, emotional and psychological rather than active, arguably a bit too long and indulgent rather than arguably a bit curt at the end, Oscar-worthy rather than one for the Razzies. However, we then get an unexpected thematic resonance. Silence portrays the attempts of the Catholic church to introduce Christianity to Japan, and how after some initial success this was met by a brutal backlash under the the Japanese establishment’s own inquisition. While the Christians are portrayed as the heroes of the piece, they are shown as arrogant and wilfully ignorant of the Japanese religion, culture, language and institutions. While the Japanese inquisitors are shown to be brutal at times, they are also shown to be capable of subtlety, humanity, humour and leniency. By the end of the film, while you may be impressed by the strength of the Christians’ faith, you ultimately admire and have some sympathy for the Japanese establishment’s psychological as much as physical defence of its own culture. And that is basically the same plot line as Assassin’s Creed.

Neither of these films will become favourites of ours, but I’m glad we saw them both and I find the odd thematic similarities fascinating and thought provoking. In particular, both challenge the conceit of any religion which sets itself up as the "universal" moral guide. In this particular case, a "catholic taste in film" has turned out to have something of an "anti-Catholic" theme, with two films both challenging the very concept of universal catholicism. Go figure…

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Review: The One Man

By Andrew Gross

Decent Thriller but with Annoying and Unnecessary Timeline Errors

Overall this is a cracking WWII thriller, set around the concept of an Allies break in into Auschwitz to rescue a specific prisoner who holds information vital to the Manhattan Project. Andrew Gross has done a great job of capturing the horror and brutality of life in the labour camp, in the constant shadow of the mass exterminations. He weaves into this some believable characters including a Polish Jew who had successfully escaped from occupied Europe, and is then prevailed upon to return to carry out an almost impossible mission, and his nemesis in the form of a side-lined Abwehr Colonel.

Both the set up of the situation and key players in the first half of the book and the suspenseful execution in the second ploy keep hold your attention turning pages right until the conclusion. The core material seems to have been well researched and is based on some well-documented history including Neils Bohr’s daring escape from the Nazis, and Denis Avey’s extraordinary excursion from the Auschwitz POW camp into the death camp to establish a first-hand record of the horrors.

It’s therefore a great shame that this is to some extent spoiled by a number of frustrating and wholly unnecessary errors in the timeline. Other reviewers have observed how the timelines for the key characters don’t quite “add up”. Beyond that there are completely incorrect factual references. The camp commandment goes to a meeting in May or June 1944 with Heinrich Himmler, fair enough, and Reinhard Heydrich, which would be a bit more of a challenge as he was assassinated in June 1942. The central character observes preparations for D-Day, counting the Stirling bombers out and back in again, and is pleased to benefit from the “newly introduced” Mosquito for the mission. The Mosquito was introduced in late 1940, and the Stirling was almost entirely eclipsed by the Lancaster and Halifax after 1943. Why add these incorrect references, when the book would have been fine without those details altogether?

I enjoyed this story, and will probably read some more of the author’s work, but it did leave me feeling a bit annoyed, and for no good reason.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Adventure, Book, Fiction, and Historical novel.
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Review: All Tide Up

By Alex Cay

Another great farce

Like it’s predecessor, Man Up!, this is a knock-about farce based around the capable but somewhat cursed sports agent, Patrick Flynn. This time the key protegé is a nymphomaniac Russian tennis player, but otherwise the cast of gangsters, hit-men (& -women) and scam artists hasn’t changed much. So much the better for that. Several of the key characters miraculously make it through from the first book to the second, and if you want to understand how then you first need to read the author’s even more farcical short story Icy Hot.

This style of comedy writing is difficult to pull off, and can mis-fire, but Alex Cay seems to have it off pat. The body count continues to be high, but sometimes (not always) with a slapstick element which invokes a lighter cartoonish tone. The sex scenes are moderately graphic, but provide both the prime driver for several of the female characters and a fair element of the humour. However as long as you are comfortable with a fairly adult style then you will enjoy and frequently laugh out loud at this outlandish tale.

It’s always encouraging when someone takes note and acts on a review. The author personally asked me to review his first book, and I happily did so noting that I’d like to see a change of location, fewer detailed American sports references, and a couple of stylistic tweaks. He has delivered on all those requests, and that makes the book all the more readable. Thanks for listening, Alex!

A great holiday read. I look forward to the next instalment.

Categories: Reviews and Thoughts on the World. Content Types: Adventure, Fiction, and Humour.
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