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steerpyke

steerpyke

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musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, thinker of deep thoughts, quantum spanner, zenarchist. People have woken up to worse.

Reviews written

since 13/02/2004

467

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline 19/03/2017

The holy book of geek chic.

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline I grew up reading high fantasy and science fiction; nothing was more exciting than following a group of adventurers on an epic quest or picturing attack ships laying waste to floating space cities. But as the saying goes; when I grew up I put away childish things. For a long time I eschewed the fantastical and the far fetched, the dystopian and the magical in favour of more grounded subjects, but a couple of years ago that devil may care attitude which comes with age got the better of me. Life, like my savings account, is indeed too short and why should I impose such strict rules on my own literary intake when I should really be embracing my inner geek. In the years between my first forays into the mystical and the far flung it seems that sci-fi, fantasy, alternative history, superheroes and the like have emerged from the teen bedroom and the Dungeons and Dragons gatherings and become, well, cool. Having tested the waters with a few writers recommended by book lists and blogs, I realised my first problem. Whilst I had become much more discerning in my tastes, the genre hadn’t. Now with an old pair of eyes and more worldly experience I struggled with many of the books for their lack of internal logic and consistency. Some authors came up trumps; the eons old space empires of Iain M Banks, the science-fantasy hybrid of Gene Wolfe’s New Urth and the ever relevant social commentary of Ursula Le Guin. Only a few days ago I came across the one book, which fully restored my faith ...

Nerd Do Well - Simon Pegg 21/02/2017

Achieving Nerdvana

Nerd Do Well - Simon Pegg I have to admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for the autobiographies of the great and good but it is a very specific part of their career trajectory that fascinates me most. You can generally boil the life of anyone who has attained a position in the public consciousness into three acts. The first will be the formative years involving schools and siblings, juvenile escapades and the seeding of those interests which will later shape them enough to bring them to the attention of the world. The third is the post-recognition era, the one of fame and moving in certain circles, of meeting heroes and being afforded the trappings of success. But for me it is always Act Two that is the most interesting. Act Two can really be summed up with the tag line of “how did they go from plebeian to prince,” the bit with the hard work and the lucky breaks and that for me is the heart of the story. Simon Pegg is one of those people who I always just warmed too, as one of us, a regular guy made good and it is his Act Two which shows you just how much success is all about putting the hours in. He shot to fame, or more properly garnered a loyal following, via Spaced, his homage to cult films via a dysfunctional house share, sit-com vehicle. This enabled him to move into film where he became adept at producing loving and reverential parody. Shaun of The Dead re-set the zombie apocalypse in suburban North London, Hot Fuzz took the classic cop-buddy movie and relocated it in The West Country and The ...

I Have a Bream - John O'Farrell 20/02/2017

A very British rant

I Have a Bream - John O'Farrell As a scriptwriter and satirist, John O Farrell has been involved in some ground breaking British shows, not least as a scriptwriter for Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You. Later as a novelist he attained critical acclaim for a string of often darkly humorous, socially poignant books, but it is in his columns for The Guardian, of which this book is the third instalment , that I feel his best work is found. Humour is generally about a concise build up and swift pay-off and column writing is all about a limited word count so the two blend well as a literary form, but it is rarely done well, certainly not as wonderfully well as this. A bit like my other favourite of the snappy, kitchen sink column, Caitlin Moran, O’Farrell is the master of blending the humdrum minutiae of normal life with global concerns, it is all very well getting out there and engaging in the big issues of the day, but why bother when you can sit on the sofa and quip…and occasionally rant. I Have A Bream is a collection of a couple of years of Farrell funnies, of columns designed to make you laugh and think in equal measure. Admittedly it isn’t a recent collection its beginning and end points running a bit either side of 2004, but the subjects are often universal, still valid and always mirthsome. I’m also thinking that as these were aimed at Guardian readers, a phrase which has taken on a weight of undue accusation in these divided times, that the target is going to be one who has at least a ...

Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco 15/02/2017

Eco's smoke and mirrors.

Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco In a world where Dan Brown novels are regarded by many as being semi-academic, re-examinations of histories more controversial ecclesiastical theories, thank The Lord (pun intended) for Umberto Eco. He is best known for The Name of The Rose a medieval whodunit since made into a successful film, but as a novelist, literary critic, philosopher and university lecturer, Eco wrote on a wide range of topics from academic essays to children’s stories. He was a semiotician, a devotee of the real life study of signs, symbolism, meaning and metaphor (ironically much like Robert Langdon’s made up title of Symbologist) and it is often his application of the allegorical that drives this book’s subtle and complex plot weave. The story revolves around three employees, Belbo, Casaubon and Diotallevi, who work for a publishing house and in an effort to relieve the boredom of dealing with the mainly vanity works that their company handles, they decide to invent their own conspiracy theories, known to them as The Plan. As the book, told mainly through flashbacks and recollections, progresses, their immersion in The Plan causes the line between invention and possibility, fiction and fact to blur and once other conspiracy theorists begin not only taking up but elaborating on these ideas, they find themselves no longer the puppet masters but pawns in a far more dangerous game. My love of the book is driven not only by Eco’s sumptuous use of language, but his almost satirical approach towards the ...

Transition - Iain Banks 14/02/2017

A masterful, world-hopping, instant classic

Transition - Iain Banks Iain Banks led a duel life as a novelist. Firstly as a writer of emotive, warped and heartfelt narratives and also as Iain M Banks, a spinner of galactic science fiction writ large of millions of miles and millions of years. Although this book, by virtue of the chosen moniker should fit into the former category, the story seems to span both parts of his writing. He presents his world through a series of first person views, from myriad characters; a legendary assassin, a city trader, a state sponsored torturer, an enigmatic philosopher and a seemingly comatose hospital patient, all tell the story from their experiences and often flitting through each others narratives. It is an interesting style, one that keeps you on your toes as a reader as your worldview changes perspective with each teller’s tale. Together they paint a world, or series of parallel worlds, whose strings are pulled by an all powerful organisation called The Concern, an illuminate-esque body who bend society, history and destiny to their will, much like The Culture, his power behind the throne body ever present in his science fiction writing. Through this string of worlds, some familiar to us as slight tweaks on society as we know it, others alien and fantastic, a battle of cat and mouse is being played, one for the very control of the destiny of the universe. As always his backdrop is sprawling and full of big ideas and bigger possibilities yet even at its most fantastic it has a consistency and logic ...

Stephen Fry in America - Stephen Fry 06/01/2016

An Englishman abroad

Stephen Fry in America - Stephen Fry Often countries are best written about by someone from outside. A stranger who can see it for the first time with wide eyed bewilderment and an innocent joy, unhampered by the intricacies of the place, the daily realities, the newsfeeds and the politics. Writers such as Michael Palin and Bill Bryson have done this to great and popular effect and even comedians such as Reg D Hunter and Ricky Gervais have shown that the nature of a place can be better summed up in concise and broad form by a traveller from a foreign land. Maybe they are only exploring the idea of a place, but when aimed at the modern, popularist market, maybe that is all we need. With that in mind, Stephen Fry was the perfect choice to make a TV travelogue spanning all 50 states of America. His natural optimism, self confessed love of the country, effortless charm and wit make for as good a host as any and the 6 part BBC series Stephen Fry in America, which saw him drive a London black cab in search of the country’s heart was a great success. So naturally there had to be a book to accompany it. The book is divided into 5 rough geographical areas, New England and The East Coast; The South East and Florida; The Deep South to The Great Lakes (following the route up the Mississippi River;) The Rockies, The Great Plains and Texas; The Southwest, The West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii. Large areas all and then within each of these there is a chapter regarding each state. As expected of a country this vast, the cultural ...

Gig-going 04/01/2016

Going To Gigs - A Users Manual

Gig-going There was a time when most people seemed to automatically know how to act at gigs. Maybe there was something in our genetic coding passed down from the first time a monkey-man took a stick to a fallen tree and a passing Neanderthal was heard to say “nice syncopation dude, can’t wait for the album.” Another carved “really gutted to have missed the show” on Cliff Face. Recently there does seem to have been a shift in the way people behave at live gigs, so I thought it was time to go over the rules again. 1. Facebook Fails Even before the gig has taken place you can see the cracks beginning to show. Modern attitudes towards Facebook, for example, now mean that event pages to really exciting gigs pass the user by without a second glance yet a cat looking like a 20th century dictator, a plate of Confit of Salmon with new potatoes and a dill drizzle or a vague status along the lines of “why do I bother?” will generate so much buzz that it temporarily breaks the internet. (the correct response to that last one is either “ you okay babe?” or “hugs, call me.” Event pages were made for sharing, that’s how they work but when the bands can’t really be bothered (it’s the promoters job after all) and most of the “interested” or “attending” parties are either just trying to look socially active, have no intention of going or live in a different hemisphere, then maybe we need a new strategy. Being seen to go to gigs is the new going to gigs, it would seem. 2. Asking what time is a band ...

Moranthology - Caitlin Moran 04/01/2016

The World According to Caitlin(pronounced Cat-Lin)

Moranthology - Caitlin Moran I have to admit that I am a bit obsessed with Caitlin Moran. Okay not obsessed but I reckon a night in the pub with her would be something you wouldn’t forget in a hurry. I mean, what’s not to like. A home schooled bookworm, ex-music journo, and straight talking force of nature with big eyes, big hair and a big personality. My kind of girl. When your average broadsheet columnist comes across as part of the old school tie brigade, sharp dressed and peddling an agenda, how can you not warm to a flaky, kohl eyed, West Midland indie kid who is known to keep falafel in her handbag. As she admits in the introduction, when she fell into journalism at a very young age after dismissing prostitution (due to sharing a bedroom with her sister) and working at the local supermarket (and slightly regretting the amount of cheap ham she might have accrued) she was at a loss to know what to write about. And after realising that she wasn’t cut out for acerbic social critique or hero slaying music reviews there was a moment of realisation that what she was really about was politeness….and silliness….and pointing at things. The puntastically titled Moranthology is, as it name suggests, a collection of her favourite articles about pointing at things, mainly the things of popular culture and everyday life, looking at them from a different angle and finding the humour in them. This collection covers everything from The Big Society to big hair, Boris Johnson to Benedict Cumberbatch (a lot,) ...

Hammer of the Gods - Stephen Davis 03/01/2016

Hammer Time!

Hammer of the Gods - Stephen Davis Even if you know nothing about Led Zeppelin, and I did hear a rumour that there are a couple of aging spinsters on the Isle of Bute who remain largely unaware of the band, even before opening the book, the very title gives you some indication of the nature of the band. The Hammer of The Gods, Thor’s weapon of choice, thunder and lightening, mythological battles and a band making music to evoke those images. But if their music was the sweeping, majestic stuff of legend, the mythology of the band was something just as impressive, excessive, destructive and otherworldly and in this the best known, unauthorised biography, music journalist Stephen Davis unravels fact from fiction to get to the heart of the band. And like any band story it starts with a bunch of young musicians. Jimmy Page had already achieved a level of fame as the last of an impressive series of guitarists with The Yardbirds (the previous ones being Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck) was a sought after session player and had somehow managed to crawl from the wreckage of the band with ownership of the name. He also found himself allied to their manager Peter Grant, who ran his bands like a mafia boss and together they set about putting a new line up together. After gathering accomplished music arranger, John Paul Jones on bass and a couple of young friends from the Midlands, John Bonham and Robert Plant on drums and vocals respectively, they set out to make a name for themselves. And what a name they made. Davis charts ...

Children Of Men (DVD) 02/01/2016

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

Children Of Men (DVD) Science Fiction is good for raising difficult questions. It can explore philosophical extremes such as mortality and death, mans fate and indeed the fate of the world. Through writers such as Ian M Banks it can create backdrops on massive scales or it can exist as a kind of one act play in the confines of one room as we find with many Philip K Dick short stories. It can be escapist, prophetic or ominous. Where it works best is when set in a world that is recognisable as a slightly altered version of our own world and Children of Men is just that. Based on the P D James book of the same name but taking the core idea into new area, we find ourselves in London of a not too near future, it is familiar yet worryingly different. The fabric of society, the clothes, the landmarks, the streets and countryside are all what we would expect to see around us but it is a broken country. Dirt and rubbish fill the streets, and a dark shadow hangs over the land. Britain as a nation is collapsing, there is a war between a band of rebels supporting immigrant rights and the government who are shutting the borders and deporting any they feel don’t belong. Behind this lies a bigger, potentially catastrophic issue, one, which the film centres on but for the sake of spoiling the film, I will not divulge. The film opens with Theo Faron (Clive Owen) being caught between the devastating news of a murder and narrowly avoiding being killed in a terrorist attack on a café. His response is one of ...

Ray-Ban RB3386 02/01/2016

The eyes have it!

Ray-Ban RB3386 The combination of brand name and design at work here probably make for the most iconic product in the world of sunglasses. In 1930’s when airplanes where coming of age, US Army pilots were complaining of headaches caused by the sun’s glare as they flew higher and higher and Rochester based medical equipment manufacturer Bausch and Lomb rose to the challenge and in 1937 the Ray-Ban Aviator was born. Since then Ray-Ban have always been the leader when it comes to effortlessly cool, eyewear. In 1940’s Gradient lenses were introduced so that pilots could maintain the benefits of the shading as they looked forward but had a clearer view of the instrument panel below. Think of James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and you are thinking of the Wayfarer, think of Peter Fonda in east Rider and you are looking at the wrap around Olympian, picture Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force and you have the Balorama. It is a brand that celebrities, film stars and the cool set must have. But back to where it all began and the Aviator. The RB-3386 is a range of glasses that gives you options in lens colour and slight design variance but all conform to the same characteristics. The big selling point is how light they are, you barely notice you are wearing them but they are also surprisingly robust being constructed out of strong, thin metal. Most of the product is actually the lens itself making for a chic and very retro look and suited to both sexes. One further advantage of their design is that the ...

Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd 01/01/2016

Moonstruck

Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon is one of those albums that has gone far beyond being a mere collection of songs, it has become an iconic album, it stands for extreme creativity, exploring new territory and doing so with a quintessential Englishness. It also is the sound of a band finding their definitive sound, exploring their own past particularly in relation to their original singer Syd Barrett and his decline and departure from the band 5 years previously. In these days of digital technology, the massive scope available within modern studios and the easy with which sounds can be created and manipulated it is easy to forget that this is an album that was not only exploring exciting new sonic soundscapes but was inventing the recording procedures to enable such musical journeys at the same time. Synthesizers were a new development; tape looping and multi-track recording, the stuff we take for granted today were all new, exciting revolutionary territory and Pink Floyd embraced their potential like no one yet had. Even people who say they don’t know this album will probably be surprised to recognise so much of the music if it were played to them, not just via radio play but because so much of it has found its way on to TV and film incidental, adverts and of course is the go to album for cover bands. Being the age of the concept album, and Pink Floyd being the masters of the format, Dark Side of The Moon explores various subjects, conflict, green, time, death and insanity. Musically ...

Edge of Tommorow: Live, Die, Repeat (DVD) 01/01/2016

Tomorrow Never Comes

Edge of Tommorow: Live, Die, Repeat (DVD) On paper Edge of Tomorrow ticks a lot of boxes with current film fashion, not least the choice of leads. Emily Blunt’s star is certainly in ascend these days from the cool and bitchy office rival to Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada and more recently with other well receives science fiction movies such as The Adjustment Bureau and Looper. Her opposite number Tom Cruise has never gone out of fashion since he won the hearts of women everywhere as he boogied around the house in Risky Business. Add to that Doug Liman, the man who brought us The Bourne films as director and a big Hollywood budget and already the film has a lot of selling points. And although Science Fiction seems to be back in vogue (Interstellar, The Martian, Ex Machina, Jupiter Ascending) it is still a genre that often gets bogged down in cliché or lacks a certain internal logic. Even the most alien of settings and fantastic scenarios have to have some sort of reasoning as to why they are the way they are. Without throwing too many spoilers out there (although the tag line of Live, Die, Repeat is going to give you a sense of what is going to happen) the basic premise is this. In the not too distant future the world is at war. An alien race has over run Europe and again the coast of France are the front line for a showdown between what remains of the globes armies and the invaders. Bill Cage finds himself out of his depth in the midst of this final reckoning, but a turn of events means that he finds ...

Mad Max Fury Road (Blu-ray) 23/10/2015

Lacking The Max Factor

Mad Max Fury Road (Blu-ray) Re-boots of classic film cycles and re-makes of individual films seem to exist on the extremes of opinion in the public eyes, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres, an area known for geeky pedantry and unconditional loyalty to a brand. Either they are massive successes, Batman, Spiderman, and Planet of The Apes or abject failures such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which somehow managed to skid under a bar already set so low by the original. To re-work the Mad Max series was always going to be interesting. The original series contains an interesting trajectory; cult, low budget film is suffixed with a more heavily financed and more action driven hit and finally turned into a hi-gloss Hollywood stinker aimed at family viewing. So where would Fury Road find it’s audience? As years have gone on our filmic vision of the future has got darker and more dystopian so the fact that this new outing is set in a more extreme world vision based on the second film is to be expected. A post-apocalyptic desert inhabited by territorial gangs that assumes when the oil and water runs out everyone will be more concerned with hairstyles, clothing and car accessories than the basic staples of life but a frightening vision of one possible, though highly improbable shape of things to come. The plot is simple. First the non-cynical take on things. Max, the main protagonist is captured and held by a marauding war band and against his will becomes part of a mission to stop a break away ...

Apathy for the Devil - Nick Kent 21/10/2015

The Devil writes about all the best tunes

Apathy for the Devil - Nick Kent It’s easy to forget in these days where music journalism has been reduce to sound bites and amusing lists, banal questions about fashion or 3 minute TV interviews designed not to offend the viewing publics short span of attention that there was a time when music journalists were as famous as the artists they wrote about. Certainly in the British music press anyway and that time was the 1970’s. In the US you had the Dylan fixated Robert Christgau and the maverick oddball Lester Bangs, on this side of the water there was the subversive Mick Farren, the acerbic Charles Shaar Murray and perhaps the most notorious of them all, Nick Kent. Apathy For the Devil, his quote from a less than positive statement about the production rate of The Rolling Stones, charts his life in that decade from aspiring journalist to friend of the stars and back down to barely functioning drop out. The book follows a linear narrative, year by year with Kent filling in the back-story and parts of his 60’s formative years by way of asides and insights between the anecdotes. It begins with a veritable baptism of fire with an eye opening Rolling Stones concert and barley takes it’s foot off of the peddle for a page. It covers adventures with the aforementioned Stones and legendary partying with Keith Richards in particular, his sojourn to seek advice from his Guru, Lester Bangs, hanging out with Bowie, his volatile relationship with Chrissie Hynde and his fall from grace and mauling at the hands of the ...
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