Perdido street station (China Miéville, 2000)


Perdido street station, by China Miéville (2000)

Score: Outstanding.

The setting for Perdido Street Station is a very neat crossover of steampunk and magitek. Think Magic: The Gathering’s Ravnica, only filthier and nastier, think Ankh-Morpork, or 19th-century London, only darker and edgier. No, more darker and more edgier. You’re still not close.

While H.P. Lovecraft, visible head of the classic Weird movement, writes things like ‘the monster was so hideous and terrifying that it was indescribable’ and never bothers to actually describe it, Miéville, part of the New Weird movement, goes on and describes every single gruesome detail excruciatingly. The monster is in his head, he can see it, and be sure you’re going to see it too. And a big part of achieving that is this man’s beyond belief vocabulary. It’s rich as hot chocolate and graphic as a dirty joke— I’ve never been so thankful of reading on a tablet with an in-built dictionary. There are words you find here and there, like ‘bathetic’, ‘fastidious’ and ‘querulously’ whose definitions are so spot-on there is no fucking way they came out of a thesaurus. You can see it, touch it and smell it, New Crobuzon in all its disgusting glory.

The storytelling doesn’t fall behind, either. It’s clever, well constructed and full of twists and meanders. I finished it just a few minutes ago and I haven’t felt so brought down and the same time so satisfied by a book since I finished A storm of swords. That feeling of the author refusing to give everyone their happy ending as a way to tie up the story the easy way, going instead for the more uncomfortable and difficult to execute well, reminds me of reading R.R. Martin’s A song of ice and fire, or at least what it was like until he decided reviving everyone just because was a satisfying plot device.

It’s hard to say anything else without spoiling it for everyone, since this is one of those books that you enjoy the more the less you know about them. So if what you have read so far has appealed to you, go read this immediately. It’s a very… plastic experience.

And now for ***SPOILERS***

In Spanish there is a saying for stories where nearly everybody dies, for dramatic effect, and it’s ‘even the prompter dies’. Pretty much applies. New Crobuzon is fascinating, but don’t fool yourself, it’s a cruel place and most who live there stay there because they have nowhere to go, and those who willingly stay do so because they make a living out of making the first group miserable.

So at the beginning of the book the setting is so dark and depressing but you’re there thinking that at least Yagharek will get to fly again and when the moths from hell get loose you see that he had a better chance at getting his wings by persuading James Stewart not to jump from a bridge. And it goes downhill from there. Let’s get out our checklist: dozens of people die absurd deaths either being drunk by the moths or in the cross-fire about the moths. The slake-moths themselves. The scene where he describes the moth’s tongue getting in that woman’s mouth and brain and budging behind her eyes made me feel physically sick to my stomach. I actually had to put down the book and go for some fresh air.

Andrej. I felt so sorry for the poor guy even though he was dying from the first scene he’s in and kept thinking to myself: ‘well… maybe he gets superpowers out of this and we can laugh and wave off his abduction and torture…’ But no. And Miéville makes sure to give him a name and describe his terror and agony every chance he has.

Then Lin. Everyone thought, reasonably, that she could only be dead. When you’ve forgotten about her she pops out of a corner, completely oblivious of the brainsucker moths and just goes: ‘what do you mean, don’t look back? What’s behind me? Oh, fuck’. Poor Yahgarek tries to fix it only to leave her handicapped, making Isaac ask himself if he wishes she would be dead instead.

And then, when you think the book couldn’t break your heart any more, there’s the revelation about Yagharek’s crime. Miéville’s got a bit for everyone and nobody goes home empty-handed. The one who has it better might be Derkhan, who only lost an ear. I tip my hat to you, stand up and clap, Mr. Miéville.

Black mirror, Season 2 (2013)


Black Mirror Season 2, written by Charlie Brooker (Channel 4, 2013)

Score: Three words: ‘ham’, ‘hyphen’, ‘fisted’.

You don’t get to see a lot of sci-fi on TV. You’ve got your Star TrekBattlestar Galactica, the occasional The 4400, FastForward and so on, but very little on speculative fiction. Black Mirror is one exception, as far as settings and themes are concerned. We can have a break from space operas, conspiracies and alien invasions and have some good old-fashioned reflection on how technology and progress affect us as a society. The only problem is that these stories have already been done multiple times, have already been done better and the aesop is about as subtle as having the writer knock on your door asking if you have a few minutes to discuss why new media is evil.

Among the good things, the 20 minutes into the future design and prediction of trending technologies is quite good, and something other series should learn from. Except, you know, for that person who was running iOS 6 on an iPhone in White Bear. That’s a surprisingly long-lived iPhone, and without even updating it!

So let’s have a look at each episode individually, and watch out for ***SPOLERS***

Be right back.

So Ash is married to Martha. Ash is quite dependent on social networks, and also a bit of an idiot. Ash one day goes to return a rented van and never comes back, presumably because he drove into a tree while updating Facebook or something. Martha is devastated and at the funeral some asshole decides to sign her up for some beta software that emulates the late person’s speech so you can pretend to speak with them. Long story short, she ends up ordering a full-sized simulacrum, but just as expected, the simulacrum is just not enough for Martha and she ends up loathing it. Nothing Philip K. Dick couldn’t have told you. She decides to keep the thing because she can’t bring herself to destroying it or just asking for a refund, despite it not even being alive or having any sense of identity or survival instinct. I like to think she’s keeping the android as a sex slave behind her daughter’s back. By the way, what kind of lover thinks that the best way to make a woman scream in bed is emulating porn?

White bear.

Like in the first season, the middle episode is the hysterical one.

At first I thought, ‘oh, not some Battle Royale/Hunger Games crap’, although I liked it when the young woman commented that she didn’t think the signal did anything to the hunters, they were already that way. Then when they showed the audience applauding I went ‘it’s not possible that you’re copying an episode of The Simpsons and still expecting to be taken seriously’ and then I saw what the thing was actually about. I liked the twist up to that point, but only up to that point. I never thought I would say this, but Natural Born Killers was subtler at criticising the media’s and people’s fascination with violent crime, and Natural Born Killers was not remotely what I would call subtle. And on top of that I bet I’m supposed to be outraged at what I’m watching and thinking ‘oh God, I shouldn’t have read that piece on that little girl Asunta, I’M A MONSTER!!’ Haha, I’m sorry but no. Go emotionally blackmail someone else, and try to be cleverer next time.

The Waldo moment.

This one is the least awful of the three, but not particularly good either.

It reflects on the issue of bipartisanship, political skepticism and so on, and it’s a raging current topic. I don’t know about other countries, but here is Spain there is not just one Waldo, virtually every comedian pisses on politicians one way or the other, but they don’t run for the elections. Pablo Iglesias deeply despises politicians but unlike Waldo, he has a political agenda, so you might like him or not, but they’re not the same thing. The only sane thing I heard from this three episodes is said here: ‘Waldo is antipolitical, which is a political stance in itself’. The overall reflection on politics is mildly interesting but sort of shallow. And then there’s the ending where Jamie wakes up in hospital having lost control of his creature like it’s a cheesy copy of Tyler Durden and then ends up homeless and beaten by the police while Waldo becomes a worldwide brand of political flavoured slavery. It kind of reminds me of the time we sent Rodolfo Chikilicuatre to Eurovision.

Ocho apellidos vascos (Emilio Martínez-Lázaro, 2014)


Ocho apellidos vascos (international title: Spanish affair), directed by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro (2014)

Score: Generic entertainment product.

It feels really weird to write this review in English but let’s do it for the sake of consistency.

Ocho apellidos vascos (which means literally Eight Basque family names) is the second highest-grossing film in the history of Spanish cinema and the most watched, with 6,5 million tickets sold (just for reference, there are a bit over 46 million of us). Why did Spaniards like it so much? My verdict is that, like everywhere else, people like to laugh, enjoy love stories and dislike having to think too much about what they’re watching.

The comedy and storytelling rely heavily on clichés, and even the most novice moviegoer noticed it. The clichés the movie exploits are national/cultural, in this case Basque and Andalusian, and are exploited quite shamelessly. Curiously enough, for the middle half of the movie, they work quite well.

Amaia (Clara Lago), the Basque girl, has been dumped by her fiancé right before their wedding, so her friends take her out to Sevilla for a hen’s night. In a tablao (a bar where people dance flamenco) she meets Rafa, who makes some (bad) jokes about Basques. They yell at each other, they have a drunken fight, and they fall into each other’s arms. The following day Amaia heads back home but leaves behind her purse. Rafa tries to contact her by calling her dad and when there is no answer he decides to take a bus all the way to Donosti, a 900 km ride, to give her back her purse and declare his undying love. What he doesn’t know is that she was estranged with her dad, who doesn’t know about her little girl being dumped at the altar, and thinks the call was an invitation from his daughter to have a relationship again. So Amaia has no romantic interest in Rafa, but wants him to pretend he’s her fiancé in front of her dad, who’s coming from sea for a few days.

The film up to this point is quite dull up and promises nearly zero fun, but then the character of Koldo (Karra Elejalde) shows up. His sole presence is hilarious and he is not only Basque in real life, he feels Basque. Dani Rovira is quite funny as well but Karra Elejalde steals the show, while the others are insipid. Elejalde manages to be side-splitting both by his body language, intonation, accent and the mongrel Basque words he throws into his Spanish speech, which make up quite amusing results. The best jokes of the movie are in this section where they have to trick Koldo into believing that the stereotypical, thick-accented Sevilian young man is actually a pureblood Basque nationalistic activist, everything spiced with screwball comedy and truckload upon truckload of stereotypes. It’s hard to explain the cultural gap if you don’t know the two places but imagine a guy from Sicily trying to pose as a Milanese, or a Texan as a Canadian, and delighting us with the most pathetic impression of what one sounds like.

But once after ***SPOILERS AHEAD, or not if you have ever watched a romantic comedy*** Koldo discovers the truth about Rafa and he can go home and forget about this whole adventure, the film becomes stale, rancid, and you want to punch the shit out of the screen. Of course, later on the protagonists decide they’re in love with each other after all and want to start an affair, in the worst tradition of Notting Hill or Four weddings and a funeral. Sappy as eating marmalade from the pot with a spoon, and quite as interesting.

So is it worth watching? If you’re Spanish you probably have already. If you’re not, you might get lost in translation. It’s not a particularly good movie but I have to admit the middle part was funny and kept me entertained. In fact it was quite bold in the sense that it took it to the extreme where Rafa is always in the verge of getting caught and gets away with it in an hilarious way. But apart from that is a quite bland and generic product.