Thursday, 21 June 2012

The horror of mobile phones!

Mobile phones can be such a ball-ache. More so when you have a 17 month-old running loose around the household where everything is fair game. Current toy du jour is my wireless mouse; the little one finds the red light underneath endlessly fascinating as it jingles a merry dance in the palm of his hands. Luckily ‘mouse’ has survived the few impacts with the wooden floor it’s suffered of late, which means my Diablo 3 gaming has not suffered. The same cannot be said for my mobile phone though. A recent trip to Tuscany was its final undoing. Alas, carpet and wooden floors do not actually exist in Italy; stone flooring is what the Romans did for us! Inevitably the clumsy little one and his sausage-fingered chop-tubes got easily distracted by some other shit and said mobile was let go to do battle against gravity. It took an agonising eternity for the Nokia 6300 to swan-dive to its death. My mobile phone is now completely wonky.

Since losing in its fight with the stone slab, the mobile screen has been shrouded by a dark mist through which I can occasionally make out who is calling me. Texts are virtually unreadable. It just about works, but it’s like I’ve returned to the dark ages of technology in the 1990s. Having to answer a call without knowing who is on the other end of the line is a thoroughly uncomfortable near alien concept. Back in the day this was standard practice. When answering your parent’s home phone no one was blessed with a shiny LED screen informing you of the caller waiting at the other end of the line. How we previously survived without this vital information, I’m unable to fathom; especially when dodging choppers you didn’t really want to go out and play with.

 Anyone know what the hell this is?

It took my old Uni housemate to get me my first pay-as-you-go mobile (mostly because he couldn’t contact our landline in 2001 as the dial-up modem was constantly on for Diablo 2 multiplayer) and since then I’ve gradually warmed to the ‘anyone can contact you anywhere and at anytime’ concept that initially encroached on my own personal little bubble of disorganisation. But they are damn handy for when you’re car breaks down or when you get distracted by the pub and need to let the missus know you’re running late home. Jack Bauer would have been at a loss for tearing terrorists a new one without one. In fact for the short time that mobile phones have existed, the only thing they seem to have really ruined is the plausibility of horror movies. So, long story short, I need a new sodding phone; however, maybe now is the time to upgrade into the smart phone era.

 Scriptwriters big box of clich├ęs #101 - No signal? No shit!

Previously, all I’ve needed is something pretty basic like the standard Nokia brick-like piece of crap that simply allows me to make and receive calls. Texting is an anathema to me owing to the size of the tiny fucking buttons made for children, slender handed women and fairies called Tinkerbell. And up until recently I’ve refused to join the I-Twat generation on basic principle of not wanting to turn into one of the pod people; a gurning, smug-looking, hipster twat. However, fatherhood changes your perspective on things slightly, especially when you realise the only time you really have to yourself throughout the week is the 25 minute commute to and from London. This is the perfect time to respond to ‘play by e-mail’, check the housing market, catch up with peeps on myFacetitter, moderate a popular film forum, book tickets for next season’s St Pauli adventure and do all those other things you no longer have time to do in life. A smart phone would make the hectic turmoil of reality a little less of a bollock-aching endurance test.

The problem is having only previously owned the basic Nokia brick-like piece of crap (and been pretty much happy with it’s awful hideousness), I’ve no idea what smart phones exist out there, which are the best of the bunch and whether they’re likely to come as part of a good mobile package (free minutes, texts, Internet, etc). My current contract has just finished, so I can get a free upgrade, but without knowing my HTC Galaxy from my Samsung DeLorean I could really do with some help on which smart phone to make my first smart phone. Can anyone help an otherwise clueless Phonephobe?

Pseudo-intellectual, artistic, 20-20 vision, latte-sipping, mac-using chopper...

Please note: An I-phone is not an option. I may be lowering my standards a little but I’m not joining that legion of twonks…

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Fahrenheit 451 review (in memory of Ray Bradbury)

Ray Bradbury. Legend!

Today is officially a sad day following this morning’s news that Ray Bradbury had died aged 91. It’s strange to think that as the writer of a vast array of short stories and novels across a range of genres I’ve only ever got round to reading Fahrenheit 451, perhaps Bradbury’s most well known and regarded book. It remains one of the best novels I’ve ever read; such a compelling and riveting story that also cleverly refrains from ramming any specifically endorsed ideology down your throat and is way more complex than the simple image of book-burning fire-fighters suggests is to be admired. Fahrenheit 451 is quite simply a classic piece of science fiction. Of course, I now have a back-log of catch up reading to undertake as penance (starting with ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’), but there remain many people out there that are still untouched by even Fahrenheit 451. So, in memory of Ray Bradbury, here’s my review of this sci-fi masterwork. Hopefully this will encourage many more of you to find out why this really is a sad day indeed. And hopefully I can take on Ray’s work ethic to finally crack on with my own novel and stop procrastinating on Diablo 3 – “If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not. You can't write one book and stop. It's work, but the best kind of work”.

The Review

Fahrenheit 451 is often referred to in the same breath as Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World but not always with quite the same vicarious authority. It's generally seen as a lesser book to the insightful political theory of Orwell's mind and the fantastical satirical world of Huxley. But whereas both of these authors used futurism to create dystopia's that were conditioned more by the issues of the world around them at the time (communism, totalitarianism, war fatigue, etc.) Bradbury crafted a story with an astounding prescience that makes it as compelling a read today as it was when first published in 1953.

A quick, concise tale at only 192 pages it dives straight into its main concept - a futuristic world that seems to have gone completely insane. Firemen no longer put out fires, they start them. Yet Bradbury does away with any communist/fascist motifs littered within his contemporaries novels and instead creates a world much more terrifying and relevant to a western audience. Book burning certainly conjures up images of goose-stepping Nazis, but rather than occupy Fahrenheit 451 with themes of brutal oppression and censorship Bradbury settles for something much more at home - apathy.

Indeed, Montag's ignorance, along with that of the society he inhibits, is down to the masses allowing it to happen. They wanted the fun fairs, parlour walls and fast cars and simply allowed for the written word to be extricated away from them. By placing their own happiness first, the people of Montag's world are content with losing the ability to think for themselves. Lately in the modern world, the Internet, reality television (which the parlour walls superbly portray) and media manipulation represent the symptomatic dumbing down processes Bradbury is alluding to. These are mediums which western democracies use to keep their subjects unconsciously subordinate. By keeping the populace interested in things that really do not matter (like Jade Goody’s Martyrdom), they take their eye off the precious little things that are of real concern. The nuclear war that is hinted in the background of Montag's world is a wonderful parallel in this instance. Bradbury's tale also supposes that without the institution (or occupation) of reading, people are also more readily accepting of what is reported to them via the media. The lack of questioning and corroboration of information leads individuals to blindly take a range of irrelevant and unconnected factoids to be an inherent truth. Bradbury's chief concerns on the importance and value of books, therefore, still rings true today.

Definition of irony: the millions of people now buying the e-book version of Fahrenheit 451.

There is, of course, much more to Fahrenheit 451 than just its prescient context. Montag's meeting with Clarisse is no different to Neo waking up in The Matrix, and it's his new found powers (of thinking for himself in this case) that propel the story forward. Yet this journey is not a simple one. The love of his wife, Mildred, is at odds with this new notion of acquiring knowledge, especially as she is unprepared (and unwilling) to accept his new nature. Additionally, it's his fire chief, Captain Beatty, who holds the real key to Montag's eternal soul. Allowed to read a book, will the power of a few emotive words be enough to move Montag to ditch everything that he previously valued in life, or will he resort to his mentor's apathy and the knowledge he is destined to remain unhappy?

It's the cut and thrust of the 'will he, won't he' torment that makes for a tense and suspenseful thriller, which sits comfortably alongside Bradbury's more considered symposium of thought. Luckily this build-up gets the release it deserves as the book shifts gear in the last third, developing into a rip-roaring action-adventure. Compared to the likes of Orwell, it's a welcome relief that Fahrenheit 451 does not get too bogged down in any extensive political ideology. Instead, Bradbury's writing is vivacious throughout, covering relevant and interesting concepts in short shrift, but always with enough depth that few questions are left unanswered. Furthermore, the content runs its course in a swathe of memorable imagery, enjoyable prose and, even with only seven central roles, some wonderful characterisation - none more so than the description of the marvellous mechanical hound (okay, shit name, but it is a beast of exquisite description and verve).

That Fahrenheit 451 moves swiftly between genres without jarring the pleasure of the read is one of its uppermost qualities. That it is also thought-provoking, introspective and relevant today, as all good science-fiction should seek to be, makes it a highly recommended read. Forget about 1984 and Brave New World in this instant, as I'm pretty sure each and every one of us has suffered from a Guy Montag moment previously. Perhaps when we next feel disillusioned and disenfranchised with our place in the world, we'll happen upon a chance encounter with a copy of Fahrenheit 451 (our own Clarisse McClellan if you will). We can then beam with delight that we haven't squandered the pleasure of reading and have maintained our own cognition in the face of ever increasing apathy. Perhaps it will even give us the courage to rise up and do something with our own wretched lives. Fahrenheit 451 is Bradbury's masterwork and a splendid book in every sense. It’s also much better than 1984 and a Brave New World.

There, I said it...