Three favourite books

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

This is quite possibly – along with book three in this list – what got me into science fiction in a big way. I was in my mid-teens when I first read Consider Phlebas and it opened up the universe of Banks in such a big way that I developed a voracious appetite for The Culture. So much that character names from his books have featured in numerous online ventures. Names like Horza, Zakalwe and Excession.

The epic scale of a war spanning light-years sets the back drop of the story of Bora Horza Gobuchul and his quest to locate a renegade Mind lost on one of the famous Planets of the Dead controlled by the elder Dra’Azon species.

The war sets the scene but the book is really a collection of short stories chronicling Horza’s adventures. The Temple of Light, the Megaship, the Eaters, the Damage game, the Command System. Horza’s escapades are numerous and Bank’s prose is both humorous and epic in scale.

What’s interesting – from the perspective of a Culture novel – is that Horza is an enemy of the Culture, choosing to fight for the Idiran’s in their holy war as the Idirans are ‘on the side of life’. This is a precursor to future Culture novels which a focused around the Minds which control that utopian society. For a first book to feature the enemy of your primary series protagonists is a bold step.

Thoroughly entertaining if ultimately futile as set out in the epilogue of Consider Phlebas, Horza’s escapades get 10 from 10 and a thorough recommendation.

 

 

Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

Wonderland Avenue hit me right in the feels during my tumultuous late teens. Handed to me by a friend I immediately fell in love with Sugerman’s portrayal of life with Jim Morrison of the Doors, and more importantly – both to the book and to me – his relationship with his father. 

The book opens with Sugerman’s childhood and his difficult familial relationship and quickly introduces the music of the Doors to the reader. This was also a commentary on the impact of popular music on society and how it heralded social change. 

Sugerman casts off the protection of his family and strikes out on his own falling under the wing of Morrison. It charts his rise – much to the disgust of his father – in the music industry, his encounters with drugs, relationships with other personas from the music scene and his ultimate fall from grace. 

The book had my crying with laughter; Sugerman’s description of Iggy Pop in a dress chopping up a car with an axe is a firm favourite moment for the sheer hilarity. As is Sugerman’s call to the police to report his car stolen only for it to dawn on him that it’s in a house in Laurel Canyon having been driven off the road and through the roof. Wonderland Avenue is replete with comic set pieces which will have you laughing your ass off. 

But there is also genuine sadness in the book. Estranged from his father and brother, hooked on narcotics, Sugerman’s demise and redemption was both joyous and difficult to read. It brought back personal feelings of remorse as to my own relationship with my father. 

And when I turned the final page I cried tears for both Danny and for me. 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I can’t remember when I first read Hitchhikers. It was a long time ago. Funny, very English, and science fiction which borders on science fantasy. It’s the story of Arthur – a fairly average chap – who embarks on a whirlwind adventure with Ford Prefect, a researcher for the titular Hitchhiker’s guide (which has the words ‘DON’T PANIC’ in large, friendly letters on the cover.)

Adams wit is absurd, the plot borderline insane, but the true and very real message of Hitchhikers is largely what makes its appeal.

You see, to Adams, the universe is a joke and nothing actually really matters. Earth is bulldozed to make way for a hyperspace freeway, a towel is the most important thing a traveller can own, and The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

In many respects, Adam’s writing is nihilistic. It’s designed to show our place in the universe doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference. There’s futility in the message but it’s wrapped up in the warm & comfortable prose of a writer at the top of his game.

You can enjoy Hitchhikers for the many jokes, set pieces, wry humour. For the offbeat characters such as Zaphod Beeblebrox – the two headed, three armed Galactic President and Marvin the Paranoid Android who dwells in the depths of depression. Or you can see it as it is meant to be; a treatise on the scope of the universe and how little, how so very little, we small humans matter.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

What is your favourite book? Share in the comments below.

How the coronavirus has affected me

Without question the defining issue of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic and the COVID-19 disease which stems from it have had an impact upon society quite unlike anything else which has happened in my lifetime.

Its unlikely that anything else – barring world war three – will have such an impact on the world as this has. But how has it affected me? Barely.

LOCKDOWN

Lockdown hit and it was strange at first. The streets were empty, the shops started running out of essentials. We had plenty of toilet rolls but could I find flour anywhere? No chance! Queuing to enter a supermarket was odd at first but quickly became the norm. I think we, as a species and as a society, are fairly resilient. We will accept certain restrictions placed upon our freedoms for the ‘greater good’ of society and humankind. This was one such restriction.

HOME

Save for the lack of visitors things at home changed very little. We still had our house, our child and each other. We never went without. We were not impacted financially and neither of us – due to our work – had to work from home. That would probably be my worst nightmare; being trapped in the house for days on end. Thankfully for both of us, employment was unaffected. We had to go to work because – heroic pose – society needed us.

WORK

My boss is fearless. Truly fearless. But this thing, this microscopic ‘thing’, terrified him. It was difficult to not take on that fear. Fear of infection, fear of disorder, fear of death of oneself or one’s colleagues. I’m pleased to say that none of these things happened. Life went on. Life goes on. Work is as work was. Yes, the type of-

Look, I’m a cop, ok? Let’s add some context to this post. The type of job changed. Shoplifters became burglars, for example. Domestics with through the roof. People, it seems, can only tolerate their spouse if they can leave the house.

Assaults on emergency workers by coughing and spitting became common-place. How awful must a person be to directly threaten the people who are there to help them with an infectious disease?

LIFE

Life goes on. Its different now but it goes on. Day after day we carry on, hiding our smiles behind masks. I’m dismayed by the struggle people have with maintaining social distancing. It’s a perplexing situation when people cannot avoid parties or groups for a few weeks. Its not just YOUR life you’re playing with, its my life, it’s the life of nurses, it’s the lives of your loved ones.

FUTURE

Coronavirus isn’t going away. Our government is inept and has screwed up with their response to this. Hence why “England topped Europe’s grim league table for highest levels of excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.” Source: washingtonpost.com

Social distancing will remain until next year. Think again if you expect to go on holiday this year. Local lockdowns WILL happen.

But remember; it’s for the Greater Good, okay?

How has living under lockdown affected you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Blog name and meaning

Hello. I’m alsarcastic.

…and this is my blog.

How did the name come about? This blog has been through many names over the years it has been active. (active!? – Ha!) alsarcastic is probably the longest serving blog name and I don’t intend to change it any time soon. Before it was alsarcastic it was mistersarcastic as a match for my twitter account. Once upon a time I deleted the mistersarcastic Twitter account and when I went back to use it again the name had been taken by someone else. The account is now suspended. Ha! Take that, mister-account-name-thief-sarcastic.

Crime does not pay.

I needed a replacement. My name is Al. alsarcastic was born.

I am not currently active on Twitter due to my self-imposed twelve-month social media ban. I’ll write about that at a later date.

Why sarcastic? I’m terrible. I have no filter when it comes to sarcasm:

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence,” wrote that connoisseur of wit, Oscar Wilde. Whether sarcasm is a sign of intelligence or not, communication experts and marriage counsellors alike typically advise us to stay away from this particular form of expression. The reason is simple: sarcasm expresses the poisonous sting of contempt, hurting others and harming relationships. As a form of communication, sarcasm takes on the debt of conflict.

And yet, our research suggests, there may also be some unexpected benefits from sarcasm: greater creativity. The use of sarcasm, in fact, promotes creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of sarcastic exchanges. Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.

The Surprising Benefits of Sarcasm

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest it’s the highest form of intelligence and I’m far from the most cleverest chap to walk god’s green earth, but I am prone to sarcasm both online and offline. It’s something my friends typically groan at before massive eye-rolling. To summarise. My name is Al and I am sarcastic. Hence; alsarcastic.

Do you have a blog? Share it in the comments below.

August 2020 blog-a-day challenge

I’ve done these before as a way to kickstart my blogging when it stalled. My last post was September 2019 and a lot has happened since then. Lot’s that I could be writing about but I’ve typically found other things to do. Let’s get back into blogging with a 31 day challenge. Here’s the (incomplete) list of subjects which will be posted:

1. blog name and meaning
2. How the coronavirus has affected me
3. 3 favourite books
4. My dream job
5. Black Lives Matter
6. What I’m afraid of
7. 3 favourite songs
8. My family
9. 3 goals for next year
10. How was your weekend?
11. Favourite picture from 2020
12. Favourite quotes
13. Biggest regret
14. On this day
15. 3 places I want to visit
16. Midway review
17. What’s so bad about Mondays?
18. Current relationship status
19. GUEST POST ONE
20. Top 3 movies
21. What are you reading now?
22. Proudest moment
23. Social Media
24. All about Tom
25. GUEST POST TWO
26. On this day II
27. The greatest game of all time
28. What projects are you working on?
29. Why do you blog?
30. GUEST POST THREE
31. An announcement

If you have any suggestions for things to write about please leave a comment below.

20092019a

So angry. Gave Tom £10 to get his mum – the ex – something for her birthday. He spent £5 and kept £5 for himself. Infuriating as there is NOTHING I can do about it. I have no control, no say in his parenting.

I’m at a loss at what to do. He won’t be punished for it. He didn’t even care to apologise.

20092019

Things with Tom go from bad to worse. He was supposed to come Saturday morning but text to say he was going out with his friends instead. He was supposed to then come for tea on Tuesday night but didn’t show then text to say he forgot. I’d reminded him and his phone is never far from his hands. He ignored all my messages and calls then text me last night asking for a McDonalds breakfast this morning. The door swings both ways, kid. No chance.

Teenager a whole year early.

“These things happen”

On Friday we learned that our expected baby didn’t have a heartbeat. Devastated isn’t enough to cover the feeling of loss. I know that he didn’t have a life yet. I know that he wasn’t really a baby being so early in the pregnancy but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. I am trying to hold it together for Fran. The loss is felt most keenly be her; her body preparing itself for carrying and nurturing a new life and now just an empty void remains. How do you pull yourself together and move on? The simple answer is there is no other option:

He needs us. Entirely unaware and immune to what has happened. He is such a wonderfully happy child. He smiles and we smile. He is the reason why we pull ourselves together and move on.

It’s hard though. Her physical pain. Our emotional pain. I’m back at work and listening to well meant platitudes.

“It just was not meant to me.”

“These things happen.”

But that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s like people don’t know how to act, what to say. They’re waiting to respond but baby-loss is such an uncomfortable subject. People simply do not wish to talk about it.

So we share our grief with each other and with no other. I’m putting on a very brave face, but just this morning cuddling Lucas, dancing in the lounge, I cried. I smiled at my boy and I cried for the one who will never share cuddles. Never play in the sand. Never go out for walks. Never feel the wind in his hair. Never reach for comfort.

Good bye baby. We never knew you but we will love you forever.

04092019

Had to tell T that I’m unable to make our planned day out next week. Tough sometimes having jobs/relationships/babies.

He replied, “Pointless arranging stuff no one can ever make it.”

It’s the first time in years I’ve had to decline. I’d hardly call that ‘ever’. Such a drama queen.

Man up, brother!

Spent this morning with my nephew at the park. All the while my brother (his Dad) is commenting on ‘the facebooks’ his support for Boris Johnson and the nasty party. To be expected, really, isn’t it? I wrote recently about still not speaking to my brother. Today that decision was somewhat vindicated. I agonised over responding and chose not to. That was probably the right call for the time being. This happy, smiling eight year old struggles with life. He has cerebral palsy, walks with a frame or gets pushed about in a wheelchair. His mum doesn’t have the time to do everything she could to assist him in getting better. Time is finite and she has a younger child also. The boy needs his Dad.

I wrote about this extensively in 2016 when this situation first developed. It took me some time to figure out how I felt about his actions and I decided I didn’t like them:

“…my brother met a girl. They split up, he met another girl who quickly fell pregnant. He then rekindled his relationship with the first girl who knew about the pregnancy. The baby was born and girlfriend, who had become fiancée by then, made her feelings very well known. She hated that child. She hated everything about him. He was such a beautiful happy little boy too, yet she hated the very air that he breathed.”

“Eventually things got so bad that fiancée stopped brother from seeing his child.”

“Last year this beautiful little boy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Has ever a boy needed his daddy more…?

The situation has not changed. He still doesn’t have a relationship with his boy. How could he not? Where is his sense of duty, of responsibility? It still makes me angry when I think about it. Would this child’s life be better with his father involved? ‘Probably’ is the answer. But despite all this; despite the resources my brother has access to and despite the needs of the child he refuses to man up and be a father to his child. What a terrible thing to do.

How does he sleep at night?