How could you manage without knowing these, courtesy of the Daily Mail?
- Nigella Lawson has a platinum blonde wig. Where else to put this riveting news but page 3? And take up nearly the full page telling us about her penchant for wigs at Christmas parties. As an additional treat we get two photos of her a) with her hair in curlers and b) with Ms Lawson in the bath, where she is—shock, horror—in the words of the reporter ‘covered only by a frothy layer of bubbles’. Does the Daily Mail expect people to get in the bath with their clothes on?
- The shadow public health secretary wants to bring in legislation to stop people drinking more than a pint a day. Pint here, refers to strong lager, ie the recommended number of units of alcohol per day for men. I can see the brewing industry and publicans supporting that one. Winston Churchill and Alan Clark will be laughing in their graves. This is because we need to do what doctors say (not always what they do, mind). I trust she will also propose making the tobacco industry totally illegal, banning all junk food, fizzy drinks, sweets, processed food, and limiting everyone’s intake of animal-based protein on the same principle.
- A woman has been prosecuted for leaving her child alone at home for 45 minutes. A couple then spoke out about how they were prosecuted years ago when the father left his daughter in the car to go to the chemist’s to buy Calpol. Apparently there are calls for more nanny state interference to prevent this reprehensible behaviour. I am afraid I would have been abducted by social services a thousand times over. I always thought there was an age limit for not leaving kids alone. Apparently not. Merely that you shouldn’t leave them if they are placed at risk. Um. That’s beautifully vague and for the dull ones around, they probably will struggle with risk assessment anyway. Was I at risk in the car with a bag of crisps and a shandy listening to Radio Luxembourg? Who knows.
- Iran’s nuclear programme (purely for peaceful purposes) was consigned to a few pars in the middle of the newspaper.
- The Duchess of whatever (I’m not up on royalty), the Kate one, is buying a Labrador puppy for Christmas for her brother-in-law, Willy or Harry, ie whichever one she isn’t married to. ‘He’s so good with puppies’ or something similar, she said. That’s a great one royals.
All the animal charities, trusts and rescue centres in the country advocate against NOT buying a puppy for Christmas and you do exactly that. I would respectfully suggest your royal highnesses visit Battersea Dogs Home, possibly while they are putting down dogs. Back in 2009, that included nearly 3,000 dogs killed. Or, one could possibly look at the Labradors available there for re-homing, in 2012, there were nearly 100 pure-bred Labs. Co-incidentally, my first adult dog was a rescue, pure-bred Lab pup. Or, when one is on one’s hunting trips in Spain, check out the local rubbish bins. One can also find pure-bred pups there too. One can find rare albino hunting puppies. Just the ticket, what?
Granny might know something about Battersea. You might want to ask. After all, she is the patron.
Some slightly more serious stories amidst the celebrity news and boring drivel:
But the best is yet to come. With superb timing, a columnist on the Mail on Sunday wrote an anti-feminist diatribe (the Mail is anti-feminist) rebuking women for complaining about the image of a bound and gagged woman projected onto the back of a pick-up truck by a PT instructor.
Pic of the ‘rapetruck‘.
It was humour and a joke. Of course.
Tell that to the parents of Lesley Whittle:
‘He had placed a hood over her head, left her naked, and tethered her to the side of the shaft by a wire noose.’
Kidnapped and killed by the Black Panther, Donald Neilson, in 1975.
Or maybe to the parents of the victims of Peter Sutcliffe who murdered 13 women, and attempted to kill seven others, or of Steve Wright, who murdered five women in Suffolk.
Showing images of women being bound and gagged and calling a vehicle a rapetruck, dismissing complaints by accusing people of lacking a sense of humour, continues to portray the message, that yes, it is ok to do what you want to women.
Back to our columnist. She thinks that women would be able to run away from a truck with such a vile image, although I would think it unlikely if they wear standard Daily Wail high heels and short skirts. But she is missing the bigger picture. That to even attempt to joke about abusing women this way, that it’s funny to gag, bind and kidnap them with the threat of rape, is nothing short of total misogyny and contributes to violent acts against women.
And the timing faux pas? Merely that it was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women yesterday (25 November 2014).
- One in three women worldwide suffer physical or sexual violence. One in five is raped or is the victim of attempted rape. (Source UN).
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said:
- “Everyone has a responsibility to prevent and end violence against women and girls, starting by challenging the culture of discrimination that allows it to continue,” Ki-moon said at the start of the campaign.
I think challenging the ‘rapetruck’ imagery falls into that category.
Meanwhile, from the strange view of reality promoted by the Daily Wail to the more interesting world of fiction.
Death Logs In by EJ Simon
I put down one book and promptly picked up the sequel to Death Never Sleeps.
EJ Simon had created some good characters and an interesting and different plot with his first novel, so I was interested to see where he would take it from there.
Like the first novel, the second one continues in the same style, good pacing, lots of action, crisp dialogue and some sex, although not graphic.
While the same characters established in the first book reappear and are developed further, a couple of new—and dangerous—ones are introduced, and, we learn more about the tangled involvement of the Vatican.
The plot in this one is pretty simple, it’s about trying to kill the surviving Nicholas brother, Michael, whose brother Alex was killed approx a year ago.
So why does it take 350 pages to tell that story? And is it just more of the same?
Well, it’s not just about who wants him dead and why. At the same time that Michael is looking over his shoulder, he’s still involved in his corporate life, although he’s hanging on by the skin of his teeth. And he’s managed to increase the income and expand his brother’s gambling loan shark business at the same time.
Most books in a series are more of the same. Whether it is Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, C S Lewis’s Narnia books, Rowling and Harry Potter, Meyer’s Twilight, or Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Once an author has established credible characters and a good plot that keeps us interested, why would we not read more of the same?
The fascinating part in this series is the Hal component. Roughseas readers may remember I refer to my (Apple) computers as Hal, because they have an annoying habit of thinking for themselves and doing what they decide is best.
Nearly 50 years after Kubrick’s and Clarke’s creation of Hal in 2001, Simon has used artificial intelligence as an interesting and key part of this series.
To quote from the book:
“You mean like HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey?” Michael remembered the movie—and the computer who fought back when the astronauts tried to disconnect him. It didn’t end well for the astronauts.
The crime and intrigue elements make the books worth a read in their own right, but the addition of artificial intelligence (ie Hal) turns both books into a good read with a difference.
I read the print version, and after my 99.9% rating on the copy editing/proofing of Death Never Sleeps, I was slightly disappointed to see more errors in this second book. Not loads, but a few. No idea if they have been taken out of the ebook. Anyway, for once, it still didn’t diminish from the reading of the story.
So, it’s another clear recommend if you like a taut mystery/suspense/thriller, and especially if you are interested in artificial intelligence, Hals, and all spicily peppered with a few meals out in varied locations.
And a welcome back to author EJ Simon to answer some more nosy questions. Please note, a couple of questions are slight spoilers if you are planning on reading this.
Q1. You describe yourself as a food enthusiast and in both books the characters are often found eating out, usually at traditional Italian trattorias , but also in sophisticated restaurants or having drinks in trendy bars. What’s your favourite apéritif, meal/s, and accompanying wine?
1) I’d start with foie gras for my first course, then beef bourguignon over noodles at Chez Dumonet in Paris. I’d finish with their Grand Marnier soufflé. I’d likely accompany it with a bottle of red burgundy.
2) A gin martini – and then spaghetti and meatballs and sausage at Mario’s in Westport, Connecticut. I’d start with thinly pounded Yellowfin tuna, foie gras on a toasted baguette.
Q2. This book seems even tougher and harder as Michael, and his wife Samantha, are targeted by professional assassins. We’ve got the involvement of the Vatican, the peripheral involvement of the Greek Orthodox Church, and the supposedly legal world of corporate finance and Swiss banking all thrown into the pot. It seems like everyone has their price, whether to kill, carry out insider dealing, be unfaithful to their spouse, or just work illegally. Even the decent Connecticut cop compromises his morals. Are we all a victim of our circumstances or does it just make for a good story?
I believe that our lives are – partly – a result of circumstances and chance encounters. Those encounters can be a fatal automobile accident, meeting an agent who turns your book into a published best-seller, or a chance encounter with the man or woman who turns out to be the love of your life. Some of it’s timing, some of it’s the luck of where you’re born. Certainly there’s a difference from the start of what your life will be like if you’re born in Somalia instead of Greenwich, Connecticut.
All of this makes for a “good story” as you say – but that’s because it also happens to be the way real life works. Of course, no one would bother writing – or reading – a story about the routine aspects of our lives, you know, the parts without murders, kidnappings and intrigue. Actually, that might be called “literary fiction.”
Q3. In this book Michael refers to Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. That was a great film but it was nearly 50 years ago (1968). What do you think the state of artificial intelligence was back then, and where do you truly think it is now? Do you see us being able to blur physical and virtual reality as Alex does?
Artificial intelligence – or thinking and artificial beings actually appear in Greek mythology. AI as we know it began in the mid 1950’s. 2001 Space Odyssey brought it to my attention in a way that I – obviously – could never get out of my mind. Now we have IBM’s Watson beating out the best contestants on Jeopardy, Siri is our private concierge and potential lover, emotion sensing, voice and facial recognition, and the countless everyday applications that we hardly even notice anymore. Affective Computing is recognizing, interpreting and predicting human behavior. We now have our military’s newest smart missiles that – independent of human guidance – seek out the military versus civilian targets, a tank instead of a school bus, for example – as they approach them. So AI has certainly advanced since 2001 Space Odyssey – after all, this is 2014.
But now we approach the most difficult question: can a human brain be simulated? Many thinkers and computer scientists believe it can. John Harking and Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) have recently been quoted as saying that soon, computers will even have a consciousness. Ray Kurzwell has long argued that it’s technologically feasible to copy the brain into computer hardware and software, creating an exact duplicate.
In both of my novels – this is what happened for Alex Nicholas. He is actually doing better as he progresses in his virtual life because, although his mind has been duplicated – his bad habits have not followed him to cyberspace. He doesn’t drink or smoke and gets plenty of rest or down time – so his mind only gets sharper. It will be interesting to see if he gravitates towards religion.
Q4. Do you believe in any of these: a life after death, a life outside our physical bodies, life elsewhere in the universe?
I struggle with things where there is no physical proof – yet I’ve seen people – psychics – who appear to have the ability to know things that baffle me. I believe that our minds play conveniently comfortable tricks on us. I believe in a lot of coincidences.
Mostly, however, I believe that no one here on earth has these answers. There may or many not be anything after we die – but I don’t believe that any living human being has any inside information. This isn’t Wall Street.
I do believe there is life on other planets – but only when we have sent astronauts there.
Q5 The big question about the novel. I’m intrigued to know what inspired you to write Alex’s life after death persona. It’s actually credible and totally fascinating.
I became aware of the fragility of life at too early an age. My uncle, who lived with us and was my constant companion had a massive heart attack and died one morning right after making me breakfast. I saw everything before my mother could get me into another room. I was five years old. I was told he went to heaven but, when I visited the cemetery months later with my parents, I was sure that he was underneath the ground in some subterranean apartment. Needless to say, I’ve been curious about what happens after we die. Recreating Alex through artificial intelligence is the vehicle that allows me to explore all my curiosities – and to ask all the questions – I’ve had since I was a kid. Unfortunately – or fortunately – I still don’t have any answers. Just the same questions.
Q6.You’ve got another book in the series due out next autumn (2015). How far do you see the series about the Nicholas brothers going? And can you give us a tiny idea about Death Logs Out?
In the upcoming Death Logs Out, we will get deeper into the inner workings of the Vatican – as Michael tries to determine how high up the conspiracies and cover ups go. Sindy Steele will be as complex as ever. The Nazi element will resurface with a vengeance – and some of this will capture the attention of a larger entity. We will also get to try some new restaurants and some terrific meals.
I believe there are several more books in this series. I think the concept of AI and the exploration of a virtual life after death has a lot of legs to it – particularly as the almost daily advances of the science catches up to the science fiction. The line between fiction and reality has never been finer.
Book provided by iRead Book Tours, it’s ongoing for another couple of weeks.
And for a different take on what happens when we die, if you haven’t read it, do try Almost Dead in Suburbia, by Douglas Pearce.