A little over-long, perhaps, and some of the characterisation is a little heavy-handed, but the wit is definitely coruscating and the prose sparkling. Oh, yes, spare, too, the prose is very spare. Economical too, yes, pared back, and - excuse me, I think I’m about to use the word “liminal” to describe the, ah, mise en scene. Missing an accent there - where are you when I need you, spellcheck?
But there’s definitely an oeuvre going on here, squire; this is a work for our time, weaving themes of alienation and angst into a bildungsroman spanning the lives of characters we can recognise all too easily. What does it mean to be a woman? There’s a moral ambiguity to…
Phew! I was beginning to feel I’d never be off camera again. Would you like some more of this fizzy stuff, or shall I see if I can find us a couple of cans of Korev? This time, when the woman goes by, I suggest you just grab the tray. Save me a couple of those round bready things with the cream cheese and that salty black stuff…
...here you go. Cheers. They’ll never film us with these in our hands. Given that the prize is being sponsored by - hey, isn’t that...? It is, isn’t it? Funny how they’re always smaller in real life.
Have I what? Read her book? Don’t be ridiculous.
They’re going to want us to sit down in a moment. Don’t be silly. Come and sit with me. Nobody will mind. Yes, I know it’s assigned seating, but if I just pick up this name card… There. You’re sitting next to me. Let’s sit down. That’ll make it official.
There, you see. She’s thought better of it. Too many cameras around to make a fuss.
I use an e-reader, actually. I still read books, but - actually, the thing that interests me is, I find that different formats suit different things. I like facts in hardback - or paperback, yes, and there’s something special about a library book, whatever it’s about.
But if I’m reading fiction these days, a lot of the time I pick up my e-reader and browse through the online store. I don’t know if we still use the term “killer app”, but what makes it for me is the free sample. You can read the beginning free, and then decide whether you want more.
Yes, a lot of it’s- Yes, a good sample doesn’t always mean a good book- Yes, I know, but-
What do I read?
What do you mean, what do I really read? Did you put in those italics?
Okay, what do I really read?
I read a lot of beginnings, obviously. I’m genre-agnostic - yeah, good term; no, I just made it up - and a lot of the time I trust the algorithm to make suggestions. Although it’s an AI - you know, Artificial Stupidity? - so it’s always just wanting me to read more of the same, rather than making intuitive leaps.
But the best writing these days; no, I mean the writing that makes me want to hit “buy” when I get to the end of the beginning. A lot of that’s genre fiction these days. I don’t know why, but every author you’ve never heard of - they’re either writing fantasy, vampires, you know, or there’s a murder in Chapter One and the quirky small community is thrown into uproar.
Maybe it's just easier writing fantasy? Less need for subtle nuances of character if they're all riding around on dragons and hacking at each other with swords? I don't know, but I don't mind a bit of witchcraft if the writing holds my attention. If it's sincere, I suppose, is part of it.
I came across a catastrophe novel the other day, in which the apocalypse is triggered by a freak weather event. Man walks into a bar on page one, and the TV above the counter - counter? - is talking about the snow. Except that it’s snowing everywhere. Another one: suddenly, nobody could sleep.
No, it isn’t weather all the time. The obliging thing about genre novelists these days, especially the ones who only do ebooks, is that if you find one you do like, they’ve generally written a whole series. Dozens of books sometimes, featuring the same characters. It’s not like, this is the Big Book; it’s more, this is the world I’ve created.
Artificial Stupidity? Yes, I know, Intelligence. Don’t get me started.
But why do we need to build machines to think for us, when we can think for ourselves?
I had my laptop fixed the other day - after a conference call, the word-processing … is it app or program now? … wouldn’t start. None of the files would open. So I took it to a friend who used to do that kind of thing, and after a certain amount of muttering and writing-down of error codes, we got to the “Repair Page”, where we downloaded a fresh copy of the word-processing - thing. Whatever.
Yes, exactly, papered over the old one. Didn’t fix it at all.
And I thought my usual thought. I could have done that. Tapped that many keys. Got to that page eventually, like all those monkeys with typewriters that were eventually going to write Shakespeare, remember? I used to be in awe of people who could fix computers, but that was a century ago. Everything now’s just tapping keys. I couldn’t tune a piano, or even learn to play one with any feeling, but I can tap keys. That’s the kind of problem I can solve.
If only we could solve global warming by tapping keys; we’d be great at it. If only the solutions to real life could be found down a predetermined labyrinth of solutions to problems that somebody, somewhere, Seattle perhaps, Cupertino, has pre-defined as the unexpected.
Is that machines thinking for us, or people who think like machines thinking for us?
Or people who want to believe machine-thinking is how it’s done?
Anyway, the moment was: I could do this! It would take me longer, but there’s no inspiration or creativity required. Just finding the path through the labyrinth.
Like I said, don’t get me started.
But perhaps there’s a game. Global warming: the game. We could solve that.
Now, there’s an idea. Keep us busy, make us feel better about-
What? No, that’s not possible! I’m only here for the-
Did you know about this?
Oh, tell me there’s an acceptance-speech app on this phone.
Then - well, my grandparents remembered the depression of the thirties, and my father (born in 1921) travelled extensively in Europe and then Asia in his late teens and his early twenties. My mother told her war stories too - code-breaking and truck-driving, among other activities.
The generations that came of age during the mid- to late-twentieth century lived through challenging times. By the time I came along, they’d been through rationing, national service and the Korean War. Far away from anywhere, the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests were just ending, and in the USA, “agribusiness” was poisoning everybody (Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962).
The “leading-edge” baby boomers were about to start being drafted into the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall was about to go up, and we were well into the early stages of the Cold War.
Back then, the reason to stockpile baked beans was that we were all half-expecting to be annihilated in an exchange of nuclear missiles (the idea was, you sat it out in the bunker you’d dug in the garden, then ate baked beans until the radiation dispersed, ha ha).
The Fulda Gap was the area of West Germany that would take the brunt of the Soviet land invasion, and the big question was, would the Americans launch nuclear missiles once Warsaw Pact tanks had rolled up NATO and taken hostage all those US troops stationed on our side of the Iron Curtain?
Oh, and the other question was: would “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD; the perfect acronym) be enough of a deterrent to stop one side or the other launching a first strike? Clearly, it was. We’re here. The survivors, anyway. Asbestos in our cribs. DDT on our vegetables.
I remember watching news reports showing the spread of fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, but that was later. I remember Beatles songs in the playground. Went into the HMV store in Truro the other day, and they’ve gone back to racks of vinyl - although it was all very much cleaner and brighter than such places were back in the day. I wonder if there’s still scope for listening before buying.
Although, come to think of it, I recognised most of the album covers, so that would be pointless. Sometimes, I think I’m living through a remake of my own youth.
Yes, and there was a piece in - I forget where - the other day, about generational unfairness. Old people own all the wealth and young people can’t even buy houses. A binary, simple thing. So simple. Underpinning it was the assumption that aspiration adds up to one thing - home ownership - and maybe it does.
But nothing’s stopped. Change goes on happening. I think of my great-uncle sometimes. The certainties of his life were as certain to him as the certainties of our lives are certain to us. Sorry, clumsy sentence. But he knew that renting was preferable to buying. He was, in our terms, wrong. But he knew.
What do we know?
And when am I going to be compensated for all those years I had to spend without the internet?