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Edinburgh Fringe 2013

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Just back from this year's long weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not a classic, but some good shows in there - 16 in 3 days (and a couple of bits), not including the cafe. We got a a lot more different venues, some we hadn't been to before and hardly spent any time at the Pleasance (when previously we've spent almost whole days there). We also found it harder to work out what the "must-sees" were - perhaps because we normally go at the end of the festival when all the reviews and awards are out. None of our Festival faves (NIE, SpyMonkey etc) were there either to structure our schedule around. Also we saw hardly any posters for the shows we did see, adding to the feeling of being just a bit more in the dark.

Here's the shows in order:

Friday

Death By Murder* - We took a chance at using the half-price hut for our first night, just off the train seeing it was nearby. We go what we paid for. Sort of improvised comedy but not very well done and some pretty amateur acting. One of the cast played the inspector and had to work out who the murder was, but it just didn't really work and wasn't that well done.

Saturday

Pussyfooting**** - Nice drama piece by a young theatre group we know via contacts in Birmingham. The neatest thing was the use of blackboards of all sizes to represent the set and props with drawings being hastily drawn as the play went on. Well acted and not a bad script around a fun plot about people's feet taking them over.

Seven Ages**** - flyered whilst buying tickets at the Fringe Ticket Office (saving us 90p a ticket vs iPad app purchases). 7 linked scenes about the 7 ages of pan, told and acted with wit and charm by Kevin Tomlinson, some with audience suggestions. Funniest was the "one word at a time" Clue style section with his assistant who couldn't remember that R came after E for the Queens initials, or that it was Great Britain and Northern Ireland (not ... and Scotland!).

Ballad of the Burning Star*** - history of modern Israel told Cabaret style complete with Drag Queen and gold spandex shorted Starlets. The Guardian had given in 5 stars but it just didn't really hold together. The play we say a few years ago consisting of monologues of cafe patrons each of whom gets blown up in turn as the end of their piece was far better.

Solfatara**** - Another that we'd been alerted to from friends in Birmingham, this time a Barecelonan production, in Spanish but with English subtitles. But it soon became apparent that the subtitle were part of the act as Annie-Hall style they started giving voice to the inner thoughts of the main characters (and even of the subtitler). The set-up was that a character in a mask (so very/only expressive eyes and mouth became the (evil) inner voice of the main character as the relationship between him and his wife went through volcanic (hence Sulfatara) outbursts. Really well done, really accessible, very nice piece.

Boredom***1/2 - Earlier in the day in search of a coffee we'd gone into Hunt & Darton's pop-up cafe just up from the Pleasance - without realising that it was actually an "event" - with Hunt & Darton curating a different ambience each day - today being "community" so we found ourselves at a large table doing a puzzle with a group of Australians. Really nice ambience and as good as many a show. SO in the evening we took in their Boredom show, which was prefaced by the two of them sat po-face saying "This is Hunt & Darton's show about boredom - good luck" and then proceeded with a variety of dead pan monologues, sketches, slideshows of food, a collection of model pigs and so. Well done and very amusing in a very dry way. Giving it **** would probably be wrong in principle, it wasn't meant to be that exciting. But **** for the cafe.

Sunday

Voluntary Departure **** - Woefully poorly attended black comedy in a very small venue, it was nice to see a piece by more mature performers just acting their hear out - the woman in particular in this two hander was superb, the script really tight, sharp - just delivering that with a solid hour on stage at a brisk pace and some really wonderful wordplay was stunning. The plot was about a voluntary euthenasia clinic in a future state, the clinician advising the client how to die, and finding out why he wants to die. There was a 1984 watching security eye, and constant references to "our leader" - which for some reason kept making me think of Alex Salmond and a future Scotland. The the ending could perhaps have had a bit of a better build up, but overall really good.


High Plains **** - Really good simple (ghost) story of the modern American west told by a battered friendly drunk. Very simple, very effective.

Inspector Norse **** - Subtitled "The Girl with Two Screws Left Over" this was a wonderful mix of The Killing, Abba and the Ikea catalogue. A two hander from two mature women (Lip Service Theatre) and a set (and props) made almost entirely of wool. Just very silly but very good, highlights being the crisp-bread foleying of walking through snow and the woollen animal roadkills piling up on the front of the car. From the web site it looks like they make a serial habit of such popular culture send ups - must try and catch them again.

Humans Inc. A Sci-Fi Epic on Stage from anthony springall on Vimeo.

Humans Inc - ***1/2 - Every year I try and see something SF related, but am usually disappointed. Is it that people try too hard with Star Trek style sets, or that the plots are too cliched, or that the subject matter just doesnt attract good or inventive actors. Humans Inc almost broke the mould, but not quite - and a cavernous venue populated by a handful of SF geeks didn't help. The staging was really good, handheld LED frameworks for flying spaceships (or bits off), (real) lasers cutting through the smoke, white handheld screens being used almost balletically (?) to creating moving corridors, lifts and housings. It's just the plot was far too cliched and the acting (particularly from the lead) far too variable.

The Colour Ham - ***1/2 - Sketch and magic show delivered by three guys who were in perpetual giggles about what they were doing - some deserved some not. Well done but just a bit too much audience volunteer humiliation for my liking but they did appear to get their come-uppence when one volunteer turned out to be the neighbour of one of the performers and she had no idea what he did for a living!

Monday

Domestic Science **** - We made a conscious decision to see a bit more on the Free Fringe this year (having seen and enjoyed Austentatious last year), and along with the half-price hut on the first night, and generally lower ticket prices (earlier in the festival, not all weekend/bank holiday) we probably averaged a lot less per ticket than previously (despite still donating about £7 a head for the free shows we saw). This was a really good science show, lots of simple demos/experiments with household objects, smart and funny delivery, and a highlight of my wife being dressed up as the Hubble Space Telescope (image available on request!)

School of Night's Spontaneous Shakespeare **** - Jo saw this last year and really liked it. Four real "thesps" improvising around Shakespeare (and Chaucer), with some wonderful "study notes" style interjections to take the play in challenging directions. Great fun and well worth seeing again next year.

Ulysses Dies at Dawn ***** - You know that you've finally reached the real Fringe when you walk into a venue and wonder if a) you're in the right place and b) if you are whether you ought to turn right round and head back out. The WhyNot venue was a dark basement bar, the clientele sat on a motley collection of chairs and bar stools, and was dressed in a variety of fashions from punk to goth - Deb and I were initially the oldest people there - and certainly the straightest. But the guys with aviators googles on their hats, and the girl with a set of golden wings gave it away - this was steampunk and where we should be. From the description it had sounded the most like the wonderful grunge Beowulf we saw 2 years ago - and I wasn't disappointed. The Mechanisms do what can only be described as steam punk folk/blues music story telling, and do it incredibly well. The band members had their own be-costumed steampunk personas, a highly charismatic leader (first mate!) to propel the whole drama, and an audience (with no small number of devoted followers) which was rapt. This is what I come to the Fringe for. And of course interestingly despite the classical references of the plot it was SF, and well done steam punk SF.

Baby Wants Candy **** - Whereas as Ulysses was gritty this was slick and a bit manufactured - but great fun. Improvised musical, by a US group, in this case Oh Brothel Where Are Thou. The best bit was the rest of the cast trying to keep it together when the plot went off in a completely unexpected direction involving a Narwal horn and a toenail!

Tuesday

Aaand Now for Something Completely Improvised **** - We'd wanted to see this earlier but it had sold out, but decided we could just about fit it in before the train. Well worth it. Probably felt the most "improvised" of all the improv we saw (more than previous years), cant say it was "pythonesque" in the way described in the brochure (apart from one interjection), but again the fun was in watching in how other cast members dealt with the evolving plot and trying to keep straight faces. The two most glorious moments were one actor (supposedly with bird tendencies) regurgitating an opal fruit into the mouth of another, and one actors own mobile phone going off repeatedly - as the other actor said to him - "we'd have shamed an audience member mercilously for that", the miscreant got off lightly!

Diaspora***** - Greg Egan

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This is the second Greg Egan book I've read. The first was Permutation City and that was excellent and the first book in which the idea of copies/upload/personality constructs (PC) made some sort of sense. With Diaspora Egan goes well beyond that, 150 pages in its an excellent book. Even though written nearly a decade ago it visualisation of a future for humanity is far better than most modern SF authors, and it should be quoted as much as Snowcrash when it comes to talking about virtual worlds. The opening chapter describing the "birth" of a new PC, and that PC's first interaction with external data streams, and then its avatar and its virtual world home are superb.

For the record, and it doesn't include any spoilers, Diaspora identifies a future only 100 or so years out when humanity has post-signularity fragmented into about 4 different "species" (compare with the BT future evolution chart I posted a fortnight or so ago):

- Statics - organic, unmodified humans (i.e. us)
- Exhuberants - organic modified humans, whose modifications range from cosmetic to the extremes to cope with hostile environments such as the sea and space
- Gleisner robots - "uploaded" and (I assume) digitally evolved humans who live in mechanical bodies
- Polis residents (I don't think he gives them a name as the story is from their point of view) - uploaded and digitally evolved humans who live in virtual worlds (although those worlds have feeds of the physical world, have agency in it through robots, and can step out into it through Gleisner robots.


The Signal

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The Signal - Home Page

Been trying to find some new podcasts to listen to and came across The Signal - a podcast dedicated to Firely - the Joss Whedon (Buffy) cancelled Sc-Fi series, that then spawned the Serendipity movie.

Its an incredibly well produced show, covering both real and fan developments in the Firefly universe, an episode of a fan drama series, an article about canon matters, reviews, fan film updates, an article on Hitch-Hikers Guide, music and musch more. No suprise that it won the Peoples Choice in the 2006 Podcast Awards.

Browncoats (Firefly fans) are active in both SL and Multiverse building Firefly worlds. Much as I'm not a particular fan of Firefly (even more wagon-train in space than Star Trek, especially for a supposed 2500 AD setting), you have got to admire the professionalism and energy of these guys and girls. If only we'd had these sort of resources available when Traveller was in its hayday.

A book of neverending suprises. Easily his best book. Far better than JPod, or even Microserfs.

torchwood.jpg

Watching the season finale (twice) last night I was struck by the Christian imagery that Russell T Davies was piling on - intentionally? Owen as Judas, Jack as the Son, waiting only for his Father (Dr Who) who forsook him both when he attacked the monster and when he failed to tempt him, The Tardis as the Holy Ghost (the spirit that brought Jack back to life the first time), then the resurrection of Jack after Gwen has been watching over him, the reunion with the team members (the disciples), and then the coming of the wind (the spirit/tardis/Dr Who/God) to take him away, leaving the disciples alone.

Stunning finale and an excellent series. Can't wait for Series 2.

Rainbows End - Vernor Vinge **

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The book of the moment (at least in cyber-circles)

- or maybe not.

Whilst the whole thing about the Epiphany wearable overlaying different interpretations of reality on what people saw was fun, the whole plot side of things was dreadful - ditto much of the writing.

Accelerando - Charles Stross - ***1/2

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Working off the same basic ideas as The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil ( the signularity, uploads, computational matter) its a great exploration of the ideas until the final 100 or so pages. It's like Arthur C Clarke writing 100 extra pages about what happened to Dave when he came home (yes 2010 was dreadful), or Jodi Foster going on for another hour after Contact. See my Seismic Shift essay for my personal fall-out from these books.

Accelerando web site.

The Singularity Is Near ***1/2

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Ray Kurzweil's book about GNR (Genetics-Nanotech-Robotics). The first 100 pages are very boring graphs about exponential returns, the last 100 pages are all notes, but somewhere in the middle 400 pages there's a great 200 page book struggling to get out. Certainly making me rethink my ideas about space and space exploration.

See my Seismic Shift essay/commentary for my take on Ray's ideas. Also read Charles Stross' Accelerando for an SF treatment of his ideas.

John Twelve Hawks - The Traveller *

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Heard a lot anbout this when iit came out in hardback last year. Now in paperback, but almost put off by the "the next Da Vince Code" sticker on the cover. Amazon reviews are mixed (mind you they were for Singularity Sky too!)

Should have been put off! Very poor, and it's only the first part of a trilogy so it doesn't even get to a proper ending (or even I suppose the interesting stuff).

Locas *****

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Finally got the Locas graphic novel in hardback, all 704 pages off it. Just a beautiful book. I can remember buying the smaller graphic novel collections - Ape Sex, Love & Rockets etc back in the 80s, I even used a Locas image on the front of a (very) limited edition Army communications training manual I did. And for some reason I also remember reading about Maggie and Hopey sat in The Point in Milton Keynes shortly after it opened. Wonderful book, just wonderful.

Some great Locas images at http://www.hoppers13.com/love/black.html

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