rashbre central: April 2022

Thursday 28 April 2022

Jennifer Egan - Own your Unconscious in The Candy Box

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Jennifer Egan's  A Visit from the Goon Squad years ago, and it is still worth a re-read - dealing with time's ravages, intertwined lives and the exploits of  record producer and magnate, Bennie Salazar. It's got a rock-n-roll beat and predicts a few zeitgeistian things such as what we'd think of now as instagrammer influencers.

The Candy House is a kind of sequel and still bounces around around myriad people, with a timeline from recent past to near future. A clever new box  (iPhone on steroids?) allows  a points of view review of any past moment and to get other viewpoints of it. 21-year olds are encouraged (as self protection?) to upload their minds to the big grey data world and can then cruise through others' anonymised experiences.

Then there's entertaining ideas about brain implantable memory weevils and eluders running defence against mind probes wanting to slurp up data, but I couldn't help but wonder whether Egan has set fire to a firework factory. 

I saw her talk a while ago at a Guardian event, and she clearly has ideas and intent for her novels but in between this one and Goon Squad she wrote a novel set in a rich historical context about a female diver (Manhattan Beach). I enjoyed it and suspect Egan is probably more captivated now with the historical research balanced with modern day perspectives rather than the un-rock-n-roll counterpoint of nerds running around with gray grab data cubes. Even if she did date Steve Jobs.

I could see that Egan was playful with the writing style and with time (again) and we get many styles including an epistolary section. The novel backward-references the occasional Goon Squad character too, but you'd have to re-read the other novel to be able to follow the links. 

I'd looked forward to reading this one, but I admit to being a tad disappointed after the blaze of Goon Squad or the rich context of Manhattan Beach.

I wonder if there was pressure to write this as a follow up to the much-loved Goon Squad but I can't help thinking I preferred her sharp change of style in Manhattan Beach.

Friday 15 April 2022

The next novel - Rage - begins.



I wake up in a hotel room. It's well provisioned, at what I'd say was early 21st century business class. Maple finish doors. On the walls, ironic pictures of unrecognisable landmarks inhabited by quirky people. Nothing loose which could easily be put into travel luggage. Instagram friendly.


I could hear someone else in the shower. My awareness was returning slowly, like the hotel kettle filling from a slow tap. Closer inspection and I could see a cluster of three black marks each about the size of a coffee mug ring on the lower section of the entrance door. Then further up, another three clustered black marks. Scorch marks or the points on a tree bark where branches would have hung.


I remembered the paradox, I was Farallon. A Watcher who became a Wakener, but then, at Limantour's behest, I was ported into a human named Scrive. 


It had been trippy, being associated with a specific human. My host had been jacked on tropus and nanobot engineering and, I'm told, for a human possessed extremely fast thought and reflex.


Yeah, right, but not fast enough to avoid being zapped by a Trigax Rail Gun in the back streets of London. I assumed that was how I came to be here now, in this hotel room, listening to someone else showering while I appeared to still possess the restored body of Scrive.


The door to the shower bathroom opened and the toned body of Limantour stepped into the room, oblivious to her lack of clothing.


"Hey, Farallon, I said it'd be wild," she began. As she turned, I noticed three marks on her dark skin, like the marks on the door. It appeared to be the residual burn marks from a Trigax.


She wrapped herself in a hotel towel. 


"I'd forgotten you were in here, let alone human sensibilities," she said, "We are still operating as Wakeners. Just like I described when we sat on the racetrack in Norway.  I'm still Chantel.


I still had some of my Watcher powers, carried forward into my guise as a Wakener. Limantour - the mistress of chaos - had lectured me about my transition from a Watcher into a Wakener. I replayed the key facts in my mind, whilst she rapidly assembled an outfit.


"You'll be able to act now, and not only that, but you'll also carry some knowledge of the future. Your mind has been loaded with the next 300 years of developments, but I sense we've been given an edit."


"And - You'll be linked into a specific human. Scrive in your case. Humans operate slowly, so you'll have to get used to that, although you can help them at our normal speed of thought and knowledge. You'll need to get used to travel at a human rate. No hops to another position on the earth. And you'll need to take care of your human. They are not immortal like us, and our persistence is interrupted if they are killed. You'll still be able to get back to the Wakener dimension though."


That was it. Persistence interrupted. My human, Scrive, and I guessed Limantour's human named Chantel had been killed. Our persistence had been interrupted. We were now into uncharted territory.


I looked from the window. A street scene, but with Cyrillic writing. A small tobacconist shop opposite and a parade of small hipster cafes. There's a kind of green sheen over everything, which I realise is being cast by the sky, more green than blue, like something from the Northern Lights.


Then I remembered that Drake and Tomales had also experienced the same transition with their Personas entering the Presence of others, but there was no hint that they were around here. I guess they are survivors.


Limantour grins. She is now wearing a bright green zebra patterned dress, "And remember: You'll need to resist some of the human emotional traits. It can be like a massive sensory overload when you start."


"Yes, that explains a few things," I reply, feeling shaken at Limantour's 'grand reveal' a few moments earlier.


"Where's the dress from?" I ask


"Kapsula, one of the nearby shops. I was here before you. It gave me a chance to slip out to get a few things. Good selection."


"But I think your name changed to Chantel - a so-called London socialite?"


"Mad-cap socialite," replied the Mistress of Chaos. 


"Of course you are," I thought.


"I was wrong about one thing," answered Limantour, "Our Wakener back-channels still function. We can still communicate to one another silently. So, I can still read your thoughts."


I realised that Limantour had not spoken the reply. We still had that direct affinity.


"Can we reach Tomales and Drake," I asked, "Or should I say Charlie and Nathan?"


"I don't know," answers Limantour, "I can't seem to find either of them. I suppose they could still be okay in their first Presences?"


"The thing is, Scrive works so much better when he's around Charlie," I explain.


"Maybe it's a range thing?" asked Limantour, "I don't know how far our back-channels reach. You've realised this isn't London?"


I looked at the Hilton hotel signage in the room. Cyrillic. I could still read it though, my Watcher powers seemed to be intact. Limantour was reaching for the TV remote


"Whoa," I said.


"Shevchenkivs'kyi district, Kyiv" I uttered.


The TV started, in English. It seemed to know about us both too. Scrive Mallinson and Chantal le Strang. 


"It's great that Chantal has multiple names, too, also Daisy Stone!" said Limantour.


I was more blown away by the fact we were in Kyiv, Ukraine and the date showing on the television.


"We are two days from the start of the first Klima War," I look towards Limantour, then adding, "Remember those big history dates? 4-July-1776 American Independence, 1066 Battle of Hastings, 1914 Start of Great War, 1939 World War II starts, 8-May-1945 Victory in Europe, 22-02-22 Start of First Klima War."


"I always thought they moved the official start to 22-2-22 to make it easy to remember" says Limantour, "It started on 20-02-22."


"And today is the 19th. Well, we are right at the start of of it, anyway," I say to Limantour, "Tell me it's not more of your crazy chaos?" 


"No - I really don't know about any of this,"


"And how will we extricate ourselves?"


"Well, you're some kind of fly-boy marine, I think, and I'm a fashion statement. How hard can it be? We'd better use our human names from now on."

Saturday 2 April 2022

we crashed


Chatting with a group of work buddies, I explained that I subconsciously 'mark' TV and movie parties to compare them with the lavish events our own company used to run. 

Oligarch glitz? I can top that. Live music?  - Probably that too. Food - easy. It reminded me again when I watched the first few episodes of WeCrashed, which is about the rise and fall of WeWork - an office environment for millennials.

It's the story of Adam Neumann, his wife Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, and their billion-dollar company that sold work space as a service.  Except they called is Space As A Service (SAAS). It's a fascinating story that goes up and then comes down. 


The thing is, I've been with some of these types when I used to work for an American firm. I can remember the day I joined, we all scooted off to a nearby London restaurant and were wined and dined. The company laid on coaches to take us there and back.

At my first company meeting in the USA, we had crazy raffles, based upon the serial numbers of US $5 bills. Big prizes if you were able to win something. And 'look under your chairs' to see if there was a $100 bill hidden.

Every year we'd have one of those big Xmas bashes, which would always be at a venue with funfairs, dodgems, performance acts and good food. 

I can remember being in a restaurant in Greenwich, CT and on our table were several millennials talking about how they'd vested their shares from their last company or two. 

Another occasion, one of them arrived at a (different) restaurant in his boat. We all climbed aboard and he took us for a spin out around Greenwich Point Park and then on four powerful engines up to Norwalk. Over our shoulders we could see the Manhattan skyline.

Then there's the time we were all sent to Maui for a company meeting in a beach resort.  I hired a Mustang and we drove to the top of Haleakalā, the active volcano, where we could watch the sun set. 

We, like in this story of  'We Work', used to run client parties too. We'd hire big. A palazzo in Florence. Gaudi's House in Barcelona for a masked ball, MGM studios in Orlando for a street party. The entire waterfront of Cannes for a multi-hotel party with live music (including a Queen act), played from a stage floating in the sea. As many rides as you could take, with no queues in Disney's Tomorrowland.

Probably even bigger than the scale shown in WeCrashed. Except #TheyCrashed and #WeDidn't.

I guess I like this series more because I can recognise the characters and situations. Although I'm not sure it is a good long-term way to live. But I wouldn't have missed the experience.

Friday 1 April 2022

Licorice Pizza

A confession that I like the metaphysical mayhem of Inherent Vice so much that I've watched the movie several times, and even as I write this I'm thinking I'll need to watch it again. It's based on a Pynchon novel and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson who recently had another movie at the cinema. 

I missed this latest one - Licorice Pizza - because of timing challenges, but have now finally caught up with it on Apple TV+. 

It is a gentler movie that Inherent Vice with a simple story the 15-year-old boy actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman - son of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) meeting 25-year-old Alana Kane (played by Alana Haim), a photographer's assistant, and their flirtatious relationship. 

It is an episodic movie, plunging the characters into various set pieces evocative of teenage schemes offset by the 25-year old Alana's perspective on the same things. Their relationship swings around hairpin bends at times. There's a certain friends and family feel too, such as the rest of the Haim band turning up as Alana's siblings, and we get Tom Waits showing up as Rex Blau (of course he is) and Bradley Cooper as a self-centred film producer.
Being set in 1973 also allows a slew of inappropriate behaviours to be depicted. I'll only mention the drink-driving here and Alana's white tee shirt advertising Virginia Slim cigarettes.

And Licorice Pizza? Why, it's black vinyl, of course. And there's a good slice of music of the 70's served up within the movie.
There used to be about 30 of these stores in Southern California.