I was really looking forward to getting some reading and writing done over the long holiday, but I didn’t get very far on any of that.
On Sunday, I did do something I’ve meant to do for a long time, which is write, word for word, someone else’s story. I once read that Hunter S Thompson did this for a novel (though I can’t remember which author he chose), so he could learn more about their writing style, and I always thought that was a cool idea. But that seemed like a huge time commitment — I was looking for a Sunday morning-size task. So, I copied Fragments of a Hologram Rose, by William Gibson, which is a delightfully concise 2,000 words.
I have to say that this is an incredible way to engage with someone’s work. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything so critically. This is Gibson’s first published story (1977) and it’s kind of amazing how fully realized his aesthetic is in this one tiny short story. And for a first story, it’s really solid. There were literally only two sentences I had any critique with — one because it was kind of elliptical and could likely be excised without losing anything, and the other (the last sentence of the story) because it had this weird double-but construction.
The story itself is pretty thin: A guy (Parker) grieves for a lost love, and plays a tape on an ASP machine (something that allows people to experience others’ experiences) of a trip his ex-lover took to Greece. But it’s a lot more than that, covering this whole history of the main character, how he came to be where he is in the present of the story, what role his lover played in that, and how mutable history and experience can be. The symbolic framework of this is the postcard he has from the lost love, a hologram rose. After shredding it in the garbage disposal, he reflects on how, in each of the fragments of the hologram, you can still see the entire rose.
Divorced of all SF trappings, this might not be enough of a story (but I’d have liked it). But it’s the history of the main character that contains all the aesthetic and conceptual elements that Gibson is known for: a future built upon layers and layers of history, technology, and stratified access to the same. Part of the through line is that the city is going through these constant brownouts, which I thought was such a nice touch — it isn’t the future Star Trek imagined, it’s a future that’s filled with technology that Parker needs to kluge together to get to work correctly because their isn’t enough power to support its function. This all seems pretty well-worn at this point, but I’m writing this thirty-six years after the story was published (I was a baby when this story came out!)
Anyway, you can find it in its entirety on the web if you want to read it.
On Saturday I was woken up by a work call at 7am and spent most of the day dealing with nonsense. Boo. When I got home around 3pm, my wife told me she had watched the first episode of the BBC show Luther (starring Idris Elba).
We’d both been meaning to watch it, and she said the first episode was good, so we decided to re-watch it together, and then we watched the entire 1st and 2nd series. On Sunday we watched the 3rd series. So, that’s a lot of TV watching. But, it is a BBC show, so it was 14 episodes in all (okay that’s still a lot of TV watching).
The broad strokes of the show is that London’s Detective Chief Inspector John Luther doesn’t take any bullshit and has detective skills that border on the magical. He can shake off a bullet wound in the leg over the course of an hour or so of walking around, and his preternatural skill is only overshadowed by his unwavering desire for justice — at any cost!
Luther is an old-fashioned, haunted-hero, loose cannon, action detective show that’s sometimes a procedural and mostly tries to look and act like a David Fincher film. It exists in a world where its possible for a single detective (in a single locale) to be involved in a never-ending string of investigations of diabolical serial killers while simultaneously dodging internal affairs and having every single person he’s ever been even passably kind to get murdered. And meanwhile, he’s playing a combination of cat-and-mouse and will-they-won’t-they with the lone serial killer he couldn’t put behind bars — the scenery-devouring Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), a cross between little red riding hood and the big bad wolf. She’s a sometimes particle physicist, most-times malignant narcissist, and full-on crazypants badass.
The series owes a lot to Thomas Harris, the aforementioned David Fincher, Dirty Harry, and, sometimes hilariously, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) of the Lethal Weapon series. At one point Luther literally wakes up in the morning to what we’re led to believe is his new routine, playing russian roulette over morning tea in his shithole apartment, before putting on his single outfit and heading out to be the best fucking cop London’s ever known. If only the internal affairs division wasn’t up his ass, he’d have eradicated crime months ago!
At another point he’s (extremely dubiously) charged with the care and protection of a runaway teen (Jenny) that’s gotten mixed up in drugs and truly bizarre pornography. The finale of their time together is the two of them getting an ice cream together and her teasing him for not being cool — you know, exactly like Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano in the movie Commando from 1985. It may not be a coincidence that the pairs in both cases are named John and Jenny.
I guess what I’m saying is that I loved this show.
Now, it’s not without faults, for sure. The rate of “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” developments can be jarring, and it does settle into the grimdark trappings of a lot of cop procedurals of late. Being honest, I think I’m just getting old. I’m becoming a lot more bothered by violence in TV and movies, and this is a very disturbing show, at times. There’s a fine line to that stuff, and… I don’t know. I’ll admit to being pretty bothered by some of the more grotesque developments.
For instance, an episode in the 2nd series begins with a guy terrorizing some people at a gas station. The scene is truly horrifying. At one point the killer sprays down two dudes with a water pistol filled with acid, and then proceeds to beat one of them with a bat. Again and again. I was genuinely stunned by this scene, and it was definitely horrible in its realness. And then that was all somewhat undercut by the fact that this guy is a TWIN and the twins are engaged in some kind of real-life role playing game where they literally role dice on the middle of the street before assaulting people. I mean… OK…
And then there’s the sexual violence, the home invasions, the child abuse, and… And, you know, the same kind of stuff you can see over and over again in any and all Law and Order: SVU episodes, or on any show on the channel that my friend Karli calls “Crime TV.” So, I don’t know, maybe it’s me.
But Idris Elba is really superamazingterrific in this show. I’m pretty convinced that he could play more or less any role and I’d be fine with it. Another Abraham Lincoln biopic, starring Idris Elba as Abe? Fine. Idris Elba playing the Clark Gable role in a remake of Gone With the Wind? Sure, why not. Idris Elba as Christoper Columbus? Yeah, all right. Idris Elba as Patch Adams? I’ll allow it.
He really gives the character of DCI Luther a lot of dimension and vulnerability, which, given the ultra-pulpy trappings of the show, is probably the show’s primary saving grace. You can totally forget his physicality in the role, too, which is actually a little funny (when you suddenly do remember), because he towers over everyone else in the production. But on the few occasions where there’s a shot of him squaring off against some 5’7″ guy… You already can’t believe that anyone would go against him, just because he’s such a determined badass, but then the actual sight of it just seems kind of absurd. And yet, somehow, there’s very little stand-up-and-fist-fight sort of action on the show. And Luther doesn’t even carry a gun (which is a chronically disarming realization for those of us weaned on US cop shows, where everyone’s packin’). He mostly talks and thinks his way around and out of every confrontation.
I’m not sure how he’s doing what he did in this role, but it’s pretty cool. He DEFINITELY should have been cast in that Jack Reacher movie that was out a little while ago. He would have killed it in that. Anyway, I’m in on Idris, is what I’m saying.