fhtagn (fhtagn) wrote,

Terra Australis

Well, I'm in Australia at long last, and thankfully so is my luggage. It's twenty past eight on Saturday evening, British Time, and ten to five in the morning on Sunday, Aussie time. I'm wide awake and have an headache. In part, this is my fault. I should have crawled out of bed after my intended short sleep on Saturday, and gone for a wander and a meal. As it was, nearly 40 hours of more or less continuous consciousness got the better of me and wild horses could not have pulled me out of the sheets.

The travel was, for the most part, uneventful. My final plane was delayed by an hour, but other than extra boredom that had no real repercussions. My route went via Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, and I was actually quite well impressed by both the airports. Dubai's is, as you might expect, a living testament to conspicuous consumption. It's also quite pretty, albeit in a slightly gaudy and ostentatious way, and very well signposted, spacious and clean. There's also free WiFi everywhere, and charging stations for mobiles and laptops (though I wasn't there long enough to take advantage of one). I only saw one gate of Kuala Lumpur, but it was likewise about as nice as an airport can get. There was also free WiFi there, though capped at 2 hours of use which is not unreasonable. Melbourne and Adelaide airports reminded me of nothing so much as Port Elizabeth or Edinburgh airports - small, functional and unlikely to ever win any awards. There was WiFi at Melbourne, but at extortionate rates. Not, however, as extortionate as the rates at this hotel.

I caught a few films on the journey - given how long it took it'd have been almost impossible not to. The first, and worst, was Clash of the Titans, supposedly a remake of the Harryhausen original. It ... um ... look, just don't watch it. No acting, no plot, no mythological sense, ugly special effects and dickhead characters, not to mention a climax with a really shite deus ex machina - I really cannot find a thing to recommend about it.

The second was Daybreakers, a dark future film where Vampires have taken over the World, or at least America (the traditional proxy). It's crap. The acting is variable, ranging from merely wooden to purest ham, with some incompetence along the way. The key assumptions are bloody awful, the final twist is unbelievable and improbable (of the "if it were true, then the timeline would have diverged even before the beginning of the film" level) and the jumping around from scene to scene to advance what they jokingly thought was a plot uneven and irritating.

Thankfully, things got better after that. How to train your Dragon was great. It was pretty, had a light and light-hearted plot, and likable characters - it even managed to have no villain and still work. True, the supporting cast are basically two-dimensional, but they're also all quite different from each other. It's not a complicated film, but it was *fun*, and the only flaw I can really find is that it was Dreamworks and so used their weird facial animations.

After that was Guy Ritchie's recent Sherlock Holmes. Enjoyable twaddle, really. The feel is very true to the original short stories, if with less scientific rigour, and the interplay between Holmes and Watson was nicely done. Some of the directorial choices were a little odd (Holmes pre-narrating his battles, for instance), and there were some other strange bits (why was the giant French?) but basicly a solid and entertaining, if silly, film.

Oh, and last was Tim Burton'sAlice in Wonderland which was ... adequate. Pretty enough, in Burton's own exaggerated manner, but I don't really think it actually added anything much to the world of Alice. I did like the Jabberwocky though.

With the films, the headache (which thankfully passed somewhere over the Levant) and general inability to concentrate, I only actually read two new books on the way out: The Fuller Memorandum by Charlie Stross, and A Wizard Squared K.E. Mills. The former, book three in the Laundry series, is a welcome addition to it, and was a very pleasant read. It stands above The Jennifer Morgue, and whilst not quite making it to the lofty heights that Atrocity Archive managed in terms of sheer innovation, it is better constructed. The various elements lead more cleanly to the climax, and the final twist (such as it is, it's not really a twist so much as the culmination of a series of simple errors) is far more satisfying than that of TJM. The plot can be regarded as a continuation of Concrete Cows, and a short summary might be, "An important document goes missing, Angleton does likewise, the Russians are acting particularly oddly and a Doomsday cult is being stupid - Bob gets caught in the fallout of all of them." My only real niggles with the book are (a) the proselytising about the damned iPhone and (b) the repeated jibes against the Tories. Point A irritates mainly because, having used one, I found it to be crap, so it feels like a lie. Yes, yes, tastes differ, but as a technical device it was bloody awful and that was my complaint, not the interface. Point B just felt off because, frankly, Bob Howard's politics as seen in the books can be summed up as, "Bloody ignorant bureaucrats, leave me alone!" and with nothing at actually point him at any political ideology, the digs seemed far more to be authorial jabs than character comments and so felt out of place. On the other hand, those are comparatively small niggles.

A Wizard Squared is likewise book three of a series and likewise an improvement on book two. The ending felt a bit rushed in execution, but the leadup was solid. I did feel the obligatory lets-add-shades-of-grey-to-the-hero was unnecessary, and slightly ham-handed, however. The story plays with multiple realities, secret agencies and their political masters and of course the little people caught in the middle. A bit like the above, really, but lighter in tone and less mathematically framed. The plot is very simple, "Gerald's evil twin et cetera", but the working around it is fun and adds a bit of depth to otherwise simplistic secondary characters. The will-they, won't-they relationships get a bit more examined, but go nowhere, because they're all plonkers. That's a flaw of the genre, alas, but one I hope they do get over soon.

My first impressions of Adelaide were that it looked a lot like PE. The vegetation has the same thin leaves and slightly grey colour I associate with a waxy cuticle and adaptation for dry conditions, and the buildings are all generic colonial brick. Travelling a bit through the city dispelled that impression a bit though. PE has some nice bits of architecture spread about the place; Adelaide is perhaps the ugliest city I've ever seen. Certainly the parts of it I've seen are anyway. Everything is tan, grey or beige, blocky and squat. The city does't rise from the hills so much as hunker down among them like an orc staring out looking for a traveller to brutalise. We'll see how my feelings change through the week.

My hotel, the Mercure Grosvenor, has failed to win me over as well. It's fine in appearance, assuming the only colour you know or like is beige, and the room whilst small is comfortable and actually well equipped. The two points where it has failed me, however, are internet and noise. The hotel has both wireless access and an ethernet cable sticking into the rooms. The sums it charges for access are ... impressive. For wireless access, there are three possible tarifs: 30minutes/100MB for AUD5; 60 minutes/200MB for AUD10 or 24 hours/300MB for AUD27.50. The wired access charges are actually worse: 2 hours/30MB for 10AUD and 24 hours/100MB for AUD27.50. It beggars belief, it really does. Hopefully I'll be able to find somewhere sensible to get access elsewhere because this is just daft. As for the noise, well, there was one detail they chose not to publicise and one I feel quite important. This is the fact that the hotel backs onto a nightclub. One which only shut up about half an hour ago at 6AM. My room, as you might guess, is at the back of the hotel. Even taking my jetlag into account, this did not make for an restful night and I am somewhat unimpressed.

Right, time for breakfast and then some exploration. I'm writing this offline and it'll get posted (perhaps with some additions), when I get some more and hopefully more affordable internet access later one.

Part 2:
Well, I doubt I’ll be having the full breakfast again at AUD25 a pop. The selection is quite good, but not nearly that good. First time I've ever seen an automatic pancake machine too, though I didn't try it. The bacon was odd, in that it was sweet. Not with a sweet glaze, but actually sweet in itself, and not at all salty or smoky. I'm not sure, really, that it hits the bacon spot as far as I'm concerned. I can also confirm that what in the UK is known as an Americano is here called a Long Black, and what we in the UK call filter coffee is here called Not On The Menu.

Part 3:
Well, a few hours walk around has confirmed a few things and changed my mind on others. Seen in moderate sunlight and not under the influence of incredible fatigue, the city isn't quite as ugly as I'd thought. That said, the central business district isn't exactly a beauty queen either. There are some quite nice stone buildings in a variety of stones but they're generally surrounded by really rather ugly buildings and, yes, they're all squat. The resemblance to PE has in fact been reinforced - plane trees, eucalyptus and strelizias all add up to an remarkably South African feel. This is further enhanced by the fact that the traffic lights follow the South African form, whereby a green man for a pedestrian crossing indicates only that the traffic perpendicular to the crossing has stopped, and you still need to dodge the drivers turning into the road from your direction of travel. This wouldn't be too bad, were it not that the time they allow for the crossing is only sufficient if you get halfway and then teleport the rest. I no longer feel quite so irked by the nightclub - it turns out that nearly the whole of the damned street behind North Terrace (and all the hotels the conference had deals with are on the same street) is comprised of bars, night clubs, strip clubs and combinations of the above. Some of them were still going when I wandered along at eight thirty this morning. I don't think I'd have the stamina for that these days. This being a mostly nonresidential area does mean that finding a supermarket to pick up some essentials was harder than it should have been. I did find one eventually, but even it was more of a large corner shop than what I'd think of as a supermarket, despite what it called itself.

There's a rather pretty park at the end of the road with an unpronounceable name, which again was like a brief trip home: the grass and flowers are all unnaturally green compared to the surroundings and there're hidden irrigation systems everywhere. I'm not sure if that's due to lack of rain, or the fact that like all of PE, it's growing in sand rather than soil. The birdsong all morning was strange. It's not because I could actually name any of the birds I hear in Britain, and certainly couldn't tell you what any of them actually sound like. Nevertheless, all the birdcalls were foreign, and as a result, odd. Looking up after hearing a particularly jarring sound in the park, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very brightly coloured parrot of some kind. On the other hand, all the ducks in the pond just went quack - I wonder if they're native or imports.

I saw several cosplayers around the town, and also banners advertising a computer games and anime convention, held in the selfsame place the ICCC will be occurring, but ending today. I do wonder how much overlap there will be, and what strange artefacts and leftovers there will be for visiting academics to trip over and boggle at.
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