Monday, 22 November 2010

The Last Question

As everyone who's ever read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy knows, the Answer is forty-two. It didn't occur to me until last night that this is, in fact, a parody of one very particular story.

Isaac Asimov needs no introduction to the SF reader. His novels and short stories are regarded as some of the best ever written in the genre. His intelligence comes through in each of these - and what an intelligence it was. Asimov was a professor of biochemistry in his lifetime, holding a PhD in the same. But his intelligence is never overbearing, and he wrote with a warmth and wit of a kind rarely seen in modern writings.

At the time of writing, I've read only two of his novels, and have just started on a third. But I have read some 30 of his short stories, the most recent of which blew my mind. SF fans will probably have guessed already that I'm talking about The Last Question.

In it, a question is asked of a supercomputer, not once, but several times over the course of trillions of years. Each time, the answer comes back that there is insufficient data to give a meaningful answer. The question asked is, ultimately, can mankind stop the end of the universe?

Being parodied by the aforementioned Guide should say it all about the esteem in which it is held. And I won't hesitate to add my voice to the mass of those already describing it as the best short story (in my experience) ever written. Asimov himself called it his favourite. But what makes it so exciting?

Maybe it's the suspense in which we're held throughout. What is the answer to the last question? Each time it builds up and we're let down, only to be built up again for the next time the question is asked. And when the answer arrives, it's so stunning that the reader has to sit back and admire the elegant brilliance.

Then there's the sense of helplessness. The universe will end up atrophying to a state of death, existing only as space, where stars are, at best, superheavy neutron stars with negative energy. Nothing will live. And there's always this sense that there's nothing we can do about it. It reminds us that, as powerful as we may become, there's something we can't fight and beat.

My bottom line to you is this: read The Last Question. You may find yourself surprised by it.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

X Factors taken into consideration

Can anyone else see Saturday/Sunday evening entertainment being improved immeasurably by Hit Girl suddenly popping up on X Factor, delivering that now-infamous line ('OK you c***s, let's see what you can do now') and taking out Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh with either a big double-bladed sword thing or a gun? Because I can.

This is not just because I would probably watch this. It's because I'm sick to death of the X Factor and the media circus of utter rubbish that surrounds it. I'm also sick to death of the less than mediocre 'music' that it promotes and the cynical manipulation of the retards of this country into buying the manufactured singles that are inevitably covers of some rubbish Miley Cyrus has churned out in the last three years.

How many bona fide talents has the X Factor uncovered? Precisely one: Leona Lewis. Of all the finalists, one out of seventy or something like that has any merit as a musician, and some of that is lost as a result of being discovered by Simon Flipping Cowell.

Where does Hit Girl figure in this? Well, I like Kick Ass and wanted to mention it. But now I come to think of it, she's a good character to bring up. Both she and the X Factor stand as symbols of brainwashing. Hit Girl is brainwashed against the bad guys and goes out killing them (which is legit - in an illegal kind of way), which is far better than the X Factor, which keeps the masses of this country blinded to the bigger issues. The Bank of England has needed to increase its policy of quantitative easing and my life savings are practically worthless because of the resulting inflation? Really? Oh, who cares, Kylie Minogue is on the X Factor tonight.

The X Factor is evil, just not in the Hitler way. By its very nature it is far worse. It creates automatons incapable of thought beyond the banal. At least Hitler was overtly trying to kill everyone, unlike the X Factor and its agenda of insidious brainwashing (take note: this blog does not take into account Nazi propaganda within the German state 1933-1945).

Rant over. Conveniently, I was listening to proper music throughout the writing of this: Metallica.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Now I am the master

Two blogs on my experience in law in a week is an unprecedented happening. First we got the rant on the BSB and that ridiculous aptitude test (and just why it was so ludicrous), and now we have this one.

I have made a decision: after graduating here at Northumbria, I'm going to study to do a Masters Degree.

Perhaps this idea is slightly mad, especially as said Masters will be an LLM and not an MA in some subject unrelated to law. But I'll be honest: I think I need one. Ultimately, I want to lecture in criminal law at a university to undergraduates. To do this, I will need the LLM, perhaps even more so considering that I'll not have been a practitioner and also my dissertation has nothing to do with the criminal law.

In hindsight this was a bad move. Personal injury in sport is an interesting enough subject (especially to an injury-prone individual such as yours truly), but in terms of its relevance to my long-term plans it scarcely manages a tenuous topical connection.

Another thing I'd considered was the idea of going on to do a PhD. Probably in law (again). At the end of the day (there's a football cliche for you), I like education. I enjoy it. After 17 years going through the system without a break, it may be natural that I don't really want to leave it behind me. It isn't that I'm scared of the world beyond education; it's just that I really like education itself.

For now, I'll settle for a Masters, though. The words Peter Wilson, LLM (Hons), barrister-at-law would be impressive enough on a CV to have employers sitting up and taking note.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The BSB and why I'm not happy

Yesterday I was subject to possibly the most pointless test devised in the history of legal education. After the Bar Standards Board decided that future students will need to pass an aptitude test, this year's bar students found themselves subject to the beta test of that examination.

It was, to be quite honest, utterly pointless.

Firstly, why is the BSB imposing this test on future students? The BPTC/BVC on its own has been good enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. And not necessarily the work. The pressure is intense; I'd never experienced anything like it last year. People will make an argument (and perhaps a valid one) that I didn't do the BVC proper, I still did half a BVC plus a full year of academic work as part of the degree, so I'd say I experienced that pressure. Some people can't handle that pressure. An aptitude test won't tell the BSB who is and isn't capable of handling that pressure.

Moving on, the aptitude test can't reflect how well someone will do. Only the BPTC itself can do that. If my own marks on the aptitude test are poor, it'll just back me up. It might be something produced by the brainiest boffins in Britain for all I know, but it can't tell me that I'm not a good student, or incapable of doing the BPTC, because I am, and I can. I didn't record 70s in Opinion Writing (the toughest subject) and Civil Advocacy by accident.

The test itself is more than pointless. Vague at best, at worst it's just nonsensical. Is an argument strong or weak? Surely that can't be defined on a purely objective basis when you're also telling us to use personal knowledge? And if we're bringing in personal knowledge, surely you can't set standardised questions

From a more personal perspective, I don't see why I should be the BSB's willing runner. Considering that they refuse to allow me to state I've done the BVC, why should I dance to their fiddle? It's been something that's bugged me for the better part of 18 months, more so since this year's Bar Exempters get the BPTC and a Masters degree. It just feels like we're being made to jump though hoops for nothing.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Huddersfield Town: My Team

I don't care that this is the second blog of the day. What I do care about is that Huddersfield Town beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 and reignited my love of them to the point I'm seriously considering giving up entirely on women and just proposing to my club.

Do I care that Town are prone to doing daft things against poor teams? Does it matter that we never live up to expectations? Have I not learned from years of false dawns? The answer to all three questions is no. I don't care about any of those, because Huddersfield Town are my team, the club I love with all my heart, my first and greatest love.

Almost 17 years have passed since I first went though the turnstiles at Leeds Road. In that time I've seen promotions, relegations, administration, more dross than I could care to think about, moments to make me laugh, moments to make me cry, things I'll remember for the rest of my life for good or ill. I've seen the whole spectrum of football life, short of Premier League football in earnest. I've experienced victory the massive clubs home and away. I've also seen humiliations at sides so far below us even John Motson's never heart of them.

Yes, I do regret that I've never seen Town lift trophies and will probably never see us in European finals while romping to league titles. But does that affect my love of them one bit? No, it doesn't. Give me my club, a side with rich history and tradition but retaining its fundamental soul, over some franchise in all but name like Manchester United any day. Those at the very top don't get what fans of clubs like Town get. They don't get their unique club with its personality going through the full spectrum of emotion: pride, joy, relief, anger, frustration, misery, all accentuated by the fact that we know it might be years before our next success and the dark times might be just around the corner.

Winning all those soulless pots and pans for the trophy cabinet? Who cares? I don't. I'd rather spend my time with my club watching as we do something very silly at home to some side from the Conference North in the FA Cup a week before we go to top of the table Southampton and stick six past them, feeling my connection to them.

Tonight's win reminded me of the passion, the grit, the determination, the belief of the best Huddersfield Town sides I've seen and fallen in love with. The promotion side of 03/04 that never gave up. The other promotion team of 94/95 which battled to the last. The team under Jacko that escaped the drop in '98 through application of hard work and pure passion for the club.

That's why this is the club I love. Town 'til I die.

It's the gom jabbar

Another day, another rejection. Some would ask why I bother; it isn't as if I've got any proper success yet.

Ah, I say to these people (generally in an annoyingly high-pitched tone of voice), but you forget: persistence is the answer to the world's ills. Just as a persistent striker will eventually discover a chink in a defence's armour, there will at some point be an opening for a writer such as myself to get his first professional publication.

Persistence and not giving up is also important from a confidence perspective. Some people get a rejection and instantly think it's because they're not good enough, never will be good enough, etc. This isn't the case. Maybe that particular story genuinely wasn't good enough (and if you're a particularly young writer it's fairly likely to be the case, just from a lack of maturity and range in your writing), but often it's the case that it isn't the publication's style, the publication takes only the very, very best (I'm thinking Clarkesworld here - an outstanding magazine, no doubt about that, but the bar really is too high for most first-time writers), the publication is full for this month...

If you give up after receiving a rejection then you've failed the biggest test that befalls a hopeful writer. Again, this is a problem more for the younger end of the writing spectrum. Confidence is so important for a young writer, and a rejection really can knock the belief right out of you. Just think of what I said above. And also read the rejection letter/email itself. Chances are it will be form, but it'll encourage you to write elsewhere and submit again. It'll give a list of potential reasons for the rejection.

Don't fall victim to the writing gom jabbar. Keep your self-belief high by constantly submitting and resubmitting stories. When amendments are suggested (even if it is by a pretentious pillock of an American spouting psychobabble - not bitter at all...), make them and submit elsewhere. It's a long, frustrating process, but it'll happen in the end. Think positive. You're not a bad writer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a rewrite to make on a short story. And then I'm submitting it elsewhere. Unlike others, I haven't failed the writing gom jabbar and I'll try until I'm successful.