Thursday, 28 July 2016


As the title - and the new URL - of this site suggest, I am moving on. But fear not! This is not me removing myself from the blogosphere, but rather re-entering it. Where, I have not yet decided. But I will leave a link here, or find a way for the site to redirect, when I do.

It's been a long time. Too long, I think, to pick up the threads of this old tapestry. But it will still be here, to weave its way back to the very first days of my teenage self taking her first steps into the interwebs. The best posts will be copied and carried over, and the spirit of my blogging purpose will remain much the same.

If anyone's still here, I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Let's Get Critical

I have a problem with stupid things - and, sadly, I'm talking about the fun kind today. You know what I mean, those books, movies, TV shows or random internet sketches that appeal to the absolute basest sources of humour and make your inner five-year-old guffaw so loudly you can't help joining in. 

I have a problem with them. Several problems. Problems I will grumble about to anyone within hearing range, prompting several rolled eyes and quiet insinuations that I'm being too picky / too uptight / too politically correct and should just turn my brain off and enjoy the stupid for stupid's sake.

See, I can't turn off my brain. And, now that I think about it, I don't want to.

Humour is one of the most subjective and slippery responses to stimuli that the human body produces, like that slightly undercooked pancake sat atop the head of the rabbit in that picture your grandmother has sent you four times in the last month because she thinks that's the sort of thing young people these days find hilarious. Everyone's idea of humour depends on innumerable varying factors, personal and cultural and a thousand things in between, and the sheer breadth of the genre defies any real objective statements.

However, that does not mean we cannot think critically about things that move under the banner of humour, and consider the responses it seeks to ellicit, how it seeks to generate them, and what exactly it wants us to be laughing at.

One of the jobs I've taken on alongside my degree involves reviewing drama - either in CD form, or in live performance, as was the case with Dickens Abridged here. My own distaste for Dickens notwitstanding, I was a little leery of my first live review having to hinge on my understanding of something as subjective as whether or not the jokes hit home. After all, I could say what I liked about the staging, lighting and production value, but if I did not laugh then I was missing out on an enormous part of the play's purpose, and my review, to my mind, would fall short.

Luckily for me, Dickens Abridged scored enough hits on the treacherous spinning wheel of my funny-o-meter that the anxiety never came to fruition, and I was left with the much less challenging task of trying to decipher the comments I had written in pitch blackness with one eye still on the stage. 

If I had turned off my brain and tried to enjoy the humour without any critical thought, I could probably still have written that review. Heck, I might even have given it a full five-star rating, without the nasty, spindly voice of criticism sat on my shoulder, clutching a pen in one hand and cutting its teeth on the theatre guide with the other. On that logic, I might also have been able to sit down with my friends and watch the very worst of 90s daytime sitcoms without the urge to spit verbal bile at the screen every time the canned laughter starts up.

But what's the point of a brain if we have to turn it off? And, surely, any humour that you have to go against your instinct to enjoy is not humour you should have to make yourself watch. Life is too short, and comedy too diverse, to have to lower your expectations and waste your time on something that isn't making you laugh. 

Because I had that little voice on my shoulder, I had a much better time. No, I wasn't laughing as often as I might have been, but I was thinking, I was engaging with the material, realising why one joke worked while another did not, and forming a much more informed and comprehensive opinion as a result. After all, just because I didn't think a joke was funny didn't mean I couldn't appreciate why it would be, or why it was there.

Don't reject that nasty little voice, everyone. Don't tell yourself that you're having a worse time just because you're the only one in the theatre squinting at the stage rather than rolling in the aisles. Embrace that critical voice. Offer it some of your popcorn. Invite it to think harder about why that particular joke makes it want to tunnel back through your skull in embarrassment.

Thinking and laughing are not mutually exclusive. Do both. Trust me.

~ Charley R

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Charley Reads: "Ready Player One" - Ernest Cline

Before you all run for the door: fear not, readers, I will not be cross-posting every review I do!

This new series - "Charley Reads" - is not intended to showcase my opinion on every book under the sun (that's what my new Goodreads page is for), but rather to display a few books that inspired a particularly strong reaction from me in some way, shape or form. Be warned, not all of these reactions will be positive. And, yes, I will probably continue to mis-use gratuitous food metaphors throughout. Sorry about that.


In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.


This is a book made with love. No, not just made - carved and moulded and stuffed full of a lifetime's loves and obsessions and nostalgia, like a childhood toy finally getting that visit to the teddy bear doctor that it's been needing for the last twenty years. I loved the references to 80s pop culture ephemera - stuff my geekhood is steeped in and in many ways determined by, despite the fact I was born in the middle of the following decade. The unadulterated, unapologetic nerdiness of the whole thing was a refreshing break from the covert nerdhood of many other geek-ish novels, and strangely comforting in the familiarity of the elements. The story was fun, the writing engaging, and all was very well balanced between seriousness and fluff to allow for some genuine moments of tension despite the apparent removal of real-world threat due to the story's synthetic setting.

I really liked this book. Which is why I'm also rather disappointed with it, too.

The Details:

The worldbuilding. Oh my stars, the worldbuilding. Cline has done an amazing job building up a pair of engrossing parallel worlds - the miserably dystopic reality, and the aptly-named virtual OASIS that our narrator Wade "Perzival" Watts spends his time dashing between. Everything, from the schooling system to the big-picture economic and cultural explanations was utterly believable and engrossing. However, there wasn't much by way of detail or everyday minutiae to help flesh that big picture out very much, leaving everything a little less substantial than it could have been.

The characters were stronger, and made up (mostly) my second favourite of the novel's elements. While I occasionally wanted to grab Wade's head and slam it into a brick wall, I did so because he was an absolutley realistic and believable teenage boy doing absolutely realistic and believable teenage boy things and thinking the subsequent teenage boy thoughts. The internet culture he lives and operates in is as accurate as a Chuck Norris punch to the gut; complete with "l33tspeak", flaming, spamming, and dementedly out of proportion aggression. The villain was, despite his fairly standard setup, rather excellently menacing and ridiculous at once, and the posse of Perzival's online pals were distinctive and lots of fun in their own right.

That is ... except Art3mis. Let's talk about her for a second.

The Talking Point:

It's all very well building a novel on the fun and nostalgia and tropes and glory of the 80s' nerdier moments - but sometimes there's a reason those elements have since been overwritten. Yes, the typical "team good guy" setup (wonderbread white boy hero, snarky best friend, secondary buddies, and the girl) is enduring and in some ways charming, but if you let that come to define the entirety of one of your central characters' personalities... well, you get Art3mis. 

We're told that she's clever and fascinating and wonderful and funny, but because we see the whole novel through Parzival's eyes, we never see that directly. As we see her, she's a fairly flat, bland, competent but overally fairly boring object for Parzival to love, lose, and eventually win, as their trope-inspired storylines demand. Bit of a pity, really, that Cline didn't let her follow up on a rather fascinating sub-plot involving the facelessness and deceptive quality of the internet, which could have granted her words a validity and her character a greater sense of personality. As is, props to not making her a bammin' slammin' sexy supermodel, but when your main character goes on and on and on about her in a purely romantic context anyway, with a heavy layer of "not like other girls" to top it off, that kind of undermines the whole point.


Luckily, the story is pacy enough to keep one engaged and having fun so that the weaker elements don't stand out until later reflection, and despite the disappointing ending the whole thing feels very much like its inspiration; a rollicking good time, quirky and flawed and bursting with character and lots and lots and lots of love.