OK, I’ll readily admit that I have been horrendously AWOL lately. I’m sorry. Life has been very busy, in good and bad ways. Good: one of my school friends is getting married in a month’s time. Bad: I have no money. Good: I got engaged. Bad: I’m struggling to see where I’m headed. And so forth.
But, in amongst all this, I’ve been reading. And I felt the urge to revisit a book I’ve read before, namely “Complicity” by Iain Banks. I don’t know what compelled me to pick it up again, but needless to say I couldn’t find my copy. Dagnabbit. So I bought it on my Kindle (you know, with the money I don’t have).
Anyway. I’ve mentioned Complicity before (back when I briefly reviewed The Bridge a couple of years ago) but I’ve never reviewed it before. I say “reviewed”: I mean rambled incoherently whilst giving across my sheer love of this book.
OK, it’s not a lovely book. I’ll be blunt: it’s the most vile and vicious book I’ve read. Ever. Those of you who have been exposed to Banks before have most likely read The Wasp Factory, and thought that was pretty heavy. Well, Banks himself said in interview that Complicity is ”[a] bit like The Wasp Factory except without the happy ending and redeeming air of cheerfulness”. So, try and think positive.
Complicity is based mainly in and around Edinburgh (a plus for me, already), following the strange and brutal murders of a series of capitalist, right-wing figures. But it’s not just as simple as all that, is it? No, the murders are ingenious, the murderer has the whole thing thoroughly planned out, and the reader is rapidly pulled into the depths of confusion and despair along with our narrator.
The majority of the plot of Complicity revolves around the life of Cameron Colley, a disillusioned left-wing journalist, who is a bit down on life. He is strangely lovable – I say strangely, because he is a bit sad, lonely, has many casual drug habits, has regular sex with a married woman, etc. One might say he is “a good man with bad habits”. My other half once described himself like this, so maybe that’s another reason I find Cameron strangely lovable.
The sections of plot involving Cameron are written in first person – some people call this the “unreliable narrator”, and yes, he probably is a bit, because he does ramble on. But it gives the reader a real sense of being WITH the action, in the thick of it. We feel his boredom, we sense his excitement, and finally, when he is arrested, falsely accused of the murders of those right-wing figures I mentioned, we sense his desperation, and we slip into the confusion and paranoia that interrogation and sleep deprivation brings.
There are a lot of moral questions in this book: questions about crime and punishment, war (huh, what is it good for), and the darker side of human nature. And of course, where do our loyalties lie? Would YOU be complicit?
The descriptions of the murders themselves are brutal and very uncomfortable to read in a public place. But to make matters worse (and even more effective) these sections of the novel are written in second person – yes, YOU, ”You hear the first faint distant screams just as you take the bike’s key from your pocket. You feel suddenly elated”. Shudder.
Like with all crime thrillers, I can’t divulge too much plot without spoiling the experience for you. But needless to say, this remains one of my favourite books of all time (so far). Even if I have to read some of it through my fingers. Seriously. It’s gruesome.
Oh, and a humorous tit-bit: Cameron is heavily into computer games, particularly a fictitious game called “Despot” which is curiously similar to Civilisation (which my dad used to play). Cameron loses many hours due to playing this game. In fact, he’s often playing the game when he should be writing. And you know what? So was Iain Banks. Happy sigh. Art mirrors life mirrors art.
As part of my assessment for my MSc, I have been doing a joint poster project with my friend Rebecca surrounding the topic of violent video games. Are violent video games really causing our kids to be more aggressive? I say “our” kids – I don’t have kids. But I WAS a kid. And I played violent video games. So did my brothers. I wouldn’t consider us to be particularly aggressive. Maybe we were boisterous kids, but that was arguably before the games, and plenty of people have boisterous kids.
Image from GeekWithLaptop.com
Anecdotal evidence, you say? Maybe. But some facts and figures from the US of A -
“According to the FBI in 2009,The arrest rate for juvenile murders has fallen 71.9% between 1995 and 2008. The arrest rate for all juvenile violent crimes has declined 49.3%. In this same period, video game sales have more than quadrupled. The FBI statistics show that video game sales have been on the rise, while all juvenile violent crimes have fallen in the same amount of time.”
OK, but that’s just someone saying a thing on a debating website, I hear you cry. I won’t lie: I’ve made no effort to track down that report from the FBI. It could be made up. This is the internet, afterall. EDIT: Oh look, found it.
You might have read some news articles talking about a correlation between violent video gameplay and subsequent aggressive behaviour in children. Bollocks to that, is what I say. Correlation, as any good scientist knows, does not equate to causation. It might be that children that already have an aggressive disposition are more likely to be drawn to play violent games in the first place. They see violent games as a way of directing their aggression, which surely is no bad thing. We don’t see a correlation between calm kids and violent video gamplay, maybe because calm kids don’t get attracted to play violent video games (they’d much rather play bonkers colourful games like Katarmari Forever or Hamster Ball.)
And what about extraneous variables? Studies that show these correlations tend to ignore the children’s family history, or trait violence. Who knows, these kids might come from abusive homes, and violence is all they know. Oh, and we usually only see the short term effects of violent influences – what about a longitudinal study, please? Do these same kids grow up into violent adults? Or is that a rare thing? Are the majority of violent video game players (i.e. MOST WESTERN TEENAGERS) likely to populate the globe with murderers? I think not. They will probably be accountants, or contestants on Britain’s Got Talent, or some other, (arguably) normal lifetime pursuit.
Perhaps some “more research is needed” – I hate to fall back on that old line, but it’s true. Video games are here to stay, so rather than bitch and moan about the possible influence of young children, and their subsequent development into aggressive teens (view not supported by evidence), maybe it’s high time we started looking into the other factors influencing aggression in young people. Maybe there’s deep-rooted issues. Maybe aggressive children need early-intervention programmes. Maybe we need to teach the negativity of violence to young people. What about anger management strategies for children? Don’t scoff – the naughty step works wonders for Supernanny.
Interested in reading more? Go for it -
I got this bad boy as a belated Christmas present from my big brother (see here why it was late), but I can confidently proclaim: it was well worth the wait.
This weighty tome from Jeff Potter looks like a text book, but dear lord, if all my text books were this readable, I would have read them all cover to cover by now.
Cooking For Geeks is made up of some science, some “hacks”, some interviews, and tonnes of little nuggets of fascinating facts.
Maybe you’ll love it for the recipes (whilst I haven’t yet tried any, they all sound amazing). Maybe you’ll love it for the miracle berries, or many of the other weird and wonderful additives (which sound AMAZING and I must experiment). Maybe you’ll love it for the stupidly dangerous over-clocked oven (pizza cooked in 45 seconds, anyone?).
If you’re me, you’ll surprise yourself by finding the section on pathogens the most interesting.
The only annoying thing is probably the fact that this book is written by an American, for Americans. Broiling? Seriously? It’s a grill. Also, the references to the FSA make you wonder about our own, British food standards. Must…do further research…
But the problems presented by that fact are minimal. Far too small a problem to detract from the pure joy that is getting immersed into the strange and wonderful world of geeky cooking. Yay!
There is also a Cooking For Geeks website to accompany the book. Double win.
What the hell is this I spy down in the basement of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, in London’s Queen Square? @bengoldacre would be displeased…
A bit bleary today – no write ups for you.
Instead, have this short video of Stockwell Skatepark, taken by Ben moments after the old man attempted some tricks on his bike. Silly fool. (this was a few days ago. Now he has severe backpain. Funny, that).