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.
Two posts in one day. I know, I spoil you.
Really, I just wanted to share with you something that I feel is a beautiful homage, well put-together, and strangely enchanting. It is essentially a mash-up of documentary and lecture clips, auto-tuned to produce a flowing melody, on an electronic backing track, but the end result is, frankly, brilliant. Includes some of my true heroes, some more well-known faces of science, and also Bill Nye (the Science Guy) who taught me science via my telly when I was only 6 years old. Squee.
EDIT: If you enjoy this, you can watch Jill Bolte Taylor’s moving, inspiring TED talk (sampled here) in full here
It’s amazing to consider that I’m holding in my hands
The place where someone once felt, thought, and loved
For centuries, scientists have been battling to understand
What this unappealing object is all about
Here is this mass of jelly
You can hold in the palm of your hands
And it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space
The brain has evolved from the inside out
Its structure reflects all the stages through which it has passed
[Jill Bolte Taylor]
Information in the form of energy
Streams in simultaneously
Through all of our sensory systems
And then it explodes into this enormous collage
Of what this present moment looks like
What it feels like
And what it sounds like
And then it explodes into this enormous collage
And in this moment we are perfect
We are whole and we are beautiful
It appears rather gruesome
Wrinkled like a walnut, and with the consistency of mushroom
What we know is encoded in cells called neurons
And there are something like a hundred trillion neural connections
This intricate and marvelous network of neurons has been called
An enchanted loom
The neurons store sounds too, and snatches of music
Whole orchestras play inside our heads
20 million volumes worth of information
Is inside the heads of every one of us
The brain is a very big place
In a very small space
No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain
We can change ourselves
Think of the possibilities
Think of your brain as a newspaper
Think of all the information it can store
But it doesn’t take up too much room
Because it’s folded
We see with the eyes
But we see with the brain as well
And seeing with the brain
Is often called imagination
It is the most mysterious part of the human body
And yet it dominates the way we live our adult lives
It is the brain
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 -