Arrival and the possibility of conversation

Arrival, the film adaption of the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, has been recognised as one of the most intelligent sci-fi films of recent years, as concerned with helping us see our own world anew as with what might exist beyond it.

It is especially poignant, perhaps, that Denis Villeneuve’s movie was released only days after a bitter US Presidential race, whose outcome was only the most shocking upset of a year that has exposed seemingly irresolvable political and cultural divisions. For essentially it is a story about the possibility of communication, of bridging the abysmal gulfs that stop us talking to each other.

An alien civilisation visits Earth, their opaque, ovoid spacecraft – monumental structures recalling 2001’s monoliths – materialising one day at various locations across the world: the Indian Ocean, the Siberian tundra, the plains of Montana – twelve in all. Their portals hover a few metres from the ground, inviting entry.

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On the Mount of Beatitudes

I finally took a trip to the Mount of Beatitudes on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee a couple of days ago, on a quite beautiful February afternoon.

It isn’t known where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, or indeed even if he did so: the passages that constitute the long address presented in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke may have been delivered on different occasions and retrospectively combined by the Gospel writers as a narrative device to gather together a set of related teachings.

I don’t know. But I don’t see any reason to doubt that Jesus may well have preached here. The Mount is a hill close to Capernaum – where he spent much of his Galilean ministry – that forms a natural ampitheatre. The tradition that Jesus addressed crowds here goes back at least 1700 years, when a Byzantine church was built on the summit.

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A Very British Coup, revisited

While excavating belongings for a looming house move I unearthed a book I knew was lurking somewhere: a shabby old paperback copy of A Very British Coup by former Labour MP Chris Mullin, its pages still encrusted with grains of sand and coffee stains from a holiday somewhere in California, some time in the 1980s.

It tells the story of how conservative forces deep inside the British state – embedded within Whitehall, the City, the military and the press – slowly undermine a radical Labour government led by ex-steel worker Harry Perkins, elected on a hard-left platform encompassing exit from the ‘Common Market’, public control of key City institutions, the break-up of newspaper monopolies, the removal of nuclear weapons, withdrawal from NATO, and abolition of the House of Lords, the honours list and the public schools.

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10 books for 2015

There will be many others I don’t yet know about. And I’m sure I will not read everything listed below. But here are 10 books to be published in 2015 I’m looking forward to, summarised in alphabetical order.

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