The First Monster

One of the weirdest animals ever to live on the earth has just been discovered…and it’s also the heaviest creature the planet has supported, beating out the blue whale which we always presumed was the heaviest thing that existed.

It’s also a mystery.

Perucetus Colossus swam in the shallow coastal waters of Peru 39 million years ago…and perhaps elsewhere, who knows? This is the first sign we’ve found of a monster that was the length of an articulated bus, just a few bones. Bizarre bones.

Though this monster was shorter than the blue whale, its bones were extremely dense, contributing to its great weight. There are some suggestions why the bones were so dense, but no one is wholly sure.

“The estimated skeletal mass of P. colossus exceeds that of any known mammal or aquatic vertebrate,” says a new study by an international team of scientists, led by Giovanni Bianucci of the University of Pisa. That’s a surprise. Whales were supposed to have evolved to their current size and no modern whales show any of the strange adaptations that this prehistoric one did.

A recreation from those bones shows the beast was huge, round, with tiny hind limbs, short webbed paws, a tiny, flat, pointed snout, and a round tail.

Eli Amson, curator of fossil mammals at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, and co-author of the paper, says, “Actually the drawing is quite conservative in its depiction of the animal. The truth is, it probably was something even weirder, but difficult for us to picture.”

That we are only now stumbling across a creature so vast tells us all we need to know about the deep past. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what existed and the picture we do have is made up of fragments. There are mysteries still to be uncovered.

The Bear

I thought when I’d watched the final season of Succession I’d already seen the best TV of the year, but The Bear season two surpassed it.

The story of a chef at one of the world’s best restaurants returning to take over the run-down family restaurant in Chicago is filled with so much heart it makes your head spin. The characters and their relationships are all finely drawn, their pasts, their fears, their hopes, all slowly unfolding.

Every episode of season two swells with emotion; it builds you up and breaks your heart, sometimes in the same episode.

This run also has several classy guest stars, including Jaime Lee Curtis with a performance far beyond the one that won her an Oscar.

A masterpiece.

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny

Indiana Jones Film Poster

With a long running film series, it’s almost impossible to disentangle it from the weft and weave of your life.

The emotions felt in distant days, rich memories, that bittersweet awareness of the person you once were when you started watching, and of time passing, and change, all of it colours the present and strips away an objective view.

I’ve had a long, personal relationship with Indiana Jones. When I first saw Raiders of the Ark, it instantly chimed with a deep and long-developed part of me, particularly that sense of numinous mystery that lies behind the patina of everyday life, something that Spielberg always did so well.

Technically Raiders is a brilliantly constructed movie, the pacing, the lightness of touch, the humour, the clearly and powerfully defined characters and that old-fashioned sense of adventure stitched through with romanticism that you wouldn’t – couldn’t – get in today’s more cynical age.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a strong ending to a forty-two year old story. And it is an ending, a proper wrap-up of the themes and character stories of the previous four movies. If you’re engaged with the characters, the final scene will bring a tear to your eye.

The film has its flaws – it’s too long, the chase sequences seem to go on forever, there’s no humour and no lightness of touch. Director James Mangold does a fair job of aping Spielberg, but there’s a heaviness to his work that drags where it should fly. As much as I love Fleabag, I found Phoebe Waller-Bridge a tad irritating and there was zero chemistry between the two leads.

And yet it was still a great instalment in the series and far, far better than the previous entry. The World War II opening with a young Harrison Ford, his unlined face pulled together from off-cuts and unused scenes from Raiders, captures the essence of the old movies. A sequence set at a ticker tape parade for the returning astronauts in the sixties works well and Mads Mikkelson makes a good villain. Let’s face it, Indiana Jones was made to fight Nazis, as indeed are we all.

But it’s the character stuff that really sings, an ageing, bereft Indy, detached from the things he loves, desperately trying to find meaning in a world that’s leaving him behind. We’re all going to experience that at some point.

Harrison Ford is great, as always, and this is a fitting send-off to a man who defined a certain kind of heroism.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina

I’ve seen Ex Machina four times now and each time I’ve had a different response, which is the mark of a good, complex movie.

The first time I was disappointed because it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. But that was more about me than the film and as such a poor judgment.

For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a three-way chamber piece about a tech billionaire, the artificial intelligence he’s invented and shaped in the form of an attractive woman, and the naive young man invited into their world to see if the AI passes the Turing Test and is to all intents and purposes a functional human.

The AI, played by Alicia Vikander, connects with the new guy as any young heterosexual couple would, playing on the subtle connections of attraction, the eye contact, the body language, the shared moments.

It becomes a thousand times more terrifying when you imagine the AI as a lawnmower, which is what it essentially is. A cold, impersonal machine that is very good at understanding what it takes to lure lovelorn, desperate humans.

Prescient. And right now, perfectly summing up the world we’re entering where all the rules are changed and you can no longer trust your own eyes.

But this time I saw it less about technology and more about simple human relationships. None of us can tell the true nature of the people we’re interacting with. If they’re good at putting on masks, understanding our psychology, pulling our strings, we are all potentially someone’s plaything. If they’re worming their way into our emotional lives for their own ends, we may end up defenceless.

Human beings can often be as terrifying as impersonal computer intelligence.

Good film.

Blue Sky Social – The Best Twitter Rival

Blue Sky Social App

You will want to check this out. I was invited to be one of the first 20k users on Blue Sky Social, the new Twitter competitor, and have had the chance to test it out during its beta mode.

Though it’s still an invite-only walled garden with just 50k users it’s easy to see even at this stage that it’s going to have a huge impact when it finally goes public.

It looks like Twitter, it acts like Twitter, it just doesn’t have that toxic taste and the unpleasant reek of White Nationalism and Anti-Semitism, or indeed the Putin cheerleading.

Blue Sky was actually developed within Twitter by that company’s founder Jack Dorsey as the future of social media, a federated system of independent islands in the turbulent ocean of the internet which could never be bought by any billionaire.

When Elon Musk took over Twitter, Dorsey took Blue Sky Social with him when he exited. Dorsey is now an investor but the company is run by CEO Jay Graber who’s done remarkable work with a small team laying the tracks as the engine rolls.

There are plenty of big ideas under the deceptively Twitterish paint job. Not the least that users will own their profile and content and be able to move it to any other social media network.

The team is currently building strong moderation to eliminate the kind of abuse that has become part of the scenery on Twitter and it won’t launch publicly till that’s ready.

I love it there. The conversations are great and I’ve made lots of new friends. As you would expect, the early user base is very tech heavy, but that’s changing fast. More writers, journalists, artists and musicians have signed up over the last few days.

And perhaps the biggest seal of approval is how many heavy hitters have now made it their home: Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, James Gunn, Rian Johnson, Neil Gaiman and more…

When it does finally launch I can see Blue Sky Social being the key social media app for many users. I’ll post more here when a public launch is imminent.

The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke

The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke by Richard Dadd

For those who missed it first time, here’s Neil Gaiman’s introduction to my novella The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, which picked up the British Fantasy Award. Posted here because I’ll be getting the story back into print shortly, after multiple requests (it was a limited edition collectors’ book) and once again to thank Neil for taking the time to write it.

Read it here.

Twice Cursed – New Story

Twice Cursed

I have a new short story in this anthology which should be in bookshops soon, one of my rare fantasy tales (or rare for the moment).

Twice Cursed, with the strapline Unhappily Ever After, features some of the leading writers of the imagination conjuring up stories about curses, both modern day and in the traditional fairytale style.

Here you’ll find work by Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris, Joe Hill and more. It’s been put together by expert editors Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane and is published by Titan Books.

My contribution wins the unnecessarily long title award: The Old Stories Hide Secrets Deep Inside Them and concerns a modern day archaeological dig on an isolated Scottish island.

Technosignatures Discovered From Nearby Stars

Machine learning – a subset of AI – has identified eight technosignatures in the search for life in the universe. The previously undetected “signals of interest” from five nearby stars were buried in data that had already been picked up by telescopes.

The research has just been published in Nature Astronomy.

You can find more here.

Alice In Borderland

Alice in Borderland is a phenomenal piece of work from Netflix and one of the best things the streamer has done recently. After a mysterious event, a group of people find themselves in a series of games that they have to win to survive.

Simple premise, but it hides what is thoroughly 21st century storytelling in a way that so few have mastered. Neither high brow nor low, it manages to be endlessly thrilling, hugely affecting emotionally and ultimately deeply profound.

It’s deceptively clever in that it’s intelligence is not overt and only really comes to light as the final credits roll. This is something that UK and US network TV can’t do with it’s 20th century one size fits all approach.

Based on Haro Aso’s manga it’s gory in a way that only the Japanese seem to do, but the focus on character throughout makes this element less of a point. Jeopardy is at everyone’s shoulder all the time, as it is in life. The echoes of Alice in Wonderland are there for a reason.

Imagination is stitched through it, again in a way that UK/US broadcasters no longer do. Their shrinking audience prefers people shouting at each other in kitchens. The show looks fantastic – undoubtedly loads of greenscreen but none of it is obvious – and all in the cast excel. Huge attention to detail. I bet it cost a lot.

I never really binge shows, but I whipped through the second season in two days. That’s the story wrapped up, a novel not a serial, with all the themes sharpened and landing hard.

The Old Ways

There’s a network of hidden tracks in the UK which is thousands of years old yet which remains invisible to most people.

Holloways are deep trenches – sometimes about fifteen feet deep – which look like mere lines of hedges from the fields but become visible from the air. They’re old drovers’ routes and trade paths worn deep into the soil and the sandstone by the constant movement of cattle and people over millennia. Some date back to the Neolithic.

As the tracks eroded into gullies, they created a unique temperate ecology in the sunken depths that allows rare plants such as spreading bellflowers, naval wort and hearts tongue ferns to thrive.

Many of the holloways have legends attached. Robert Macfarlane tracks along some of them in his book The Old Ways and there’s a certain frisson to realise you’re following in 2,000-year-old footsteps.

The name comes from the Old English ‘hola weg’ which means ‘sunken road’. This week Natural England embarked on a survey to quantify all the holloways, many of which have not been recorded. There are hundreds in Dorset alone. Many are overgrown with nettles and briar and have been impassable and unexplored for decades.

Nobody knows the full extent of the network, but the 3D survey will map it and also record the rich hidden environment the holloways maintain.