Books: I know, we really should have finished listening to Janelle Monae's The Memory Librarian by now. You'll recall that this time last month, we'd made it through two of the five stories in the audiobook, and were feeling a little dissatisfied with it all. We drifted away from the night-time audiobook routine for about two weeks, and if you've been paying attention you'll probably have worked out why that is. But we've now heard the third and fourth stories, and they're a big improvement on the first two. For a start, they're shorter, and much more story-driven: for another, they both add an interesting wrinkle to Monae's dystopia by considering how memory - the major theme of the book - is all a matter of perception, and how time can alter that perception in unexpected ways. In Timebox (co-written with Eve L. Ewing), a couple discovers an unusual feature of their new apartment, and it threatens to tear them apart: in Save Changes (co-written with Yohanca Delgado), two sisters trapped in their flat with their renegade mother experiment with ways of escaping their situation. With all the backstory out of the way, these two tales can relax and present some smart science fiction ideas along with characters you seriously care about. I'm slightly disappointed by the bait-and-switch of having Monae herself only read the first story, though: Bahni Turpin's reading style for the rest of them is a downgrade by comparison, though she calms down a bit as the book progresses. I may report on the final story next month, or I may have moved on to something else by then.
Radio: Oooh, now there's a category that rarely gets used around these parts. Although a couple of months ago, we listened to an audiobook that was just a repackaged old Radio 4 comedy series, Hordes Of The Things. I haven't experienced much radio comedy in the last couple of decades, which is surprising given how much of it I used to consume as a teenager. (Mind you, you could say the same thing about Birds Eye Steaklets.) So for me, there's a nostalgic tinge to settling down in front of the wireless to listen to Damned Andrew, a four-part sitcom co-written by and starring comedian Andrew O'Neill. It's safe to say that nobody else could have created a show like this: the story of a non-binary vegan metalhead who accidentally opens up a portal to the underworld while drunk and has to somehow close it again. It sticks closely to the Hitch-Hiker/Hordes fantasy comedy template, with complex sound design and a narrator tying the scenes together (although you feel that Alan Moore - yes, that one - could have been given a bit more to do in the role). We're halfway through the series at the time of writing, and I'm finding the pacing a bit off-putting - sequences where there's too much happening crash into other sequences where there's not much going on at all. You feel that the story (surreal diversions and all) is taking priority over the jokes: there are jokes, with at least a couple of great big laughs per episode, but the show could use a few more. Still, it's a series with a voice all of its own, and I'm keen to see how it develops over the rest of the run.
Video: Actually, the idea of 'video' as a category for a review feels almost as obsolete as 'radio' these days. But I can't be bothered setting up a new category for Things You Watch At Home On Streaming, so it stays. Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is a Japanese film released in the UK by the good people at Third Window, whose last big hit was One Cut Of The Dead - a low-budget bit of silliness built around a huge sequence shot in a single take. So you can see why they snapped up Two Minutes, an even lower budget bit of silliness that's entirely shot in a single take (or so it looks, anyway). The premise of Junta Yamaguchi's film is simplicity itself: the owner of a cafe discovers one day that the monitor in his upstairs room is showing events happening in the downstairs cafe - not live, but what will happen two minutes into the future. You could imagine a decent little sketch being whipped up from that idea, but Makoto Ueda's script gets a full 70 minutes of inventive joy out of it, adding more and more complications as characters try to work out how this glitch can be exploited. You can enjoy it as a story, and simultaneously marvel at the feats of split-second timing required by cast and crew to make it all work. Coincidentally (or not), Third Window are releasing an older film this Monday with another Makoto Ueda script, entitled Summer Time Machine Blues. I think we can see a theme developing here.