Speed Read - packing bags for a new life on Meteor Lounge
Sector: News
Speed Read

There is another world. Or at least there might be. Wolf 1069b is a newly discovered planet located in the Cygnus constellation although given the absence of left and right in three-dimension space, Google Maps will struggle with plotting you a route. It’s roughly the same size as Earth, could conceivably have water on its surface, has a mean surface temperature close to our own and it orbits its own star, albeit in a very nippy 15 rather 365 days. What’s most exciting the kind of people that get excited about this stuff is that it’s in the “habitable zone”, a theoretical (at least for now) safe space in which temperatures are moderate enough to sustain life.

A couple of caveats before you start packing your cases: Wolf 1096b does not turn on its axis so half of its surface is always in daylight whilst the other is in perpetual darkness (nothing that a decent pair of curtains and / or a torch couldn’t cope with) and there’s also the challenge of its distance from Earth. It’s a not-insubstantial 31 light years from our own planet which would mean at least four service station stops (and once you get out past Mars, the quality REALLY drops; if you thought Bridgwater services were shoddy, wait till you have to go for a wee in Outer Rings of Saturn Northbound . . . .) and several packets of wine gums.  The journey, as the Daily Star helpfully pointed out this week, would take 30 years “if we could travel at 670,616,629 mph”. My aging Vauxhall Corsa was given a pretty decent bill of health after its recent service but such speeds, I suspect, are behind it.

And what are scientists calling this potential new home? Clearly, Wolf 1069b is a non-starter, branding wise. Well, some are calling it . . . wait for it . . . Earth 2. Which is a TERRIBLE IDEA. Even Wolf 1069b is a better name but if you’re going to name a planet after one of the Gladiators from the 90s TV show then at least go for Saracen. Or Jet. Or better still, don’t name it after one of the Gladiators from the 90s TV show. So how about something cool like Magnitude? Or Lazarus? Or, if you really want to lean into what’s clearly a list of terrible nightclubs, The Meteor Lounge?

Humans! Get your ticket for a brand-new life on Meteor Lounge (£10 entry before 10.30pm, two-for-one on spirits every Tuesday, no trainers or sports casual).

That was meant to be a pithy intro to this week’s Speed Read and it’s clearly failed in that intention but there is something eternally appealing about the thought of starting again somewhere else. Especially after what’s been another tough week here on Earth 1.

There was a typically interesting episode of the News Agents podcast earlier this week (a podcast that is OFFICIALLY recommended by the Friday Speed Read™) discussing how you provide humanitarian aid to countries under oppressive regimes – in short, you just do, even though it’s fraught with difficulty. And my goodness does Syria and Turkey need help. The horrendous scenes in the aftermath of the earthquake were, of course, featured on all the front pages this week with singular, odds-defying miracles (“saved from hell quake”) the only bulwark against unimaginable horror. 20,000 dead, at least. Whole communities razed.

In the UK, the search for Nicola Bulley continued this week and the media maintained its, admittedly understandable, fascination in the case. Using the word “mystery” makes the whole thing sound like entertainment when it’s actually a tragedy but the unexplainable nature of her disappearance lends the story a compelling quality. Later in the week, having failed to find anything in the river we know she sat next to, the search moved to the coast. Thus far there’s still no trace. Her family must be going through a hell the like of which we cannot possibly fathom.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in the UK for an unannounced visit on Wednesday of this week. Dressed in his familiar combat fatigues, he met the Prime Minster, addressed MPs at Westminster and had an audience with the King. Rightfully lauded wherever he went, this seemingly unshakable, endlessly brave and inspiring leader was here for really one reason: to ask for UK warplanes to help in the fight against the brutalities of the Russian invasion. Will get them? Who knows? It’s thankfully not me having to decide. But in the weighing of risk between supplying and any reprisal from Russia on the UK, there’s much that could go incredibly wrong.

In far less important news this week, millions was wiped from Google’s share price following an advert for its forthcoming AI bot Bard. In a spectacular failure of proofing, one greater even than Ottawa County in Michigan’s printing of 170,000 voting slips emblazoned with the title “Pubic Ballot”, Google’s advert showed Bard incorrectly answering a question. No big deal maybe but when you’re up against the runaway success of Chat GPT, it’s not a great look getting basic facts wrong.

There’s not sufficient flab in the remaining wordcount to discuss the whole ChatGPT phenomenon (I can reassure you that the Speed Read remains written by a middle-aged man from Devon, at least for the moment) but the overthrow of the entire human race by our robot overlords won’t happen just yet as ChatGPT is not currently working. Phew.

Liz Truss. I’m not going to spend much time writing about Liz Truss because frankly life is far too short to engaged with her almost super-hero levels of self-belief and chasm-like absence of contrition for nearly destroying the entire economy and putting hundreds of pounds on mortgage repayments at a time when so many people are struggling. Her re-emergence into political debate this week was good for only thing: it allowed John Crace in Guardian to end his column with a R.E.M reference. Which of course is small beer indeed but it made me very happy.

Burt Bacharach died this week aged 94. With lyricist Hal David, Bacharach wrote some of the best popular music of all time. Even if you think you don’t know any Bacharach songs, you know some Bacharach songs. I Say A Little Prayer. Walk on By. I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me.

Anyone, who’s ever tried to write a song will have realised how very hard it is. And most successful songwriters will never get close to the melodic genius of Bacharach. Easy Listening? He most certainly was.

And as a theme for battered, struggling and bruised Earth 1, you can’t really do better than this.