BOOKS Quarantine Jim Crace (Penguin) This taut masterpiece, shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize, examines the 40 days and nights of fasting undertaken by Christ on his journey to enlightenment, using the experiences of six others who find themselves near the cave in which he decided to starve himself to death. Four of these individuals have also come to fast (although not until death) to undertake a quarantine during which they respectively hope to find faith; a cure for cancer; deliverance from childlessness; and release from insanity. The two others, Musa, a sadistic and bloated merchant of insatiable and violent sexual appetite, and his unfortunate wife, Miri, are there by chance, abandoned by their fellows when Musa falls apparently fatally ill. But Musa is miraculously cured by Jesus, and during the period of the various parties' quarantine, the gross merchant is plagued by a need to encounter the thin Galilean who took death from him. Unwittingly playing the part of Satan, Musa offers Jesus food and water, riches and all kinds of temptations in order that he leave his cave and talk, and it is only Christ's faith that keeps him from the sweetmeats and on the righteous path towards death by starvation and lack of water. This book might have been expected to encounter all sorts of opposition from more conservative Christian groups. But Jim Crace's work has attracted no great scandals, perhaps because even fundamental Christians can appreciate the beauty with which he describes the agonies of Jesus' fast and the sublime poetry of his descriptions of the revelations offered by privation. The manner in which Crace describes the spirit as it separates itself from the body is nothing short of hypnotic. MUSIC Tubthumper Chumbawamba (EMI) From the moment you clap your eyes on the baby with the huge digitally enhanced mouth on the album cover, you know you are in for something special from indie popsters Chumbawamba. This is pop tune writing at its very best, chock-a-block with catchy choruses and guitar licks. Each song chugs along with a rare musical optimism, rather surprising when you consider the lyrical content consists of cautionary tales about the abuse of alcohol, the ills of political extremism, and the horrors of suburban existence. But then miserable lyrics set to jaunty guitar-based pop never did The Smiths any harm, and Tubthumper ought to find a big enough market to do well. Time Out Of Mind Bob Dylan (Columbia) Most pop stars do not die, they just fade away, but this particular popular musician just refuses to take a final bow. Fortunately, unlike the Stones and Duran Duran, Bob Dylan is still capable of cobbling together an intelligent song. Always better appreciated for his lyrics than his music (which has never been particularly complex or brilliant), Dylan proves he still has not lost his gift for a pleasing couplet. It has been a while since he brought out an album (1990's Under The Red Sky was his last genuine new release not counting back-catalogue compilations and the like) but it has been worth the wait. Working with producer Daniel Lanois, he has put together a collection of predominantly slow blues numbers that are down, dirty, and from the dark side. A fine return to form. VIDEO Star Trek: First Contact Yet another Star Trek movie. Gone are the days when the cinema release of a Star Trek film commanded a heap of media hype. As the series continues, the movies look increasingly like made-for-TV films. Of course, that does not mean to say they are not worth a watch on a desperately boring Sunday afternoon. In this episode, Earth is threatened by the Borgs, galactic thugs who go around the universe, trying to change all life into machine-based cyborg clones. Fans of the TV series will remember Enterprise skipper Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) has already had a close encounter with the Borgs and emerged from it with his body barely intact. Here he comes directly in contact with the Borg leader, a sort of Margaret Thatcher figure except she uses cyber-surgery rather than political threats to make her male followers do her bidding. Surely enough, she gets the hots for Picard, but not before she gets off with annoying robot and emotional cripple Data. A total no-brainer, but fine if you are a fan of sci-fi and you want to veg out.