Archive for the 'Reviews & Criticism' Category

Gore Vidal Has Left the Stage 1925 – 2012

August 2nd, 2012

Charles McGrath’s New York Times obituary for Gore Vidal calls him “the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization.”

For anyone who has read Vidal’s work with delight and care, it is hard to believe that Vidal saw the United States as possessing a civilization that could end. Power, yes: the nation has great power, wielded without regret and directed anywhere those who possess it choose. But the USA, a civilized nation? Debatable, as Vidal saw it.

That the country could at times be a great deal of fun, or at least amusing, and a pre-eminent provider of entertainment — that Vidal would agree with, laughing all the while. Like Aaron Burr, who as protagonist opened Vidal’s extended fictional portrait of the carpeted halls of power, he enjoyed himself, and laughed more than most — at the nation, at us, at the power brokers and even at himself.

His wide-ranging body of work is like no other, as we see in his obituary. He had the courage of his convictions, or perhaps the courage of one born into the families that determine our national and personal fates, but who was fated by his lesser status among them — relatively poor, proudly sexually transgressive, highly educated in the arts, aesthetics and intellectual analysis — never to be a serious political player himself. He therefore had nothing to lose from honesty, and he was openly, aggressively, fluidly, sexual at a time when few could afford to be, and he wrote non-fiction and outrageous comic fiction both with post-gender attitude.

Narratives of Empire, his heptalogy of historical novels published between 1968 and 2000, traces the United States from the Age of Burr through the Age of Mass Media. Itreveals more than many non-fiction histories about how power is inherited, used, and guarded in America. These seven novels of our national political life bristle with ideas and even historical facts that were not discussed — or admitted to — by either critics or historians, by and large, and certainly not by politicians.

Vidal compared himself on at least one occasion to an obvious precursor: historian Henry Adams, who as the grandson and great-grandson of American presidents was present not only in the hallways of power but also in the homes where the power brokers lived and socialized. Adams’s influence was not always positive: in 1876, Vidal avenged his precursor’s personal prejudice against President Ulysses Grant in a way that was unworthy of most of his historical work — mean, petty, nasty, and a historical lie.

Like Adams, Vidal will probably be less remembered for Narratives of Empire than for his lesser achievements – theater, film, and television appearances, feuds with other writers. Adams is most often remembered today for the rather historically irrelevant cultural musings of Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres and for his highly selective personal memoir The Education of Henry Adams. While Education is empty of his wife’s suicide and the decades they were together, and leaves out his D.C. salon and ever-changing circle of ‘nieces’, it is worth reading, if only for Adams’s account of being private secretary to his father, Francis Adams, who as minister of the Mission to St. James in London was appointed by Lincoln to ensure that Britain never recognize the Confederacy. But Adams’s grand works are his histories of the Jefferson and Madison administrations, and possibly “Napoleon I At San Domingo” (in Adams’s Collected Essays, 1891), the most clear-eyed and even admiring assessment written by a white American historian in the nineteenth century of General Toussaint Louverture and of what the San Domingan revolution meant for the history of the United States.

These two writers offer a grand composite vision of the history of the United States. They were there, and if they weren’t there, their relatives were. They brought us their visions of our shared past; they have themselves become part of the historical record.

Biblio:

Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire, which I list in historical order, not in the order they were published: Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington D.C., The Golden Age.

Henry Adams’s Collected Essays; History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson; History of the United States of America During the Administrations of James Madison; The Education of Henry Adams.

*Apocalypse to Go* by Katherine Kerr

February 1st, 2012

 

The Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher DAW has been publishing quite a few  of the best writers with which the field currently is blessed, including, but  not limited to, this year’s World Fantasy Award winner, Nnedi Okorafor, Tanya  Huff and Patrick Rothfuss. Katharine Kerr, creator of the great Deverry Fantasy series, is another DAW writer giving us  consistently highly entertaining, smart and very well written books.

Katharine Kerr’s latest series, the Nola O’Grady Novels, are, in order of  publication — License to Enscorcell, Water to Burn, and the  most recent, published 02/17/12, Apocalypse to Go. The series is  urban fantasy, located in an alternate San Francisco. Among these novels’  strengths is the strong sense of real place, despite it being an alternate San  Francisco, situated in a universe different from ours in many respects. This  palpable sense of reality helps the reader to effortlessly suspend disbelief and  submerge in the story.

One of the urban fantasy conventions is the protagonist generally is paired  with an equal but different companion. This would be Israeli Interpol agent  Ari Nathan, Irish Nola’s partner in the super-secret supernatural government  agency that is secret even from the (many) other government secret agencies. The  conflict of potential divided loyalties is equal to the conflict at times as to  who is giving orders, who is in charge and who makes the decisions. This makes  for an interesting relationship, which becomes even more interesting as Nola’s  close-knit, if difficult, Irish family becomes a part of the mix of diverse  worlds, supernatural creatures, murders, kidnappings and missions to save the  world.

While Kerr’s Nola O’Grady novels do conform to the conventions of urban
fantasy, she puts a stamp of originality on each of them. The originality partly rises out of her fine grasp of how novels are plotted and structured, and partly through Kerr’s splendid command of language. You hear it in the way the characters talk to us the readers, talk to and about each other. The interchanges and observations are conventionally genre ‘smart,’ yet on Kerr’s pages they come through as naturally hip, not self-consciously wise-cracking attempts to talk the supernatural noir talk. But then the author lives in the state where noir and its language on the page and on the screen were invented to large degree.

Because of the unexpected actions of Nola’s family, and also because the language in this world of Kerr’s balances tension and lightness, this reader has often been put in mind of the first and best novels of Roger Zelazny’s wonderful Amber series. I vividly recall reading non-stop Nine Princes in Amber the first time, hardly able to stop and take a breath.  This is high praise. Go Kerr! Go Nola!

X-posted Fox Home and Fox Valley

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

December 22nd, 2011

Harkness, Deborah. (2011) A Discovery of Witches. Vol. 1, All Souls Trilogy. Penguin, USA, NY.

Trade publication December 27th. The All Souls Trilogy’s second volume, Shadow of Night, comes out this summer of 2012. A Discovery has been optioned by Warner Bros. for a film treatment.

A copy of A Discovery of Witches paperback is available from Penguin.  Just comment below, I’ll organize a drawing of the commentators’ names, announce the winner here, and forward your contact info to the Penguin publicity department.

There are no spoilers in the following thoughts about A Discovery of Witches, or at least no more than what a reader finds in cover and jacket copy.

Cross-posted to Fox Home and Fox Hall.

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A Discovery of Witches is an engrossing science fiction & fantasy novel, as opposed to an engrossing science fiction or fantasy novel, because it is both science fiction and fantasy. Its only contemporary rival for excellence in this small science fiction and fantasy crossbreed is this year’s World Fantasy Award winner, Who Fears Death (2010, DAW) by Nnedi Okorafor.

Within A Discovery’s pages the reader will engage with the history of science, philosophical and alchemical treatises, Darwin and DNA, political and material history, medieval Romances and their nexis with fantastic literature, and the great Elizabethan playwrights.  The author’s day job is as professor of history at the University of Southern California. Her scholarly work includes The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (2007, Yale University Press), which was the winner of the Pfizer Prize for Best Book in the History of Science from 2005-2007, presented by the History of Science Society. The reader doesn’t have to know this about the author, however, for A Discovery to emit all the allure of old jewels and the enticement of bright chemicals in combination with precious metals.

Diana Bishop is our protagonist, a young woman with whom an ancient vampire falls in love, in one of the reading rooms of Oxford’s Bodelian Library. So, it’s hard then, not to have Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight come to mind.

Sarah Seltzer at Alternet recently tried to get at aspects of Twilight that some adult readers find troubling:

“Violent Vampire Sex, Demon-Babies and Overwhelming Female Desire. Twilight is saturated with sexist tropes–to the point of being disturbing. But that disturbing element is compelling, too . . . . “

 . . . . But as for the substance of her wants, therein lies the perversely haunting twist. I’d argue that Bella’s desires are direct responses to the patriarchy we actually live in. In fact, Meyer has created for her heroine an inverted version of our unjust society. In this invented, inverted world, Bella is allowed to want sex, and vocalize it, and initiate it, while her partner is the gatekeeper who makes sure she is safe and married before she gets “hurt.” In her world, the men around her urge her to abort her fetus for her own safety, but she gets to “choose” to deliver it even though it kills her. In her world, her boyfriend can urge her to attend college and better herself while she can push for an early marriage–and be right! In her world, she can reject her body and trade it in for a new one that is agile, strong, lithe. Her choices are consistently to fall into the arms of the patriarchy and trust that it will catch her, and her faith is validated: she gets a perfect husband, angelic child, new body.

What if we could do this, the fantasy suggests? What if we could just will ourselves to accept the prescribed roles society gives us (damsel in distress, object of protection, vessel for childbearing) and make it okay through the power of our wills? And what if the men in our society were horrified by their power: physical, social, sexual, and curbed it themselves and we didn’t constantly have to be on our guard?

Some critics dismissed A Discovery of Witches when the ARCs and other promotion for the novel appeared, as more of the paranormal / urban fantasy / romance generic tropes: the special cipher a la Bella, helpless as can be but firming her feisty chin as her gorgeous vampire boyfriend indulges and protects her. Most of all the romantic male primary loves Bella because he can’t help himself — the smell of her special blood is just so enticing! His love object lacks any other qualities that tend to attract love, such as character and personality, curiosity, intelligence, education, knowledge of the world, interests or achievements, even a sense of humor. Bella is special because — other exceptional figures such as vampires and werewolves love her, and they love her because of how she smells. A Discovery’s romantic male lead is Matthew, a 1500 year old vampire of vast wealth, intellectual brilliance and military prowess. He adores how Diana smells, he protects her. All his family loves Diana. Not the least of his attractions, Matthew owns his own jet and helicopters — yes helicopters, plural. So, in the initial pages Ms. Harkness seems to have broken out the parts of the Twilightiad that are compelling wish fulfillment for the female adolescent reader.  Diana’s a witch who is special even among other witches, though in childhood, Diana chose to secede from her witch heritage, refusing even the minimum training in spells that all witches, however powerful or weak, are obligated to receive.

However, A Discovery of Witches isn’t what that description leads one to expect. Diana narrates in first person, providing only as much information about herself as we need, when we need it. Mostly she’s asking herself questions of history, of science, of families – all things outside herself, things that are bigger than she is, even though the author does make sure we know those around Diana regard her as special. Still, Diana’s specialness doesn’t overwhelm the narration since the author’s good judgment breaks up Diana’s voice with third person point of view of various other protagonists. There’s sly humor — every time Matthew picks up Diana, or thinks about how she smells, I swear Harkness is winking at Bella and Edward, and at us too. Whereas Bella wants to never grow up, Diana is living an adult’s life, though so far she’s been denying herself much of what she’s earned by her own efforts. Diana’s family and Matthew’s family bond through their mutual love of the two lovers. Merging families of creatures who are unlike and traditionally at odds is purposeful in terms the Great Mysteries we’re delving into. Diana’s specialness is because she’s a hardworking, disciplined scholar who delights in things scientific and historic, things beautiful, who is loyal, courageous, possesses integrity and her own sense of honor. That her smell happens to so appeal to Matthew is langniappe — he smells just as good to her. If you wish to get subtextual, you can say the way they smell to each other signifies that together they possesses the qualities they need for the great quest of the trilogy. They are equally matched lovers, who don’t waste their precious energies engaging in the contrivances of – “I hate you but I love you, O what will I /we do, separations and mis-communications.” That Diana and Matthew are matched agencies who are true lovers is essential to the plot of this novel, and will play an even greater role as the trilogy progresses. They are the Lovers of the Tarot and alchemy, whose conjucio could have a conceptio that might redeem the world. A Disovery of Witches is, among other things, a quest to discover the beginnings of all things in order to continue all things. One of the essential questions is, “Is immortality the same as never dying?” There are many ghosts in A Discovery, most of them Diana’s relatives. They speak to her, and she to them.  Are they persons then?

The four sentient species of A Discovery are called “creatures.” The creatures are divided among vampires, witches, daemons and humans. There is council called the Congregation that governs their dealings with each other, with places for three members each representing vampires, witches and daemons. As there are no human representatives seated with the Congregation there are no humans in A Discovery of Witches (at least in this first volume of the trilogy, other than spear carriers who, generally, are besottted with the individuals of the other creatures who are our protagonists and antagonists. This is the hierarchy of A Discovery’s world, a hierarchy like that of the world view that preceeded and remained in most places contemporaneous with alchemy’s groping toward the scientific method: God, angels, humans, animals. Or in terms of worldly power, the Pope and his Church, King and his warrior nobles, the merchants, finally serfs and peasants. In A Discovery, vampires are the aristocratic military rank of the creatures, witches the material intelligence, daemons the creative intelligence, and humans are the serfs. Humans are relegated to useful servants – or food — though the other three creature species conceal themselves from humans since humans have long outbred the other three divisions of creatures.

Eceptionalism is the potent point of much science fiction and fantasy. Whether YA or adult, the protagonist is part of that imaginary world’s 1%, or if not starting there, will end up in that bracket. Thus, if the science fiction field really is an American conceptio, i.e. U.S. invention, as is often claimed, this exceptionalism reflects our ingrained national self-regard. This can be troublesome when looked at closely. What else that can be disturbing within the context of novels like A Discovery, is that the exceptional achievements in history, the arts and sciences, all, or most, are the production of these supernatural creatures. Within A Discovery humans have nothing to do with even the ending WWII. Entertainments like A Discovery of Witches, or Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, in which significant events of good or evil of our own recorded history are attributed to supernatual agency seem increasingly a given. Humans are not responsible for what, in fact, we know we are responsible, whether the plays of Shakespeare or slavery.

Food for thought indeed, and A Discovery of Witches provides us a banquet of ideas to consider. For instance, there are the questions of time. What is the past? Where is it? Perhaps fairyland is the past, the dimension that we can enter, if we know the right things? Diana – and we — have a guide into these unknown historic eras, Matthew, who assures Diana, that in the past she will yearn with a passion she cannot now in present time even imagine — hot water. This has me impatient for the next volume, Shadow of Night, to see where these questions lead Harkness and her characters.

 

Comicon 2010 round-up and wrap-up, Saturday, Sunday

July 26th, 2010

Continuing the Comicon 2010 report from the previous post….

Saturday: I had some thoughts of seeing the Chuck panel, as I was there early enough, but early enough for the panel and early enough for the line are two different things and the line for Ballroom 20 was beyond insane, so I decided to go over to the Indigo Ballroom in the Hilton which is generally less impacted and see the program track there.  En route, I witnessed the line for Hall H, where the movie panels go on.  It had overflowed it’s already insane bounds and gone over across the street, wrapped around the park where the Clash of the Titans games promos were set up and extended into another dimension I think.  The games in the park were all nice: You could have your face painted and have a picture taken in cut-outs as one of Medusa’s victims, you could bounce on a giant trampoline (which did a number on my knee last year at con), you could play boffer wars in a bouncy arena, and you could even climb a rock wall with a cable safety harness.  Almost no one was playing the games, preferring to stand in line, so I decided I’d try the rock wall, which was free.  Unfortunately, I’d sprained my LCL a few months ago and about ten feet up the rock wall I felt it complain so I wussed out.  The guy who was supervising the wall looked more approving after I compared knee surgery scars with him.  In any case, I got a souvenir fan in place of a shield or a medusa headdress and went on to the line for the Indigo Ballroom, which was fortunately short.

I was there in time for the panel for Leverage, which I’d only vaguely heard of.  They had free MASTERMIND and GRIFTER T-shirts.  I took MASTERMIND, of course.  The room was packed and I had an extremely excited fifty-something fangirl next to me who was sqeeing with delight over seeing her favorite actors, one of whom I then noted was Christian Kane who I’d previously seen on Angel and who mentioned that he has a new music debut on iTunes of some song played on the show (explaining why his character Lindsay on Angel went off with a guitar at one point–they were incorporating a talent of the actor into the character) Wil Wheaton was also playing this seasons’ guest villain, Chaos. It looks like a great show, and has a nice simple premise: a gang of modern-day Robin Hoods pulling a heist each week against some bad guys who deserve to get ripped off and then have their money given to charity.  I now have to set my DVR for another show.

Next was the Venture Brothers panel.  It’s a fun cartoon I’ve watched some episodes of and I’ll probably watch a few more.  The actors on the panel were entertaining and generally gonzo, as one might expect.

Then came the Sanctuary panel.  I’ve enjoyed the show, and the panel was enjoyable as well.  They talked a good bit about the Bollywood dance that figured into the last season finale, and also mentioned how they’ve set up a charity which has been helping various groups around the world.  The guy next to me started recording the whole show on his camera, but it wasn’t going to be an unsteady shot, because he’d brought an actual tripod.  I looked around and he wasn’t the only one.

Then came the panel for The Guild, who could teach the rest of Hollywood something serious about work ethic and how to please your fans.  Aside from being at their booth throughout the con with all the actors present doing continuous signings from what I could see, they started the panel with the producer thanking all the fans and telling some production details that were genuinely interesting (as opposed to the twaddle from the guy for the Falling Skies panel, for example).  They then introduced the actors and segued neatly to showing the third episode the current season because they assumed everyone had watched the first two.  I hadn’t, but I can remedy that now, it was fun to see Wil Wheaton back as the villain Faux who had ended up as Codex’s love interest at the end of last season.  They then gave out buttons with the bodice ripper painting of Codex and Faux shown in the episode as a funny bit.  Then, when you wouldn’t think they could top that, they said they’d show the fourth episode, though the editing wasn’t quite done.  So we start into a nice seen with Codex and Zaboo in her bedroom which suddenly organically turns into a Bollywood extravaganza called “Game On.”

Wow.  That was some serious showmanship, and not just for the music video, which was amazing, but for the reveal to the fans.  Obviously they planned this well in advance and I’m pleased to see it such a success.

The guy with the tripod then packed up and left, but I then stayed around to watch a bit of the Community panel.  It was fun and whacky and basically what you’d expect for a comedy set in a community college with Chevy Chase as one of the professors, but after getting a free community college membership card with a discount for buying the DVD, I decided I was tired of sitting and so left too, going back to the convention center to see the art show, which was underwhelming, and more of the art on in the dealer’s room, which was not.

One artist I should point out to everyone is Echo Chernik.  She does some amazing art nouveau illustrations.  Another is Jeremy Bastain who does the Cursed Pirate Girl comics.

I then picked up with Albert and a couple of his friends and we went to Dick’s Last Resort which was a good deal of fun, especially since they were into the Comicon spirit and the waiters were in costume.  Ours was dressed as a white Mr. T with a Brooklyn accent, which was entertaining, and the food was good.  Pete, who’d joined us for dinner late, told us about the really cool Tron set-up they’d had off-site from the convention center.  I wish I’d been able to see it, but there’s always too much stuff to see, but what he showed me on his camera was pretty amazing.  We ate and ordered too much, which in hindsight we shouldn’t have because the next stop was the House of Blues where one of my publishers, SmartPop, had invited us to a party.  There was a buffet with too much delicious food, and also copies of their latest essay anthology A Taste of True Blood which the editor, Leah Wilson, was signing for all the guests.  There was fun talk about anthologies and the usual convention party fun.

Sunday: The last day of the con, I decided to catch Ann and Jeff Vandermeer‘s panel where they talked about upcoming projects, including steam punk anthologies and various curious and whimsical things.  I then did the dealers room floor, snagging up various things that caught my eye as purchases for the final day sales and also getting the final day swag.

The most interesting/fun bit of swag came in the WETA Workshop booth where a guy got up on a chair and announced that in partnership with TheOneRing.net were doing a trivia contest based on The Hobbit. Now, I pride myself on having a semi-eidetic memory, so I thought my chances of winning something with trivia from a book I’d read over thirty years ago were not half bad if I played my cards right.  After flubbing one question, I got called on for another, wanting the names of two of the swords Bilbo found in the troll’s hoard.  Now, if I racked my brains I might have been able to recall the fancy elven names, but they just asked for names, so I immediately gave the orcish ones: “Biter and Beater!”  The Weta guy looked at me as if I’d gone slightly mad since he was reading the card and those were not the names he was looking at but I just grinned and nodded to the OneRing guy for arbitration, and he admitted that those indeed were two of the names for the swords.  Not the names they were looking for, but names from the book.  I was asked if I knew the elven name, which I didn’t, but a guy next to me did: “Glamdring and Orcrist!”  The OneRing guy decided that that question was sufficient to advance us both to the finals after we’d answered a couple other questions.

The final round was me, a woman, the elven scholar guy, and a kid who I expected had read the book recently.  The elven scholar won the first question, selecting a miniature shield as his prize, the kid then correctly said that Gandalf had asked for red wine in Bilbo’s house and got the map of New Zealand as Middle Earth, and I then answered the next question correctly and got my choice of fancy rubber Hobbit ears or a red T-shirt for TheOneRing.net with the slogon “Talk Nerdy to Me.”  I’m not much of a cosplayer, but a T-shirt in my size?  Excellent.

After that, Albert gave me a ride to the airport and my friend Michael picked me up.  All in all an excellent Comicon.

Comicon 2010 round-up and wrap-up, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

July 26th, 2010

I’m just back from the San Diego Comicon 2010.

I had considered doing a daily blog post and update, but that way lay madness or at least sleep deprivation and less con, so I’ll just do it now.

First off, a broad generalization: This appears to be a banner year for zombies and a notable year for family togetherness, and yes, we’re talking at the same time too.

Now on to specifics, in order of occurrence, not importance. I flew down Wednesday and was picked up by my friend Albert who was my guest for the con and in turn whose house guest I was. He’d already picked up our badges and since the airport was so close to the convention center, we hopped back and I got to see the last hour of preview night, whereupon I saw simultaneously the most impressive thing I saw at the con and the least impressive thing which were one and the same. The most impressive thing was the throne of Odin from the upcoming Thor movie. It’s this grand extravaganza that looks somewhat like a giant gold sword hilt (riffing, I think, on Odin supposedly having a sword suspended over his throne a la Damocles) with amazing Norse knotwork and steps and the impression that there were supposed to be valkyries perched all over portions of it like the Rockettes. However, on the throne itself was this cheap gold lame cushion that looked like it came from a ’70s porno. My guess is that Odin is going to wear some amazing fur cape and the set designer said not to bother because no one would ever see it, but it’s also going to be seen in thousands of photos as people lined up to take their pictures in it.

Regardless, I stopped by a few booths, notably Kingdom of Loathing and Girl Genius, picking up a few item cards at the first for my in-game clanmates and saying “hi” to the Foglios at the other.  The hall then closed and Albert and I went over to the bar at the Sheraton Suites to meet up with my friend Allison Lonsdale as well as her friends J. and Mel who do the Two Lumps webcomic.  Allison gave me the CD of “Live at Lestat’s” which I’d pre-ordered many years ago–and which she was glad to finally have out–and we had a good time (apart from my garlic intolerance and the unadvertised surprise garlic in the risotto, but they brought me mammoth coconut shrimp instead, so it all worked out).

Thursday we went to the con and I went off to The Power of Myth panel, which was an author track panel moderated by Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy.  The room was packed to the point of them turning people away and there were a number of interesting panelists, including my friend Seanan McGuire, and my friend and editor Esther Friesner who had been flown out for the con.  It was a very fun panel and moreover informative, with Seanan mentioning the Romany legend that a certain type of fey creature was known to steal your baking stone if you displeased it which had been modernized in her grandmother’s retelling to stealing your microwave.  Michael Scott also made mention of the fascinating and tragic detail that there were entire villages in Ireland that had lost their native folklore due to the inhabitants dying during the Potato Famine or emigrating to America.  However, when they emigrated, they brought the folklore with them.

After the panel I caught up with Esther and set up to meet with her for dinner.  I then looked at the program guide and decided that there was nothing else in particular I wanted to see that day so I decided to pace the floor of the dealers room to see everything, something I hadn’t done in years since it’s the size of two and a half football fields.  But I did it.

Walking the floor made me conclude that this is the year of the zombie.  There were enormous displays for The Walking Dead, both the original comic series and the new AMC adaptation.  I was able to gather that it follows some small-time sheriff’s officer who’s injured in a shoot-out then wakes up in a hospital after the zombie plague is already in full swing, a la 28 Days, but it also has the heartwarming family angle where he’s out to track down his wife and son and rescue them from the zombies.  There were also zombies visible in the large booth for a video game called Dead Speed which appears to involve some bad-ass in motorcycle leathers, zombie card and dice games for sale from Steve Jackson Games, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stuff at dozens of booths.

There was also more heartwarming family stuff in the form of No Ordinary Family which postulates that somewhat dumpy looking bald guy, played by Michael Chiklis, is married to super-hot MILF Julie Benz, and they have a boy and a girl, and then they’re in a plane which is caught in some super-uber-phlebotinum storm while they’re flying, which is pretty much the same origin story as The Fantastic Four.  Michael Chiklis even played The Thing in The Fantastic Four, so it’s really not a surprise that he gets the super-strength power.  Julie Benz’s Milf gets the Flash’s superspeed power, which is also reminiscent of The Incredibles.  To be different (for certain values of different) the daughter gets telepathy and the slacker son gets super-genius calculator powers.  I’m certain it’s hearwarming but it sure looks derivative.

I then got together with Esther for dinner and we went to the Gaslamp Strip Club which is so named because you grill your own steaks, which was good and fun.  After that I linked up with Albert and we hit Extraordinary Desserts, which were beautiful but too sweet for my taste, and went to the “From Dusk Till Shaun” party being hosted at El Camino on India Street.  It was the place that had previously been The Airport Lounge and it was kind of sad to see the 60-70s “golden age of air travel” be replaced by an admittedly cool Mexican bar.  I saw my friend Storm who I hadn’t seen in a year and it was then time to call it a night.

Friday The day began with the panel I was on, again hosted by Maryelizabeth, With Great Power Come Great Stories.  I was there representing for Wild Cards, as were Carolyn Spector and surprise extra guest Paul Cornell.  The room was about two-thirds full, but would have had more people if the interminable line for ballroom 20 weren’t routinely barring access to the rest of the hall.  One of the panelists was even late because of it.  Regardless, the panel went well, and I got the closing remark, “But sometimes you need to use the insanity widget,” which Maryelizabeth then echoed as a good final line and adjourned us to the signing area.

After the signing, Carolyn and I went to The Field and had lunch, talked Wild Cards and writing in general, and had a good time, then went back to the convention center and went around the dealer’s room until my feet got too sore and I went off to see a panel and sit down.

While I would have liked to see the True Blood panel, the line for it was insane and the main point was to get off my feet.  They’d also cross-programmed it with another vampires-and-werewolves show I also like called Being Human, but as that’s from Britain and didn’t have banners over half the convention center advertising it, I assumed it would be less impacted and I could sit down immediately.  I was right.

I got in for the tail end of Teen Wolf. No, not the Teen Wolf with Back to the Future made them release it anyway, and not the cartoon version either.  Well, yeah, sort of, but it looked like with this remake, they planned to play it straight and it looked reasonably cool.

This was then followed by the panel for Falling Skies, or as I called it afterward “In Which Stephen Spielberg Phones It In.”  How do I explain it?  Let’s see….  Take War of the Worlds and file the serial numbers off (it’s in public domain, but the last version bombed, so you don’t want to be associated with that) and cross-pollinate it with some patriotism lifted from Independence Day by making your protagonist an American history professor who specializes in the Revolutionary War and is thus is filled with idealistic hope that a small band of insurgents can continually frustrate and annoy an invading army until their intergalactic homeworld eventually suffers an economic collapse and the funding for the invasion of earth is yanked.  Or something like that.  This role is being played by Noah Wylie, an actor I usually enjoy and who was very earnestly trying to sell his new series, but the story about his character’s wife being dead, two of his sons being around, and the third son being kidnapped by the aliens for “mysterious purposes”?  (Hint: These “mysterious purposes” are invariably hybridizing humans with aliens, which he would know if he were a professor of pop culture and were thus genre savvy.)

Like The Walking Dead, the story picks up several months after the invasion, but instead of having the collapse of society glossed over by means of a convenient coma, we have this grave-voiced little girl telling us that the aliens “did not want to be friends” as a voice-over to crayon drawings of bug-eyed green men with gnashing razor-sharp teeth.  I’m about to wonder if the sheriff and the history professor shouldn’t team up and go deal with the zombies and the aliens together when the Q&A begins and this breathless woman asks the producer where they came up with the brilliant idea of explaining the invasion via the little girl’s drawings, and I’m thinking, um, it’s on tv tropes.org and it’s called a “nightmare fuel coloring book.” I could almost forgive the woman for the ditzy question when the producer opened his mouth and started blowing colored smoke about it being something Stephen Spielberg invented from his amazing creative genius, as opposed to it being a standard film convention of the genre, and you always give the dire exposition to little girls instead of little boys if you can help it because little girls are perceived as inherently more innocent and the contrast is automatically viewed as creepier.  Duh.

Then the panel was over and there was a short wait for Being Human to start.  Unlike most there, I had not yet illegally downloaded the whole second season to watch it, but I still enjoyed the panel and the actors.  There was also an interesting mention that while the BBC show is continuing, there will be an American version started up on the SyFy channel and the producer hoped we’d watch both so he’d get more residuals.

I then went and caught dinner with Albert and his friend Andrew, who’s also a housemate.  We hit the Dublin Square and had dinner and drinks with a blogger who was covering the con, after which we called it an early night in preparation for Saturday.

Spoilers: or, The Joy of Reading and Viewing Without Preconceptions

March 4th, 2009

Some folk cannot abide spoilers–it ruins a book for them–while others read for process not goal and therefore do not mind spoilers.  Now, it makes no never mind to me whether a person hates spoilers, or doesn’t mind spoilers, or checks ahead to see who lives and who dies because the anticipation is killing them.  As I say, let a person be the reader they want to be.

As for me, I personally prefer to read or view for the first time without knowing what is going to happen;  I like to experience the plot “in real time” with all the surprises, setbacks, revelations and shocks that may entail.  I enjoy the experience of my own reactions, and if I really really like a book or film I will read/see it again, which provides yet another experience, the experience of watching the known story unfold and anticipating or recognizing the way the narrative builds and twists.

Others will approach the reading (viewing) experience differently, and that’s as it should be. Continue Reading »

Memo to Hollywood: How to do (and not do) an adaptation

December 31st, 2008

I have just watched The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, a year after it came out (DVR is your friend, except maybe in this case) and I’m gasping in horror at how bad it was, and for no good reason.  You’ve got all the elements that would seem to make a great movie:  Beloved children’s classic as source material?  Check.  Lavish sets?  Check.  Gorgeous costuming?  Check.  Actors ranging from competent to excellent?  Check.  Impressive and appropriate special effects?  Check.  Script by a competent screenwriter?  Um, well, I understand they got the guy who did the adaptation for Trainspotting, which I understand was a decent movie, but….

First off, let me make one thing clear: Departure from the source material is fine.   The Wizard of Oz dumped the scene in the Dainty China Country from the movie adaptation because it was boring, extraneous, and painfully lame.  Glomming the Good Witch of the North and Glinda the Sorceress of the South together makes sense from a dramatic perspective, though making her a bubbly airhead was a bit much (although the MGM version does have her fans).  Having the Wicked Witch of the West be responsible for the poppies is fine for purposes of drama, and having them be foiled by snow as opposed to field mice is likewise fine for purposes of staging.  Mary Norton’s The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks do not contain Nazis, musical numbers, a young Miss Price, or magical football matches with talking animals–though all of these things are very fun in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a movie I adored as a child and had to thank for introducing me to the equally good (if significantly different) book.  And Alfonso Cuaron’s version of A Little Princess took numerous liberties with the original novel, including but not limited to moving the setting from London to New York, making Becky black instead of Cockney, and most significantly, having Sarah’s dad not be dead of bad investments in India but instead poisoned by mustard gas and MIA in WWI.

The difference here is that The Wizard of Oz, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Cuaron’s A Little Princess are all great movies.   The reason The Seeker isn’t is not because elements were changed, but because elements were changed for the wrong reasons and the wrong way. Continue Reading »