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Sunday, September 14, 2014
SF Book Review, Part 17
Since we've come dangerously close to decorative gourd season, motherfuckers, I figure I should knock out a few reviews before the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon begins in earnest. There's going to be some overlap here with the most recent book queue, but a few other books I've read recently as well.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The Book Queue
It's hard to believe that my last published book queue was over a year ago, though I guess you could say that the Hugo Award nominees were a de facto queue early on in the year. Now that the Hugos are over, I've moved on to some other things. At first I wanted some palate cleansers, but once I realized that my supporting membership this year enables me to nominate and vote on next year's awards, I'm back on the hunt for new and interesting SF. Recommendations are welcome, but I have already compiled a pretty lengthy list (a few of which, I've already started...), so let's see what's coming up:
Sunday, September 07, 2014
The Wheel of Time: The Great Hunt
When Robert Jordan's entire Wheel of Time series was nominated for a Best Novel Hugo Award this year, I knew I wouldn't have time to read all of the books. While you might think that's due to laziness, it should be noted that the series consists of 14 books, 10,000+ pages, and 4.4+ million words. According to my Goodreads stats, I'm averaging something like 12,000 pages a year, and given the fact that I only had a few months before votes were due, it was basically impossible. Fortunately for me, I didn't particularly care for the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, so reading the entire series became unnecessary. That being said, the publisher, Tor books, was exceedingly generous in making the entire text available in the voters packet, so I thought I'd give the series another chance before voting. I got about halfway through the second book, The Great Hunt, before I had to cast my votes for the Hugo, and I felt good about my ballot. I finished the book not long after, and I must say, it's a big improvement over the first book, even as it suffers from many of the same issues.
The story picks up where we left off, with our heroic band of misfits taking refuge in a town, waiting for a bunch of Aes Sedai to consult on the happenings of the first book. Nynaeve and Egwene plan to accompany them to train as Aes Sedai, while the rest plan to return home. Our nominal protagonist, Rand al'Thor, has definitively been identified as "The Dragon Reborn" (basically a "Chosen One" type of situation), and is thus developing some major trust issues. Not long after the arrival of the Aes Sedai, the city is attacked by Darkfriends, and two powerful artifacts are stolen, including the cursed dagger which is magically linked to Mat, so it seems that our three farmboys are headed off with a large search party to retrieve the stolen treasures. Meanwhile, foreign invaders called the Seanchan have begun to encroach on the border, and there are all sorts of other weird happenings throughout the world.
There are a lot of similarities to the first book here. There's an ancient, powerful artifact that is in danger, there's a bunch of epic journeys, tangential episodic adventures, hearty stews (of course), our band of heroes is separated, and eventually reunited - you know, high fantasy tropes galore. The difference between this book and the previous is that each element here is better done and more memorable. It's still bloated and sloppy, but at least there's some more interesting stuff that's happening. It helps that we already have a pretty good handle on the cast of characters, despite a few new ones, so little time is wasted rehashing what we already know.
The episodic stuff actually works reasonably well. For example, at one point Rand, Loial, and Thurin (the latter being a new character) are separated from the search party and find themselves in a town called Cairhien, where they play something called "The Great Game", an intrigue-charged game of politics and maneuver amongst the various factions of the city (I'm guessing the name here is historically based). For various reasons, Rand appears to be a Lord to the city, so he is expected to play. His instinct is to simply ignore various invites and overtures, but it turns out that this is taken to mean that he is even more important than he appears. His inaction is interpreted to be a rather extreme action. And so on.
Nynaeve and Egwene have a couple interesting episodes as well. Their training with the Aes Sedai leads to a lot of additional knowledge about how things work in that weird magical lawyer/mafia hybrid environment. They meet up with Elayne and Min (both characters had bit parts in the first book, and were a welcome addition here), and have a rather disturbing run-in with the Seanchan later in the book (this is one of the more memorable tangents, actually).
There are plenty of other tangents that perhaps don't work as well as the above examples, but for the most part, the characters are growing. Rand is still a little whiny because he doesn't want to be the Chosen One (a fair complaint, to be sure), but he is also nowhere near as passive or blank as he was in the first book. He has spent some time training as a swordsman, and his chosen one powers are starting to add up (even if he's scared that they will eventually make him crazy). Mat is still a bit of a turd, but he's still cursed, so that's to be expected. Perrin makes himself useful, further developing his latent talent to talk to wolves. Nynaeve and Egwene are both learning a lot, and having to deal with some interesting problems. Moraine and Lan get some more background and motivation. Many of the side characters are further developed. A handful of new characters seem to have some interesting stuff to do.
All of this would still feel rather unsatisfying, except that Jordan manages to bring everything together for a big climax towards the end of the book that is genuinely involving and even exciting. Don't get me wrong, it's still bloated and overlong, but there is an actual payoff at the end of this book that is encouraging. When I finished the first book, I wasn't upset or anything and I had enjoyed myself well enough, but I wasn't that interested in exploring more of the series. This book does indicate that such a thing might actually be possible, and so I'm thus marginally more inclined to pick up book 3 at some point. None of this would have changed the way I voted for the Hugos, of course, but it's still encouraging.
From what I understand, the series bogs down for a while in the middle books, but eventually all the pieces are assembled for the final battle, which sounds like it could be an interesting experience. I'm planning on reading a bunch of 2014 books and stories in preparation for next year's Hugo nomination season, but if I read two books a year... I should be finished sometime around 2020. Er, ok, so maybe not. Still, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility, which is more than I could say after the first book, and you never know. After all, I already have all the books on my Kindle. Ah well, the Wheel turns...
Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we took a look at a werewolf who was also a cop. This time, we've got a touching tale of a gay yeti and his frat boy lover:
...sexually repressed Frat Boy Adam finds himself kidnapped by a twisted cult and offered as human sacrifice to a homicidal and wildly homosexual Mountain Yeti. But when the misunderstood Yeti spares his life, young Adam soon gives in to his deepest desires and finds love with his new furry friend. As the kinky fun heats up, the outraged cultists set out to put a stop to the shocking man-beast love once and for all!Yes, it's called Yeti: A Love Story (aka Yeti: A Gay Love Story), and it is, of course, a Troma production (so ultra-low budget and intentionally terrible). Apparently it's part of Troma's Cinema VeriGay collection. It is also available for free, in its entirety, on YouTube, so don't worry about trying to find it. Because I know you were getting worried about its availability (oddly, it seems that many Weird Movies of the Week are hard to find).
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Assorted and sundry links for your enjoyment on this fine holiday weekend:
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
It has been a few years since Reamde, so I've been getting a bit antsy of late. Neal Stephenson is my favorite author, and I've long since exhausted reading just about everything he's published. I'm always on the lookout for his latest, and I recently discovered this mysterious book called Seveneves. How very palindromic of him. The blurb, which originally showed up in some random upcoming books PDF, goes something like this:
When the moon blows up, the earth's atmosphere is predicted to go through changes that will eventually lead to a Hard Rain, a meteorite storm that could last for thousands of years, rendering the earth’s surface uninhabitable. In preparation, the nations of the earth send an ark of humans to an International Space Station. But the Station isn’t immune to the galactic catastrophe and many of its people are lost, mostly men. When stability is reached, only seven humans remain, all of them women. Jump forward thirty thousand years. Two peoples exist: those who survived on Earth, living rustic, primitive lives; and those who derived from the Seven Eves of the space station, affluent, sophisticated, organized sects looking to colonize the surface of earth. Stephenson’s next novel is an epic potboiler, with political and military intrigue, and plenty to say about evolution, genetic engineering, and civilization as we know it.The PDF sez it's due "Winter 2015", but Amazon and Goodreads have it at 4/14/15. Clocking in at 1056 pages, it appears that Stephenson's ways have not changed much.
Now, it's unclear to me if this book is the first of a series that Stephenson hinted at in a BBC interview last September, or if this was an interim book. Based on the description, I think Seveneves will be different.
"They're historical novels that have a lot to do with scientific and technological themes and how those interact with the characters and civilisation during a particular span of history," he says of the new series, refusing to be specific about the exact period."Something like that", meaning 2015 I guess. Not that I'm complaining, as it looks like we'll be awash in new Stephenson at some point in the near future. In other news, Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future comes out on 9/9/14, and it features a bunch of stories inspired by Stephenson, in particular his desire to see more "positive" science fiction (as opposed to the dystopia or misery porn that seems to infect a lot of modern SF). It includes new stories by Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, Gregory Benford, Elizabeth Bear, and Bruce Sterling (presumably amongst others). I will most certainly be reading it, and will hopefully be able to glean a few Hugo nominatables!
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Professor Dewey Finn's Ostentatiously Odd, Schoolastically Scattershot Back-to-School (of Rock?) Movie Quiz
After yet another hiatus, Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as usual, I'd like to play along. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, and Professor Larry Gopnick are also available.
1) Band without their own movie, from any era, you'd most like to see get the HARD DAY'S NIGHT or HEAD treatment
And here I must admit that this sort of movie does little to excite me. I enjoy music, but I don't really know it or obsess over it the way do, for example, with movies and beer. So when you ask for a quasi-fictional movie featuring lots of music performances, I'm not overly enthused, even if you grab some bands that I'm intrigued by. That being said, perhaps a dramatization of The Mars Volta's ouija board fueled shenanigans while touring and making The Bedlam in Goliath would be an interesting watch...
2) Oliver Reed or Alan Bates?
This is a close one, both actors I know and like, almost a draw really, but I'll go with Oliver Reed due to slightly more familiarity with his stuff...
3) Best thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video
The answer, pretty obviously, is convenience. There are plenty of inconvenient bits about streaming media, but that's a topic for the next question, and streaming really is more convenient in many ways. No need to handle physical media, swap discs, walk across the room (the horror!), no worry about scratches/deterioration, no storage space needed, and when something is available, it's available on a whim, right now, ready to watch. Also, one of the bad things about streaming - lack of selection - can also lead to good things, like watching something you would never normally watch, simply because it's available and easy to access...
4) Worst thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video
Total inconsistency in availability, the lack of a truly comprehensive service, video quality, dependence on the internets, boneheaded DRM swindles, the fact that you never actually own what you're watching, the list is long and distinguished. One thing that never gets brought up: lack of special features or things like audio-commentary. I know only the nerdiest of nerds actually pay attention to commentary tracks, but the flowering of information that occurred during the DVD era was unprecedented and beautiful, and I have a feeling that it will wither away and die as we move towards streaming, which is sad.
5) Favorite Robin Williams performance
This is a surprisingly difficult choice. I'm not big on Williams' big, showy performances, but he still has a pretty impressive catalog of serious stuff or things where his boisterous qualities are more seamlessly integrated. I keep thinking of Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, and of course, Dead Poets Society. That will have to do...
6) Second favorite Carol Reed movie
Night Train to Munich, coming in behind The Third Man.
7) Oddest moment/concept in rock music cinema
The marching hammers in Pink Floyd The Wall. In fact, that whole movie, but especially the marching hammers...
This is an impossible one, as the concept is nebulous enough to include all coming-of-age stories, of which there are many. Too many. But I'll give an answer that I'm positive that no one else will give: Real Genius. One of a handful of seminal nerd movies that prefigured the rise of the geek a decade or two later, it still speaks to the geek in me.
9) Most welcomed nudity, full or partial, in a movie (question submitted by Peter Nellhaus, class of 2004)
I love that Dennis pawns this question off on someone else ("It wasn't me, it was that pervert, Peter Nellhaus!"), and since he will probably never post his answers, he will doubly get away with not looking like a total perv. As for me, my mind is straying more towards surprising nudity that was not unpleasant (with the actual unpleasant surprise being in the next question), and the first thing I thought of was Rosario Dawson's eye opening (and pretty ridiculous) scene in last year's Trance. Simply was not expecting it, and while the movie is completely absurd, I've always been in love with Rosario, so there you have it.
10) Least welcomed nudity, nude or partial, in a movie (question submitted by Peter Nellhaus, class of 2004)
A long while ago, I was marathoning a bunch of ghost movies near Halloween (this is pre-6WH, but I still watched a bunch of horror movies before Halloween every year), and thought hey, this Ghost Story movie is pretty famous, let's give it a shot. And I was totally unprepared for the full frontal male nudity right at the beginning of the movie. It's not just that it was unexpected as that it's very nearly the first thing you see in the movie, and it immediately precedes death. So yeah, it sticks in my mind.
11) Last movie watched, in a theater, on DVD/Blu-ray, via streaming
In a theater, it was Guardians of the Galaxy, which I very much enjoyed. On BD, it was Under the Skin just this morning, and I'm not totally sure what to make of it. I liked it well enough, but the overly obtuse approach rarely works completely with me... And on streaming, it was the superb The Silence of the Lambs, which I watched because of a recent Filmspotting SVU episode where they discussed all the Hannibal Lecter movies.
12) Second favorite Bertrand Blier movie
I have not seen one, let alone two Betrrand Blier movies, so alas, I must take my first mulligan in this quiz...
13) Googie Withers or Sally Gray?
Googie Withers, mostly just because I really love The Lady Vanishes. Even though she has only a small role, this is more than I can say for Sally Gray, who I'm wholly unfamiliar with...
14) Name a piece of advice derived from a movie or movie character that you've heeded in real life
When in doubt, run to The Godfather "A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man" or "Don't ever take sides with anyone against the family... Ever" (because it's lonely out there on that rowboat).
15) Favorite movie about learning
So I'm going to disqualify sports or martial arts movies, as training montages, while sometimes about learning, are perhaps too easy of a target. The problem is that you're left with a bunch of inspiration teacher stories, of which there are many. I'll go with Dead Poets Society for obvious reasons, but I'll throw out a lesser known instance that isn't quite as sappy or manipulative The Emperor's Club. Not a perfect movie, but well worth checking out.
16) Program a double bill of movies that were announced but, for one reason or another, never made. These could be projects cancelled outright, or films that were made, but at one time had different directors, stars, etc., attached-- and your "version" of the film might be the one with that lost director, for example (question submitted by Brian Doan, class of 2007)
This is a tough one too! Despite my reservations, I would genuinely like to see Alejandro Jodorowsky's take on Dune, so that's first on the docket. The next immediate choice that came to mind was Stanley Kubrick's version of AI. I actually like Spielberg's version, but I also have no doubt in my mind that Kubrick's vision would have been better. For a different pairing, I'd like to see Ken Russel's take on Dracula paired with David Cronenberg's Frankeinstein, both of which were rumored at one point or another.
17) Oddest mismatch of director and material
It's hard to call it a mismatch, because these are all good movies, but it's hard to believe that Mad Max director George Miller also directed the Babe movies. But since they work, I'll have to go with the default of John Huston directing Annie...
18) Favorite performance by your favorite character actor
This is a tough one because of the sorta nebulous line between actor and character actor, and the fact that character actors tend to be in small, bit parts rather than big showy roles. So I'll throw two out there: Ted Levine's creepy turn as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs (just because that's on my mind, though I don't know how much of a character actor Ted Levine really is), and Stephen Tobolowsky's perfect Ned Ryerson ("Needlenose Ned"? "Ned the Head"?) from Groundhog Day. Bing!
19) Favorite chase scene
I'm going to narrow this down a bit and eliminate car chases from the running, as they seem like their own thing. What does this leave us with? For me, The Terminator. The entire movie is really just one big chase scene, but for my money, nothing beats that final chase towards the end of the movie. It's easy to forget just how effective that appearance of the endoskeleton was back in the day.
20) Movie most people might not have seen that you feel like proselytizing about right now
I have two relatively obscure movies that I love that few others have seen: the 1933 polemic Gabriel Over the White House and the intriguing video game documentary Playing Columbine. Of course, part of the reason they're underseen is that they're not very well distributed, though I believe they are now both available on Youtube (you may need to pay). They're both pretty fascinating films, and worthy of a larger audience! Oh, and sorry, I have to include a third one: Gambit, a most excellent heist film starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. It was on Netflix a while back, but then it went off and now you have to buy it (apparently there is a somewhat recent remake, though I can't imagine it being as worthwhile as the original).
21) Favorite movie about high school
Lots of choices here, with The Breakfast Club coming immediately and obviously to mind, and then I thought of Better Off Dead..., which is perhaps slightly more obscure (but not really obscure in any sense).
22) Favorite Lauren Bacall performance
I hate to go so obvious on you, but come on, The Big Sleep.
23) David Farrar or Roger Livesey?
So what you're saying is that I need to bone up on my Powell & Pressburger. Yes, another mulligan here, though I have a sneaking suspicion that I've seen these guys in something, nothing is jumping out.
24) Performance most likely to get overlooked during the upcoming awards season
I'm guessing Scarlett Johanssen won't get much official love for Under the Skin. I think Ralph Fiennes has a much better chance for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but sometimes movies released early get overshadowed later on...
25) Rock musician who, with the right project, could have been a movie star
Well, this is a common answer, but there's a reason for that: Jim Morrison could indeed have made an impact in that 70s movie scene... if he had cleaned himself up, that is...
26) Second favorite Ted Post movie
That would be Hang 'Em High, with Magnum Force pulling in number 1. Beneath the Planet of the Apes has its charms and who knows, if I watched all three of these tomorrow, I might put this in the #2 slot, but I'll stick with my gut on this one.
27) Favorite odd couple
The first one coming to mind is Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run, though there are many others that keep popping in as I write this (Riggs and Murtaugh anyone?) I know this is a movie quiz, but an honorable mention must go to Arya Stark and The Hound on Game of Thrones... a show that has its fair share of odd couples.
28) Flicker or Zeroville?
I know I just cheated by including television in the last question, but hey, this is supposed to be a movie quiz right? I have not read either of these books, but if I were to choose based on the blurbs, I'd go Flicker...
29) Favorite movie about college
Is anyone really answering anything other than Animal House? I could mention Real Genius again if I wanted to be contrarian, but I'll leave it at Animal House.
30) In a specific movie full of memorable turns, your favorite underappreciated performance
I was kinda stumped on this one (as per usual, the definition of underappreciated is difficult to lock down), but Craig Kennedy posted the perfect answer at SLIFR: "He's not exactly underappreciated, but George C. Scott generally comes after Peter Sellers when people talk about Dr. Strangelove and he shouldn't be. He's spectacular and I wish he'd done more comedy." Damn straight.
31) Favorite movie about parenting
Calling National Lampoon's Vacation a movie about parenting might be a bit of a stretch, but that's what I thought of first, so it's just going to have to do. It's also hilarious.
32) Susannah York or Sarah Miles?
Susannah York, mostly because she's Superman's mom. A bit part, to be sure, and I guess Sarah Miles has more artistic cred, but I'm sticking with York on this one.
33) Movie which best evokes the sense of place in a region with which you are well familiar
Rocky, even though the logistics of Rocky's jogging path are ridiculous, it really does capture a lot of Philly. I haven't seen it in a long time though, so there are probably much better choices here.
34) Name a favorite actor from classic movies and the contemporary performer who most evokes their presence/stature/talent
George Clooney is almost consciously trying to be Cary Grant, isn't he? And I suppose he's having success at that too.
35) Your favorite hot streak of any director (question submitted by Patrick Robbins, class of 2008)
It's hard to beat Standley Kubrick, whose entire career was basically a hot streak, even if he wasn't quite that prolific (especially in later years).
And that just about covers it. Already looking forward to the next quiz (which, if recent history is extrapolated, will be sometime in late 2015 - hopefully it will be a much shorter wait)...
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Hugo Awards: The Results
The Hugo Award winners were announced late on Sunday, and since I've been following along, I naturally had some thoughts on the winners. Also of interest were the final ballot details, which had some interesting information for statistics wonks... I don't claim to be an expert in such matters, but I still found many details interesting. So without further ado, here are some assorted thoughts on the results:
This basically concludes the 2014 Hugo Awards posting. I will probably write up a quick review of the second Wheel of Time book at some point (I liked it better than the first book, but it's still a bit of a repetitive, bloated, repetitive mess), but otherwise, you should be free of Hugo posts until next year. Stay tuned, lots of other stuff coming, including another patented SLIFR quiz and the quickly approaching Six Weeks of Halloween Horror Movie Marathon...
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