|Friday, February 3, 2017 09:06 AM|
|(Last updated on Monday, February 6, 2017 03:34 PM)|
|I Wrote a Book!|
| by Fëanor|
Well, I wrote the book a while ago. And then my brother drew and colored pictures to go with. And then he made a couple of physical copies just for us. But now! You can go and buy it yourself! On Amazon! It's only an eBook for now, but we're going to look into making it possible to buy a physical, printed copy, too. Anyway, here it is!
Ballyhoo, and Mom's Other Tigers
It's a children's book, in verse, about tigers, sort of. If you do purchase it, and like it, please leave a review on Amazon! I understand good reviews are a great way to help us generate further interest and more sales. Thanks much!
UPDATE: And now it's also available in paperback!
|Friday, December 16, 2016 07:12 PM|
|(Last updated on Tuesday, December 20, 2016 10:24 AM)|
|On the Viewer - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story|
| by Fëanor|
TL;DR - Despite some weird choices and missing details, this is a great movie.
The first of the standalone, spin-off, non-"Episode" Star Wars movies has been released! Rogue One sits in a territory of the timeline that is already being effectively mined by the animated series Star Wars Rebels: the period between Episode III and Episode IV, when the Empire is spreading and gaining power, and the Rebellion is still a scrappy little thing seeking its first big success. It focuses specifically on the small team of misfits that pull together against all odds to steal the plans to the first Death Star. In fact, (spoiler?) the movie takes us right up to the opening second of A New Hope, and features various cameos from that film's cast of characters - sometimes even going so far as to include creepy computer-generated recreations of the actors, or actual footage from the movie.
One of the more interesting things about Rogue One is that it gives us a different perspective on the Rebellion than we're used to. The original trilogy of Star Wars films is fairly black and white: the Rebels and the Jedi are the Good Guys, and the Imperials and the Sith are the Bad Guys. Sure, there are Han and Lando, who do questionable things, but they're the exceptions that prove the rule - a couple of rough and tumble dudes who are ultimately transformed and choose to join the Rebellion when they see it's the right thing to do. The Alliance itself is presented as a kind of monolith - a group of good people united to do good.
Things get a bit more complex in the prequels, as these films are the story of good things going bad - a Republic rotting from the inside and becoming an Empire (sounds familiar!), and a great Jedi falling and becoming twisted into a Sith Lord. But still, there's not a lot of gray area; Anakin and the Republic are good, and then a switch is flipped and they are bad.
What Rogue One gives us is an Alliance that isn't as allied, or as good and pure, as what we've seen in the past. These Rebels are fractious, with their own internal politics, intrigues, and warring factions. One of the first Rebels we meet, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) does very questionable things in service of the Alliance. So questionable that he himself cannot look back at them, and must always move forward, trusting that the end will justify the means (which is a pretty morally and ethically shaky stance for a Star Wars hero). Later, at a Rebel council, we see how at odds the various heads of the movement are, and how easily the whole resistance could have fallen apart in despair and hopelessness right at its beginnings. But hope is what the film is all about: hope that we can see our loved ones again, hope that we can redeem ourselves, hope that we can make a difference, hope that we can somehow stop the darkness, no matter the cost. The "New Hope" from the title of Episode IV starts here - is born here, with the selfless and desperate actions of a group of people thrown together by fate (or the Force?) who seek only to stop the rise of the horrible, destructive, all-encompassing power of the Empire and its terrible new weapon, the Death Star.
Another interesting new perspective that Rogue One gives us is a view of the Star Wars universe through the lens of the ordinary people in it, instead of through the lens of a heroic prophesied Jedi. In fact, for the first time, this is a Star Wars story that has no Jedi in it at all. Donnie Yen's blind mystic warrior, Chirrut Îmwe, appears to be at least Force-sensitive, but as his close friend and partner, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), points out, he is no Jedi - because there are no Jedi anymore. Despite that, a faith in the Force flourishes among the Rebels, and it is much more like a religion here than it has ever been in the other films, where it was more a super power than anything else.
(Time for a plot summary! Mild spoilers follow.)
The central character of the film is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a girl orphaned by the Empire, raised by a rebel even among the Rebels - the warrior Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) - and then cast off into the world to fend for herself. Jyn believes in little except her own survival, and is resigned to the world the way it is - under Imperial control - until she has hope kindled in her again by a message carried by defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). The message is from her long-lost father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), and it reveals that he is still alive, still loves her, and is not truly the traitor he appears to be. In fact, he has hidden a fatal flaw in the heart of the Imperial superweapon he's helped build, if only the Rebels can acquire the plans, and find an opportunity to exploit it. (It's a pleasing revelation that the design flaw in the Death Star was actually put there on purpose by the Rebel sympathizer who was forced to help build the thing.)
Even speaking as a die hard Star Wars fan, I have to admit that the series has never been big on complex characters or deep characterization. Anakin/Vader, as examined over the course of six (now seven!) films, probably ends up being the most complex and deeply realized character in this universe, despite the fact that he starts out in A New Hope as little more than a mysterious black-clad uber villain (albeit the daddy of them all). That being said, The Force Awakens made a successful attempt at deeper characterization, especially with Finn and Rey. Rogue One makes that attempt again, but it goes less well. Part of the reason is simply that there are so many characters, and so much story to tell, that there's little screen time available to devote to backstory and development for them all. By the end of the movie, I didn't feel like I'd really gotten to know any of our main cast. We only get the barest glimpses at their pasts and motivations. Jyn is the person we learn the most about, and I still felt like I was missing important information about her. The good side of this is, we want to know more about these people. They are intriguing, and clearly have fascinating pasts. I'd particularly like to know Captain Andor's story. He clearly has done some horrific things for the Alliance, and they haunt him.
Another good thing about this big cast: it's quite diverse. We've got a woman as the main character, accompanied by a Hispanic man, a black man, a couple of Asian men, and a Pakistani man. The people in charge at the Empire are white, but it seems clear that there's a point being made there - they're Nazis, after all. The Alliance has a lot of white guys, too, but they also have women, aliens, and black and brown people on their ruling council, as well as black and brown people among their ground soldiers.
Probably the greatest character in the film, however, is not any of the humans or aliens. It is instead Captain Andor's sidekick, the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). The droid is a sarcastic, pessimistic, wise-cracking misanthrope, and it's hilarious and fantastic.
More mild spoilers: one of the things I found most disconcerting and odd about the movie was the decision to use computer technology to resurrect Peter Cushing so that he could reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. Similarly weird was the inclusion of Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia in the final shot, made young again through computer technology. This was very distracting and totally unnecessary. The filmmakers could easily have found actors who looked and sounded like Cushing and a young Fisher and put them in the roles. We're smart people, used to different actors playing the same part; we would have been able to figure it out.
Rogue One is a Star Wars movie that takes a hard look at the filthy reality and the hard costs of war. It is a dark and a brutal story, but it offers us the promise that with these peoples' many sacrifices, a terrible evil will be destroyed, and future people will live in freedom and peace. And sometimes that's the best we can hope for.
|Wednesday, May 4, 2016 12:59 PM|
|Book Report - Lovecraft Country|
| by Fëanor|
This audio book I just listened to was so great I thought I'd swipe the mothballs off the old blog to write it up.
The popularity of weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft only seems to increase as the years go by. But so does scrutiny of his racist politics and beliefs, which were so often given such lurid life in his writing. One of the things Lovecraft found most horrifying, for instance, was miscegenation. For many years a bust of Lovecraft was presented to the winner of the World Fantasy Award, but just last year the bust was retired due to Lovecraft's history of racism.
I love Lovecraft's work, but had of course always been deeply uncomfortable with his racism. I hadn't heard of a modern interpretation of Lovecraft's horror universe that dealt in any meaningful way with this topic - until I read about Matt Ruff's novel Lovecraft Country. Lovecraft Country not only deals with the topic, but makes it its central theme. The book's purpose, in fact, is to wrest ownership of Lovecraft's universe away from its racist beginnings and place it firmly in the hands of people of color. (I'm a little disappointed, therefore, to have discovered after the fact that the author, Matt Ruff, is white. It seems like this story was for a person of color to tell. But there you are.)
The novel is set in America in 1954, and is told as a series of short stories, each an episode in a larger, over-arching story, each with a different narrator, with the final chapter bringing all the narrators and stories together in an exciting climax. All the narrators are members of, or close friends with, the Turner family. The novel opens with the story of Atticus Turner, a young black man still trying to find his place in American society after returning from serving in the Korean War. He receives an odd letter from his estranged father, Montrose, about a secret birthright that he's entitled to, and he decides to head home to Chicago to see what it's all about.
If you're expecting magic and monsters in the first few pages, you'll be disappointed. Ruff takes his time getting to that, first introducing you to the surreal insanity and horror that is the Jim Crow South. On his way home, Atticus is assaulted, harassed, and stolen from by a policeman for the crime of being black. As the story goes on, and incidents like this are repeated again and again, we come to realize that threats to your life and property from white men with power are just a part of everyday life for black people in America. And yes, sure, we should all already know that. But being a white guy, I need constant reminders, and Ruff forces you to really examine and internalize what it must be like to live like that: in constant fear, in constant danger of death, with little or no recourse to the law, the whole world against you, hating you and suspecting you on sight.
And that's just the baseline of horror in Atticus' world! As his story progresses, things get even more dangerous, and way more weird. A mysterious, untouchable, silver car with tinted windows seems to follow him everywhere as his search for his father takes him through a maze-like forest - where unseen things lurk in the shadows - to a tiny, insular town called Ardham. Ardham isn't Lovecraft's Arkham - not quite - but it is in "Lovecraft Country" (New England). And it is the home of a Manor House on a hill, where the Braithwhite family lives, leaders of a sect of a secret cult called The Order of the Ancient Dawn.
I won't tell you any more about the plot, because experiencing it for yourself will be fun as hell. But it includes intrigue, theft, espionage, double-dealing, murder, magic, devil dolls, ghosts, potions, curses, body-switching, and man-eating aliens. And still, even among all this weirdness and horror, we never lose sight of the novel's real focus: the real-life horror of being black in America. So not only is it a rollicking read - a brilliant, thrilling, enthralling, bone-chilling story - it's also a very important and powerful book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
|Friday, December 18, 2015 04:31 PM|
|On the Viewer - Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)|
| by Fëanor|
Thought I'd dust off the old blog to do a quick, spoilerless write-up of the new Star Wars.
The Bad: OK, let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. The movie has two major flaws: lazy writing, and a tendency to slavishly repeat character relationships, dialog, and other elements from the original trilogy. The former is a typical flaw in gigantic blockbuster movies of this kind. There's a McGuffin at the center of the story that just doesn't really make a lot of sense, and one or two other plot twists that seem a tad contrived. But the second flaw is the larger one. At first it's fun recognizing the echoes from the original trilogy, but as the movie goes on, it starts to feel less like the filmmakers are simply referencing the preceding trilogy and carrying on its themes, and more like they're desperately trying to repeat it in every particular in order to recapture its magic and success.
The Good: All that being said, let me add, the filmmakers actually do a pretty damn good job of recapturing the magic of the original trilogy. For the first half of this movie I just sat there staring at the screen with this gigantic grin on my face that just wouldn't go away. Multiple times I clapped and cheered along with the rest of the audience - as the familiar Lucasfilm logo materialized; as the "A long time ago..." epigraph appeared; as beloved old characters were reintroduced; as the new characters did something amazing.
Speaking of those new characters, John Boyega's Finn and Daisy Ridley's Rey are a delight, and absolutely the best thing about the movie. They are real, warm, human, sympathetic characters, funny and likable, with involving and fascinating stories. Make no mistake: The Force Awakens is not one of the much maligned prequels. There's no awkward dialog and wooden performances. This movie is so much fun - so funny and entertaining. The visual spectacle is awe-inspiring, the special effects are gorgeous and amazing, the action scenes are breathtaking. The Force! Lightsabers! Spaceships! Lasers! WOO!!
Ahem. The point is, this is a Star Wars movie. A real, good, old-fashioned Star Wars movie, like the ones I fell in love with when I was a kid, and have loved ever since with all of my heart. And I cannot wait to see the next one.
Spoilers: OK, so I lied, there are a couple spoilers here. But I'll white them out for you. Highlight if you'd like to see them.
OH MY GOD THEY KILLED HAN!!!! I mean, it worked. It made sense as part of the story. But man. How am I going to show that scene to my son?? I'm gonna have to cover his eyes or something.
The McGuffin I was talking about above is the map to Luke. Why would somebody have part of a map to a guy? And if R2 had almost the entire thing the whole time, why didn't he speak up earlier? And who was Max von Sydow supposed to be? It seemed like we were supposed to know him. And how do you get such a great actor, and then kill him off immediately?
But man, how about John Boyega? A stormtrooper who has a crisis of conscience and switches sides. What a fantastic idea! And he plays it so well. And Rey! What's her story? Why did her parents leave her? Who were they? (If they turn out to be Skywalkers, too, I'll be pissed. Damn Skywalker family.)
I'm really fascinated by the character of Kylo Ren. He seems like such a bad-ass at first, doing these amazing things with the Force that we've never seen before. But as the film goes on, we start to realize he's just a confused, angry child. And really that's what the Dark Side is and should be seen to be: childish, selfish, bratty. Just a bunch of dudes having super-powered tantrums.
What is the deal with Snoke? Is he actually a giant or does he just project himself in holograms that way to be impressive? And Luke! So good to see him at last! I'm so, so curious to see how the next movie plays out, with Snoke completing Ren's training, and Luke hopefully training Rey (and maybe Finn?? Will he turn out to be a Jedi, too?). I'm so excited!
|Sunday, May 17, 2015 04:49 PM|
|(Last updated on Sunday, May 17, 2015 04:52 PM)|
|On the Viewer - Mad Max: Fury Road|
| by Fëanor|
I know everybody and their brother has written something about this movie already, but whatever, now it's my turn.
I've always loved the Mad Max movies. The first one is probably the weakest, but still good, and they keep getting better from then on. The latest is the ultimate essence of the series.
The first film showed us a world on the brink of falling apart, already with only the barest elements of law and order left, already ravaged by gangs of wild, violent, amoral men. In the succeeding films, society has collapsed completely into savagery and mysticism. The remaining people are either terrorized or terrorists. They are all battered and traumatized, freakish and poisoned. They've gathered into desperate cults and gangs, roaming the wasteland in search of gasoline, water, and a rumored paradise that probably doesn't exist.
Max, despite always appearing in the title, is rarely the center of the story, but a lone, hungry wolf that stalks through someone else's story and then vanishes, a presence that everyone in that story becomes aware of and wants to use for their own purposes: a savior, a weapon, a blood bag. As he haunts the dead world, he in turn is haunted by his own ghosts: the people he couldn't save, the horrors he's seen. He is a witness of the story, and eventually a reluctant participant in it.
At the beginning of Fury Road, Max (a grunting, near wordless Tom Hardy) has been reduced to one instinct: survival. He's an animal. He has no hope. He's lost everything. He'll just do whatever awful thing he needs to do to keep going. But then he meets Imperator Furiosa (a stunning, unrecognizable Charlize Theron; if Max is the eyes of the movie, she's the heart). At first they're enemies, for the simple reason that they are both dangerous and in each other's way. But then they find they need each other's help. Totally against his will, Max becomes a part of her quest - a jailbreak, a return home, and a search for redemption. He watches her story. He sees her lose the thing she had been hoping for so desperately, hears her howl of despair and rage, and recognizes it. He made that sound himself a long time ago. He tells her it's a mistake to hope. But then, he sees her go on, keep trying, and finds he has begun to hope again, too. He helps her, saves her life, and in the process, comes back to life again himself. But he doesn't stay. He moves on. Still and always running.
I said that Max was a witness of the story, and in one scene he is actually explicitly asked to witness. The road warriors in the cult of Immortan Joe and his hideous family follow a kind of Viking berserker religion in which, when they believe they are about to die for the cause and go to Valhalla, they spray shiny silver paint on their mouths and call upon their brothers to witness their sacrifice. It is a weird, horrific, beautiful, deeply realized world, with surreal, jaw-dropping fever-dream visuals. A world of endless peril and danger, a hypersonic dance on a flaming knife's edge, where survival is so difficult and all-encompassing that everything is reduced to essentials; to rituals and superstitions. Who protects me? Which of the people and things that are precious to me can I protect? What magic must I do to make God listen?
Mad Max: Fury Road is a story about women who take a desperate chance to steal back their freedom and their humanity, and a guy who ends up tagging along. It's also a fast-motion, heart-thrashing, freakshow thrill ride that will rip your face off and leave you gasping for air. It's one of the most amazing spectacles I've ever witnessed. Witness it yourself.
|Monday, February 23, 2015 02:15 PM|
|On the Viewer - The Legend of Korra: Book Four - Balance|
| by Fëanor|
I looked back and saw I'd never written up the last season of Korra! Seemed like a terrible oversight, so here I am. I'm going to get a little spoilery here, but this show is pretty old now, so I think I'm allowed.
The show creators start the season off with one of those crazy, gutsy moves they do so often and so well: they jump ahead in time three years from the end of the last season! As the episode goes on, we slowly figure out what all our heroes have been up to. Mako is now the rather unwilling bodyguard of the pampered, self-important Prince Wu, who is about to take the reigns of the Earth Kingdom (or at least, so he believes). We also find out why they made a big show of introducing us to Kuvira at the end of last season (a scene which felt weird to me at the time): she has now become a huge power in the Earth Kingdom and is (not to put too fine a point on it) this season's villain. She calls herself the Great Uniter, and is bringing order to the lawless Earth Kingdom. But it's order without freedom and peace without choice. Like many others, Bolin, Varrick and Zhu Li have been taken in by Kuvira's pretty speeches and are helping her take over - which makes Bolin's relationship Opal complicated, as Opal hates Kuvira.
But of course, the big question is, where's Korra? The answer is revealed in the shocking end to the first episode: she's lied to her friends about where she is and what she's been doing, and she's hidden herself away in a backwater town, telling no one there her true identity. She's spending her time fighting - and losing! - earthbending cage matches.
In episode two, a flashback explains how Korra got here, and again I was impressed with the show's creators for not just pushing on from last season's story like it never happened. In fact, Korra is deeply scarred both physically and emotionally by her battle with Zaheer and her near death at his hands. Physical therapy eventually heals her body (mostly), but she finds it much harder to get over the fear and the block in her mind, and she is haunted by the dark specter of herself as she was when she fought Zaheer - a ghost that actually physically attacks her. The imagery is incredibly powerful: Korra fighting her old self, being pulled inescapably into the past to relive the fight with Zaheer over and over.
Luckily for Korra, she runs into Toph Beifong (yay, Toph!), Aang's old earthbending teacher. She's been hiding out in a swamp, communing with the Earth and avoiding everybody, because she's now a super grouchy old lady. She shows Korra some tough love and helps her to finish her physical healing. But even now, Korra is not magically fixed. There is still a final mental component to her injuries that she has not fully dealt with. It's hard to watch Korra in so much pain for so much of this season, being defeated over and over again, but it's all in service of character and story, and it's a powerful commentary on trauma and healing.
One of my favorite characters, Varrick, gets to shine again this season, and his relationship with Zhu Li finally gets to the next level, which is great to see. The rather infamous clip show episode "Remembrances" (which, as I understand it, the creators were forced to do in order to avoid firing anybody after Nickelodeon cut their budget) is saved only by Varrick's ridiculous action movie retelling of previous events.
Korra's team-up with Zaheer is unexpected and interesting, as is Asami's reconciliation with her father. The final epic battle against Kuvira's forces, led by her incredible, gigantic, spirit-vine-powered mecha battle suit, takes three whole episodes to complete and is exciting and impressive in the extreme. When it's all over, again a tremendous change has come over the world: the explosion of spirit energy has led to the creation of a new spirit portal. This season also reminds us over and over again that the villains Korra fights are never just evil for the sake of evil. Zaheer and Hiroshi both end up helping our heroes. Even Kuvira was trying to do what she thought was right, and in the end is penitent.
But maybe the biggest and most important moment in the entire Legend of Korra series happens at the very end of the last episode, when Korra walks off into the sunset not with Mako or with any other man, but with Asami. They don't quite go so far as to have Asami and Korra kiss onscreen, but that they now have a romantic relationship is strongly implied. In other words, this cartoon has a female bisexual hero. That's amazing! I don't think it's completely unprecedented, but nearly. When I watched that final scene, I felt like I was watching a really important part of television history. Progress!
Book Four is probably the best season of Korra, and really pulls together all the characters and stories from previous seasons in a powerful way. There's also plenty of room for more stories in this world - about Korra and Asami's adventures in the Spirit World, or about the next Avatar, or previous Avatars, or what have you - and I hope we get to see some of those stories eventually.
|Saturday, February 14, 2015 05:12 PM|
|Book Report - The Shadow Police series|
| by Fëanor|
So far, Paul Cornell's Shadow Police series consists of two books - London Falling and Severed Streets - but I'm hoping there are many more to come because I love these stories, the characters, and the world they inhabit.
The series is an interesting combination of genres: police procedural and supernatural horror/fantasy. Although, Cornell takes his time introducing the supernatural aspects in the first book, so for the first few chapters you might think you're reading a standard cop novel. London Falling follows the story of Detective Inspector Quill; his boss, detective superintendent Lofthouse; his two undercover agents, Costain and Sefton; and analyst Ross, as they attempt to take down drug lord Rob Toshack. There are only hints that something deeper and stranger is going on - until they get Toshack into an interrogation room. Then everything blows up, rather literally. Faced with something inexplicable, the odd little team of investigators soldiers on, following a lead that takes them to a creepy house owned by a strange old woman who just might be a serial killer. And that's when things get even weirder. Quill, Sefton, Costain, and Ross all acquire (via a process that remains mysterious) a gift or a curse called the Sight, a brand new sense that makes them aware of the horrifying supernatural forces that lie underneath the London they thought they knew, and that plunges them into a world and a war that they are completely unprepared for.
The first book sees our team facing off against a powerful and ancient witch. In the second they must deal with the return of Jack the Ripper. Behind the individual evils they face in each case, they discover a larger evil, quietly seizing control of London and its forces and bending them to his will: a mysterious, silent, smiling man who may be the devil himself.
Besides the thrilling, suspenseful stories, the books are filled with fascinating characters, relationships, and magical concepts. Each of the members of the team has their own strengths, complexities, and ways of dealing with the insanity. Quill stubbornly continues to apply standard police techniques and procedure even to the most awful horrors of hell (his uncover of the true identity of the Ripper is a great moment that throws a big wrench into all the crazy conspiracy theories). Ross turns everything into graphs and spreadsheets and charts. Costain was the bad boy cop who got a little too deep into his undercover role as a gangster. When he comes to believe he's destined for hell, he tries to clean up his act, but it's just another role he's playing, another mask he's trying to wear. (In the second book a bit of a thing develops between the character who analyzes everything to death and the character who's nothing but layers of artifice, leading to one of the more complex relationships I've ever read.) Sefton, meanwhile, throws himself completely into the world of the Sight, trying to become the team's expert in, for lack of a better word, magic.
The way magic and the power of London works, however, is something that has to be learned slowly and carefully, with a lot of really dangerous trial and error. The team are beginners in this world and they blunder into it like blindfolded babies toddling into a minefield. We get to learn along with them, and it's a fascinating ride. Cornell has created a complex world with many mysteries, and even by the end of the second book there's the strong feeling that we've only scratched the surface. It's not a frustrating feeling, though - it's thrilling knowing there's so much more to come.
Cornell also has a very dark, very odd sense of humor that often caught me by surprise. I didn't expect so much of the first book to be about football, or for our heroes to be texted by Hell, and then call it back later and tell it off. Some of the ghosts and ghouls they see so regularly that they wave at them on their way to work. When a real world celebrity made an appearance in the second book, I expected it to just be an amusing cameo, but then that character became an integral part of the story.
The books are also often deeply disturbing. There are images and events in here that will stick with you for a long time. It's great stuff.
These are real page turners, too. I burned my way through the second book too fast, in fact. I don't how long the wait will be for the third, but however long it ends up being, I'll stick it out. I want back in that world.
|Friday, February 13, 2015 05:42 AM|
|(Last updated on Friday, February 13, 2015 05:45 AM)|
|Book Report - The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black|
| by Fëanor|
E. B. Hudspeth's The Resurrectionist is a horror novel in an unusual format. It's split into two parts. The first is a biography of Dr. Spencer Black, who lived during the late 19th and early 20th century. The second is a document supposedly written and illustrated by Black, with editorial commentary throughout. The whole is written as non-fiction, as if Black was a real person. The first section even includes quotes from various primary sources - letters, manuscripts, newspaper articles, etc.
Black starts out a promising and brilliant surgeon, but his choice of specialty - deformities and mutations - is frowned upon as a waste of his skills, and his studies, the theories he develops, and the wild rage with which he defends them make him less and less popular with the establishment until he is finally forced out completely and decides to take his theories and work on the road as a traveling circus or freak show. His controversial theory is that mutations and deformities in modern people and animals are actually nature's way of harkening back to other, ancestral forms of life. So, for instance, a person born without arms is just a failed attempt at a throwback to a time when people had wings instead of arms. He is utterly convinced of the truth of his theory, and so determined to find proof for it that he begins, horribly, to manufacture his own hideous hybrid creatures.
There's the suggestion that perhaps Black isn't entirely mistaken, or at least that he's been able to create some actual living, functioning hybrids, but the narrator remains unconvinced, and there isn't enough in the text to do more than vaguely creep out the reader.
I've always enjoyed the technique of creating story through letters and journal entries. It's a great way to build drama and horror. The most effective part of Bram Stoker's Dracula is the series of journal entries from the doomed ship. This book fails to take full advantage of the trope, however. There are definitely effective sequences, such as the description of the scene that occurs when Black brings his family out to his shed to show off the hideous progress he's made in his work. And I enjoy the matter-of-fact tone and the effective parody of a real biography. But Black's theories are never convincing or particularly frightening. The book comes close to achieving something really atmospheric and disturbing but doesn't quite make it.
Part of the problem might be the entirely disbelieving narrator. H.P. Lovecraft was fond of using educated, skeptical narrators, and having them only come to believe in the horror long after the reader was already convinced, thus making the horror that much more convincing, and the narrator's fall that much more dramatic. The problem here is that the narrator is never convinced, which just makes it harder for us to believe or to be really scared.
The second part of the book is a series of detailed illustrations of the anatomy of various mythological beasts (which, according to Black, are not mythological at all, but entirely real), accompanied by explanations of the beasts' behavior. The art is quite good, the drawings scientific looking, but if you're hoping for some continuation here of the story in the first part of the book, or some more deliciously creepy horror, you'll be disappointed. It's an oddly dull way to finish out the book. Scattering these drawings throughout the biographical portion of the book might have worked better. As it is, any sense of building horror that was created in the first part of the book just sort of peters out here.
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. As it is, it's still rather entertaining, with some wonderful ideas and some effective sequences. It's just disappointing to feel like it could have been so much more.
|Friday, January 9, 2015 03:15 PM|
| by Fëanor|
It's weird, I didn't think I really liked writing poetry very much, because of the way you have to twist what you want to say to meet the strict structure of whatever form you're using. But I'm finding lately I like it for that exact same reason. Writing poetry is like solving a puzzle: how do I say what I want to say, given this set of rules? Being restricted in this way, having to word things differently than you normally would, actually tends to lead you to more interesting places, and forces you to be more subtle and complex.
So poetry has become my go-to Fun-a-Day project, but I wanted a new challenge, so I started researching other poetry forms and came across the ghazal, an ancient form that comes originally from Arabia and has only recently been adopted by English poets. It's a very different kind of form than I'm used to, with no set meter, no set length, very little rhyming, and very little connection between the various couplets, beyond theme and a small refrain. It seemed interesting, so I took a shot at it. Here's my attempt. I might try again in a while, as I was sort of figuring out the form as I went this time. Anyway, hope you like it!
|Wednesday, January 7, 2015 03:22 PM|
|On the Viewer - The Legend of Korra: Book Three - Change|
| by Fëanor|
One of the things I like best about the creative team behind the Avatar shows is their willingness to fundamentally change things about the world they've created. At the end of last season, Korra engineered one of these changes by leaving the spirit portals open, and in this season the world has to deal with the consequences of that decision. One of those consequences is that the spirit world has encroached on the real world in physical ways, enveloping large portions of Republic City in vines and jungle. Needless to say, the citizens and leaders of the city are less than pleased.
Even more astonishing, non-benders all over the world are suddenly developing the ability to airbend. Airbenders, once almost utterly destroyed, are returning. We already knew that air was the element most closely linked with the spiritual side of things, so this makes sense. The problem is, it isn't only good people who are suddenly gaining this ability. The mysterious prisoner Zaheer (voiced by Henry Rollins!!!) has also become an airbender, and he uses his new power to free not only himself from prison, but also a handful of other former compatriots with extraordinary abilities. Their target, as should not be surprising at this point, is the Avatar.
There's nothing like a prison break to start things off in a thrilling way, and a series of prison breaks of incredibly powerful and dangerous criminals from incredibly high security prisons is even better! It is really a great team of bad guys we have this time: an airbender mastermind, a lavabender, an armless waterbender, and a crazy firebender who can make the air explode with her mind (Zuko has an amusing exchange about the time he hired a similar guy to kill Aang).
Meanwhile, Korra, unaware of her danger, is kicked out of Republic City for not being able to clear up those spirit vines and decides to use her new-found nomad status to wander the earth gathering up airbenders in the hopes of rebuilding the long lost Air Nation. Naturally she's joined by the rest of Team Avatar: Mako, Bolin, Asami, Tenzin, and so forth. And naturally she starts making new enemies almost right away! A lot of the new airbenders don't want their new abilities and aren't interested in picking up and leaving their whole lives behind to go train. Meanwhile, other people have their own ideas for how to make use of airbenders.
It's great that we get to catch up with Fire Lord Zuko, and to visit with his Uncle Iroh again in the spirit world. And I love that we get to meet Mako and Bolin's huge extended family, especially their little old grandmother, who's a hoot. Speaking of families, there's drama aplenty when Korra visits a metalbending clan to meet a new airbender only to discover that the girl in question is Lin Beifong's niece, the lady in charge of the clan is Lin's sister, and there is a lot of bad blood between them. We finally get to find out how Lin got that scar on her face, and learn a bit more about what happened to Toph. The original Team Avatar from Last Airbender turned out to be a bit uneven as parents!
And of course there's the usual relationship drama. Thankfully the girl Bolin throws himself at this time (Lin's niece, Opal) is a lot less creepy and evil. And although Jinora falls for a little thief and liar named Kai, he ends up being a decent guy in the end.
Book 3 is my favorite season of Korra yet. A really solid, exciting story with the usual clever ideas, wonderful characters, exciting action, hilarious comic relief, and stunning supernatural stuff. I particularly like that our villains this time aren't just pure evil. They love each other, and are passionate about changing the world for what they believe is the better. They want freedom for all people. The only problem is, their way of going about it involves a lot of violence, chaos, destruction, and murder!
The climax of this season is incredibly thrilling, building to such a fever pitch by the end that I was literally gripping my chair and holding my breath with the tension. And at the end, again things have been irrevocably changed. Korra doesn't just spring right back from being attacked and nearly killed. She is traumatized by what's happened and it will take her time to heal and recover. It's hard to look at her in that final shot, the sickness and weariness in her face, the tear rolling down her cheek. I'm probably going to have to start the next season right away so I can see her get better!
Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this
Most Popular Entries
- It's a Boy!!
(23 thumbs up, 14 comments)
- On the Viewer - Game of Thrones (Episode 1 - "Winter Is Coming")
(25 thumbs up, 1 comment)
- Hey, So...
(15 thumbs up, 15 comments)
- Book Report - Boy in Darkness and Other Stories and Mervyn Peake: Writings & Drawings
(19 thumbs up, 1 comment)
(14 thumbs up, 0 comments)
(14 thumbs up, 0 comments)
(13 thumbs up, 1 comment)
- Batman...Keeps Going!
(1 thumb up, 22 comments)
- Griffin's Laws
(12 thumbs up, 0 comments)
- That new feature I was talking about...
(10 thumbs up, 3 comments)
- Main feed:
- You can also click any tag to find feeds that include just posts with that tag.