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Showing posts from December, 2005

2005, A Year in Books: Special Awards

The following books aren't exceptionally good or demonstrably terrible, but they are all, in some way, noteworthy. To my great surprise, the Cold Mountain "We Can't Have a Happy Ending! This is Literary Fiction!" Award will not be given this year, which I suspect is an indication that I've become more adept at avoiding turgid tragic romances, rather than a sign of positive change in the attitudes of literary fiction writers.
The "Gee, I Wish I'd Read This Back in 1985" Award
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Well, obviously not really, seeing as I was four in 1985, but I do envy the people who read Moore's masterpiece when it was first published. In the mid-80s, reading Moore's reassessment of the superhero mythos must have felt like having the top of one's head screwed off. Twenty years later, the questions that were so trailblazing when Moore first raised them--do superheroes really make the world safer? What gives a superhero the …

2005, A Year in Books: Worst Reads of the Year

For the life of me, I can't understand why more media venues don't list their least favorite books alongside their best of the year lists. There's only one way to compensate oneself for sitting through hundreds of pages of bad writing, unconvincing characters, boring plots and objectionable politics, and that's to rant and complain about the experience at the top of one's voice. Unlike my best books list, this list is most definitely ranked in order of quality, from the smallest turkey of the year to the biggest.
The Chymical Wedding by Lindsay Clarke

The Chymical Wedding starts off as a kind of poor man's Possession with hints of The French Lieutenant's Woman and, of course, alchemy, thrown in. For the first 150 pages, it is a reasonably well-written exploration of the lives of six people in two periods of time as they attempt to discover the secrets of alchemy and make sense of their own troubled hearts. Before long, however, the book begins to drag. The (n…

2005, A Year in Books: Best Reads of the Year

2004 was a red-letter for me, reading-wise. I discovered John Crowley and his fantasy masterpiece, Little, Big; I stumbled, by complete accident, on Cloud Atlas, one of the most delightful, well-written, and intelligent books I've ever read; I dove into The Crimson Petal and the White and The French Lieutenant's Woman, and was enthralled by Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen. In short, it was a difficult year to live up to, and in all honesty, 2005 didn't offer me the same sort of reading highlights. But, while the highs might not have been as high, I find plenty of remarkable reads to report, albeit perhaps less meaty ones--instead of the gigantic doorstoppers I enjoyed in 2004, in 2005 I went for light and brief. Instead of drama, I found myself quite often gravitating towards humor. Happily, there's room for both on my bookshelf.

I read 106 books in 2005--a marginal increase from 2004's 99. Reviewing my reading lists, I'm pleased to see that I ma…

The Best of SciFiction: 2004

Bet you thought I'd forgotten about these. The truth is, apart from real life considerations, I didn't have too good a time with the 2003 selections--it was a bit of a struggle finding enough stories that made the grade. 2004 offered the opposite problem--this list is longer than any of the others, and it took a bit of work to narrow down my initial selections. Hopefully, I'll get around to 2005 in the near future.
The Anatomist's Apprentice by Matthew Claxton (appreciation by Mahesh Raj Mohan)The Baum Plan for Financial Independence by John Kessel (the ED SF entry is not so much an appreciation as a discussion of the story--Ellen Datlow and Kessel himself also weigh in--and it's quite worth reading as a way of gaining insight into this puzzling and fascinating story)Five Guys Named Moe by Sean KleinBeautiful Stuff by Susan PalwickThe Voluntary State by Christopher RoweLuciferase by Bruce Sterling (appreciation by Richard Butner)The Wolf-Man of Alcatraz by Howard Wa…

11 Things You Might Not Have Known About Bram Stoker's Dracula

That it is a quintessentially modern horror novel. I had made the, it now seems, groundless assumption that Dracula was a traditional vampire tale--that Stoker had laid the foundation for vampire myth as a folk-tale and superstition. Instead, what I found in Dracula was the blueprint from which all modern horror is drawn--or, more accurately, half of modern horror. The other half draws its shape from Frankenstein--the story of hubris run amok, of understanding untempered by morals or religion, of humanity meddling, through sheer scientific curiosity, in things better left untroubled. Dracula lays out the other classic form of the genre--the story of modern, rational people, who sneer at tradition, superstition, and anything having to do with the supernatural, and who learn, at great cost, how little they actually know about the world. The conflict between rationalism and spiritualism, which we tend to think of as a 20th century invention, is the driving force of the novel. It is the c…

Everything's Already Been Said About the Movie...

...so I'll just add a few small points.

To the prop department: if it was so important that we see Peter's face during the climactic battle, why did you give him a helmet with a visor? He looked like a total prat lifting it up and lowering it down every five seconds.

To the hair department: kindly arrange for the prompt execution of the person who designed Jim Broadbent's hairpieces.

To everyone involved with the production at all its stages: was it actually your intention to ship Lucy and Mr. Tumnus?

And the film itself? Is exactly as I had surmised it would be the first time I saw a trailer--Narnia by way of The Lord of the Rings. Which means that it fails not only because an approach that works for one of these works will fail for the other, but because the production lacked the sheer amount of determined, devotedly fannish craftsmanship that gave the Lord of the Rings films their unforgettable look--starting with the fake-looking, plastic weapons and ending with the simpl…

Why We Hate Ed Champion

Fucking April. Why do I get the feeling that Black Swan Green is going to be one of those books I break down and buy in hardcover?

And a Fifth Misconception

Over at Salon, Gina Fattore is getting all bent out of shape over the new Pride and Prejudice adaptation, in a less than dignified manner. The article goes rather far at points--no way would Jane Austen do anything as melodramatic as spinning in her grave over a silly movie--and as one of the commenters points out it's pretty obvious that Fattore only went to see the film because she wanted to feel the righteous indignation that permeates the article's every word (although the commenter is wrong to say that such behavior makes her a chump--I think I'd be more inclined to pay ten bucks for a chance at a good rant than I would in order to see most of the movies currently in release), but she does rather succinctly summarize the fundamental failure--as I understand it, the film not having come to Israel yet--of the adaptation:
Jane Austen understood these romantic conventions, how they worked on people, what they implied. If she'd wanted to go there, she could have. She c…

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks

Fassin Taak, Chief Slow Seer in Waiting of the Sept Bantrabal, is seconded against his will to the Shrievaltry Ocula, on a special mission to delve into the Dweller society on the gas giant Nasquaron and try to locate the elusive Transform, key to the Dweller List. Possession of this list will allow Fassin's home system, Ulubis, to fight off the rapidly approaching E-5 Disconnect invasion fleet, led by the villainous Archimandrite Luseferous.

Paragraphs like the one above are largely the reason why I don't tend to read a lot of space opera. There's often a sense within that subgenre that authors spend more time inventing outlandish names and titles (or, to be more charitable, outlining the institutions and organizations of their invented, far-future society) than they do coming up with compelling characters and stories. Along with cyberpunk, space opera tends to dump readers into the middle of the action and trust them to work out the various technologies, social rituals, a…

YES. And Finally.

The media’s obsession with the “courage” and “bravery” is just plain crap. First of all, I thought Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were actors, as was every person who turned down the script. And I thought actors were paid, often large amounts, to be somebody else. In other words, they are paid to play people who are not themselves. So why on earth would playing gay be a problem? Actors take on roles all the time embodying despicable or reprehensible characters. No one clamors to them and tells them how brave they are. But the media make a big deal when a straight guy kisses another straight guy on-camera.

John Spencer, 1946-2005, RIP

Fuck.

The More Things Change...

After reading so many slipshod diaries called "novels," what a pleasure it is to turn the pages of this consummate work of art. The common method today of writing a novel is to begin with the birth of the hero, shove in all experiences that the author can remember of his own childhood, most of which are of no interest to any one but himself, take him to school, throw in more experiences, introduce him to the heroine, more experiences, quit when the book seems long enough, and write the whole biography in colloquial jargon.
William Lyon Phelps, reviewing Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence for The New York Times Book Review in 1920. Apart from Phelps' insistence on male protagonists and his blissful ignorance of just what exactly 'long enough' would come to mean over the next 85 years, this passage could apply today, or possibly at any point in the intervening decades.

(Shamelessly stolen from Maud Newton.)

Dear Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association: A Public Service Announcement

Look, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, currently enjoying your brief day in the sun as the announcement of the nominees for your objectively tiny and insignificant award marks the beginning of Oscar season, it's not that I'm surprised at the absence of both Veronica Mars and Battlestar Galactica from the lists of your television nominations. Oh, we like to talk about how quirky the Golden Globes are, and we're all still breathless about that time you gave Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jessica Alba Best Actress nominations (but not, heavens forfend, an actual trophy), but we all know the truth--you're a crusty Hollywood establishment. You go where the ratings are, and you vote for what you've been told is good rather than what you know to be good. So the fact that two of the finest shows on television this year passed you by while the rapidly floundering Lost gets a nomination (and, in all likelihood, a win) is hardly a shock.

But there is something I …

An Epic Fantasy Virgin Reads George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones

OK, so obviously it's faintly absurd for me to describe myself as an epic fantasy virgin. Haven't I, in the twelve years since I first read it, reread J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings every other year? Haven't I made it all the way through The Silmarillion, and understood most of it, and enjoyed it all? Haven't I adored the films, and gotten into ridiculously nitpicky discussions over which changes were justified and what Tolkien meant by this and that? And isn't The Lord of the Rings the great-granddaddy of all epic fantasy, the wellspring from which all endless doorstopper series flow?

Well, maybe, but somehow, in my odd and atypical development as a reader, I managed to skip the Jordan/Brooks/Goodkind phase of a fantasy reader's life-cycle. I liked The Lord of the Rings a hell of a lot, but the dozens of thick tomes with garishly colored covers depicting big-breasted women and dragons failed to appeal to me. I stuck to science fiction, and barely ev…

Mike Newell's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: A Harshly Fannish Perspective

First things first: unlike many fans of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, I've never found the books' film versions to be terrifically important. I've seen all four, but I can't imagine going out of my way to do so, or even renting them on DVD if they hadn't come to a nearby movie theatre (in fact, I suspect that in most cases I saw the films primarily because I wanted to be able to discuss them intelligently). I wouldn't be heartbroken to hear that no new films were being made, and the endless discussions of whether or not the kids playing Harry, Ron and Hermione are going to stick around for the rest of the series are of absolutely no interest to me. I am honestly baffled by the fact that a Harry Potter news site like The Leaky Cauldron should report on the doings of every actor and cast member even remotely connected to the films, and I've watched the site's transformation, over the last few months, into the Goblet of Fire film site with exaspe…

Recent Reading Roundup 2

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Yup, it's that time again--time to even up the book-posts-to-TV-posts ratio! Recent reads include:
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter--Carter's Wise Children has maintained its position as one of the finest books I've read this year, but Nights at the Circus cements my suspicions that Carter is going to turn out to be one of my all-time favorite writers. One of the most refreshing aspects of Carter's writing is that she's not afraid to be funny. Both Circus and Wise Children could be termed comedic books, and ignored in much the same way that writers like Terry Pratchett often are (although Carter's humor is cleverer and more delicate than Pratchett's), but Carter uses humor as a way to penetrate her readers' defenses. In only a few pages, we have lost our hearts to Fevvers, the winged woman born (or hatched) and raised in a brothel, and now the toast of Europe as the star of a circus act, and to the host of strange and heartbroken characters who mak…