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Showing posts from July, 2006

King Dork by Frank Portman

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Over a certain age, people who grew up and went to school in Western countries can be conveniently divided into two groups: those who read The Catcher in the Rye and found it whiny, pretentious, and self-involved, and those who read The Catcher in the Rye and found it meaningful, revolutionary, and life-altering, only to realize later, once the really scary hormones got washed out their system, that it is in fact whiny, pretentious, and self-involved. Frank Portman's debut novel, King Dork, will appeal to both groups. It is, at one and the same time, a scathing critique of Salinger's timeless yet tedious masterpiece, a hilarious parody of it, and a loving homage to it. It's also the funniest book I've read in quite some time.

King Dork is the self-inflicted, private nickname of fourteen-year-old Tom Henderson, who in real life has far worse nicknames to contend with. At his high school, Tom is very nearly at the bottom of the food chain--only the kid who has to wear a f…

Miracle of Miracles

With impeccable timing, Television Without Pity has decided to recap The Second Coming (part 1 is up, part 2 is presumably upcoming). The bad news is that they gave the job to Jacob; the good news, that for something by Jacob the recap is actually quite readable. There's none of the fawning adoration that made me drop his Battlestar Galactica recaps, and because The Second Coming wasn't primarily intended to be funny, he can't wring all the fun out of it the way he does with Doctor Who and Farscape. He's also being relatively succinct (20 pages for a 90 minute show, when he usually does more for 45-minute episodes), which means that instances of using as many words as possible to make the fucking obvious seem profound are kept to a bare minimum.

Still not funny, though.

The Second Coming

"You should see Russell T. Davies' The Second Coming," Niall Harrison told me. "It's about a man who thinks he's the second coming of Christ, and he really is. It's good."

"Erm." I said.

My reservations had something to do with the obvious ridiculousness of the premise, but also with my general distaste for the way mainstream, secular fiction tends to treat religion and the idea of God. At the far ends of the spectrum are those whose work is primarily intended to preach and convert--the Tim LaHayes and Philip Pullmans--and they are easily dismissed. At the center, however, one more of than not discovers a wishy-washy, feelgood approach that I, for one, find more dispiriting than any amount of religious or anti-religious fanaticism. Joan of Arcadia is a good example--it posited a God so benign, so pleasant, that he or she seriously had nothing better to do than help a teenage girl forge better relationships with her parents and teach her Val…

Everything's Been Said About This Movie... Superman Returns Edition

There have been three incarnations of the Superman story in the last decade, and each one of them has found it necessary to downplay one of the character's two halves and stress the other. The mid-90s television show Lois and Clark made it very clear that Clark was the person and Superman the mask he hid behind. Smallville does away with Superman entirely. In Superman Returns, Bryan Singer takes the opposite approach, making Superman--Kal-El--the real person and Clark the persona. In doing so, Singer is keeping faith with both the original comics and Richard Donner's late 70s films, Superman and Superman II, to which Superman Returns is a sequel, but this choice also serves his own interpretation of the character--a mythical savior, a Christ figure, floating above ordinary humans and unable to take part in our quotidian lives.

So thoroughly is the Clark persona devalued in Superman Returns that one finds oneself, while watching the film, wondering why it was even reintroduced. …

Ah, Hollywood

From the Publisher's Weekly review of P.D. James' Children of Men (emphasis mine):
Near the end of the 20th century, for reasons beyond the grasp of modern science, human sperm count went to zero.From the trailer for Alfonso Cuáron's upcoming adaptation of Children of Men, spoken by Michael Caine's character (again, emphasis mine):
"The ultimate mystery--why are women infertile?"

Dear Hollywood: Please Stop Letting M. Night Shyamalan Direct His Own Scripts

Well, not a mermaid per se. She's a “narf”—some sort of sea nymph who can see into the future, and is visiting here from “the blue world” to help “man get back on the right path.” Played by Bryce Dallas Howard in a joyless Osment-ian whisper, our narf is really more of a wet blanket, quivering in Giamatti's shower most of the time and gravely intoning ominous prophecies. Oh wait, did I forget to mention her name is “Story”?

Story has been sent to this particular pool so she may serve 
as a muse to a brilliant young writer—a young man so exceptional, with ideas so powerful, an entire generation is going to take his words to heart—and thanks to the fine work of this astounding young genius, our ravaged, war-torn earth will be returned to paradise.

The brilliant young writer is portrayed by M. Night Shyamalan.Read the whole thing and boggle--particularly at the fact that the only person who won't help the mermaid is "a pissy film critic". Sounds like someone's be…

Finding Beauty in the Beasts

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Expectations are a funny thing, especially when you can't remember where they came from. I can't recall ever having a conversation about Sheri S. Tepper's fiction, so I must have absorbed my impression of it--harsh, strongly feminist, a little unpleasant--by a process of osmosis. And, as is the case with almost all expectations but certainly those formed in so haphazard a manner, my first foray into Tepper's bibliography yielded something quite different. Tepper's Beauty, an environmentally-conscious retelling of Sleeping Beauty (and quite a few other fairy tales) in which our heroine, instead of falling asleep for a hundred years, embarks on a picaresque adventure through time and space, switches tones almost obsessively, but it never hits the one I expected from it. It starts out, in the 14th century, almost like a YA novel, complete with a spunky young heroine whose opinions about gender roles and class relations are conveniently anachronistic. When Beauty is ki…

After All, They Do Say That Bad Books Make Good Movies

There's a new trailer online for Christopher Nolan's upcoming adaptation of Christopher Priest's The Prestige. Either the studio's promo department has done a very good job of misrepresenting the film, or Nolan and his writers have taken great liberties with the plot. Considering that Priest's novel managed to make a boring, underperforming trudge out of a very promising premise--a rivalry that develops between 19th century magicians when one of them becomes convinced that the other's trademark illusion is actually magical--I'm hoping for the latter. The cast list on the film's IMDb page strongly suggests that the novel's pointless modern-day plot strand has been dropped, which is quite encouraging.

So yeah, I think I'm going to see this one.

One Year Later

One year ago today, I published AtWQ's inaugural post. I had no idea what to expect from this endeavor, but I don't think that I could have imagined that the blog would draw as much attention as it has, or that it would lead to my writing appearing elsewhere, in online and print venues. Niall Harrison SMSed me about an hour ago to say that a quote from my Strange Horizonsreview of Maureen F. McHugh's collection Mothers and Other Monsters has been used as a blurb on the paperback edition--a timely illustration of how my life has changed in just a year.

So, one year later, I would like to say how grateful I am, to everyone who has dropped by, commented, pointed to this spot, or become a friend.

I hope I continue to find favor.

That Other High-School-Set Noir Mystery

So, here's the best compliment I can pay Rian Johnson's debut film, Brick: my friend Hagay and I drove to Jerusalem (an hour's drive), where the film was playing as part of the Jerusalem film festival, battled the city's unfamiliar streets and mid-day traffic, paid an exorbitant amount of money for a parking place that turned out to be a ten minute walk away from the cinematheque, and missed the film's first few minutes. And it was all worth it. Brick is smart, and exciting, and fantastically well-acted. It's also gimmicky, of course--high-school students whose lives are steeped in drugs and violence, who never see the inside of a classroom, whose parents are absent or downright insane, and who speak like characters out of a Dashiel Hammet novel. But the true marvel of the film is that it sustains this gimmick all the way to the finish line. Brick is a two hour long tightrope act, where any misstep would mean an immediate and irretrievable plunge into absurdity…

Attack of the Sophomore Slump

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the rule of thumb use to be that the second season was when most television shows started to shine? If, that is, shining had ever been in the cards--most good television shows, I mean to say, only got good in their second season. The first season was where the groundwork was done, the characters and their voices and personalities established, the writers got their legs under them. Then the second season would come along and the shows would shoot to the stratosphere--The X-Files, Buffy, Angel, even Farscape. They all kept to that formula.

So what's changed?

I started watching four new television shows last year, and fell in love with them all. Four superb first seasons, which between them got me feeling hopeful about television again. And one by one, each of these shows has produced a disappointing second season. Not all of them were dismally disappointing--my reactions ran the gamut from 'screw this, I'm done' to 'but it…

Recent Reading Roundup 7

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The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and Fireworks by Angela Carter - I think it's time to accept that my relationship with Angela Carter's fiction has crossed over into AA's-definition-of-insanity territory, and I suspect that these two books--the former a novel, considered one of Carter's best, and the latter a collection of short stories--may have finally soured me on this furiously talented but frustrating writer. So, for those of you who don't know this dance already: prose gorgeous, one or two genuinely engaging scenes, but for the most part Carter concentrates on description and scene-setting, and leaves plot by the wayside. In Hoffman, her protagonist is a coldly analytical and dispassionate young man who embarks on a sensual and erotic odyssey, obviously a riff on Gulliver's Travels, to track down and destroy the brilliant but mad Doctor Hoffman, who has been assaulting reality itself with his machines of desire (his infernal machines, I sh…

A 30 Second Demonstration of Why I Don't Use PCs

My aunt, a self-employed architect and workaholic, bought a new flat screen for one of her office computers. My brother and I visited her this afternoon and, while admiring the new peripheral, he changed its resolution to one that the screen couldn't handle. The result? A black screen with the legend 'out of range' and no way to access Windows in order to change the resolution back apart from hooking the computer up to another screen.

So, basically, not only did the screen's software react to a bad resolution command in a way that rendered the computer unusable and had no obvious fix, but fucking Windows has no safeguard against the user giving such a bad command in the first place. There was absolutely no indication that the screen currently hooked up to the computer couldn't handle all of the resolutions that Windows' control panel offered, and the operating system didn't block the command once it was given.

In conclusion, I love my Mac.