Sunday, December 31, 2006

Unconsumed: The Able McLaughlins

It isn't often I do not finish a book. Every book worth starting is a book worth finishing, that's what I used to think. But now I don't want to waste my time with a book that is making me suffer from the start.

I'm working on the Pulitzer Prize winning novels and some of the early winners can be just turgid. Alice Adams was pretty decent, but The Able McLaughlins? Painful. I made it twenty pages in and gave up. Margeret Wilson, the author, was explaining things to me about the characters and not telling me a story. The distinction is fine and narrow, but the use of language and the characters, one of whom came home from a war, the Civil War, I think, but it was difficult to tell what era the book was set in because she seems to be telling two different stories on the same page without anything to differentiate them.

I'm sure things would come clear as the novel progressed, but Wilson lost me early on and I was done.

This is only the second Pulitzer winner which I have quit on (the other being The Age of Innocence). Shoot, I even f inished Angle of Repose...and that's a book that wanted to set me in an angle of repose.

On to Gilead!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Book Depository: Part IX

127: I Married a Communist - Philip Roth. The middle volume in Roth's American trilogy takes the form of Roth's alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman talking to an old high school teacher, Murray Ringold, about Murray's brother Ira. In his younger days Nathan was greatly inspired by the Iron Rinn (as Ira was called) and by the ideas and passion of the Communist Party. Ira was heavily tied up in the Communist party and through the conversation with Murray, Ira's life is laid bare. All of the success and passions and rage and faults are exposed and through Murray's eyes we see Ira's marriage to a Hollywood Starlet and how this marriage perhaps ruined his life all the while bringing him more fame than perhaps he could have imagined.

I think I Married a Communist is the weakest of this loose trilogy (American Pastoral and The Human Stain complete the trilogy). Perhaps it is the monologue narrative style with Murray Ringold narrating to Zuckerman that failed to engage me, but this story was far less imperative and powerful than those of The Human Stain and American Pastoral. Those were "Great American Novels" while I Married a Communist is just (just!) a solid work by one of America's Master Novelists. It felt that Roth allowed too much digression and the characters dancing around some part of the story that might allow the novel to resonate more with me. I don't know what part that was and I know the digression is part of conversation, but it did not work like it could have.

128: I Am Legend - Richard Matheson. The vampire story that inspired Stephen King. I Am Legend, the title novel of this collection, tells the story of the last man left on Earth in an L.A. which has been overrun by vampires. His family, his friends, everyone. In the daylight the man goes out into the city for supplies and to hunt vampires. When the sun goes down he barricades himself in a garlic lined house and waits for daybreak because the vampires hunt him.

This is a damn good story and a creative look at vampires and what might happen if they start to overrun the world. How would the survivors cope?

I Am Legend can be a very scary story if told / read in the right setting with the lights mostly out. It's a well written story and one which vampirism is plausible (and mostly explained) and is less about vampires than about one man trying to survive madness as he is the only living person he has encountered, though he holds out hope that there are pockets of survivors elsewhere in the country and the world.

After the title novel there are several short stories by Matheson and he writes good horror. This is a volume worth checking out.

129: The Prestige - Christopher Priest. My wife and I saw the movie and we loved it. We wanted to see it a second time but thought that reading the book might help us figure some things out. It didn't. The book and
the movie only follow the basic core story.

Set mostly near the turn of the twentieth century in England, The Prestige tells the dual (and perhaps duel) tales of Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden, two magicians who had a fierce and violent rivalry. The book starts with one of Borden's descendants being given a book on magic written by Alfred Borden and that book was part diary. Borden Descendant follows a lead for a newspaper story to the woman who sent him that book: a Descendant of Angier. Then The Prestige moves into the Alfred Borden diary segments, then back to the present day, then to Angier's journals, then back to the present day and Christopher Priest constructs this novel well enough that everything fits and makes sense, but there is still a bit of a confusing mess in a well constructed novel. There is just a lot going on as to why these two magicians are feuding (in the movie there is a very good reason, in the book it all seems so petty).

I am already engaged in the story because of how good I thought the movie was, but Christopher Priest had a lot to live up to as source material and this is a very good novel. I think the movie is somewhat superior (the movie gets a bit less weird at the end than the book does), but Priest still spins us a good story. I wanted to move past the present day stuff to get back into the fued of Angier and Borden and since Angier's perspective came second in the book we can see everything Borden wrote being tempered by our new knowledge of Angier's side and how they seem to remember things differently. This is one thing Priest excelled at: he gives the first person perspective of different characters distinct voices and speech (and writing) patterns so that we can tell who is writing and telling the story and they do not feel the same. It's a very well written book and without the movie I would probably say "Outstanding!" but with the movie I'll just say the book was rather good.

130: Carrie - Stephen King. Carrie is the first novel of Stephen King's which I have read and which is not part of the Dark Tower sequence. It is also his first published novel which could mean that the writing was
a little rough around the edges but damn, King can tell a story!

The title character is Carietta White. You know the girl. She was in your high school, just with a different name. She was different. Her family was different. The other kids flocked like vultures and teased her without mercy. You know the girl. She grew up mostly without friends. Even the other outcasts wouldn't go near her. Carrie's mother was ultra-religious and certainly stunted Carrie's social growth and skills. Even the teachers didn't really like her. This is Carrie.

But Carrie is different. Carrie has powers she barely understands. Carrie can make things happen. Telekenesis. She can move things with her mind. Under very stressful circumstances things happen. A rain of stones which only falls on her house. Exploding lightbulbs. Shaking bookcases. Things happen.

When Carrie has her first period in the girls shower after gym at the age of seventeen and thinks she is bleeding to death because she does not know what is happening the other girls are mean, like a pack of jackals literally smelling blood. Now it's begun. Both the novel and the transformation of Carrie White starts here.

This is Stephen King we're talking about. Things will take a turn for the worse and end in that famous prom sequence we've heard about and seen in the movies. Carietta gets pushed one too many times and her power makes her very, very dangerous.

Like I said, King can tell a good story. There is a bit of clunk around some of the edges, but King's writing has passion and we can feel for Carrie even when we see her slowly slipping and slowly cracking and slowly snapping. Carrie isn't the villain here, which would be a twist on a normal horror story. Carrie is a victim who snaps. A broken protagonist.

I didn't know that King could write this well. Sure he's sold a kabillion copies of his books, but from Carrie I think it's clear: this is a special talent. He writes books people want to read. The American Dickens in his first novel.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Cars is a delightful Pixar movie about a rookie race car Lightning McQueen who gets lost on his way to the final race in California and gets stuck in a hick town on old Route 66 and ends up in Radiator Springs where he eventually learns to love the slow life but not before he struggled against the restriction the law has put on him in repaving the road he destroyed on his way through.

Very cute. Probably panders a bit more to the younger crowd than most, but I completely enjoyed the movie. I recognized the voice of the Car Talk guys not be critical: I had fun watching the movie.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Book Depository: VIII

124: The Tombs of Atuan - Ursula LeGuin. I know the Earthsea Quartet is a very well regarded series in fantasy and that Ursula LeGuin is one of the Grandmasters or whatever, but A Wizard of Earthsea failed to excite me, though I had a certain level of interest and involvement. It took me more than ten years since I first read Wizard before I finally got around to reading The Tombs of Atuan and I had since read Wizard a second (perhaps third) time.

Could Tombs have been any less interesting? Could Tenar have been any less of an engaging heroine? Could I have cared less about the events of the book?

Well, no. Not unless Christopher Paolini tried to re-invent Earthsea.

I highly respect LeGuin for the contributions she has made to the field and I’m sure The Left Hand of Darkness is a superior novel, but Dear Lord, The Tombs of Atuan is...well, not punishing, but tedious. The novel is less than 200 pages and I...just...don'

Granted, this is far less a review than a reaction because I'm certainly not telling you why I found the novel tedious and what exactly was not appealing about it, but I just can't muster up interest to do so.

Which means that should I finish my novel, and some good soul pays me to publish it, I am quite sure that if I get reviewed that I will get my bad medicine thrown back in my face with an anti-review which trashes me but doesn't examine the work itself.
And that's fair.

Because The Tombs of Atuan didn't hold my interest enough to really dissect.

125: Endymion - Dan Simmons. I should have far more to say about Endymion than I do Tombs, but I don't.I find this peculiar because Endymion is a vastly superior novel. This is the third entry in The Hyperion Cantos and Endymion is set nearly 300 years after the end of The Fall of Hyperion. The Web has fallen, the AI controlling the Web is hidden and is deemed an abomination by the leaders of the Pax, the Catholic Church in the era of Endymion complete with a line of Popes stretching back to Christ. Now with the cruciform we learned about in Hyperion the Church can offer a living resurrection as well as the spiritual one of Christ and the Pax has found a way to halt the mental retardation the cruciform offered the Bikura.

Now, the daughter of Brawne Lamia has stepped forward in the Time Tombs on Hyperion and is going to step out in the future, or the present of the novel Endymion, some three hundred years after she left. Raul Endymion, a native of Hyperion, is tasked by the poet Martin Silenius to help her survive through impossible odds since the Pax is looking for her and fears Aenea (the girl). Endymion is told in mostly first person perspective by Raul Endymion and he is telling us his story, so we know that up to a point he survived and the Aenea became this vastly important person. Endymion is the discovery of what that story is.

After the first hundred pages or so and I was able to orientate myself in the world and with the characters, Dan Simmons knocked the novel out of the damn park. Call it cliche or whatever, but Endymion beat the pants off of The Fall of Hyperion (which while very good, did not quite live up to Hyperion). Simmons is still playing with the literary references and I think that he references a couple too many authors from our memories (I am convinced there is no way Stephen Crane will be read in the next millennium, Crane just isn't that good), but it all amasses one great big literary and literate science fiction novel. A tome, if you will. Despite what seems like it should be a dense, ponderous science fiction tome, Endymion actually has good pacing and moves the story along while revealing new things about the characters and the nature of the Universe they live in and Simmons offers misdirection and tantalizing glimpses of what might really be going on.

Bottom line: Endymion = A Good Read.

126: Killer Instinct - Joseph Finder. There must be a very good reason why Joseph Finder's Killer Instinct sat on my bookshelf for the better part of a year before giving it a shot and the promised review. The reason I say there must be a very good reason is that the "CEO of Suspense" hooked me from the first pages. Jason Steadman is a top sales guy at Entronics, an electronics company that seems to specialize in plasma televisions for corporations. Think of your local car dealership or airport. If they have a plasma television running advertisements in the lobby, that's what Entronics is trying to sell you. That's what Jason Steadman is trying to sell you.

When he runs his car into a ditch while he is talking on his cell phone (ha!) and reaching for his Blackberry (ha!) Jason meets Kurt, the tow truck guy. Jason befriends Kurt when they start talking about baseball. Remember, Jason is a salesman and if he finds the right topic he can talk with anyone. Kurt helps Jason out and gets him a better deal at the repair shop, and Jason helps get Kurt a job in corporate security. See, Kurt is ex-Special Forces and he starts using his skills and resources to do "favors" for Jason. These favors help Jason move up the corporate ladder at the expense of some of his more antagonistic coworkers. Things heat up when Jason realizes the level of what Kurt is doing and Jason tries to get Kurt to stop. Then it gets personal because Kurt takes care of his friends, but you don’t want him as an enemy.

I obviously did not know Finder's track record because he has several other thrillers that have sold well, but I found Killer Instinct to be well written and well paced and well constructed and just well done. As I said, Finder hooked me early and got me involved in the story and Finder shows a knowledge of sales and the corporate environment of sales (though I hope to never have a boss like Gordy in any work environment). I do have minor quibbles with story points: I feel that Finder lays the "Business is War" mentality on a little thick and the repetition of Jason listening to business motivational CDs in his car was a bit much, but Kurt was also a bit over the top. I know there are likely highly competent former soldiers out there, but Kurt was too good, too skillful and it stretched my credulity a bit.

But with that said, I thoroughly enjoyed Killer Instinct and only wish that I read it seven months ago.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The 5th Nightmare

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child is about as compelling as the last two.  It’s following mostly the same group of kids (Alice, really, most of her friends have been diced by now) and Fred is assaulting them via the dreams of Alice’s unborn son. 


And you know the rest.  It’s not bad, per se, but the Nightmare series is kind of getting boring.  The only storyline left that interests me at all is Part 7 where Wes Craven comes back and we see the Nightmare movies were really all movies except now Fred is getting to them in the “real world” rather than the fictional stories they filmed. 


That’s a good concept.  But first I need to get through Part 6 where Fred still isn’t banished for good.  Yadda yadda yadda. 

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Is it safe?

The front page of MSN poses this question: "Is the liquid on the red planet safe to drink?" The link sends us to an article on MSN Slate explaining why the water on Mars isn't safe to drink.

Oh, come on now. We're told that we shouldn't drink the water in Mexico and someone honestly thought it would be a good idea to drink Martian water?

thank you

Thank You for Smoking was fantastic! It had some of that Fight Club snarkiness and self-awareness, but it was also bitterly and brutally funny in a very dark humor sort of way considering that our hero is a Merchant of Death, a lobbyist for Big Tobacco who firmly believes as a point of arguing his point that he doesn't have to convince anyone that he is right, he just needs to convince people that you are wrong...and thus he wins the point because if you are wrong, then he must be right.

He's good. He's very good at it.

I feel like I should be going to hell for wanting to cheer for Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), but damn, the man is slick and smooth and not at all greasy (though the scene with the Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott) is another of those brutally sad but skillfully played scenes).

It's a short movie, only 90 minutes or so, but director Jason Reitman (son of Ghostbusters director Ivan) plays each minute for all that it is worth and lays out a damn good movie his first time out of the box.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

early Bond

I've been watching some early Bond and I'm bored. Christmas weekend has a couple more Bond flicks. I hope they start getting better. Dr. No and Thunderball were each a struggle to sit through. I'm concerned the others will contain an equal amount of viewing struggle.

Why do I want to watch all the Bond flicks? At this point I really don't know.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Black Christmas

I had to make sure I hadn’t clicked on The Onion when I read this article on CNN regarding the forthcoming movie Black Christmas


The article includes the following quote from Jennifer Giroux, co founder of Operation Just Say Merry Christmas:


It's not enough to ignore and omit Christmas, but now it has to be offended, insulted and desecrated. Our most sacred holiday, actually a holy day, is being assaulted.”


This is, you know, a horror movie.  It’s supposed to be ugly and offensive and scary and nasty and profane.  That’s kind of what it is.  Right?  The preview makes the flick look to be a rather crappy slasher flick set on Christmas with blood and guts and gore abounding. 


Why draw attention to the flick?  Just let it die a slow and quiet death because it’s gonna sink anyway. 

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New Sun, it's Done

I decided this morning that I’m not going to finish Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series.  I only have one volume left, Citadel of the Autarch and I had planned on reserving it through interlibrary loan when I caught up with some of the stuff on my hold list, but I realized that I absolutely suffered through the turgidity of the last two volumes (Shadow of a Torturer was actually pretty good) and I don’t think I want to torment myself with finishing this series.  There are too many good books that I want to read to do this to myself. 


So, I deleted Citadel from my Big List (I’d previously deleted Short Sun and Long Sun from the list) and will give Wolfe one more shot outside of Wizard Knight before I check him off as an author I will never read again.  Blasphemy to some who love Wolfe, but New Sun has become so bad that I would rather read that new horrible Eddings series (The Dreamers) than keep reading the Wolfe.


At least Endymion by Dan Simmons doesn’t suck (in fact, it is the polar opposite of suck)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Book Depository: Part VII

121: Duel in the Sun – John Brant.  Duel in the Sun covers the 1982 Boston Marathon epic battle between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley (Minnesota native).  Considered the greatest Boston Marathon in history it marked both the high points in the careers of both men as well as their eventual downfall.  Duel in the Sun does more than simply recount the race, though it does that, but it tells the stories of Beardsley and Salazar up to the marathon as well as their lives after.  Salazar dealt with declining times and exhaustion and the inability to perform at his previously high level.  Beardsley battled drug addiction after he suffered an accident on his farm.  The inspiration here is more than just in the marathon, but in their lives.  Beardsley’s perspective is covered in his autobiography Staying the Course (used as a source material and sometimes quoted for Duel in the Sun) but John Brant weaves the stories of the marathon and the two American runners at the height of America’s dominance in distance running.  The book may jump around quite a bit, but it tells the story of these two men well. 


122: Everyman – Philip Roth.  Everyman is Roth’s meditation on aging.  He begins with a funeral and then has the newly deceased narrate portions and experience of his (narrator’s) life and reflections on regret and the joy and the pain of being near death.  I suspect Everyman would resonate more with an older reader, not that us young bucks can’t appreciate this book, but I haven’t lived the life that an older man has and I don’t have the experience of children and regret that you can only get through living.  But what Roth delivers for me is a perception of that experience, to make it real and to hold it up to the face of the reader and say “This is what our fathers have lived, this is what they are feeling when we’re out ignoring them” and he does a hell of a job with it.  I can’t say that Everyman is as powerful or as important to me as The Human Stain or The Plot Against America, but Roth here delivers another solid novel and a moving story.  Philip Roth is one of America’s master novelists and he has lost none of his powers.  Actually, having read Portnoy’s Complaint, I would say he has gained in craft. 


123: The Fortress of the Pearl – Michael Moorcock.  This late Elric novel was set far earlier in the sequence, between Elric of Melnibone and Sailor on the Seas of Fate.  The book was actually the seventh Elric novel written rather than the second place it owns in the chronology.  But, in the first three published novels in the Elric sequence no mention of Elric’s adventures at the fortress of the Pearl is given.  Why?  Well, the obvious answer is that the book was not written yet, but it still does not fit into the chronology…until Moorcock has something done to Elric to make him forget what he had done.  Nice.  He could write a nearly unlimited amount of Elric novels with that device and just fit them in anywhere he wants.  The Fortress of the Pearl is written in the 60’s / 70’s pulp fantasy style of grand adventure of magic and swords and alien lands and alien peoples.  This is the case with all of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion novels (at least the 5 omnibus editions I’ve read so far, which would cover 15-20 short novels).  So why did I struggle so much to get through these 200 pages?  This was rough going and whatever charm and wit Moorcock had with the earlier Elric books he somehow lost along the way.  Besides being wholly unnecessary to the Elric sequence, it just wasn’t that well told of a story. 

Movies: December 3 - 10

Dr. No (1962): The First Bond movie. Sean Connery makes his introduction to the world as James Bond and I spent most of the movie a little bit unsure as to what exactly Bond was saving us from. I kept referring back to the DVR guide which reminded me of the general plot outline (something about stolen missiles or something, I'm still fuzzy) and you know what? If this was the first Bond movie I ever saw and had no interest in watching them all...I'd stop here.

An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder (2006): Now this on the other lies comedic joy. Forget Woody Allen and his quality, give me four hours of a fat man answering questions and I'll be glued to the television set. This follow up to the first "Evening With Kevin Smith" DVD is two full Q&A sessions, one in Canada and the other in London. The Canada session was more questions regarding the movies and almost pertinent questions. The London was on the dirty side. With that said, I fully enjoy listening to Kevin Smith graciously answer any and all questions sent his way and the level of care and appreciation he has for his fans...the fans, after all, are the ones who keep him employed as they make every one of his movies turn a profit (some in theatres others after they hit DVD). There is funny stuff here. I laughed and smiled and chuckled and these four hours (2 hours per day) passed be all too fast.

1941 (1979): These two hours, on the other hand, passed by all too slowly. Spielberg's farce/spoof/madcap comedy effort of an invasion by the Japanese of Hollywood during World War II was painful to watch. I think I would have loved this as a child (a 13 year old child) as the screwball comedy would work better for a younger crowd, despite the constant sexual innuendo. But this was painful to watch.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006): This second Pirates movie takes up some time after the first left off. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is back on the Black Pearl and he is seeking the treasure of of Davy Jones but he can't find it because in his heart he doesn't have a single overwhelming desire like he did in the first movie with the cursed gold. The movie opens with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) arrested because they helped Sparrow escape at the end of the first movie. They are given a chance to redeem themselves if they can claim Jack's compass. Hijinks and adventure ensue.

The first thing to note: This move is long - two and a half hours worth of long. It could easily have been edited down by a half hour. Second - this movie is dark and scary at times. The wee kids might not like this one. There is still a sense of adventure and fun with quips and humor (Jack Sparrow telling a member of his crew "You smell funny!" - priceless).

It's a good movie and there is entertainment value here. It just takes a while to get through.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988): The fourth Elm Street movie takes the surviving kids from The Dream Warriors (with an actress change because Patricia Arquette was too good to return for this one. You're no Heather Langenkamp, Miss Arquette!). They thought Freddy was dead, but as Fred tells the kids in this movie, he's eternal. He must be since he battles Jason Vorhees a few movies from now. Once again Fred starts haunting the dreams of the Dream Warriors, but each death makes one of the girls stronger and stronger so that she, the Dream Master, can battle Fred and possibly defeat him in the end. I don't know who is writing this stuff (Wes Craven on participated in a couple of the movies, most notably the first and Wes Craven's New Nightmare), but they are coming up with more creative and grotesque ways to kill the kids. Most notably: the girl who is afraid of bugs. Nasty! As the series progresses Fred Krueger is becoming wittier and funnier rather than the silent stalking killer from the first movie. Now he delivers parting one liners as he dispatches another victim. Like most of the Elm Street movies, this one isn't high on the quality quotient, but it is entertaining. That's what we want from a flick, right?

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): With this movie I have seen every feature length movie Spielberg has directed (excluding his bit on the Twilight Zone flick - not out on DVD, and some early tv work like Savage). This is one of the classic Spielberg flicks and is a scifi/UFO movie about Richard Dreyfuss slowly going nuts after having several close encounters. His new obsession pushes his family away but he is ultimately validated when he discovers the government's involvement and sees an amazing UFO display. Sure, I just minimized the entire movie, but I didn't love it. I wanted to and this crap is right up my alley, but yadda yadda UFOs. It was interesting, but nothing that I would stand up and cheer about. If I saw this in the theatre, I imagine I would have been more impressed and the 1977 special effects would have been awesome thirty years ago (good lord, 30 years ago!). They still worked, but the movie just did not have the emotional impact I had hoped for.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

No Award

I was looking over my list of Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels since I have two at home from the library and two more on interlibrary loan and I noticed that there are several instances where no award was given. I knew that already. The longest gap before 1977 was the 21 years between 1920 and 1941. Interestingly enough 1920 would have been the third year for the award and they couldn't come to a consensus that year. Then: 1941, 1946, 1954, 1957, 1964, 1971, 1974, and 1977. So, every few years the Pulitzer committee did not hand out an award. The next awarding in 2007 will mark 30 years since the last time the Pulitzer committee failed to recognize a novel.

By my count, they're overdue.

I think I'm going through a Pulitzer stretch because after finishing the rather bad A Confederacy of Dunces I have the following either at home or on reserve at the library:

One of Ours (1923) - Willa Cather
Alice Adams (1922) - Booth Tarkington
The Able McLaughlins (1924) - Margaret Wilson
Gilead (2005) - Marilynne Robinson

I might hit up the Pulitzer novels I own and haven't read, as well.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Book Depository: Part VI

118: A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole. A co-worker of mine suggested I should read the character of Ignatius with the voice of "Comic Book Guy" from the Simpsons in mind. That worked for two lines and then I went back to my recurring Two Minute Hates. A Confederacy of Dunces is a comic Pulitzer Prize winning novel set in New Orleans where Ignatius is this obnoxious character who apparently was not properly socialized as a small child. He is something of a mental case, insists on talking and whining about his "valve", does not bathe or clean anything in his room. His white sheets are stained yellow from dirt, cannot hold down a job without getting fired. At one place he tries to make the factory workers rise up in revolution, but if anyone has anything like a rational opinion Ignatius is enraged.

I struggled. I did not laugh. I did not even smirk. Ignatius was such a disgusting protagonist that all I really wanted out of the novel was for someone to do great violence to him. Alas, Ignatius soldiers on making everyone else look stupid somehow. Please, someone tell me that New Orleans and the French Quarter is not populated by the people in this novel. Please.

119: Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain's memoir of his life in the world of professional cooking, where he came from, and what his experiences in the culinary industry have been. He has led something of a rock and roll lifestyle before he cleaned himself up and the kitchens he has worked in have frequently reflected that. Loud, intense, fast paced (all kitchens are fast paced), and populated by characters of dubious backgrounds but with a talent and capability to show up for work every day and do a damn good job. It's a fascinating look at what it takes to cook for a living and then Bourdain does something interesting by showing us the kitchen experience of another chef who runs a kitchen nothing like the way Bourdain runs a kitchen. Bourdain's personality comes out in Kitchen Confidential and we see how his personality is reflected in the kitchen that he runs. Very good book.

120: Kitty Goes to Washington - Carrie Vaughn. This is the second book in the two volume Carrie Vaughn set that I won in an online contest earlier this year. As I said when I wrote about Kitty and the Midnight Hour, I was not excited to win this one because...well, it's a werewolf novel. But, Vaughn does such a good job in building the character of Kitty, a late night radio talk show host who has a show about the supernatural and oh yeah, just happens to be a lycanthrope herself.

Kitty has been exiled from her home in Denver because she has broken with her pack. So, she takes her radio show on the road and each week does the show from another station. She finds out from her lawyer she has been summoned to Washington because the Senate is holding hearings on the supernatural. The hearings could be because of her show (she recently had Senator Joseph Duke, a hard core Bible Thumping Christian as a guest), but a government department also just went public about its funding and research into vampires and werewolves. What awaits Kitty in Washington?

Carrie Vaughn just spins a bloody entertaining story that needs to be devoured. Yes, bad puns intended. The novel flows from scene to scene, builds what we know of Kitty and her world, and transitions into a very surprising climax. After winning the first two Kitty novels in a contest I am going to willingly seek out the next Kitty novel when it is released in 2007.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

New DeLillo: Falling Man

I just read that Don DeLillo has a new novel called Falling Man coming out summer 2007. That's exciting news for me as DeLillo is one of my favorite novelists. When he is at his best he is an engrossing writer. When he's not...he produces The Body Artist.

And for those wondering, Falling Man is not a sequel to Alison McGhee's Falling Boy (though that would be an interesting literary game).

Reading Philip Roth

Well that just messes up my head. I have Roth's novel I Married a Communist out from the library because, well, Philip Roth's recent novels are amazing.

I knew the book was part of a loose trilogy which contained the Pulitzer Prize winning American Pastoral and The Human Stain (which I feel is superior to American Pastoral).

Turns out, the trilogy goes like this:
American Pastoral (1997)
I Married a Communist (1998)
The Human Stain (2000)

So naturally I read The Human Stain first, then American Pastoral and now I'll be reading I Married a Communist.


On the plus side this is only a loose trilogy without a continuing storyline or characters in common (except for the Roth stand in Nathan Zuckerman).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Book Depository: Part V

114: Some Writers Deserve to Starve - Elaura Niles. This book is quite a bit smaller than I thought. It's of a size as the bathroom reading joke books, but there is actually a good deal of valuable information in this little book. Elaura Niles writes about 31 common misperceptions of the publishing industry and gives writers seeking publication advice about agents and publishing and how to present oneself and good tips. There is very little info regarding actually producing a good manuscript, but if you have one then this book can help prevent you from falling into some traps and missteps while seeking publication. It's a decent and short book that is worth checking out.

115: Messenger - Lois Lowry. Lowry finishes the trilogy she began with The Giver and continued with Gathering Blue. Now in Messenger she focuses on a character named Matty (Matt from Gathering Blue). Matty is living with Kira's father in Village, where the ruined people go and are accepted. Village is led and guided by Leader, a young man we know better as Jonas from The Giver. Village was a welcoming place until the villagers started Trading and giving up part of what made them kind and they become secretive and vote to close Village to outsiders despite the fact that all of them were once outsiders. Matty is sent to post notices in Forest, which is also getting dangerous, about the closing of the village.

Messenger is a better novel than Gathering Blue but not quite up to The Giver (but that is a difficult thing to attain). Here there is more action and there is a better sense of the threat posed by Trading and the hardening of the hearts of the villagers when they only look to themselves. The story here is stronger than Lowry's previous effort.

116: Lucky Girls - Nell Freudenberger. This collection of give short stories is Freudenberger's debut collection and it is astounding because she was signed to a generous contract on the strength of the opening story in the New Yorker. With that pedigree and level of expectation it would have been easy for Lucky Girls to fail to live up to expectations. The work here is strong, though. The last story, "Letter from the Last Bastion" is possibly the best in the collection as there is a shifting understanding of who the narrator is, who she is writing to, why she is writing, and what she is writing about as this novella length story progresses. Lucky Girls features stories about girls, or women, in foreign lands (apparently Freudenberger has also done a fair amount of traveling despite being young) and the stories reveals an understanding of humanity in different cultures and all of the characters, American or otherwise, feel authentic.

117: Darth Bane: Path of Destruction - Drew Karpyshyn. Going from a well regarded short story collection to Star Wars may seem to be a bit of a down swing but good writing is good writing and it turns out that Path of Destruction is just a well told story. Set way back in the Jedi Vs Sith wars in the Old Republic, Path of Destruction tells of the end of the Sith as an organization and the rise of the Sith and the Law of Two which we hear about in the prequels. Why must there be only two Sith at one time, a Master and an Apprentice? Path of Destruction tells us why and how. Who was the founder of the new Sith religion/power? Darth Bane. This is his story.

Karpyshyn keeps Path of Destruction mostly focused on Bane. There are episodes where he gives the viewpoint of other characters, including some later in the novel of the Jedi fighting the Sith (a man named Hoth...hmm, where have we heard name before?), but the more Karpyshyn stays on Bane the stronger the novel is. Bane is an interesting character in why he joined the Sith and why he acts the way he does and Karpyshyn humanizes what could easily have been Darth Maul: the great evil Sith with a cool weapon but with no character. Bane is a drawn out character and one which messes with our sympathies because the "Bad Guy" is our protagonist and getting into his mind helps us understand him. From a perspective, what he began was one of the great evils of the Galaxy, but Bane is sympathetic and we understand why he did what he did. Understanding brings compassion, even for those who "should" be the wicked. Well done, Drew Karpyshyn. Well done.

Interiors (1978)

Interiors (1978): Interiors is considered Woody Allen's first "serious" movie despite coming out a year after Allen won Best Picture for Annie Hall. I guess Annie Hall would be one of the last "comedies" to win Best Picture, but I didn't find Annie Hall to be all that funny, either. Humorous, I suppose, but not so much of a comedy.

So, Interiors. Allen's first drama. To quote Men on Film: Hated it!

Seriously, I was bored. It can't be my dwindling attention span because the movie is only 90 minutes long, but maybe we can blame it on my lack of critical facilities since I'm currently enjoying the hell out of An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder. Clearly this says something about my ability to judge film.

With that said, however, Interiors is a dreary movie. Everyone talks quietly and slowly and with great deliberateness and it is supposed to sound important.

Gag me with a spork. I'd love to see Amy Poehler's "Aunt" (played, I believe, by Kristin Wiig) from Weekend Update review this one.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nightmares vs Bargaining

I've been watching the first season of Buffy the Vampire slayer between stuff from Netflix and it is interesting going back having seen all seven seasons of Buffy and five seasons of Angel. You just know more stuff.

Interesting tidbit of the day: In the Season 1 Episode "Nightmares" one of Buffy's nightmares (fears) is that the Master will break loose and he will bury her alive. Flash forward to the first episode of the sixth season after Buffy sacrificed herself to stop Glory, Buffy is dead and she is buried. But when Willow's spell brings her back to life, Buffy is buried alive. There's some continuity! And it was only natural due to the story arc, but watching the early episodes knowing how everything turns out is interesting.

The Book Depository: Part IV

111: The Blood Knight - Greg Keyes. The Blood Knight is the third volume in Keyes's A Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series. It took me longer to read the first hundred pages of this book than it did the remaining three hundred. I just could not get into the story despite being thrown into action and some battles and a bit of mystery. Keyes slowly reveals some of what came before, so if you are fuzzy on what happened in The Charnel Prince, I suggest that you take the time to go back and read it. What we do know is that Prince Robert has taken over the throne of Crotheny, having assassinated most of the royals except for Queen Muriele (now captive) and Anne Dare (on the run). Robert is also dead...yet somehow alive. Got that?

Good. Now, Anne Dare is seeking an army to take back her throne and the Briar King is still on the loose doing lord knows what but making brambles grow where he walks. Leoff, the composer, is in prison because a symphony he composed inflamed the peasants against Robert.

Now, Stephen, the former monk has been captured by slinders, creatures of the Briar King and he has a long journey in front him. Anne sends Aspar, her holter (forest ranger, let's say) to find Stephen. With Anne are Cazio, the hilarious foreign swordsman (think Inigo Montoya) and Neil, the knight. Still with me?

No? That's okay. After we get past the first hundred pages Keyes really draws the reader in and he hooked me with the richness of the world. I forgot my frustration and was enveloped in Crotheny and the magic and oddness of the world. Keyes is doing interesting things with the high fantasy genre and this series and it is worth reading to see how he develops it. That isn't much of a recommendation, but describing the story at this point is nearly impossible because Keyes has a shifting viewpoint (like that of George Martin) where the characters are barely interacting with each other and doing vastly different things that you can not quite figure out how they will intersect and form the core of the story to come. The most interesting thing is that he has taken a group of characters the reader has come to view as "good guys" and I have a very strong feeling that he is starting to turn one or two of them to "bad guys" even though the characters themselves haven't changed...but the situations have and it's an odd turn because you can see a couple of characters starting to line up on different sides without them realizing what is happening.

By the end of the book I was sold and am eagerly awaiting The Born Queen. It's worth the effort to get through the opening.

112: A Short History of Myth - Karen Armstrong. I read this book because it is the first volume in the Myth series where popular authors (I think popular) tackle various myths (Margaret Atwood takes the first myth in the Penelopiad). The title of this book tells you everything you need to is a short history of myth. Armstrong (A History of God) breaks the slim volume into sections based on historical era and covers the evolution of how humanity has viewed and used myth and what some of those myths were.
And I almost fell asleep reading it. Honestly, I didn't care. That's not a knock on Armstrong, but more that the subject matter of an academic overview of myth is dry stuff, especially since we're not reading the actual myths here. Move along, nothing to see here.

113: Honored Enemy - Raymond E. Feist and William R. Forstchen. Honored Enemy was originally only released outside the United States as part of the Legends of the Riftwar series that took place during and around the time of the Riftwar series. Feist was not able to come to a deal with his US publisher for more than 5 years until finally, the series is coming to the United States. First up is Honored Enemy.

Set 9 years into the Riftwar it features no characters we would know from the main series but instead tells of Hartraft's Marauders, a band of soldiers tied to Yabon, but with autonomy to operate behind the lines of the enemy and do as much damage as possible. The Kingdom men are fighting the Tsurani from Kelewan, but when a band of Moredhel (Dark Elves) pin down both the Marauders as well as a platoon of Tsurani under Asayaga, the enemies must join together in temporary truce or fall to the Dark Brotherhood.

I didn't expect much from this book. Feist's Riftwar Legacy, based on computer games, was rather bad and if it took five years to get published in the US how good could this one be?

Apparently, very. Honored Enemy is a strong story of two enemies working together through mutual distrust and cultural differences to stay alive. The story is told through the viewpoints of Dennis Hartraft, Asayaga, and occasionally from Borvai, a moredhel chief pursuing the humans.

Feist does well with collaborations as his Empire trilogy with Janny Wurts was very strong and this book with William Forstchen is also strong. There is good characterization and development of Dennis and Asayaga and the pace of the story is swift enough that we get past the fact that this is only a small episode in the scale of the Riftwar and features no major player. But it's a good story, perhaps even a ripping yarn which Feist so proudly told early in his career.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NaNo 2006


Ordinary People (1980): I think this is the movie that beat out Raging Bull at the Academy Awards and for that I held a little bit of resentment towards it, but Ordinary People is a good movie. It is a very, very different movie than Scorsese made, but once the movie got rolling and I was able to figure out just what is going on, Redford's movie gained power. Ordinary People is about loss and how the death of a son can tear a family apart and how everyone deals with loss in a different way. Starring Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and Timothy Hutton, the star here is actually young Hutton as the remaining son in the family. I expected to be bored here and unimpressed, but Ordinary People is better than people give it credit for (even given the slew of awards it won).

Fever Pitch (2005): Jimmy Fallon is a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox. Say, obsessed. He meets and falls for Drew Barrymore during the off season when she has no idea about his obsession but during the season their relationship is strained. Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, this was shot during the 2004 season with the assumption that Boston would lose (the novel is about a relationship based around a team that can't win the big one, like Boston), but Boston's World Series win changed the ending of Fever Pitch. This is a comedy, but it is not really over the top. There is some silliness, but much more heart.

In Her Shoes (2005): Another underrated movie. This one was directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, 8 Mile) and in the hands of anyone else it would probably be called a chick flick, but Hanson turns this into a good story. Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette star in this movie about two sisters. Diaz was always the pretty, party girl and Collette grew up responsible and a lawyer. Diaz spends her time out getting drunk and moving from house to house and ends up crashing at her sister's house. The lack of thoughtfulness or consideration given by Diaz causes Collette to kick her out and Diaz goes from Philly to Florida to live with their grandmother whom Diaz just found out about. It's a story about family and love and sisters and really, it's just a well acted well directed movie that was just good and enjoyable. Shirley Maclaine co-stars.

Gandhi (1982): Three hours of outstanding work by Ben Kingsley. This is one of those movies that after seeing it I wondered why it took me so long to watch it. Kingsley is Mohandas K. Gandhi, a London educated lawyer who faces discrimination when he travels to South Africa to work as a lawyer. There he is not a respected man. He is a black man. When he is thrown off of a train because he would not go to third class even though he purchased a first class ticket he begins his crusade for equal rights for Indians in South Africa, but then in India. Gandhi is reborn, in a sense, and this rebirth transformed India and touched the world. Gandhi takes us from the first days of Gandhi's work through the end of his life. Outstanding movie.

Never Say Never Again (1983): Of course the first non-Pierce Brosnan Bond movie I watch is the one that is not part of the official canon, is a Thunderball remake, and was made by another company because of a dispute about the rights of Thunderball. Naturally. So, we have an aging Sean Connery in his last role as James Bond (this is addressed in the movie has Bond seems to have lost a step or two) trying to stop SPECTRE from launching two nuclear warheads they stole during a test flight of dummy warheads. It is all pretty silly, but the movie was decent enough. Nothing that makes me say "yay Bond" as I imagine the new Casino Royale will, but it was not bad.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Book Depository: Part III

107. The Adventuress - Audrey Niffenegger. For those readers who loved The Time Traveler's Wife, please move along. This is nothing like the novel. At all. The Adventuress is a novel in pictures along the lines of her previous book The Three Incestuous Sisters. On alternating pages there is a spare amount of text and a picture of the action. This is not spare like Don DeLillo's novel The Body Artist, but spare like a children's book which gives an idea of the action but the image is everything. The image here is everything, but this is as far from a children's book as can be. The subject matter is adult. The novel (in pictures) follows a young woman who was not born, but was made. There is kidnapping, attempted rape, the girl cocooning herself and giving birth to a cat, a love story with Napoleon and death. I imagine there is an audience for this, but I'm not it.

108. Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry. Gathering Blue is Lowry's follow up to her award winning The Giver. Gathering Blue kind of sort of inhabits the same world, though there only one brief passage in the book that connects it to The Giver, but it is part of a loose trilogy which includes The Giver. Where The Giver had a society that was filled with technology, Gathering Blue goes the other way. Kira, our heroine, lives in a village where there is very little technology. Her world has suffered some sort of calamity in the past. Kira's mother had to fight to even keep Kira because Kira was born with a deformed leg and with that deformity it was assumed she would not grow up to be able to work in the village. Kira has proven many wrong, but when her mother died of a sickness, Kira's world changes. She is taken to apprentice to be a Weaver because she has skills with threads and she is given the task of mending the robe of The Singer. With this Kira learns more about her world and herself and the truth about the village. Gathering Blue is a very good book for the YA audience, but it is not quite as powerful and moving and important as The Giver.

109. On Writing - Stephen King. Two parts memoir, one part writing lesson. That is what Stephen King gives us here. The first part of the book is King giving us episodes from his life as a boy and a young man and then as a young writer to illustrate how he became the writer he did. There is also a bit of a lesson about who King was before he sold Carrie and before the paperback rights to Carrie were sold. I found it very interesting. The second section is King actually talking about writing. There is some very good information here, in particular King has a thing about action verbs and advises against passive voice. That makes sense because every English teacher/professor I have met had a thing about passive voice, though they never explained it as well as King does here. King also has a problem with adverbs. This second section is worth reading. The final section may be of most interest to long time fans of King because he covers the period after he was struck by a truck and nearly killed. Overall: Excellent book for fans of Stephen King and for folks who want to read the thoughts of a best selling author on writing.

I have not read much King - just the four stories in Different Seasons (the stories that became Shawshank, Stand By Me, and Apt Pupil, plus one other which was probably creepier than the first three) and the first three Dark Tower novels. I view King the same way as Charles Dickens. I'm sure there are entire English Departments suddenly rising up in protest, but Dickens and King were both incredibly popular writers of the time. I do not know if Dickens was viewed as "Literary" at the time or if that distinction was even made, but he was a writer for the masses. One college professor loved to recount the story of people waiting at the docks for the next edition of the newspaper to come out so they could get the next installment on a serialized Dickens novel. Tell me that's not the Stephen King of 200 years ago.

110. The Elric Saga: Part I - Michael Moorcock. This omnibus edition collects three of Moorcock's Elric novels: Elric of Melnibone, Sailor on the Seas of Fate, and Weird of the White Wolf. This was my first introduction to the character of Elric, though not of the Eternal Champion concept that Moorcock has been working on for decades. Elric is a sorcerer king, and an albino with very weak blood who keeps himself strong through sorcery. Through treachery Elric loses and regains and loses and regains the throne of Melnibone and goes on various adventures eventually gaining the black runesword Stormbringer which has a power of its own and feeds on souls and compels Elric to act in ways he detests, but it gives him strength and he finds himself somewhat subservient to the power of the sword. This is classic fantasy with plenty of adventure and action and battle. I will say little about the view of women in these three books as the women all seem to be dependent on men and fall into bed rather easily. It is a bit much, but like I said, this is classic fantasy: the boy's club.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


This is so weird! I had a post about some books I finished as a draft for a week because I didn't finish it last weekend and I didn't get a chance to finish it until now.

So, I figured that it would still post as an entry today. It didn't. It posted a couple of entries down as an entry on the 18th. Go figure.

So, The Book Depository II is here.

NaNoWriMo Update - 45k

I hit 45,000 words on my NaNo novel earlier today. I'm ahead of pace to finish my 50,000 words before the 30th, which will give me some breathing room. This has been a successful weekend on the writing front. Some ideas have been pretty good, I think, others less so but I needed to keep writing.

I don't think I'll be done at 50,000 but I will have accomplished the goal of NaNo, so I'll be proud about. Hopefully I'll finish fairly soon after and then the printed out novel will go in a shoe box for two months while I work on some short stories I have brimming in my mind and then I'll be ready to look at the novel again and see what I can edit/revise/cut/add/trim/move/etc. I know I'm dialogue heavy in places and could use more description from the first person perspective I am writing in. I've done fairly well to keep the passive voice out of the novel, but I'll be looking for that and try to get action verbs in the story to move things along. I've been concious of that, at least.

45,545 words so far.

I'm thinking that in revisions I'm going to jettison part of the diary format. I'll keep first person perspective, but the diary entries is killing me. Moreso because there is no real structure to the diary format as far as I can tell. There is no good reason why entries begin and end in certain places except that it is where I stopped for the day. It just doesn't work.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

NaNoWriMo Update

I've passed 33,000 words on my NaNo and I am a little bit behind pace to get to 50,000 words. The pace, from day 1, is 1667 words per day. To reach the goal I need under 2000, which is good, so I'm working on it but I've lost the fast pace I had early on when I was on pace to reach 70,000 words.

But, it's coming along.

And, I have a new Book Depository post in the works. Just need to write a little bit more about Octavia Butler's vampire novel (and man was that depressing. You try writing in that same genre after reading a master's work like what Butler produces.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Book Depository: Part II

104: The Clan Corporate - Charles Stross. I have come to believe that it is only with every other book of The Merchant Princes will Charles Stross deliver a good book. The reason for this, I suppose, is that I had heard that Stross was originally planning a trilogy and Tor required the novels to each be split, so every two novels was originally concieved as one book. That is the story I heard, and if that is true, and it feels true, then it means that each book is only half a story. It also explains why The Hidden Family was so much better than The Family Trade and why The Clan Corporate felt empty and almost like very little actually happened to advance the story. This novel felt like it was setting up the second half of the book (due next year and titled A Merchants Revolution).

Blah blah. So what is the book actually about? Miriam, the tech reporter from our world who we met in the first book and who turned out to be part of the noble ruling class from an alternate mirror world to our own which uses some of our technology, but is otherwise lo-tech...well, Miriam discovered the existence of a third world which is approximately a hundred years behind our own with a different set of history and she set up a company to give her family a different revenue stream than the drug trafficking they had been doing.

Well, when we start The Clan Corporate Miriam is suffering under the restrictions her family has put on her because they do not really trust her. Meanwhile, the United States Government has an informant from that noble ruling family and is working to put a stop to this drug trafficking and they also view this as a rogue state which presents a danger to the United States.

There should be so much going on here in this novel, but there really isn't. The Clan Corporate does not take off at all.

Which means that hopefully A Merchants Revolution is better.

105: Fledgling - Octavia E. Butler. Fledgling is Butler's final novel before she died and it is a vampire story. But, it isn't like other vampire stories. The heroine is a 53 year old vampire who looks like an eleven year old girl and is still a child in vampire society, but she has otherwise the intelligence and mannerism of an adult.

The novel follows Shori, the young vampire as she recovers her memory. We first meet her after she has been brutally attacked and without much of her memory. She slowly recovers knowledge of what she is and who she is, but much is left unknown. With the help of a human, who becomes her symbiont, Octavia Butler draws the reader into a world of vampires unlike any we have previously experienced before in fiction. This is not Anne Rice and this is not Joss Whedon. This is something vastly different and it is outstanding.

106: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006. I have been getting progressively more and more disappointed with each Nonrequired collection that comes out. The first one was outstanding and I still remember a couple of the stories (Journal of a New COBRA Recruit? Genius!). The first collection had some clever and funny pieces that were unlike any traditional short fiction I had come across. Each subsequent collection became somewhat less clever and less funny. I know this isn't Best American Humor Writing or anything like that, but some of the fun had been taken out of the collection. Not sure where it went. Every now and then there was a story or a piece that really connected and there are essays and stuff mixed in and there is some good quality here. Some of the nonfiction here is excellent, in particular the excerpts from a soldier's blog while serving in Iraq. But really, I'm a little disappointed here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Writers Beware

Ann Crispin (author of three rather good Star Wars novels and other SFF) has written a blog post about the potential danger of NaNoWriMo. One would not ordinarily think that NaNoWriMo poses a threat but what Crispin is writing about is scam agents and scam publishers. Folks writing NaNoWriMo may seek to get their work published in the coming months and if they do not research who they are submitting their work to, they may end up scammed by those seeking to con the writers out of their money.

I don't think I would fall into this trap, but not because I think I am smarter than everyone else. On the off chance that I would submit a manuscript to a publisher I would do a good deal of research to make sure that my story fits that publisher and hopefully not fall into a vanity publisher. Research is our friend.

Crispin is the Chair of an organization called Writer Beware, a resource for writers to learn about what to look for so they don't get scammed.

Joe's NaNoWriMo update: I'm just under 29,000 words.

The Book Depository: Part I

102: The New Rebellion - Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This Star Wars novel is getting closer to the New Jedi Order series which changes the nature of the Star Wars Universe. Only three novels written by Timothy Zahn stand between this book and Vector Prime. Once again a threat which could be the greatest threat the New Republic has ever faced has surfaced. This time I actually believed it, which is a plus. Because of a bombing attack at the Senate which killed several Senators and injured many more (including President Leia Organa-Solo), former Imperials have been able to become elected to the Senate in greater numbers than before. Leia has to deal with the immense distrust she feels for the former Imperials and hold herself back from (in my opinion) starting down a path to be like the Emperor in crushing dissent. Evidence for the attack points to her husband, Han Solo, and touches on his past as a smuggler. Luke Skywalker is hunting down a former apprentice of his who is somehow involved in this as a Force user is also responsible for the killing of millions of lives. All of this ties together and there is more plotting and schemes here than one can shake a stick at.

You know, when I put it like that the book does not sound half bad. To be honest, The New Rebellion is not a bad story, but I found it dry and somewhat dull. I suspect Rusch is a good author and she has apparently won nearly every major SFF award out there for her contributions to the genre, but the novel was not good enough to merit a recommendation and it lacked the feel of adventure and excitement (which I firmly believe can still be found in political wrangling, so I don't want just wanton adventure) and other Star Wars authors have succeeded in this (Matthew Stover, Karen Traviss, Ann Crispin, etc). And I pass.

103: The Forever War - Joe Haldeman. The Forever War is a Hugo and Nebula award winning novel which transfers Haldeman's real life experience of Vietnam and brings it to a future war setting set out in the Universe. We get new recruits, some of the elite from Earth in 1997 set out to train for a war that will take them hundreds of light years away from their home planet, which means that while they will be newly rich when they return (interest accruing over hundreds of years), everything they know will be gone. In a sense that may be part of the experience of the Vietnam veteran where having experienced a year or more of something so alien, the normal life the soldier returned to felt like something different than what he left.

Haldeman writes in short chapters, giving us just enough information to grasp the training and the experiences of the men and women, but not enough to spend too much time on pointless training exercises and excess combat. He shows us glimpses and somehow it is enough. It works, and perhaps it should not.

Joe Haldeman wrote this novel when he returned from Vietnam and he figured that the late 1990's would give the opportunity for soldiers who fought in Vietnam to be military officers in the military still, so there is that tie. Even though we are now a decade past the original setting of the novel Haldeman did not make any changes later on, accepting the novel for what it was. Even knowing that nothing like this was possible ten years ago (which could hurt science fiction storytelling), Haldeman's novel feels authentic because it is the soldier's experience he is giving us and not just a science fiction story that would be dated. The setting matters because of the Vietnam tie in, but given a similar conflict or a fictional conflict, The Forever War could just as well be set thirty years in our future. Either way, it is a damn good novel.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Prestige

A magic trick consists of three parts. The first part is called the pledge where the magician shows us something ordinary. We know that something is going to happen, but we are seeing something common. The second part is called the turn and this is where the magician does something with the ordinary object and we do not really know what has happened. The final part is the prestige where the magician shows us something amazing. We try to figure out the secret but we can't because we are not really looking and we don't really want to know.

This is the basic premise of a magic trick as explained in the opening of The Prestige. Throughout the film the characters are attempting to set up better and better magic tricks but what this is telling is actually that The Prestige itself is set up like a magic trick: meaning that there is a three act structure to the movie with a pledge, turn, and prestige.

Here is the pledge: Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are both magicians. Bale is the one with the most talent, but he is not a showman. That he is so good at magic is his asset, but he cannot play to the crowds very well. Hugh Jackman is the opposite. Jackman is a master showman and with the right trick he can have the crowd feeding out of his hand. The only trouble is that Jackman is not exceptionally original with his work. But rather than simply be competing magicians, Bale and Jackman hate each other and cannot let go of their grudge (the film reveals the origins of the grudge, but I will leave that for the viewer to discover). They actively work to sabotage each other and upstage the other's tricks and performances. This is the pledge. This is the something ordinary that director Christopher Nolan shows us. Then he delivers a turn and a prestige.

The simple truth is that Christopher Nolan does not make bad movies (Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins). As good as his other work has been, The Prestige is one of his best, though I do not know exactly how to grade or rank them. The structure of this movie is such that we are constantly reevaluating what we know about the characters, their motivations, and their actions. Simple things like hero and villain do not really apply and while making a movie about performing magic tricks could easily devolve into examinations of the tricks, the actual magic tricks are almost beside the point. The point is getting to be able to perform better than the other guy and to ruin the life and career of the other guy. But each character has very personal and different motivations from the other and Christopher Nolan does a fantastic job in keeping the focus of the film evenly on the two characters. This is a movie that would reward multiple viewings and would likely change our understanding of certain events throughout the movie. As we learn more everything changes, but not in the sense that the director is pulling our collective chains and jerking us around to be clever. The concept of the three act magic trick provides the structure and the dueling magicians provides the reason as the movie itself is a game of one-upsmanship between Bale and Jackman.

The Prestige is a damn good film and one which after leaving the movie theater my wife and I spent the car ride home discussing different variations on what exactly happened and what that meant for scenes earlier in the movie. There was more discussion on the movie than we have had about probably any other movie, and that I am still thinking about it several days later means that it left more of an impression that other movies.

What I am saying here is that The Prestige is easily one of the best movies of the year and that you need to go out and see the movie. Run, do not walk to the theater and buy your ticket.