Wednesday, October 22, 2008

City of Embers

I have not seen City of Embers yet, and am not even sure I have the name exactly right. I just heard about it from my 8-year-old nephew, and he was very excited about the show after having seen it over the weekend.

It sounds to me like a good survival story, with society surviving (though perhaps in a sort of dystopian form) after some catastrophe or another (stated with true 8-year-old vagueness, I hope). It sounded like a film that should be similar to The Postman with flavors of WALL•E, or something along those lines.

I'm not sure when it will finally come my way, but based on my nephew's review, I'll try to catch it when it does.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Richard Kearney's Strangers, Gods, and Monsters

Richard Kearney's Strangers, Gods, and Monsters is a very well-written work of literary and cultural criticism. I finished the book about a month ago (after taking a month or two to read it), and am still enjoying mulling over the ideas he presented. I loved how he used contemporary fascination with figures of science fiction and fantasy to explore the role of the Other in our lives. He notes that we have traditionally tended to break our understanding of others down into two distinct groups, those who are shunned (scapegoats and monsters) and those who are exalted (gods). He then moves on to the call of many postmodern thinkers that we have heard for many years now — that we cease to impose our judgments on strangers and take the sting out of Otherness. I liked the move that Kearney suggests that we make, though. He points out that tolerance actually requires a more not less judicial approach to the Other. While it is true that we don't want to force a single culture's standards on everyone, Kearney recognizes that we need to be able to judge when we meet Others which ones are friends, and which seek to harm us. Very intelligent and very convincing, this book is one that I think is worth taking a good long time to read and ponder.

Included in the discussion are many science fiction and fantasy texts (the Alien movies gets a whole chapter, and is quite central to the first half of the discussion). While this is not the type of speculative fiction book I normally discuss at this blog, it is one that should be of interest to fans of the genre.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tamburlaine Must Die

Louise Welsh's Tamburlaine Must Die is the kind of book I normally expect to love. It has Christopher Marlowe chasing about a live version of his character, who is threatening to murder him.

But the story really missed the mark for me. It isn't that the writing is necessarily bad (in some places it is quite nice), but just that the story doesn't quite work out nicely, to me. Perhaps it feels a bit rushed at the end. There is not really a sufficient feeling of mystery, and the plot turns out to be very different from a confrontation between author and character, like I was led to expect from the blurb on the book. (If you're expecting that too, don't read Tamburlaine Must Die... unless you don't mind something very different than you expect, of course.)

I think it could have been very interesting to watch a story unfold around a confrontation between Marlowe and Tamburlaine. And I definitely think that would have worked a bit better than what does happen on the pages here. I think the book is basically for people like me... those who would read any story that tries to do something with Marlowe's life, just to see how it turns out. Since this one is short and an easy read, it doesn't disappoint me that I did read it... just that it didn't do something a little more interesting.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Paperback Writer

Stephen Bly's Paperback Writer is a book that, I think, tries to do something interesting. It seems to me to be a novel that generates a sort of dialogue between a postmodern approach to literature and Christian thought. I am not sure whether that is exactly Bly's intent, but I am not one to think authorial intent matters all that much. Instead, it seems to me, in reading the book, that this is what is happening. And it doesn't happen in a way that is all heady and intellectual. It is done pretty casually, with a discussion taking place between an author and his character about the boundaries between reality and fiction, text and outside-the-text (if there even is such a thing).

I wasn't completely crazy about the book while reading it. There was not much happening in some parts, then what did happen often seemed overblown. (And I think that was partly intentional, as if to give us the idea of an overwrought mind through which we are viewing the events.) I still wouldn't go so far as to say that this is a great book, or even an especially good one, though I think I can go so far to say that it is not bad, and that it seeks to do some interesting things. It won't ever break into my top 100 books list, but it did give me enough to think about for a while after having read it. To me, there's definitely something to be said for that.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Historian

I'm always a sucker for a good vampire story. (Sorry, couldn't help it.) Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian is certainly one worth reading. It is spooky, and really steeped in vampire lore. I also love how it ties the whole story in with Vlad the Impaler. The way the fantasy and history weave together really makes the story fun.

Also enjoyable is the novel's globetrotting tendency. You get to travel with the characters all over the world, and the movement from location to location makes the read that much more fun.

All in all, The Historian is a book I don't mind recommending. We've passed it around my group of friends, and almost all of us enjoyed it.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a very moving book. It is the story of Liesel, the Word Shaker, a girl who lived through Nazi Germany. I know, I know, there are lots of stories about that time and place out there. But what makes Liesel's story (most) special is that it is told by Death. As he goes about his work (and that was a very busy time for him), he meets Liesel several times. He was very impressed with what he saw in her, and so tells her story.

And her story is one that is worthy of being told by Death.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

reviews and poetry

After my most recent post about a review I wrote for Sloth Jockey, I realized that some of my other pieces there, both reviews and poetry, might be of interest to fans of speculative fiction. I'll be submitting there more over time, so that list should grow, and you can keep up with it at my author page, if you are interested.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rossum's Universal Robots

R. U. R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) was written in 1921 — way ahead of its time. It is set in a factory where robots are produced. The main tension in the drama comes from the question of the possibility of evolution in the robots — can they develop a soul? Do they deserve the same treatment as humans? What will happen to humans when robots evolve?

All good questions. And amazing that they were being explored in a 1921 Czech play. Interestingly, the word "robot" comes to us via this play. It is from the Czech, meaning "slave." That is a good indicator of the position that the makers of the robots originally intended they occupy. Their role has always been defined by their name.

They play does not only explore technology. Like any good science fiction work, the question of technology is foregrounded, but it is also the site in which other issues central to society's development are explored. In this case, we see questions of the role of the media raised, along with the ethics of the work force. It is a very funny piece, not just for its questions about robots, but because of how it examines our treatment of one another.

Any real fan of science fiction should take the time to read R. U. R.. Like almost any play, it can be read in one sitting. It is a good read. And even if reading plays is not normally your thing, this one is worth it just because of its place in the history of the development of an idea. It is very nicely done.

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