2013年12月31日 星期二

"The Time Traders" by Andre Norton (1958)

"'They have other things besides a-j's here.  This place is strictly hush-hush.  Even the a-j's do not set down too often for fear they will be tracked by radar.  Where have you been, boy?  Don't you know the Reds are circling around up here?  These fellows watch for Red activity, and the Reds watch them.  They play it under the table on both sides."

It may surprise you to learn that Andre Norton was really Alice Norton, a woman who saw a lot of sci fi/fantasy novels published in the 40s and 50s.  She was well known in her lifetime, even if many readers mistakenly thought she was a man.

"The Time Traders" is set against a background of Cold War paranoia.  A team of Americans and a team of Soviets travel back in time to prehistoric England, where they intrigue against one another.  The Soviets, the Americans suspect, have uncovered some kind of "lost technology" from a vanished race, and the Americans are desperate to both discover this race and to reverse a "technology gap" between themselves and the Soviets.

All of the characters that inhabit this novel are stock characters, seen in countless other novels from the same time period.  There is the rebel looking for a cause, the experienced older man who guides him, the gruff general, the saboteur, and other types familiar from countless other pulp novels.  Norton handles these characters in a deft, workmanlike way, and I could not fault her pacing or sense of character development.

What I can fault, however, are the causality issues which permeate this book.  Such issues are endemic to the time travel genre, but they are particularly obvious in "The Time Traders."  It is these issues that place this novel firmly within the gadget-driven, predictable order of science fiction, and separate it from more fully realized works within the genre.

For one thing, the mechanism that allows the characters to travel backwards in time is never described in any detail.  Neither are the limitations on time travel adequately addressed.  Time travel is only a plot device in "The Time Traders," and this is a shame because one gets the feeling that Norton, had she been more adventurous, might have used this plot device for so much more.

It is also never explained why the characters can only travel into the past, and not into the future.  Neither is it explained why the characters can only travel to one period in human history.  It is also never explained how their travel into the past wouldn't create a host of paradoxes, with or without their questionable doctrine of non-interference.

I wonder, for example, why two nations would bother squaring off in the recesses of British history.  Why not instead travel into yesterday?  By simply knowing how the stock market went the day before, the Russians or the Americans could have caused one another incalculable amounts of damage, and in such a case "blending in" with the local populations would have presented no problem.  

This also brings to mind the continual time constraints that characters seem to be under.  If, for example, you have discovered the Russians hiding out in the prehistoric Baltic, why fight them the next day, when they know you're coming?  Why not fight them three days before that, when they didn't even know you were there?

I could go on, but anyone who's expended any thought on the idea of time travel can come up with many more examples on their own.  It is such examples that continually popped into my head as I read "The Time Traders," and it was such examples that ultimately ruined the book for me.

"The Time Traders" isn't terrible, but I wouldn't recommend it.  As late 50s science fiction goes, it is exceedingly average.

2013年12月28日 星期六

"Quest" by Dorothy Oxley (1990)

I don't know where the hell my mom found this book, but it was among the three books she sent me for Christmas.  I've never heard of Dorothy Oxley, I've never heard of Lion Publishing, and all of the other books advertised in the back of this book are unknown to me.

"Quest" is book that reminded me very much of Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Sword of Aldones," though it is better written.  On a distant planet resembling medieval Europe, a crippled boy tags along on a quest for a starship.  They must fight an evil army of psychics at every turn, but by the end... well, you can guess how it ends.

It's a readable book, but nothing special.  The author attempts to work a lot of Christian imagery into the story, though the quest at the center of this story lacks the kind of theological or philosophical depth that a more thoughtful writer might have brought to the material.

"Quest" is a forgettable work of fantasy.  It's not bad, but not worth seeking out.

2013年12月5日 星期四

Comic Book Movies as of December 2013

Saw "Thor: The Dark World" a while back, just a couple days after it premiered in Taiwan.  I thought it was a vast improvement over the first "Thor," and it reminded me of the run Walt Simonson did on the comics when I was a kid.  While "Thor: The Dark World" wasn't as earth-shattering as Surtur forging a sword and signaling Ragnarok, it was a solid, fast-paced action movie.  It was also much better than the disappointing "Iron Man 3."

With Thor 2 out of the way, 2014 will see the arrival of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" in April, "Guardians of the Galaxy" the following summer, and "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" in 2015.  The preview for the next Captain America film has already appeared, and it looks like it will be even better than Thor 2.  

I'm a bit skeptical about "Guardians of the Galaxy," especially after that weak post-credits scene at the end of Thor 2.  It will be quite a departure from what Marvel has done already, and we'll see if director James Gunn's brand of "funny" really works in a Marvel context.  Hopefully we won't have another "Howard the Duck" on our hands.

I have a hard time imagining that the Avengers sequel won't be good.  All of the cast from the first film are returning, and Joss Whedon is once again writing and directing, so it seems like a sure thing.  The Avengers will be facing off against their robot adversary Ultron, with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch added to the roster.  I'm interested to see what they do with Quicksilver, since the Marvel movies haven't done much with super speed thus far.

I doubt that the cinematic Scarlet Witch will look half as sexy as her comic book counterpart.  The comic book Scarlet Witch has one of the sexiest costumes ever, and I suspect that director Whedon will be under pressure to make her less of a sex object.  This is unfortunate, since it is this very sex appeal that has made her one of the more interesting characters in the Avengers lineup.

Edgar Wright's "Ant-Man," which kicks off Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is also due out in 2015.  It's too early to say much about this one, aside from the fact that they're still writing the script, and Paul Rudd has been rumored for the lead.

In the X-men camp, there is "Days of Future Past," which just looks boring to me.  The trailer is already on YouTube, and despite reaching for a more "epic" feel the whole thing just looks like another episode of the same, tired superhero soap opera.  Wolverine is the only interesting character that movie franchise has, and I think he would be better served by another solo film.  "The Wolverine" wasn't as good as ANY of the Marvel films, but it was still much better than any of the X-men films.

And I'm not going to argue that Hugh Jackman isn't a great actor, or that he hasn't done a good job with Wolverine, but he really doesn't LOOK like Wolverine, and that has always bothered me.  They need to find a much shorter, much hairier, much uglier actor for this part.  Wolverine (like Spider-man) is everyone's favorite underdog, and a Wolverine that looks like Hugh Jackman isn't really anyone's underdog.  I think that if you could go back to the early 80s, and tell Danny Devito to start lifting some serious weights, after a year or so he might start to look something like Wolverine.

In 2015, 20th Century Fox, the studio producing the X-men films, will also release a Fantastic Four movie, set in the same cinematic universe.  It's too early to get hopeful about this one.  The director, Josh Trank, was the guy behind "Chronicle."

And Spider-man?  A teaser for "The Amazing Spider-man 2" is online, but it doesn't show much.  This sequel will pit Spider-man against Electro and the Rhino.  Sony is quite keen on this film series, and there are already plans for an "Amazing Spider-man 3" and "Amazing Spider-man 4."  Elements of this film series (and one dare hope - Spider-man?) might appear in the second Avengers movie.

Warner Bros./DC have plans of their own.  By now I'm sure everyone is aware of the "Batman Vs. Superman" movie, which will appear in 2015.  Ben Affleck will be the Dark Knight, Henry Cavill will reprise his role as Superman, and the woman from the "Fast and Furious" films has been confirmed as Wonder Woman.

The problem with Wonder Woman mirrors that of the Scarlet Witch.  Say what you like, but Wonder Woman IS a sex object, and casting one of these thin supermodel types isn't in keeping with the character.  Even hiring a female bodybuilder would be closer to more recent incarnations of Wonder Woman.  The actress that they've hired is certainly pretty, but unless she engages in some serious weight training, I'm not sure how much she's going to look like Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman also needs BREASTS, for God's sake!  I may just be another male chauvinist pig for saying so, but her "assets" play into the mythology built up around the character.  If she isn't achingly "hot," then she should at least be physically intimidating.

Of all these movies, I'm most looking forward to the next Captain America film and "Age of Ultron."  I'll probably see "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "The Amazing Spider-man 2" in the theater, but I'll wait for the next X-men film on DVD.  "Batman Vs. Superman?"  I'll make that decision when I finally see the preview.  2015 is going to be a HUGE year for superhero movies, and I can't wait to see how the ongoing DC/Marvel/Sony/Fox rivalries play out over the next two years.

2013年11月26日 星期二

Disgusting, Disturbing, and Just Plain WRONG 2

We are nearing the end of 2013, and even though we still have a month to go, I thought it would be good to look into what most people consider "the best horror films of 2013."  There is a high degree of consensus regarding this list, which could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

1. Evil Dead (remake)

I would agree that this is a good film.  It's even more violent than the original, and that scene with the nail gun is classic.  As remakes go, I like it about as much as the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, but not as much as The Hills Have Eyes remake.

I don't think, however, that it's fair to compare this movie with the original.  The first Evil Dead was made with a ridiculously low budget, and the charm of that movie is not that it's scary or violent, but rather that it exhibits a quirkiness and slapstick humor that has become Sam Raimi's trademark.  The remake is simply a horse of a different color, and is more in line with what shocks people in 2013.

2. The Conjuring

This is a more Catholic version of director James Wan's Insidious.  The plot will be familiar to anyone who's seen The Amityville Horror, the Poltergeist movies, or any of the thousand other films that resemble those two franchises.  The acting in this movie is excellent (hey, isn't that the guy from Office Space?), but the derivative nature of the script left me feeling disappointed.

This movie is gore-free, and is instead applauded for its atmosphere.  I will agree that there are a couple of scary scenes in it, but that's not enough to save this movie.  If you want Catholic horror, I would suggest renting, buying, or downloading a copy of The Exorcist.

3. American Mary

I can't figure out why this film is called AMERICAN Mary.  The film was shot in Canada, and it has nothing to do with America.

A medical student enters the world of body modification, offering medical services to those who wish to modify their own anatomy.  It's not as gory as you'd think, and the actress that plays Mary is super hot.  It's not a bad movie, but I wish they'd done more with the material.  The ending is anticlimactic in the extreme.

4. Insidious

This movie was NOT filmed or released in 2013, but the sequel was.  I wasn't able to get my hands on the sequel, but I was able to track down this one.

This movie is pretty much all the ghosts from The Conjuring without the Catholic intervention.  Instead of Catholicism we have astral projection, and demons originating in some realm called "The Further."  It's slightly better than The Conjuring, but still not that great.  I kept waiting for the demon to bust out with a nail gun, or for the dad to pull out a chainsaw, but sadly this never happened.

5. Kill List

This is possibly the best movie discussed here (the Maniac remake was a close second), and its budget was probably less than half of the others.  Two special-ops types are hired to kill several strangers, and their mission gets stranger and stranger as they move up the list.  The twist at the end was easy to see coming, but it's a wonderfully bloody and eerie film. 

6. Whatever the Latest Entry in the Child's Play Series Is

I refuse to see this movie.  The others were stupid enough for me.  I fail to see how the latest entry could be any better.

7. Maniac (remake)

This movie stars Elijah Wood (Frodo!), and is definitely one of the artier horror movies.  Most people probably aren't putting it in their "best of" lists because it was too far outside their expectations.

I thought this was a fantastic movie, and it is the only movie reviewed here that I had to see twice.

Not sure if this one really qualifies as a remake.  It is VERY different from the original film.

8. The Battery

This film was first released in 2012, but it didn't make the festival circuit until this year, and the video release was also in 2013.  It's an extremely low budget zombie film, but it still makes World War Z seem boring and juvenile by comparison.  I'm sure the writer/director of this film will be heard from again.

And a Parting Note...

I guess they've finally finished filming the third Human Centipede movie, this one featuring a 500-person centipede, completed in a prison.  If you have a strong stomach, that would be the one to look for.  As for myself, I think I'd rather watch something less gimmicky.

2013年11月22日 星期五

Best of Summer/Fall 2013

I've been reading A LOT of books.

But after "Collapse," the last book reviewed here, I am now without any books to read.  This will probably be the case until at least Chinese New Year, when I'm sure I'll be in Taipei, Kaohsiung, or some other place where I can buy books.  Until then, consider this the end of my book reviews.

You can click on the titles for a longer review of each book.

10 Best Books

1. "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke

This is the book that made Clarke famous, and this is also a book that proves his fame is well-deserved.  Not only is it well thought out and meticulously plotted, but the prose is far superior to what you find in most science fiction novels.  Truly a great work by a great writer.

2. "A Century of Science Fiction 1950-1959" edited by Robert Silverberg

There are a few stories in this one that are probably best forgotten, but for each forgettable story there are two excellent works of short fiction.  My favorites in this one were the stories by Philip Jose Farmer and Jack Vance.

3. "The Gates of Creation" by Philip Jose Farmer

Kind of like Conan the Barbarian meets Dune.  This is the second book in Farmer's "World of Tiers" series, and I would love to read the other two books.  Farmer might have written a lot of crap, but this novel is excellent.

4. "Soul Catcher" by Frank Herbert

Perhaps the only "serious" (non-genre) fiction penned by Herbert.  This one takes place in the Pacific Northwest, where an Indian guide kidnaps a young boy.  The ending is a bit disappointing, but this book gets deep.

5. "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Possibly one of the most profound science fiction novels ever written.   Miller Jr.'s novel of post-apocalyptic survival does not make for easy reading, but it is the kind of book that makes an impression.

6. "Venus Plus X" by Theodore Sturgeon

This book is trippy, and I like that.  One of Theodore Sturgeon's two most famous books, this one explores the battle of the sexes from the perspective of an alien race.  Even if you don't agree with the author's historical premise, it's still a great story.

7. "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy

The first book in McCarthy's "Border Trilogy."  This one follows two friends as they explore Mexico on horseback.  The part in the Mexican prison is one of the most harrowing things I've ever read.

8. "Jazz" by Toni Morrison

Even if some of this book does invite unflattering comparisons to Faulkner, Morrison's "Jazz" is very much its own novel, with its own kind of story to tell.  Definitely worth reading.

9. "Peace on Earth" by Stanislaw Lem

Lem at his most slapstick, and Lem at his most paranoid.  An astronaut visits robots on the moon, and returns with a brain severed into two halves.  Certainly one of the strangest and best science fiction novels I've ever read.

10. "Radio Free Albemuth" by Philip K. Dick

A nice companion to Dick's VALIS.  In this book, which can be considered a forerunner of that more famous book, Dick explores the relationship between a record executive, the extraterrestrial intelligence offering him "enlightenment," and a tyrant bent on (inter)national domination. 

Honorable Mention: Frank Herbert's "The Eyes of Heisenberg"

5 Books That Just Weren't Very Good

1. "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny

Buddha without the Buddhism.  Science fiction without the science.  Gods war against one another with gizmos, and none of it makes a great deal of sense.

2. "The Heaven Makers" by Frank Herbert

Wow this book was boring.  One of the worst books Herbert ever wrote, and certainly one of the reasons people can't take him seriously outside of "Dune."  The sexual parts were almost interesting, but they couldn't save the book.

3. "Gather, Darkness!" by Fritz Leiber

An order of monks brainwash the populace with a technology they themselves don't understand.  This one might make even less sense than "Lord of Light."

4. "The White Plague" by Frank Herbert

Wow this book is even more boring than "The Heaven Makers" - and also a lot longer.  A plague decimates the women of the world, and leaves the men searching for answers.  It tries to be deep, but fails miserably.

5. "Microworlds" by Stanislaw Lem

Lem comes across as a cranky old man in the non-fiction "Microworlds."  I am sorry that he ever wrote this book, for the simple reason that it will dissuade people from reading his novels - some of which are fantastic.  In this book Lem attempts to put science fiction under a microscope, but the order of magnification is so high that he fails to see anything of substance.

Dishonorable Mention: Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Planet Savers/Sword of Aldones."

2013年11月21日 星期四

"Collapse" by Jared Diamond (2011)

"I also have to reflect on my own experiences while working in Indonesia from 1979 to 1996 under its military dictatorship.  I loathed and feared that dictatorship because of the things that it did to many of my New Guinea friends, and because of its soldiers almost killing me.  I was therefore surprised to find that that dictatorship set up a comprehensive and effective national park system in Indonesian New Guinea.  I arrived in Indonesian New Guinea after years of experience in the democracy of Papua New Guinea, and I expected to find environmental policies much more advanced under the virtuous democracy than under the evil dictatorship.  Instead, I had to acknowledge that the reverse was true."

The author of this book is perhaps better known for his "Guns, Germs, and Steel," which was published before "Collapse."  "Collapse" first appeared in 2005, but the version I am reviewing includes an afterward written in 2011.  The author is a Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In "Collapse," the author outlines the reasons that past societies have collapsed, and creates a framework for determining how present and future societies might collapse.  At the outset, he is careful to point out that the difference between "collapse" and "decline" is often ambiguous at best, though he might have done better in creating a criteria for where one society ends and another begins.  One might well ask, for example, whether Easter Island's society really did collapse if residents were still there to meet the first European ship.  One might also ask the same question about the Maya, given that there are still people speaking and identifying as Mayan today.  I'm not saying that ancient Mayan society and modern Mayan society are the same thing, but I don't think distinguishing one society from another is as easy as the author claims.

The first half of the book is dedicated to past societies, and symptoms leading up to their collapse, invariably from a combination of environmental factors and something else.  In turn we are led through the collective histories of Easter Island, the Anasazi, the Maya, Norse Greenland, and several South Pacific communities. In all of the examples we see how over-exploitation of their respective environments triggered the collapse of these societies, and how they might have averted their fate.  The author makes a good case for his arguments, but I couldn't help but think he was oversimplifying in the more recent examples, and often overgeneralizing from insufficient data.

In the second half of the book he discusses modern societies, in particular Rwanda, Japan, China, and Australia.  Rwanda's genocide is presented as the consequence of overpopulation, Japan is praised for its forest management, and both China and Australia serve as examples of how modern societies exhaust their natural resources.  In the case of China, I think that his arguments are well thought-out, and I found the chapter on Australia to be the most interesting part of the book.

The book closes with a more general discussion of societal collapse and how it can be avoided.  The author delves into the dynamics of group decision-making, and theorizes on societies that fail to avoid collapse.  This last section is by far the most theoretical, and compared to the rest of the book it feels a bit rushed.

"Collapse" is not a bad book, but it's really, really long and not especially informative.  There are much better books on environmental topics, all of which are much shorter and to the point.  "Collapse" is also, at times, an extremely condescending book.  The author repeats himself often, and at one point he even deigns to explain the meaning of the word "exponentially" for those readers too ignorant to use a dictionary.

I did learn things from this book, but I don't feel that the effort put into reading it equaled the knowledge gained from doing so.  This book gets points for trying, but I felt that it went into too much detail, and that this detail distracts the reader from the author's purpose in writing the book.

2013年11月11日 星期一

"The Kid" by Sapphire (2011)

"'You done broke de' mirror!' Ol' bitch hollering at me.  'You know how old dat mirror is!' I can't get with her voice, like it don't really connect to me but float over me, like it ain't real, maybe none of this shit is real, me laying on glass in the salt-metal smell of my own blood, this old roach room."

"The Kid" is Sapphire's second novel.  It is the sequel to "Push," which was made into the movie "Precious."  I've read parts of "Push," and I've seen the movie, but this is the first of Sapphire's books that I've actually sat down and read from beginning to end.

In "The Kid," Precious' son Abdul Jamal goes through a series of personal upheavals following his mother's AIDS-related death.  He is shipped off to a nightmarish foster home, sent to live in a Catholic boys' school, and spends time with his maternal great-grandmother.  Along the way he struggles with his sexuality, the racism one encounters in New York, and learns about his mother's family.  He also develops a love of dance, and dreams of becoming a celebrated dancer.

The author of this book is very fond of putting things in CAPS and adding exclamation marks to every other sentence!  There is also a lot of fucking profanity in this book!  I SUPPOSE she is trying to communicate the fucking MOOD swings of her PROTAGONIST, but as a literary device it gets FUCKING annoying....!

I also had trouble with Abdul Jamal as a character.  In his inner dialogue he veers from the academic English he learned in Catholic school, to the slang learned in the streets.  His use of this academic English often seems inauthentic, and more like an attempt to make him seem "multidimensional."  

He also displays a kind of vulnerability that is at odds with his environment.  If he really was this sensitive dancer underneath, wouldn't he have to worry about how this identity would be perceived by others?  Wouldn't he worry that they would think he was gay?  The ease with which he throws himself into dance creates a dissonance with other plot elements, and this dissonance could have been alleviated by either making the novel shorter, or by less obvious attempts at creating a dichotomy within his character.

I have other problems with this book.  For one thing, the Catholic priests in this novel are little more than absurd caricatures, and portraying them as ravenous pedophiles seems a bit too convenient.  Parts of his grandmother's back story also seem a bit too close to something you would come across in a Toni Morrison novel.  This novel seems stitched together from many disparate parts, and one longs for the kind of voice heard in "Push."

"The Kid" not only tries to be deep, but also to be shocking and socially conscious at the same time.  It fails on all counts.  The unresolved, unexplained contradictions which make up the protagonist's personality mediate against any depth that might have been achieved.  The shock value of this novel disappears somewhere after the second beating and the third rape.  And any sense of social consciousness is diminished by the very real faults of the family that lie at the center of this story.  How can we blame society for a woman who gets pregnant at 10, has a mentally retarded daughter, and allows this daughter to marry a man who would later father a son by his own daughter?  My point is that we could hold society accountable for this, but the way in which Sapphire tells the story will not allow us to do so.  The author has failed to negotiate that fine line between individual and collective responsibility, and in the absence of such negotiation we are left with characters that one cannot sympathize with, and a society which is almost entirely blameless.

The last 1/4 of this book, however, is actually pretty good, but by then the story and the characters that inhabit it have worn out their welcome.  This is really too bad, since the section detailing My Lai's personal history would have made a great short story.  The character of Abdul Jamal also seems to coalesce near the end, but it's as if the remaining 3/4 of the book was about someone else, someone much harder to relate to.

"The Kid" tries to be a good book, but fails.  A particularly damaging feature of the novel is that it mentions Charles Dickens, who wrote "Oliver Twist," a much better book that covers similar territory.  In "Oliver Twist" we see a novel that is deep with human drama, which continues to shock, and which points out social ills which are still prevalent today.  In "The Kid" we see a book that aspires to such heights, but can't get above ground level.

2013年11月8日 星期五

"Blindness" by Jose Saramago (1997)

"...we'll all be contaminated, there cannot be a single person who has not been within sight of a blind man, If a blind man cannot see, I ask myself, how can he transmit this disease through his sight, General, this must be the most logical illness in the world, the eye that is blind transmits the blindness to the eye that sees, what could be simpler, We have a colonel here who believes the solution would be to shoot the blind as soon as they appear, Corpses instead of blind men would scarcely improve the situation, To be blind is not the same as being dead, Yes, but to be dead is to be blind, So there are going to be about two hundred of them, Yes, And what shall we do with the lorry-drivers, Put them inside as well.  That same day, in the late afternoon, the Ministry of Defence contacted the Ministry of Health, Would you like to hear the latest news, that colonel we mentioned earlier has gone blind, It'll be interesting to see what he thinks of that bright idea of his now, He already thought, he shot himself in the head, Now that's what I call a consistent attitude, The army is always ready to show an example."

"Blindness" was written in Portuguese in 1995.  The English translation appeared two years later.  The author, now deceased, received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In an unidentified town in an unidentified country, a plague of blindness strikes everyone indiscriminately.  It begins with a driver at a local intersection, and spreads outward to engulf the country and possibly also the world.  The government, sent into a panic, places several of the first victims into an abandoned insane asylum, and the victims' story of survival comprises the remainder of the book.

"Blindness" is the most unrelentingly depressing book I have ever read.  It starts with people going blind in the streets, and goes downhill quickly from there.  Some of the episodes in the insane asylum are truly stomach-churning, and throughout the internee's confinement there is no hope of a cure.

It's a good book, if a bit repetitive.  I also had trouble believing that one of the inmates could develop gangrene from a stabbing with a shoe in less than two days.  It made me wonder at the tenacity with which EVERYONE in the book clings to life.  I'm sure that in the midst of such despair, someone would be ready to give up, call it a day, go to their great reward, etc.  Particularly disturbing is the group rape scene about 3/4 through the book - I know that scene wasn't in the movie!

I would recommend this book, but reading it will ruin your day.  After a few pages you'll be thinking about death, and blindness, and the futility of just about everything, and I wouldn't want that for you.  Perhaps we are all blind to some extent, but I would rather think of this blindness as a blessing.

2013年11月3日 星期日

"I Drink for a Reason" by David Cross (2010)

David Cross is a comedian, actor, and writer of TV shows.  He also wrote this book.

And I would have quoted said book, but any such quote, taken out of context, is only half as funny.  

This book is hilarious.  I'm not a huge fan of Cross's stand up, but this book had me rolling around on the floor, crying.  Seriously.  It's that funny.

Below is a clip of his stand up, which has its moments, but isn't nearly as funny as this book.  

The End.

2013年11月2日 星期六

"The Demolished Man" by Alfred Bester (1953)

"'No.  I mean something else.  Three or four hundred years ago, cops used to catch people like Reich just to kill them.  Capital punishment, they called it.'

"'You're kidding.'

"'Scout's honor.'

"'But it doesn't make sense.  If a man's got the talent and guts to buck society, he's obviously above average.  You want to hold on to him.  You straighten him out and turn him into a plus value.  Why throw him away?  Do that enough and all you've got left are the sheep.'

"'I don't know.  Maybe in those days they wanted sheep.'"

"The Demolished Man" was the first novel ever to win science fiction's Hugo Award.  It was written during science fiction's "golden age" (the 50s), and the author had many stories published in the pulp magazines of his day.

Aside from the typographical flourishes which probably made "The Demolished Man" seem very modern at the time, it's a pretty good book.  The plot concerns itself with Ben Reichs' attempt to murder a business competitor in an age of telepaths.  He concocts an elaborate scheme involving outmoded weaponry, the collusion of telepathic friends, and an advertising jingle which helps shield his mind from those who would attempt to read it.

It's fairly plausible, though the author betrays an astonishing faith in psychiatric medicine, and this faith is grounded upon theories which are no longer popular.  It is also difficult to believe that a telepath, no matter how gifted, could rise to a position of authority with something as serious as schizophrenia hanging over his head.  There is, moreover, a ridiculous scene near the end where a woman mentally regresses into childhood, and the detective has to raise her back to adulthood over a period of three weeks.

All in all, "The Demolished Man" is historic enough and eccentric enough to be interesting.  If you're a fan of older science fiction, I would recommend it.

2013年10月30日 星期三

"Radio Free Albemuth" by Philip K. Dick (1985)

"I asked, 'Haven't you read them?'

"'I don't read science fiction,' Nicholas said, 'I just read serious writers like Proust and Joyce and Kafka.  When science fiction has something serious to say, I'll read it.'  He began, then, to talk up the virtues of Finnegan's Wake, in particular the final part, which he compared to the final part of Ulysses.  It was his belief that no one but himself had either read it or understood it.

"'Science fiction is the literature of the future,' I told him, when he paused.  'In a few decades they'll be visiting the moon.'

"'Oh no,' Nicholas said vigorously, 'They'll never visit the moon.  You're living in a fantasy world.'

"'Is that what your future self told you?' I said.  'Or your self from another universe, whatever it was?'"

"Radio Free Albemuth" was published after PKD's death in 1982, though he wrote it in 1976.  It was originally titled "Valisystem A," and was his first attempt to write about his "supernatural" experience in 1974.  During his lifetime he submitted "Radio Free Albemuth" for publication, had it rejected, and later rewrote the novel as "VALIS."

"Radio Free Albemuth" is largely autobiographical, and details his experiences with VALIS, an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System.  In the novel he writes about himself in the first person, but also relates many of his early life experiences through the character of Nicholas, a kind of surrogate PKD.  As the narrator and Nicholas come to grips with Nicholas' transcendent experiences, the mythical Ferris Fremont rises to the presidency of the US, and begins attacking American civil liberties.

Anyone wanting to read this book is encouraged to view the video below, which outlines the life and times of Philip K. Dick.  After watching the video I was shocked at just how autobiographical "Radio Free Albemuth" was.

Of the two books, "VALIS" and "Radio Free Albemuth," I'd be hard pressed to say which one is better.  "VALIS," of course, is deep, but that very depth can be off-putting for those approaching PKD from more conventional sci fi authors.  "Radio Free Albemuth," on the other hand, offers a more literal approach to his experiences, and is also more in line with the books he saw published in the 60s and early 70s.  Where "VALIS" is poetry, "Radio Free Albemuth" is prose.  Where "VALIS" is the gnostic gospels," "Radio Free Albemuth" is the Epistles.  Both books anticipate PKD's later attempt at "Exigesis" in different ways.

In relation to PKD's other books, I would say that this one ranks near the top.  At the time of writing I have read 15 of his books, and there are still others I'd like to read if I get the chance.  I'd probably rank "Radio Free Albemuth" somewhere below "Lies, Inc." just because that book is So. Fucking. Weird, but above more derivative efforts like "Martian Time Slip."

I would highly recommend this book.  I've been searching for it for a long time, and I'm glad I finally found it.  It isn't the easiest reading, but those in search of easy reading probably won't be reading PKD anyway.

2013年10月26日 星期六

"Peace on Earth" by Stanislaw Lem (1994)

"'Mr. Tichy,' said the director, 'Our people will fill you in on the details of the Mission.  I would just like to give you the general picture - so you don't miss the forest for the trees.  The Geneva Agreement made four impossibilities possible.  A continuing arms race at the same time as universal disarmament - that's one.  Arming at maximum speed and at no cost - that's two.  Full protection of each nation against surprise attack while each reserves the right to wage war - that's three.  And finally the liquidation of all armies despite their continued existence.  No troops, but the staffs stay on and can think up anything they like.  In a nutshell, we've instituted pacem in terris.'"

Lem wrote "Peace on Earth" in 1987, though it wasn't translated into English until 1994.  It was one of the last novels he wrote before his death in 2006.  Other Lem works I've read - namely "Solaris," "Mortal Engines," and "The Cyberiad" - were written in the 1960s.  His non-fiction "Microworlds," also reviewed here, was written in 1980.

The protagonist, Ijon Tichy, has appeared in several other Lem novels.  In this installment, Tichy journeys to the moon to investigate the doings of robots.  These "thinking weapons" have been placed upon the moon by the world's governments, thus ushering in world peace, and a kind of unilateral disarmament.

Unfortunately for Ijon, he is callotomised (his brain is severed into two halves) by the robots he encounters on the moon.  Unable to remember what he has discovered on the lunar surface, and moreover divided into a "left Ijon" and a "right Ijon," he becomes an object of scrutiny for the powers that be.

"Peace on Earth" is a truly weird and wonderful book.  It all but erases the impression left by Lem's "Microworlds," which I also read recently.  Where "Solaris" is serious and philosophical, "Peace on Earth" is silly and clever.  Where "The Cyberiad" was labored and overly complicated, "Peace on Earth" is brief and to the point.  It's a great book, and I highly recommend it.

2013年10月23日 星期三

"The Planet Savers"/"The Sword of Aldones" by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1980)

This book is a collection of three stories and the non-fiction "Darkover Retrospective."  The earliest of these stories, "The Planet Savers," was written in 1958, and originally published in Amazing Stories.  The second story here, "The Waterfall," was written in 1976.  The third story, "The Sword of Aldones" was written very early in Marion Zimmer Bradley's career, but was not published until 1962.  The autobiographical "Darkover Retrospective," written in 1980, offers Bradley's thoughts on her career and the development of the Darkover series.

The Planet Savers

This is a straightforward adventure piece, centered around a man with dual personalities.  A plague is decimating the planet Darkover, and the hero (or rather the hero's alter ego) is called upon to make a long journey.  Having read only one of Bradley's stories before, and this from the 50s, this story was well in line with my expectations.  It's not a great story, and it's burdened with a terrible title, but it's not bad.

The Waterfall

This is a much shorter story.  It is so short, in fact, that the plot wouldn't bear too much description or scrutiny here.  Suffice to say, it's my favorite story in this collection, and shows a lot more maturity.

The Sword of Aldones

The author herself describes this as a "juvenile" work of fiction.  I agree with this statement.  Loved by many fans of Zimmer's Darkover books, I found this story not only juvenile, but also melodramatic, confused, and generally pointless.

The Darkover Retrospective

This, I thought, was the most interesting part of this book.  In it Bradley discusses her early career as a writer, and reflects on the public response to her works.  While I think her books fall firmly into the second, or even third tier of science fiction/fantasy, she has a lot to say about what it meant to be a woman writing sci fi/fantasy in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

I don't think I'll be reading any more of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books, but this was far from the worst book I've ever read.  I'd put her on a par with Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. LeGuin, two other writers that I'm not overly fond of.  All three women were/are competent in their chosen vocation, but all three aren't writing books for people who want to think about what they are reading.

If you enjoy soap operas featuring magic and dragons, if you like less science in your science fiction, you will find yourself well served in the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley.  If you are looking for depth, however, look elsewhere.

2013年10月19日 星期六

"Emphyrio" by Jack Vance (1969)

Jack Vance is/was one of the more overlooked science fiction authors.  He wrote a lot of books, but he is remembered more for the short stories written very early in his career.

"Emphyrio" was written in 1969, 24 years after Vance's first published story.  I can't say how it stacks up against his other books.  I've read a few of Vance's short stories, and part of "The Dying Earth," but this is just a drop in the bucket when one considers how numerous his written works truly are.

"Emphyrio" takes place on a distant world, long after humankind has colonized the stars.  It resembles in many respects Fritz Leiber's "Gather, Darkness!"  But "Emphyrio" is a much better thought-out, more fully realized book.

The protagonist is a member of an artisan class on the planet Halma.  He is also a member of a rigidly controlled society, in which most of the profits go to a group of "lords" that inhabit eyries above the abodes of common folk.  During the course of the story he progresses from child, to artisan, to pirate, to rebel, with an abstract desire for truth guiding his actions.

My biggest complaint about "Emphyrio" is the fact that the science fiction elements are just window dressing.  If one so desired, it would be possible to remove all of the spaceships, other worlds, and alien races from this book, and it would still be pretty much the same story.  For this reason, I would categorize "Emphyrio" as a book that belongs more to the fantasy genre.

"Emphyrio" also suffers from some serious pacing issues, and many events in the book are made less momentous by the author's urgent need to arrive at a resolution.  In other hands, the events of the protagonist's life might have been given greater import, but as it is they just seem to flash by, without any real significance.

Jack Vance wrote some excellent short stories, but I found "Emphyrio" somewhat disappointing.  I would not recommend this book.

2013年10月16日 星期三

"Hyperspace" by Michio Kaku (1994)

"Another, more relevant example for our universe might be living in a curved space given by a hypersphere, a sphere in four dimensions.  If we look ahead, light will circle completely around the small perimeter of the hypersphere and return to our eyes.  Thus we will see someone standing in front of us, with his back facing us, a person who is wearing the same clothes as we are.  We look disapprovingly at the unruly, unkempt mass of hair on this person's head, and then remember that we forgot to comb our hair that day.

"Is this person a fake image created by mirrors?  To find out, we stretch out our hand and put it on his shoulder.  We find that the person in front of us is a real person, not just a fake.  If we look into the distance, in fact, we see an infinite number of identical people, each facing forward, each with his hand on the shoulder of the person in front.

"But what is most shocking is that we feel someone's hand sneaking up from behind, which then grabs our shoulder.  Alarmed, we look back, and see another infinite sequence of identical people behind us, with their faces turned the other way."

The author of this book is a professor of theoretical physics at City University in New York.  He has written several other books in the Popular Science genre, among which is "Physics of the Impossible," which has also been reviewed here.  He is a frequent guest of talk shows, and has spent much of his career making esoteric theories understandable to the untrained.

This book is divided into four sections.  The first section provides a background for our present understanding of higher dimensional theory.  The second section discusses the give and take between classical mechanics, Einstein's general and special relativity, quantum mechanics, the Standard Model, and "current" superstring theory.  The third section extrapolates from our present understanding of higher dimensions, and draws conclusions about the possibility of time travel and parallel universes.  The fourth section outlines scenarios involving the end of life on Earth, the end of our solar system, and the end of the universe.  All four of these sections are combined - somewhat haphazardly - into a conclusion that is about as inconclusive as conclusions ever get.

This book is a bit difficult, but those with the patience for the material will find it rewarding.  Many of the extra-dimensional theories that Kaku expounds are very interesting, and he adds a lot anecdotes and personal insights into what might, in other hands, be boring material.  Many of the concepts introduced in "Hyperspace" are also quite novel.

And although I want to recommend this book, it was written in 1994, making it 19 years old.  With respect to physics, this means that "Hyperspace" is now ANCIENT.  It offers a good background for those unacquainted with modern physics, but those looking for the most current information are encouraged to seek out "Physics of the Impossible," or still more recent works on the same subject.  A lot can happen in 19 years - especially in the sciences!

2013年10月10日 星期四

"Utopia" by Sir Thomas More (1516)

"Now I have described to you as accurately as I could the structure of that commonwealth which I consider not only the best but the only one that can rightfully claim that name.  In other places men talk very liberally of the common wealth, but what they mean is simply their own wealth; in Utopia, where there is no private business, every man zealously pursues the public business."

"Utopia" was written on the eve of the Protestant Reformation, and also not long after the European discovery of the New World.  It was written in a time when one could still refer to the Catholic faith in the original sense of "catholic," that is, "universal."  

The England of Thomas More's time was one of the farther flung outposts of medieval Europe, and the world in which More moved was one in which kings continually plotted against one another, and in which none plotted more than the Church.  This was very much the world that Machiavelli described in "The Prince," and More draws many of the same conclusions about it.

Through "Utopia," More explains his ideas on government, and lays forth his conception of a perfect society, in which neither private property or money stand in the way of a more enlightened society.  He places this imaginary paradise in the newly discovered New World, and the book takes the form of a dialogue between More himself and Raphael, a mariner just returned from Utopia.

It's a very short book, and also an easy read.  As a historical document it still holds a lot of interest, anticipating both religious and political innovations that would later redraw the map of Europe, and affect still more distant parts of the globe.  More's conception of an enlightened republic is a bit naive and hampered by the understandings of his time, but it is interesting to draw comparisons between the world of his time, the world of Utopia, and our own time, in which we've already seen so many religious fads, communist experiments, and literary works explore similar ground.

I read the Norton Critical Edition of this work, which also includes letters between More and other prominent figures of his time, historical background, critical responses, and even other imaginings of Utopia, the best-known of which would probably be Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World."  In all of these writings, both More's "Utopia" and in the additional materials, there is a recognition of our present evils, but also the hope that one day things might just get better, that we might just come one step closer to that perfect society, and that all of us might find ourselves better used and more satisfied.

Here's hoping Utopia's around the corner.  I'd like to think so.

2013年10月7日 星期一

"Microworlds" by Stanislaw Lem (1984)

The following conversation, conducted with the previously, presently, and perpetually deceased Stanislaw Lem, was constructed from the top three lines on every 27th page of "Microworlds," a collection of his essays.  In this book Mr. Lem discusses his personal life, his thoughts on science fiction, and also the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges.  He uses many large and self-invented words to do so, and the reader of the following extracts is asked to exercise a modicum of patience.

Lem: "Later, it turned out that several of the ideas that occurred to me during the writing of these works and that I used as hypotheses and examples - i.e., much of what I encountered...."

Me: I admire how you admit to your own creative failures, but I think your opinions on American science fiction and science fiction writers are a bit harsh, especially since you'd only read a small sampling of what American sci-fi had to offer.  You dismiss the lesser "pulp" novelists like van Vogt for perfectly understandable reasons, but what about Herbert, Sturgeon, and Clarke?  What about Walter M. Miller Jr.?  Did you read their works?  Were you aware of them?

Lem: "In the Upper Realm one always strives at least to keep alive the appearance of intact virtue, in the same way as in high society women do not permit themselves to be...."

Me: The way in which you liken bad writers to (female) prostitutes makes me uncomfortable, and smacks of sexism.  In the first essay you admit to certain failures in your own bibliography, couldn't you exercise a bit more forgiveness with regard to others?

Lem: "...his best, like Ubik - are faultless masterpieces.  The surfaces of his books seem quite coarse and raw to me, connected with an omnipresence of trash.  I like what he has..."

Me: PKD was a great writer, but he wasn't creating out of a vacuum.  There are other (American!) sci fi authors that anticipated many of the trends in his work, even if it was PKD that refined these trends into a brand of fiction that was uniquely his own.  Jack Vance, for example, was a writer who PKD admired and who he unquestionably borrowed from at times.

Lem: "...primitive developments to which very little time was devoted, because the main purpose of the operation was to heal the patient, and one is not allowed to attempt tests..."

Me: Yes, the "half life" experienced by the characters in "Ubik" can be supported by recent scientific developments, but is that why people enjoy the book?  Most of us aren't researching cryogenic suspension in our spare time, and we don't need to verify the content of every story we read in the latest research journals.  All that is required is a suspension of disbelief.

Lem: "...stage of history - even to the caveman or downright animal stage.  Such an evasion is often employed in science fiction, since inadequacy of imagination takes refuge in..."

Me:  OK, I'll agree with this part of the book.  Most science fiction is lazy and stupid.  Most readers of science fiction (most, I say) are lazy and stupid as well.  Yet which of these begets the other?

Lem: "...pseudo-logical manner current scientific hypotheses.  This is 'pure' science fiction, or science fantasy, as it is sometimes called.  It shows us nothing serious, but merely de-..."

Me: It doesn't always need to show us something serious.

Lem: "As cultural prohibitions weaken, it becomes impossible for literature to confront them.  An approach that a century ago would have been considered 'blasphemous' or..."

Me:  This may well be true, but only if you subscribe to the idea of our culture "deteriorating" in some fashion, and not just changing to suit the technological inventions that you wax so enthusiastic about in other places.  Yes, there's a lot of sex in Literature now.  Perhaps too much.  But this may just be a fad, and even if it isn't it's both as old and as young as the Marquis de Sade.

Lem: "...this manner the stuffed waxworks come about, the miserable ersatz that is supposed to be cosmic civilizations.
"3. Why is it impossible to regain the universe that has..."

Me: You have a lot of great ideas for stories.  I only wish you could have written these stories down before engaging in this kind of diatribe.  Your legacy would have been better served.

Lem: "...stories.  These are: 'Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,' 'Pierre Menard - Author of the Quixote,' 'The Lottery in Babylon,' and 'Three Versions of Judas.'

Me: There are many parallels between your career and Borges'.  But then again Borges never wrote anything as punishingly boring as The Cyberiad.  I loved Solaris and Mortal Engines, but sometimes you didn't know when to quit while you were ahead.  Great stories aren't written through intellect alone.

Lem: "...a place in which the attaining of complete information about anything whatever is never possible.  According to the third of my propositions, the principle of freedom..."

Me: So you would rather we lived in a world where we are able to attain less information?  Can't follow you there.  In a world of more limited information, someone else is bound to do the deciding for us.  I would rather not live in that world.

2013年10月5日 星期六

"Jazz" by Toni Morrison (1992)

"'You don't have to think about none of it.  You ain't in it.  You ever see me mess with anybody?  I been in this building longer than you have.  You ever hear a word against me from any woman?  I sell beauty products all over town, you ever hear tell of me chasing a woman?  No.  You never heard that, because it never happened.  Now I"m trying to lighten my life a little with a good lady, like a decent man would, that's all.  Tell me what's wrong with that?'"

Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize-winning American author.  She has also received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel "Beloved," which forms a trilogy with "Jazz" and "Paradise".  She is a professor of Literature, and holds posts at various universities.

"Jazz" is the story of The City, which could be loosely defined as New York.  It is also the story of African Americans between world wars, and their migration from country into city.  It is also, finally, about a love triangle.  It is about a woman, her husband, and the young girl who is the object of their shared obsession.

I found this book somewhat annoying at first.  It seemed like a plea for the wife's hysteria, and for the faithlessness of men.  Then, about a fourth of the way through, it grew more three dimensional, and other characters had their say.  The husband became less of a caricature, and the young girl was given reasons for stealing another woman's husband.  

Suddenly there were many sides to the same issue, and what at first glance seemed an overly simplistic novel grew increasingly nuanced.  This is, perhaps, a feature of the very music that the novel tries so hard to emulate, and as I read further into the book I began to see patterns that I hadn't noticed at first.  I began to find the substance that one would expect from a Nobel-winning author.

"Jazz" is an accomplished novel.  It's also an involving piece of literature, even if the "Golden Gray" episode near the end strays a bit too close to Faulkner territory.  I can't say that it is perfect.  At times it seems a bit disjointed, but it is very good overall.

I would recommend this book if you are looking for a more challenging novel about the black experience in America, something akin to Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," or one of V.S. Naipul's books.  Those used to lighter fare will probably find it obtuse and frustrating, but those looking for a thought-provoking book on what it means to be African and American will certainly like it.  It doesn't pack the same punch as "Go Down, Moses", but it will make you think, and that's a good thing.

2013年10月4日 星期五

Batman Vs. Superman, Superman Vs. Batman...

Anyone who's read this blog more than once probably recognizes my fondness for both superheroes and superhero films.  In this I am like many other guys my age.

Ever since Man of Steel came out, there's been talk of its sequel, which we now know will also feature Batman.  Who's in it, who's not in it, who's directing it, who's writing it, etc., etc., etc.  I've been doing my best to stay abreast of the rumors (and most of them are just that, rumors), and I have a few thoughts on the subject that I'd like to share.

1. The General Premise

So soon after Marvel's The Avengers, a Justice League movie would be too much to absorb.  We need an interim movie to bridge the gap.  If they can find a believable, interesting Batman to go with the Superman they've already created, we'll have a movie that very effectively leads us into the Justice League.  

As great as Christian Bale was in Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, I don't think his particular take on Batman would work in the context of Superman.  For "Batman Vs. Superman", we need the kind of Batman that created Brother Eye, the kind of Batman who keeps secret files on EVERYONE, and the kind of Batman who is smart enough to stay several steps ahead of everyone else.

2. How it Relates to Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns"

The earliest announcement of this movie featured a cast member from Man of Steel, quoting a line from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.  As comic book fans everywhere are aware, The Dark Knight Returns was perhaps the most celebrated comic book series of the 1980s, and moreover a series that redefined Batman as a character.  

The use of the quote leads one to think that Batman and Superman will be at each others' throats in some fashion, with an older Batman outsmarting Superman near the end.  While I would love a movie adaptation of one of my all-time favorite comic books, they are obviously going to adapt elements of Miller's story to the world already established in Man of Steel.  Miller has been called in to advise on this project, so I am hopeful that any elements from his comic book will be handled well.

3. Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder just isn't as consistent a film maker as Christopher Nolan.  This point should be fairly obvious.  I thought Watchmen was great, I liked the Dawn of the Dead remake, and I even thought 300 had certain points in its favor.  For all his decent films, however, there is Sucker Punch.

At his worst, he is all style and very little substance.  Man of Steel had a good first half, but the second half of the movie degenerated into a WWE Smackdown.  Altogether it was OK, but it could have been a lot better.  I think that if we get the careful "Watchmen Snyder" we'll get a good movie.  If we get the flashy "Sucker Punch Snyder" then this thing will be a disaster.

4. David Goyer

Yes, he wrote the Dark Knight Trilogy.  But yes, he's written a lot of bad films.  I think his presence is largely irrelevant.  If the director handles his script well, it will be good.  If the director handles his script badly....

5. Henry Cavill

He's a good actor, and a great Superman.  I'm happy he's coming back for the sequel.

6. Ben Affleck

My first thought was: "Really?  The guy from Daredevil?"  But he has directed and starred in some good films since, so maybe it won't be as bad as all that.  He's certainly a good actor, and if the story's solid I'm sure he will make a convincing Batman.  

I just find it strange that he's involved with this project.  After Daredevil bombed, wasn't he quoted as saying that he wouldn't even consider a project unless the script is solid?  This movie doesn't even have a script yet!

7. The Possibility of Robin Appearing

Please no.  Robin is a relic of a time when all superheroes needed to have younger sidekicks, or stand-ins for an adolescent readership.  Believing in a grown man who dresses up as a bat is hard enough.  But a younger boy at his side, dressed up as a bird?  In a pair of speedos?

8. Cameos by Other Superheroes

Some speculate that Wonder Woman might appear in this movie.  It would be difficult to make such a cameo work, and Wonder Woman is the one superhero(ine) who really, really deserves her own movie.  I'm hoping they don't waste her on this one.

If Warner Bros. is really going ahead with The Flash film, then it is also possible that he might appear in this movie as a teaser.  Given the Flash's alter-ego as "police scientist," this might be more in keeping with an attempt at realism.  Any display of his powers, however, would be distracting.

Either way, I doubt that either character could be easily incorporated into the film.  Batman is so grounded in "realism," and bringing him into contact with a Superman will be a feat in itself.  Why complicate the issue with other superheroes?

9. Potential Villains (If There are Any)

Lex Luthor is inevitably mentioned.  But why?  In the presence of a supersmart Batman - the kind of Batman that this movie needs, Lex Luthor seems redundant.  

I can't see how a villain is necessary for this movie, and I think it would be better to let the audience take sides.  This element - moral ambiguity - is one element from the Nolan films that ought to be preserved.

10. How Successful it Might Be

That's the big question, isn't it?  I'm thinking that it will be moderately successful, but far from earth-shatteringly so.  The novelty is going to sell a lot of advanced screening tickets, but the script and especially the direction will need to be really, really good if we're going to see a blockbuster.  My guess is that it will enjoy a huge opening weekend, but lack the staying power that The Avengers is STILL enjoying.

11. What it Might Bode for the Future DC Cinematic Universe

Of course if it does moderately well we'll see that Justice League movie, possibly with Ben Affleck or Zack Snyder directing.  If it tanks?  I predict that The Flash will either be scaled down or disappear altogether, and that Warner Bros. might just decide that the superhero movie game is best left to Marvel, Fox, and Sony.  I hope it does well, just because I am dying to see a Flash movie.

12. Marvel, Fox's X-men, and Sony's Spider-man

Let us not forget the competition.  This movie is due out in 2015, when several other superheroes are also due to hit theaters.  By that time "Batman Vs. Superman" will be squaring off against The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and a rebooted Fantastic Four... which, by the way, will exist in the same film universe as the X-men films.  Sony's Spider-man will sit 2015 out, though a third (sixth?) film is scheduled for 2016.

Which is not to mention the Star Wars sequel, a movie that will be rocking our worlds the same year. 2015 is a big year for movies, and "Batman Vs. Superman" will be facing some stiff competition.

2013年9月29日 星期日

"America's Hidden History" by Kenneth C. Davis (2008)

First of all, the title of this book is misleading.  There is nothing "hidden" about this history, and all of the events discussed in this book have been public knowledge since their occurrence.  Yes, many of the details added by the author to the general narrative of American colonial, and pre-colonial history are not widely known, but in no way could the historical events introduced in this book be described as "hidden."

The title of this book is misleading in another sense.  The subtitle of this book is "Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation."  This title wouldn't readily lead one to believe that the history discussed in this book stops at 1789.  A better title would have indicated the distinctly early-American perspective of this book, and would not have claimed - as this book seems to do - that it is a general survey of American history from the Spanish (and French) colonization of Florida to the present.  Yes, there is a little line of text on the back cover that does make this distinction, but it is an easy thing to overlook.

This book is divided into five sections.  Each of these sections focuses on a specific historical event, with digressions for "backstory" and other events occurring out of the general thrust of the author's narrative.  The historical events, in order, are: the Spanish conquest of Central and South America, the abduction of a New England settler by Indians, one of George Washington's early military blunders, events leading up to the Revolutionary War and the death of Joseph Warren, Benedict Arnold's military exploits, and Shays' Rebellion.  In each of these chapters the author goes to great pains to draw parallels between personal conflicts and larger events, though a dedication to historical accuracy and a lack of documentation somewhat hobble his efforts.

It's a decent book, but anyone who's ever taken a class in early American history will be familiar with the events and their popular interpretations.  I haven't read any books on this subject in some time, but I'm sure there are much better works of history covering the same time period(s). 

All told, it is a less-than-imaginitive work of non-fiction, which might be taken as a contradiction in terms.  "History", however, is an act of continual interpretation, so imagination plays a role in its definition.  What we say and decide about events is often more important than the events themselves.  I only wish the author had said more, and decided with more intelligence.