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.