2017年11月19日 星期日

"First Person" by Richard Flanagan (2017)

"Early on the Sunday afternoon, a few hours before my flight back to Melbourne, Gene Paley rang to say he had read the draft chapter.  He declared it good as far as it went.  Though he felt I had conveyed something of the psychology of Heidl, what he needed now was a story.  Readers need a story.  The trade, he went on, needs a story."

Richard Flanagan is an Australian novelist born in Tasmania.  Two of his other novels, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Gould's Book of Fish, have also been reviewed here.

In First Person, his newest book, an aspiring novelist takes on the job of ghostwriting an autobiography for a notorious con man.  He finds the task much more difficult than he first imagined, and he is confronted by constant attempts at psychological manipulation.  

On another level, it's a novel about writer's block, featuring the author-as-protagonist setup familiar from any number of other writers ranging from Stephen King to Philip Roth.  It's also tirelessly depressing, endlessly repetitive, and that big "reveal" you're waiting for never comes.  The author offers us not so much a story as a state of mind, and I'd have to say that the results are decidedly mixed.

As someone who loved Gould's Book of Fish and admired The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I'd have to say that First Person is something of a misfire for Richard Flanagan.  I went into it wanting to enjoy it, but now that I'm done with it I find myself wanting to read a novel with more of a story, with more variety, and with something more to say.  The kind of existential despair conveyed through First Person is just a bit too easy, and I know the author could have done a lot better.

2017年11月16日 星期四

A Review of Every DC Movie from 2005 to the Present (Revised as of November 16, 2017)

With various DC movies in various stages of production, I've decided to shorten this list.  It begins with Batman Begins.  For still older movies (and yes, I've seen them all!), look here.

Excellent!  Had to see it twice!
Good movie with a few flaws.
Not bad, but not great.
I’d watch it once if I was bored enough.
[no stars]
Just terrible.
So bad it’s kind of good.


18. Batman Begins (2005) ****

Hell yes.  This was a movie Batman as we always wanted to see him.  Not the neurotic guy with all the gadgets, but the kind of guy who could kick your ass.  The scarecrow is awesome here.

19. V for Vendetta (2005) ***

Great film, made by the Wachowskis of Matrix fame.  Hugo Weaving is fantastic, and even if they dumbed down the source material it's still worth your time.

20. Superman Returns (2006) **

Not as bad as some people make it out to be.  Yeah, Superman does come off as a stalker, and I don't know why they had to do so many of his flying scenes in CGI, but the part where Kevin Spacey and co. deliver a beatdown is excellent.

21. The Dark Knight (2008) ****

Still hands-down the best superhero movie ever made.  And yes, I liked The Avengers.  The plot is complex, the performances are amazing, and the direction is first-rate.  How could Nolan have ever topped this one?

22. The Spirit (2008)

Fuck this movie is bad.  I saw Sin City so many times I had the lines memorized, and with The Spirit I was hoping for something similarly classic.  Unfortunately Frank Miller isn't quite as good in the absence of Robert Rodriguez.

23. Watchmen (2009) ***

Two problems with this movie: the actors are too pretty, and way too much kung fu fighting.  Aside from these two problems, it is faithful to the comic book and works on many levels. Snyder might have bungled Sucker Punch, but this movie gave me hope for Man of Steel.


24. Jonah Hex (2010) *

Josh Brolin stars as an ex-confederate soldier who can talk to dead people.  John Malkovich is the villain.  It was almost a good movie, but the soundtrack ruins the better moments and it gets pretty corny near the end.

25. Green Lantern (2011)

This movie had everything going for it.  I'm not even a big fan of Green Lantern, but when I heard about the director and the cast I got really excited.  Unfortunately the road to Green Lantern is paved with good intentions.

26. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) **

This movie bored me.  It's over three hours long, and Bane is unintentionally hilarious at times.  Anne Hathaway makes a great Catwoman, but that's all I can say in favor of this film.

27. Man of Steel (2013) **

Half of a great movie, and half of a Michael Bay movie.  It starts out well, even though some of the details surrounding Krypton don't bear thinking about.  Henry Cavill is a great Superman, but Zack Snyder was trying too hard to please too large an audience.

28. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ***1/2

I don't care what the critics say - this is a great f*&king movie.  I was unimpressed by Man of Steel - but this?  This was the one I'd been waiting for.  Probably a bit slow - or even too dark - for some, but I loved it.  An extra 1/2 star for the Ultimate Edition, which improves upon the theatrical cut.  This is DC done well.

29. Suicide Squad (2016)*

I was disappointed by this movie.  There is WAY too much backstory and many of the characters are underdeveloped.  Harley Quinn seems entirely too sane to have earned her reputation, and as a character Deadshot is unconvincing.  Joel Kinnaman does a valiant job of keeping the whole thing together, Viola Davis and Jared Leto give memorable (if brief) performances, but there's just not enough script to hang a whole movie on.

30. Wonder Woman (2017)**

The Good News: 1) It's better than Suicide Squad, and 2) Gal Gadot is a good enough actress to carry this movie.  The Bad News: 1) There are moments where this movie stops dead in its tracks, 2) the villain is completely undeveloped, and 3) parts of this movie bear an unfortunate resemblance to Captain America: the First Avenger.  The best bits are those in which the characters reflect on the differences between our world and Diana's.  I'm sad to say, however, that these moments are sandwiched between two halves of an action movie that doesn't quite work.

31. Justice League (2017)**

I would put it above Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and Man of Steel.  It will at times remind you a lot of the Avengers, but certain similarities were unavoidable given both the superhero team-up format and the fact that Joss Whedon was involved.  I'd like to see Aquaman further developed in his solo film, and I'm still waiting for that Flashpoint film.  Definitely worth seeing, though I doubt it will rock your world.

On the Way  

NOTE: There are a TON of DC movies in various stages of development, but Warner Bros. plans change often and their statements regarding these projects are often contradictory.  What's listed below is what's listed on the Wikipedia article for the DCEU.

33. Aquaman (2018)

Jason Momoa stars as Aquaman, with Patrick Wilson appearing as his brother Orm, the Ocean Master.  With director James Wan at the helm I (and a lot of other people) have a lot of confidence in this movie, though it will be a long wait until December of next year.

34. Shazam (2018)

David F. Sandberg is directing, with Zachary Levi (Fandral in Thor: the Dark World) starring as the World's Mightiest Mortal.  At the time of writing Mark Strong is in negotiations to play the villain, Dr. Sivana.  I think it has the potential to be a really fun film, but we'll have to see how it all plays out closer to the release date.

35. Wonder Woman 2 (2019)

After the thundering success of the first Wonder Woman this sequel was an inevitability.  It's taking over Justice League 2's release date, with all the important people returning for this second round of Amazonian goodness.  Setting this film in the modern day will be a welcome change.

36. Cyborg (2020)

Ray Fisher will reprise his role as Cyborg, though little else is known about this movie.  I'm hoping that in the sequel they can dispense with some of the cgi in favor of practical effects.  I doubt, however, that this will happen.  Tackling some of the character's psychological aspects might make for an interesting movie, but an action blockbuster will probably be the order of the day.

37. Green Lantern Corps (2020)

This movie's been announced, and Warner Bros. seems firm on the release date, but aside from that it's a mystery.  Some Green Lanterns appear in one of the flashback scenes in Justice League, so at least we have some idea what they might look like.

38. Other Projects That May or May Not Ever Get Made

Batgirl, The Batman, Flashpoint, Nightwing, Lobo, Man of Steel 2, and a bunch of other movies might get made, but at this point who really knows?  I mention six movies by name because they seem the most likely to end up in local multiplex...  BUT with the reception awaiting Justice League uncertain, we'll just have to wait and see.  A Flashpoint movie is particularly dependent on how Justice League does at the box office.

Justice League!

Holy Jesus!  Justice League came out today!  Is it really in theaters now?  Have I really seen it?  Or was it all a dream?

1. One Paragraph Summation of the DCEU Thus Far:

In the Beginning, Superman's dad saves Superman (and Krypton's DNA thingy) from the Michael Shannon by shooting his infant son to Earth in a shoddily constructed rocket.  Superman grows up - rather sulkily - and after months in the gym and experiments with weight gain powders he finds out about his dad just as Michael Shannon arrives on Earth looking for that DNA thingy.  THEN SH*T GETS REAL.  Fighting, fighting, fighting.  Punching, punching, punching.  Cities are destroyed, Michael Shannon is killed - yay?  All is right with the world, except for the fact that broody Superman has unwittingly killed all those people who weren't Zod.  Then Batman shows up, tries to kill Superman, but forgets about the whole thing because of either the oft-reiterated "Martha" episode or because a giant supermonster created by Lex Luthor is about to destroy civilization as we know it.  With Wonder Woman's help, Batman and Superman kill the supermonster, but only after Superman has sacrificed his life for the sake of furthering his image as a latter-day Jesus.  Meanwhile, in a city whose name I'm either forgetting or repressing, a team of supercriminals band together to stop an ancient Central American demon - or something - all the while eluding Gangsta Joker's attempts to get his girlfriend back.  But wait!  Before all of THAT happens there's this island of stunningly beautiful women in the Mediterranean, and one of them goes to Europe to make World War One slightly less unpleasant.  And hurray!  She lives over a hundred years, long enough to help out Batman and Superman with that whole supermonster problem.  Thus leading to... JUSTICE LEAGUE, MOTHERF**KERS!!!

2. Thoughts on Individual Characters Before Actually Seeing the Movie

    2a. Superman

You know he's not really dead, right?  Like Jesus, he's coming back on the third day, or at least his third film.  One imagines that he'll be less broody this time, because four out of five people polled have requested that the next Superman be "less broody."  Messianic?  Sure.  But not broody!

    2b. Batman

I get why Affleck is cagey about how long he wants to play Batman.  He put his heart and soul into Batman v. Superman, and the critical reactions to that movie were probably hard to take.  Even so I think he's the best Batman ever, and hopefully his attitude will change if Justice League is better received.

    2c. Wonder Woman

I have no problem with Gal Gadot being Wonder Woman, even if I was underwhelmed by her first solo outing.  She's beautiful, she can act, and she was convincing in fight scenes.  I just wish they'd complicate her backstory a bit.  It would make the character more compelling.

    2d. Aquaman

Hate the costume, but Momoa can certainly carry a movie.  With all the great Aquaman costumes we've seen over the years, I don't know why they went with that green/gold thing.

    2e. The Flash

Hate the costume even more.  What's with this "armored Flash" thing they're doing?  The Flash has one of the most screen-ready costumes ever, and it would require little tweaking to make it look good in a movie.  I think Ezra Miller will make a good Flash, I just wish he looked less like a character from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.

    2f. Cyborg (a.k.a. "the black guy")

I've been deliberately avoiding the latest trailers, but hopefully they improved the cgi used for Cyborg.  In the earliest trailers he looked amazingly fake.  And why do him in cgi anyway?  They've been doing live-action cyborg characters since 1987's Robocop.

    2g. Green Lantern?

Odds are he'll (she'll?) show up, even though I'd much prefer a look at Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam).  I've never liked Green Lantern.  His/their powers are stupid, and even though Hal Jordan was kind of cool as Parallax, I wish they'd leave the Green Lantern Corps out of the DCEU.

    2h. Steppenwolf (a.k.a. "the bad guy")

He looks somewhat retarded in the trailers, but he's not much worse than Ares from Wonder Woman or Enchantress's brother from Suicide Squad.  Having Steppenwolf as the bad guy was a strange choice, but perhaps it'll make sense in the film.

3. Thoughts on the Director(s) of This Movie

I like Zack Snyder.  I think he's a great director when he has a good script to work from.  He obviously slaved over Batman v. Superman, and I don't think he deserved the knee-jerk reactions that movie engendered from Marvel drones.  If he directs the Justice League sequel I'm fine with that.

Joss Whedon, the guy called in for reshoots, is keeping a low profile after allegations of sexual harassment.  For the record I liked (didn't love) The Avengers, and (to a lesser extent) Age of Ultron.  Hopefully he didn't make Justice League too jokey.

4. I Just Saw the Movie!  What Did I Think?

     4a. The Story

In the wake of Superman's death, Steppenwolf arrives on Earth, trying to bring the three mother boxes together so he can turn our world into a mirror of his own.  In order to stop him, Batman assembles a team consisting of Wonder Woman, the Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, and a resurrected Superman to do battle with this otherworldly threat.  After Steppenwolf unites the three mother boxes somewhere in Russia, the Justice League battles and ultimately defeats him.  The movie closes with Batman, Alfred, and Wonder Woman surveying a possible "Hall of Justice" where they'll meet in the future.

Mid-Credits Scene: The Flash and Superman begin a race to see who's faster.

Post-Credits Scene: After escaping prison, Lex Luthor meets Deathstroke to discuss forming "a league of our own."

     4b. My Reaction

First off, relax.  It's actually pretty good.  Not an instant classic by any means, but a solidly put together action movie that only drags a little bit near the middle.  Whedon's touches are fairly obvious, in particular a scene in their headquarters that brings the first Avengers to mind.

My major complaint about this movie is Steppenwolf.  He's about as forgettable as Ares from Wonder Woman, and he looks VERY stupid.  As villains go he's about as generic as they come.

The story's fairly solid and the characters' actions seem consistent with their personalities.  The tone shifts slightly after Wonder Woman talks with Batman at the lake - almost as if Whedon jumped in at that point, saying, "Alright, now it's MY turn!"  One wonders what Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio might have done in the absence of Joss Whedon, but such speculations will, I imagine, lead nowhere.

The Flash is my favorite character in this film.  As for the rest, they're either playing upon developments in previous movies or they weren't given enough screen time to be as interesting.  Jason Momoa is a good Aquaman - he just isn't in as much of this movie.

5. Looking Further Ahead...

It will be a LONG wait for the next DCEU movie, December 2018's Aquaman.  In April 2019 we'll finally get a look at Shazam, and during November of that same year Wonder Woman 2 will hit theaters.  Cyborg and The Green Lantern Corps are still on the schedule for 2020, but very few names are attached to either project.  The fate of films like Flashpoint and Man of Steel 2 is even less certain, though I'm sure that if Justice League is a big success they'll move into production sometime soon.  

I know fans find it frustrating, but I think Warner Bros. is smart not to announce too many movies in advance, and to have pulled back from their ambitious plans a bit.  After the likes of Justice League and this summer's Infinity War, the public might well begin to turn away from the big superhero franchises.  Being tentative is smart.

Related Entries:

"Flashpoint" by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert (2011)
The FoX-men No More?  FoxTastic No Longer?
Some Other Movies From 1984
Issues with Thor: Ragnarok

2017年11月13日 星期一

"Flashpoint" by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert (2011)

Oh no!  Barry Allen wakes up to find he's in an alternate timeline!  And double oh no!  He's lost his powers!  And triple oh no!  Aquaman and Wonder Woman are fighting some barely-explained war against each other!  And quadruple oh no!  This timeline is... EVIL!

At least it all works out in the end, thanks to - you guessed it - a little time travel on the Flash's part.  GO FLASH!  Thanks for making our timeline great again!

The story is fairly well thought out, even if the Atlantis/Themyscira subplot isn't explained to anyone's satisfaction.  Superman acts as a kind of deus ex machina, and the story features a halfway interesting version of Captain Marvel/Captain Thunder/Shazam.

The art?  It's alright, but kind of pose-y.  Muscular dudes doing muscular things.  Hot superheroines with gigantic knockers.  You know the drill...

I realize that I'm coming at this one kind of late, but if it makes any difference I did see the animated version a lot closer to 2011.  Having now read the comic, I'd have to say that the animated version tells the same story much better.  If and when they ever manage to make that cinematic version of Flashpoint, they could do a lot worse than emulate the animated version.

The FoX-men No More? FoxTastic No Longer?

It looks like Disney's going to buy Fox - or at least part of Fox - which means - if this whole deal is completed to everyone's satisfaction - that the X-men, the Fantastic Four, and whoever else will be returning to Marvel.

This is pretty good news.  Not that I have too much of an opinion about it, but just the same I'd LOVE to see the Fantastic Four done right.  I don't really have a big problem with the Tim Story movies - aside from the fact that they ruined Galactus - but the idea of Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm (not to mention the Silver Surfer!) showing up in a Marvel movie has me excited.

If you don't follow comics that much (and how many do lately?), a lot of the seminal Marvel stories feature one or more members of the Fantastic Four.  Marvel has thus far avoided including references to them in movies like Civil War and the upcoming Infinity War, but it's great that they (probably) won't have to dance around this particular loophole in the future.  Anyone who knows comics will be glad at the thought of Ben Grimm facing off against the Hulk, or of Reed Richards causing trouble for Tony Stark, or of the potential cuckolding Reed faces at the hands of whoever wants to bang Susan Storm.  I don't regard the Human Torch as being quite so essential to any comic book saga, but sure, he's great too.

And the X-men?  They're a thornier problem, though of course I'd love it if Marvel took another crack at their origin story.  It's not that First Class wasn't an excellent movie, I just think Marvel would have a lot to add to that story as well.  FINALLY we can admit that yes, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are Magneto's children, and FINALLY a studio can approach the X-men's origins without worrying overmuch about copyright infringement.

But the downside to all of this is the (possible) inclusion of mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And while I don't think that Kevin Feige is in a hurry to "water down" what Marvel has painstakingly built, the idea of combining the X-men and the Avengers at some point is going to be a powerful temptation.

The trouble being that if you have this group of people who get their powers from a mutant gene, then the non-mutants don't seem so remarkable.  Is Hulk cool when you have a Juggernaut?  Is Captain America cool when you have Wolverine?  Certainly seeing these characters on screen together is something that we all want on some level, but even in the comics Marvel is very, VERY careful about how (and how often) they do it.  You don't see Spider-man popping up that often in the pages of X-men.  You don't see Professor X hanging out that much with Doctor Strange.  Sure, these things happen, but the better writers know that when it comes to combining these properties, less is definitely more.

Not that I wouldn't love to see Deadpool make fun of the Avengers.  But he could do that in "his own" movie, and it wouldn't fracture the integrity of the MCU too much.  And yes, seeing Wolverine as an Avenger would be great, but if the cost is mixing too many mutants and non-mutants together then I'd rather they avoided it.

It is fun to think about though.  If this deal goes through, the future of both the MCU and the X-men cinematic universe is wide open.  A Dark Phoenix Saga featuring the entire MCU?  That would definitely beat the hell out of whatever Fox is making now.

"Astoria" by Peter Stark (2015)

"After their meeting, Astor had framed his global commercial vision into an overarching strategy and meticulous business plan that dovetailed with Jefferson's geopolitical thinking.  As soon as possible, in 1809, Astor would dispatch his first ship, the Enterprise, to test the profitability of his transglobal trading scheme with a quick stop at the Northwest Coast.  The following year, in 1810, he would send two advance parties - one around Cape Horn by sea on the Tonquin and one across America by land.  The Overland Party would begin to lay out a vast network of fur posts reaching up the Missouri River, over the Rockies, and to the Pacific Ocean, and open a 'line of communication' across the continent along which both messages and furs could travel."

Peter Stark lives in Montana.  He's written for Outside, The New Yorker, and the Smithsonian.  Astoria is one of several books he's written on the subject of "explorers versus the American wilderness."

Following the Lewis and Clark Expedition, two groups of trappers and traders set out to create a Pacific empire at the mouth of the Columbia River.  What they get for their troubles is a lot of pain, a lot of frustration, and a lot of heartbreak.  Their efforts are doomed to failure for a host of reasons, not least of which is their extreme distance from what they'd call civilization.

Astoria offers a harrowing account of their enterprise, and Peter Stark's telling of this oft-forgotten tail is one of the most comprehensively written historical accounts I've read in quite some time.  He strikes a good balance between historical trivia and the facts of the expedition, and he makes the personages involved more interesting than they might otherwise be.  This book is so good, in fact, that I can't think of a single negative thing to say about it - aside from the fact that many modern readers, with their diminished attention spans - will likely find it "boring."

I bought this book at the same time as the previously reviewed The Oregon Trail, and even though both are good, I think Astoria is far more interesting.  It's worth noting, moreover, than many of the trails blazed by the failed Astoria expedition (in particular the South Pass through the Rockies) were later used by those going West on the Oregon Trail.  Astoria itself was one of the two most popular endpoints for that route.

Having spent a lot of time in Astoria as a kid, I was surprised at both the history and the human drama present during its earliest years.  Who knew that so much blood, sweat, and tears could go into the creation of a small town on the Oregon Coast?

Another Book You Might Like?

"Historic America: The Northwest" by Jim Kaplan (2002)

2017年11月6日 星期一

"Frozen Earth" by Doug Macdougall (2004)

"It is worth reiterating here something that was pointed out in the first chapter of this book but may have drifted into the background since; the Earth is still in an ice age."

At the time of writing, Doug Macdougall was a Professor of Earth Science at the University of California San Diego.  The short bio on the back cover of Frozen Earth states that he wrote one other book, A Short History of Planet Earth.

Frozen Earth details the characteristics of ice ages, the mechanisms that trigger them, and current theories about what shape former ice ages took in prehistoric times.  As with the book previously reviewed here, The Oceans, it's nothing you wouldn't have learned about in a Physical Geography class, and aside from perhaps the "Snowball Earth hypothesis," none of the geologic processes described in this book are exactly riveting.  Frozen Earth is a well written book, but unless you're extremely new to the subject you'll probably find little of note within it.

It can be comforting, however, to think about the prospect of global cooling in our (distant) future.  Maybe, once the continents have moved slightly farther along their chosen tracks, our descendants can once again enjoy the sort of white Christmases that we now grow nostalgic over.

Assuming, of course, that there will be people then.  Or Christmases.  Or nostalgia.

2017年11月1日 星期三

Some Other Movies From 1984

Saw all of the movies below recently.  For those wondering how I came upon them, I hereby refer you to the "1984 in Film" article on Wikipedia.

Some Good Ones

1. Missing in Action (?)

Is it good?  Is it bad?  Is it so bad it's good?  I had a really tough time with this one.  On the one hand it's a solidly put together action movie, on the other hand the Vietnamese characters are little more than cartoon villains.  The fight choreography is definitely better than Forced Vengeance (another Chuck Norris movie I've seen recently), but then again the idea that Chuck Norris, with his dirty blonde hair, could somehow "go stealth" by wearing black clothes in the middle of Saigon is ridiculous.

One thing's for sure, this movie wasn't helping U.S.-Vietnam relations any.  Having a Chinese American play the leader of the Vietnamese diplomatic contingent was especially insulting.

Yet while it doesn't quite pack the punch of First Blood Part II, it does exemplify a trend towards Vietnam-themed action movies in the 80s.  For this reason alone it's worth seeking out.

Fun Fact: The similarities between this movie and First Blood Part II aren't accidental.  Both movies were based on a story treatment submitted by James Cameron for the second Rambo film.

Fun (Non)Fact 2: Chuck Norris has counted to infinity.  Twice.

2. Dreamscape

Hollywood never met a good idea it didn't recycle.  Dennis Quaid would later star in Innerspace, another movie where he invaded other people's personal space, and let us not forget The Cell in 2000, Vanilla Sky in 2001, and Inception in 2010 - all of which offered other takes on the concept of people visiting others' dreams.  And yes, there's probably some other, earlier movie I've forgotten (or don't know about) that treads upon similar ground.

Just the same, Dreamscape is a good movie.  Dennis Quaid was a great leading man, and it's too bad that so much of his career was derailed due to substance abuse.

3. Against All Odds

Bet you remember the Phil Collins' song better than the movie.  "So take a look at me now...."

...but maybe it's not all Phil Collins' fault.  This movie is good, but it's not as good as Taylor Hackford's previous effort, An Officer and a Gentleman.  This one's more a genre picture, and feels less genuine than its predecessor.  Especially that confrontation at the end of the movie - that one scene is so silly that it almost ruins the entire film.

Jeff Bridges stars as an ex-football player, Rachel Ward is the love interest, and James Woods appears as a shady "friend" of Bridges.  In the same year Bridges starred in (excuse the pun) Starman, and the year before Woods starred in Videodrome.  Both of those movies were way better than the more derivative Against All Odds.

4. A Passage to India

David Lean was still making movies in the 1980s? I had no idea.  And that's Judy Davis?  From The Ref?  Apparently she's Australian!  Who knew?

This movie is VERY slow to get going, but if you liked 1982's Gandhi I think you'll also find a lot to like in this movie.  Where Gandhi was big and momentous, A Passage to India is small and intimate.  It's full of the day-to-day misunderstandings: the little embarrassments that informed the rule of the British Raj.  It's also more of an ensemble piece, whereas Gandhi was the story of one man.

Compare Maurice Jarre's orchestral score in A Passage to India to the synth-laden score he did for Dreamscape the same year.  Could any two things be more different?

5. Beat Street

"You can keep your dreams, gentlemen.  But get something to fall back on."  Truer words were never spoken.  33 years later, and what happened to all those (slow) rappers, DJs, taggers, and breakers?  For some, fortunes were won and lost, but for most it was probably a brief glimpse at fame, and then back to the day-to-day reality of living in the Bronx.

This movie's still surprisingly good.  And yes, I owned my own pair of parachute pants, once upon a time.

6. Falling in Love

Not as bad as Scenes from a Marriage, not even as bad as Eyes Wide Shut, but definitely NOT a date movie.  This tale of marital infidelity will have you (and your significant other) questioning the nature of your relationship long before the credits roll.  While De Niro and Streep's previous movies were definitely better (The King of Comedy and Silkwood, respectively), this film has aged very well.

7. Red Dawn

Cold War paranoia at its finest, and also the one movie the NRA really wants you to see.  It's very 80s in the same way that Missing in Action is very 80s, but the story's more coherent and the acting's better.  Fun Fact #1: Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, who both appear in this movie, would later star in Dirty Dancing together.  Fun Fact #2: The script for this movie started out as an anti-war film, but the studio pushed the scriptwriter into making it more of a "teen Rambo" movie.

8. The Killing Fields

Having been to Cambodia, I can tell you that a) it's very beautiful, and b) it's very sad sometimes, too.  For every Angkor Wat there's a troop of kids running after you saying: "Hello one dollar!  Hello one dollar!"  For every sign of (uneven) development, there's a TV channel right out of Orwell's 1984.  Cambodia is, in other words, a very strange place, but if you haven't been I recommend it.

Sam Waterston stars in this story of the Khmer Rouge's rise to power.  This movie won a lot of Oscars, including a Best Supporting Actor for Waterston's costar, Haing S. Ngor.

9. Love Streams

John Cassavetes kind of lost me with Gloria, but he was back in form again with Love Streams.  If you think about certain plot elements it's somewhat ridiculous, but for me this just adds to the movie's charm.  Felt like something John Waters might have attempted.

10. 1984

I'm talking about 1984 in this post, so of course I have to mention this movie!  It's one of my favorite books, and they did a good job adapting it to film.  For a particularly jarring experience, listen to the Van Halen album right after viewing the movie.

Some Bad Ones

1. Police Academy

This was funny in 1984?  I guess you had to have been there.  Actually I was there - but I was only 9 at the time.  There's a somewhat funny gag involving a prostitute and a podium, but the rest of this movie feels like warmed-over Animal House.

2. The Hotel New Hampshire

Whatever happened to Beau Bridges?  He used to be everywhere.  Maybe he got tired of being a movie star?

The senior Bridges, Rob Lowe, Jodie Foster, and the dude who got melted and then hit by a car in Robocop star in this story of a New Hampshire family that opens a hotel.  It's full of cringe-y dialogue and one of the most badly-timed rape scenes ever.  One of the more annoyingly pretentious movies I've seen recently, but maybe the book was better?

Also the only film in which you'll hear Jodie Foster say something like, "Hey!  Your balls are wet!"

3. Buckaroo Banzai

You know what this movie needed?  More Jeff Goldblum.  He's the only interesting thing in this entire thing.

You know what this movie also needed?  More action.  For what most would assume is an action movie, there's little going on for most of the Buckaroo Banzai's two hour runtime.  Even the big fight at the end is anticlimactic.  It's like a radio serial that fails to end with a cliffhanger, or a TV show without enough of a premise to keep the viewer invested.

This was Peter Weller's biggest movie before Robocop, and I can tell you he was much better used by Paul Verhoeven.  To some extent I understand why this movie enjoys a cult following (its eccentricity), but come on, there are better movies to obsess over.

4. Paris, Texas

Something about two brothers, one of whom was missing for four years.  God it's boring.  Made it halfway through and had to tap out.

5. Nothing Lasts Forever

What a weird film.  Was this supposed to be funny?  The guy from Gremlins and some SNL alumni feature in this story about a young man who wants to become an artist in New York.  Mostly black and white, with a dream sequence in color.  It was never released theatrically or on home video, though it was later uploaded to the Internet.

Some That Are So Bad They're Good

1. Streets of Fire

Riding high on the success of 48 Hrs., writer/director Walter Hill offered this second, larger helping of macho bullshit.

Diane Lane (a.k.a. Superman's mom) is abducted by Willem Defoe and later saved by her old boyfriend Michael Pare.  Inbetween there are a few good songs and a lot of bad ones.  The dialogue is unintentionally hilarious, and certain plot points make absolutely no sense.

Watching this movie in 2017, I'm not sure if I feel more embarrassed for Willem Defoe, who spends most of the movie wearing silly leather fetish overalls; or for Amy Madigan, who has all the worst lines.

2. Breakin'

The bastard child of Beat Street and Flashdance, featuring a white girl who learns all about poppin' and lockin'.  Where Beat Street is New York cold, Breakin' is sunny California.  Where Beat Street is inner city, Breakin' is well-lit dance studios and beaches.  Gotta love the evil dance instructor.  Fun Fact: Ice T performs in this movie!  Twice!

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2017年10月30日 星期一

Issues with Thor: Ragnarok

You seen Thor: Ragnarok yet?  I saw it two days ago, and I wasn't all that impressed.

I say this as someone who loved Taika Waititi's other movies.  I've been a fan since Flight of the Conchords.  The guy is seriously funny when working from a script that he himself wrote.

To me the biggest problem with Thor 3 was the screenplay.  Keeping in mind the fact that Waititi undoubtedly added some of his signature humor to the mix, I doubt the screenplay was all that focused to begin with.  As a story it's all over the place, and displays little coherence with regard to either the characterization in this movie or the characterization established in previous MCU films.

And this isn't just another "not like the comics" argument.  When you compare the Thor trilogy to the Iron Man or Captain America trilogies, it's obvious that everyone's favorite Norse god is the least understood of the Marvel properties.

I mean who is Thor, really?  Is he the godlike Viking we remember from our youthful forays into comic books?  Or is he some kind of frat boy comedian?  Is he a female fantasy, or a "hotheaded fool" who rushes into trouble?  Is he a fish out of water, or is he comfortable thinking of Earth as his adopted home?  When you think about it, it's impossible to determine which of the above alternatives Thor really is.  I'm not saying that personalities don't shift and change, I'm not arguing against character arcs, I'm just saying that people tend to be one thing or the other most of the time.  This is how we come to identify with them.  Yet when you compare the Thor seen in Thor: Ragnarok with the Thor seen in the first and second films it's impossible to reconcile the three different versions of the character.

It's the same problem with Loki, although he gets a pass because he's inherently deceptive, and also the god of mischief.  Even so, Loki's constant character switches make it hard to sympathize with him, and in Ragnarok he's little more than comic relief.

There are also the problems of both cosmology and geneology present in the script.  How the hell (excuse the pun) do Loki and Thor not know about Hela if she's their sister?  It was relatively easy for Loki to discover his origins as a Frost Giant in the first film, why then would it take three for both him and Thor to learn that they had a sister that helped their father subjugate the Nine Realms?  And wouldn't Loki have figured out there was a secret room beneath the palace where Fenris and Hela's entire army was kept?  Didn't he know about all the secret entrances/exits into Asgard?

Hela though.  As sexy as Cate Blanchett was in this movie, I found it difficult to take her seriously as the goddess of Hel.  

And where is Hel, exactly?  Does it only consist of that room beneath the palace?  And if so, and if she "draws her power from Asgard," doesn't that make her the goddess of Asgard, not Hel?  Surtur, although misused in this movie, at least had his own realm to speak of.  What does Hela have, aside from ill-defined powers and some serious daddy issues?

This issue aside, there's also the centerpiece confrontation between Thor and Hulk.  Of course everyone loves it when Thor and Hulk fight, and the fight itself is worth seeing, but everything coming before and following after this fight is problematic.

For one thing, the Hulk seen in Thor: Ragnarok is just as annoyingly jokey as Thor is.  Sure, a lot of his humor is "unintentional," but it's jarring nonetheless.  Who the hell wants to hear the Hulk say funny things?  Anyone who knows that character, anyone who loves that character, would find his corny lines in Ragnarok hard to take.  Want to make Banner crack one-liners?  Fine.  But even that scene with Loki in the first Avengers was pushing it.  Joss Whedon could, to some extent, get away with that kind of thing, but in the scriptwriter's (or Taika Waititi's) hands the Hulk is just silly, and far from the monstrous creature that many of us know and love.

This, and they totally screwed two classic comic book storylines by smashing Planet Hulk and Ragnarok together.  Not only are we now deprived of any sort of World War Hulk movie (yes, I know about the "rights" thing with Universal), but we'll also never see Surtur unleashed in all his worlds-ending glory.  For the sake of jokes, two wonderful opportunities for a truly great Hulk or Thor movie have been ruined - completely - for the duration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Shit, man.  I really hope Justice League is better.

"The Politics of Gun Control" by Robert J. Spitzer (1998)

"The disjunction between broad popular support for firmer gun laws and the failure to enact most such laws might be interpreted as a failure of democracy.  Yet the connection between public opinion and public policy is far more complex than is suggested by such a conclusion.  In the absence of a national system of governance by nationwide referendum, it is all but inevitable that such disjunctions will exist.  The explanation rests, first, with the difficulty of translating social regulatory policy preferences into policy enactments.  Like trying to build a house in the middle of a hurricane, the effort to construct or alter social regulatory policy is notoriously difficult because of the passion and intensity surrounding such issues.  The fact takes on added significance when we not that, other things being equal, the enactment of policy is always more difficult that blocking the enactment of policy.  Thus the weight of political inertia rests with gun control opponents."

This book is very short so I'll be brief.  The Politics of Gun Control  discusses the state of gun control in the late 90s.  It details the history of gun control in the U.S., the role of the N.R.A. in public policy, and the legislative difficulties inherent in creating and implementing more effective gun laws in America.  It concludes sometime before the onset of George Bush Jr.'s administration.

And while I've never been a member of the N.R.A., I have owned guns, and my father was once a licensed firearms dealer.  Yet despite these facets of my personal history, I would agree that the N.R.A. needs to be "reigned in," and that stricter gun laws need to be passed and enforced.  People getting shot en masse while attending concerts or school is unacceptable.  More guns on the street will always equal less safety, not more.

I would encourage members of the N.R.A. to read this book, and to really think about what the author is saying.  It is only by reflecting on gun control with a clear head, and by putting propaganda to one side, that we'll end the crisis of public safety that the proliferation of weapons inevitably creates.  It's not about some vague "right" to own a gun.  It's not about some militia mentality that the states themselves rendered meaningless in the early days of the Republic.  It's about safety, and about being able to do your day to day business without fearing assault, rape, and murder.

I think the current breakdown of American civilization (and it is breaking down) has a lot to do with guns.  It's not that we can't fix the problem - just that many of us don't want to.  We don't trust each other, we don't trust our government, and in frustration many of us turn to firearms as the answer.  For the true outcome of such ways of thinking one need only look to any number of African countries.  They may not have the same "right" to own guns, but the social consequences are the same.

2017年10月26日 星期四

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of October 26, 2017)

Due to the truly astonishing number of Marvel films either released or in various stages of production, I have decided to begin the list below with the first Iron Man, in 2008.  For reviews of older Marvel films look here.

Excellent!  Had to see it twice!
Good movie with a few flaws.
Not bad, but not great.
I’d watch it once if I was bored enough.
[no stars]
Just terrible.
So bad it’s kind of good.

21. Iron Man (2008) ****

After Batman Begins, this is the other movie that reinvigorated the genre.  Where Batman Begins was dark, this one was funny.  Where Batman is driven, Tony Stark is brilliantly conflicted.  It is everything that Nolan's movie wasn't, and that's why it works.

22. The Incredible Hulk (2008) ***1/2

This movie was sidelined by the overwhelming success of Iron Man, but I loved it.  I loved Edward Norton's take on the character, I loved the script he wrote for the film, and I loved the Greco-Roman take on The Hulk.  My only complaint is that he let The Abomination live at the end.  I found this hard to believe.

23. Punisher: War Zone (2008) *

A more violent take on Frank Castle.  It's a solid film, but maybe a little too depressing for its own good.  I consider it an improvement on the first.

24. X-men Origins: Wolverine (2009) *

This movie is standard popcorn fare, much along the lines of Ghost Rider. Hugh Jackman goes through the motions, an attempt to bring Deadpool and Gambit into the mix is handled badly, and by the end you're thankful that it's not as dreadful as X3.


25. Iron Man 2 (2010) ***

I liked this almost as much as the first one.  Downey Jr. is given even better one-liners in this film, and Mickey Rourke characteristically chews the scenery.  Sam Rockwell is also great as Justin Hammer, and my only complaint is that Don Cheadle isn't given enough to do.

26. Kick-Ass (2010) **

I have friends who love this movie.  I don't.  I think the first half is good, but after Big Daddy dies it just gets silly - especially the jet pack.  A nice warm up for The Amazing Spider-Man, however.

27. Thor (2011) *

Considering how hard it must have been to adapt Thor to the big screen, I would consider this movie a success.  Still, compared to other movies Marvel Studios has made, I think this is the weakest one.  I've never been a big fan of Kenneth Branagh.

28. X-men: First Class (2011) ***

Michael Fassbender makes this movie.  Forgive the pun, but he is positively magnetic as Magneto.  I thought the end was weak, but it's still miles ahead of the first three films.

29. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) ***

Still one of my favorite Marvel movies.  It might seem a bit slow for some people, but the mixture of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark really worked for me.

30. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Ghost Rider journeys to Europe on an extremely low budget.  The screenplay was probably good, but the direction is all over the place and Nicholas Cage overdoes the "manic" elements.  The only good thing I can say about this film is that the actress who plays "the Devil's baby-momma" is extremely beautiful.  Fun Fact: Idris Elba, who appeared in Thor the year before, is Johnny Blaze's sidekick.

31. The Avengers (2012) ***1/2

There are entire websites devoted to how awesome this movie is.  It's a good film, but not one of the best.  Considering how difficult it is to put characters as diverse as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor into the same movie universe, this one is an unqualified triumph.  I'm only sorry the Oscorp Tower didn't make an appearance.

32. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) ***

This is a good movie, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have some terrific chemistry, and it's a solid effort.  The Lizard is a bit too Hulk-like for my taste, but this is a vast improvement over Spider-Man 3.

33. Iron Man 3 (2013) *

I was super excited about this movie, but walked away from it disappointed.  It starts out well, but neither of the villains are very compelling, and the stunt work is too over the top.  My biggest complaint is the ending, which gives us a Tony Stark who no longer has any reason to be Iron Man.

34. Kick-Ass 2 (2013) **

It's not a great movie, but it's not bad.  There are some funny scenes in this one, but it could have been a lot better.

35. The Wolverine (2013) **1/2

I had high hopes for this one, but it wasn't all that good.  It's certainly much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and all the other X-Men films, but that's not saying all that much.

36. Thor: The Dark World (2013) ***

This was a great movie.  I didn't love the first Thor, but this one was a vast improvement.  Reminded me a lot of the Walt Simonson run on the comic book.  Hoping to see Beta Ray Bill in Thor 3!

37. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) ***1/2

Steve Rogers struggles with the modern world and his role in S.H.I.E.L.D.  After encountering the Winter Soldier, he has even more reasons to doubt the nobility of certain causes.  A very topical movie, with some great action sequences.  Didn't like it as much as Thor: The Dark World, but it was well done.

By the way, if you liked this movie you'd probably also enjoy (and find a lot that's familiar in) the Robert Redford vehicle Three Days of the Condor.

38. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **

Too much CGI, but some great performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  I liked this movie more than "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," though the action sequences in Cap were better.  This film has more dramatic tension, better ensemble performances, and more heart.  Looking forward to the third film!

39. X-men: Days of Future Past (2014) ***1/2

A surprisingly good movie.  As mutantkind faces extinction, Wolverine journeys into the past to change the future.  Excellent performances, and one of the most emotionally resonant superhero films to come along in quite a while.  Fun Fact: Although played by a white midget (Peter Dinklage) in Days of Future Past, Bill Duke, a rather large black man, plays Bolivar Trask in the earlier X-Men: The Last Stand.

40. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) **

A good movie, though it features too many characters for its own good.  Humor holds the film together, and makes some of the less plausible plot elements seem more plausible.  As with many other recent films from Marvel Studios, seems less inspired than calculated.  Maybe the second one will be better?

41. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)**1/2

I can't say it's flawless, but I did like it much better than Guardians of the Galaxy.  It's less talky than the first Avengers, and the battle between Hulk and the Hulkbuster is truly awesome.  Quicksilver seemed a bit  underused, and I would have liked to see more of the Vision, but it's still a great movie.

42. Ant-Man (2015)***

Any great scenes in this movie involve a) Michael Pena, b) shrinking, or c) both.  As for the rest of it?  It starts off well enough, but it takes too long to get going.  "The heist" at the end is a bit of a non-event, but the fight scenes between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket are good.

43. Fantastic Four (2015)*

This movie is not bad up until the four return from Planet Zero.  After that point it's a mess.  Once Reed escapes from the military facility the dialogue is awful, the characters do things that make no sense, and the movie somehow ends without building up any kind of dramatic tension.  It feels like an hour of this film was removed before it hit theaters, and Dr. Doom looks like he escaped from another, much lower-budget film.

44. Deadpool (2016)***

The good news: as far as films within Fox's X-men universe go, this one is second best.  It's not as riveting as X-men: Days of Future Past, but it's better than all the other ones.  Compared to the Marvel Studios films, I'd rank it above lesser efforts like Iron Man 2 and 3, though it comes nowhere near their best.  It's refreshingly profane, yet it struggles during most of the "serious" parts.  A sequel to this movie would probably be much better than the original.

45. Captain America: Civil War (2016) **1/2

I liked it, but it was WAY to long and that fight at the airport seemed entirely unnecessary.  The inclusion of both Black Panther and Spider-Man also did very little to advance the plot, though I was happy to finally see Marvel's approach to these characters.  I think a smaller-scale movie, concentrating on the dynamic between Steve, Bucky, and Tony would have worked much better.

46. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) **

Continuity be damned!  Never mind the fact that many of the events occurring in Apocalypse happened much later (or is it earlier?) in the first three X-men movies.  Never mind the fact that many of the characters from First Class ought to be in their 50s by the 1980s.  The biggest problem with this movie is the villain, and the fact that he's just not threatening.  When you title a movie "Apocalypse" it ought to feel like the end of the world, and this movie just doesn't deliver on that promise.

47. Doctor Strange (2016)**1/2

A former neurosurgeon battles otherdimensional threats.  Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor with an established reputation, is a credible Dr. Strange, though the plot is somewhat formulaic.  The strength of this movie is its visuals, and these are something worth seeing.

48. Logan (2017)***1/2

A solid, dramatic film that may well prove Oscar-worthy.  It's still early 2017, so it's hard to say whether or not the Academy will remember Jackman's performance or Mangold's direction come Oscar time.  But Logan is a good (maybe great) movie that might just stand the test of time.  The last act falters a bit, but the first two acts are excellent.  Not as mind-blowing as The Dark Knight, not as paradigm-shifting as Deadpool, but nevertheless a well thought-out, well executed meditation on pain and loss.

49. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) **

If you're one of those people who LOVED the first Guardians of the Galaxy, you'll probably love this one, too.  I wasn't a huge fan of the first installment, and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  The humor in Vol. 2 seemed even more forced, and the characters spend SO much time explaining plot points that it took me right out of the movie.

50. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)****

Gotta say they nailed it.  I can't think of a single bad thing to say about this movie.  The acting, the directing, the special effects, the fight scenes - and they even made me love Iron Man all over again.  I'll be seeing it again soon.

51. Thor: Ragnarok **1/2

Too jokey by far, even if the jokey bits are also the best parts of the movie.  Hela might be one of the better developed Marvel villains, but the Thor and Loki seen in this movie are so watered down as to be unrecognizable.  Who is Thor, really?  What is his personality?  What does he want?  Even Marvel doesn't seem able to answer these questions - and thus the central flaw in their Thor trilogy.  I'm still a big fan of Taika Waititi, and What We Do in the Shadows remains one of my favorite films, but his directorial style obscures what might have otherwise been a solid action movie.

 On the Way

52. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman plays the Black Panther.  Ryan Coogler is directing.  Many parts of his backstory were touched upon in Captain America: Civil War.  Said to be inspired by Blade Runner, I'm assuming most of this movie takes place in Wakanda.    The cast and crew are great - I'm just hoping it's not as jokey as Thor: Ragnarok.

53. The New Mutants (2018)

Josh Boone is directing.  After the recent success of both Logan and the Legion TV series, the Fox X-Men films suddenly seems a lot more viable  The teaser looks more like a horror movie, a development I have no problem with.  Aside from being very beautiful, Anya Taylor-Joy has also been in a lot of good movies.  Her involvement in this one has me optimistic, and I loved the Demon Bear run as a kid.

54. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

It was bound to happen.  Thanos is the villain, and his quest for the infinity gems (stones) will probably cause Earth's mightiest heroes a great deal of misery.  The interplay between this and DC's two Justice League movies will be fun to watch.

55. Deadpool 2 (2018)

Ryan Reynolds reprises his role from the first movie, with Josh Brolin (yes, that Josh Brolin) costarring as Cable.  There are a TON of set pics of this movie on the Internet, and I think it will be pretty good.

56. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2018)

Fox gives it the old college try with yet another adaptation of the X-men's most iconic storyline.  Hopefully it doesn't suck, but with the way they're rushing this into production I'm not optimistic.

57. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

There are many set pics online, but no details with regard to story.  Ant-Man is still one of the more overlooked Marvel movies, even though it was, in my opinion, far better than Doctor Strange.

58. Venom (2018)

This movie is filming now.  Tom Hardy will star as Venom.  Many talented people are involved, and if Sony gives them enough room to work in it should be good.

59. Captain Marvel (2019)

A female superhero film - even if it will appear a TWO YEARS after DC's Wonder Woman.  And Captain Marvel ain't no Wonder Woman!  Production on this movie's still chugging along, though few details are available.

60. Avengers 4 (2019)

With a rumored budget of a BILLION dollars, this and Infinity War will, if nothing else, be something to talk about.

61. Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (2019)

If it's half as good as the first one, it should be great!

62. Gambit (2019)

Filming should start soon, though with Fox who really knows.  Gore Verbinski is set to direct, and as far as anyone knows Channing Tatum will still be the star.

63. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2020)

The last one made me sleepy.  A third one?  I don't know, if Adam Warlock is involved I might be more interested.

2017年10月24日 星期二

"The Oceans" by Ellen J. Prager with Sylvia A. Earle (2000)

"...despite the enormous strides we have made in the past century toward understanding the nature of the sea, fully 95 percent of the ocean remains to be explored.  Given the magnitude of what our modest ventures have revealed to date, and given how much more remains to be found... Can we even make an intelligent guess at what it might be?"

Both of the authors of this book have backgrounds in marine science and exploration.  With regard to the actual writing of it, Ellen J. Prager did all the heavy lifting.  Sylvia A. Earle, her more famous colleague, provided most of the inspiration.  Earle has been the subject of a Netflix documentary, and has been mentioned as a possible nominee for the position of Science Laureate.

After a short introduction, the chapters of the book are laid out in a very logical progression.  Their titles are fairly self-explanatory, and are, in order: Oceans of the Past, The Seas of Today, Oceans and Climate, The Geologic Ocean, The Biological Ocean, and A Once Bountiful Sea.  Two afterwards, each written by one of the authors, conclude the book with a look at the current state of the oceans, and how we might modify our attitudes and actions with regard to pollution, fishing, and other ocean-related topics.

Having taken a Physical Geography class in college, most of this material was familiar to me.  The possible exception was The Biological Ocean chapter, which was of course more specific to its subject.  Even so, I found most of the book engaging, and the section on waves was particularly relevant, given that I live 20 minutes from the ocean.

For the most part The Oceans felt like a textbook, and even though Ellen J. Prager has a tendency to overstate the obvious, there were enough interesting factoids to keep me reading to the end of the book.  I can't say that I would bother to seek out either of the authors' other works, but this book was both informative and competently written.

2017年10月18日 星期三

"Permutation City" by Greg Egan (1994)

"And in the meantime?  The privileged class of Copies will grow larger, more powerful - and more threatening to the vast majority of people, who still won't be able to join them.  The costs will come down, but not drastically - just enough to meet some of the explosion in demand from the executive class, once they throw off their qualms, en masse.  Even in secular Europe, there's a deeply ingrained prejudice that says dying is the responsible, the moral thing to do.  There's a Death Ethic - and the first substantial segment of the population abandoning it will trigger a huge backlash."

How "hard" do you like your science fiction?  Do you prefer sword and sorcery with a dash of laser guns?  Or books so conceptually deep that they threaten to split your head open?  Ursula K. Le Guin or Stanislaw Lem?  Starship Troopers or the V.A.L.I.S. trilogy?  Straight-to-film, or unfilmable?  If your answer in each instance is the latter, then you'll love Greg Egan.

Egan is a science fiction writer and computer programmer.  He also has a degree in Mathematics (and it shows).  According to Egan, there are NO pictures of him to be found on the Internet, though you are, of course, welcome to search.  Maybe, just maybe, some of those you find will be the real Egan?

Permutation City is one of his earlier novels.  He's written a lot of them, many with catchy titles like "Dark Integers," "Mitochondrial Eve," and "The Moral Virologist."  Still looking for those laser guns and rocket ships?  Abandon all hope, all ye who enter Egan's bibliography.

So what's this book about, you ask?  Well, the simple answer is virtual reality.  The more complex answer is the nature of virtual reality, and how the virtual might be more "real" than we think.  

Or something.  I'm not sure.  It gets very deep, my friend.  It gets very, very deep.  Along the way Egan also speculates on the nature of consciousness, the conditions necessary for the creation of life, and the nature of sanity in relation to a ever-shifting, possibly illusory world.

Long story short (not that this book is that long), Permutation City will FUCK YOUR MIND, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.  If you like books that ask big questions, if you like authors that talk up to you instead of down, then you'll freaking love this one.  It is, I think, the most difficult science fiction novel I've ever read (and I've read a few whoppers), but for those who enjoy thinking (and reflecting) on their science fiction, this one's a winner.  Just don't expect Egan to go gentle.  He'll be hitting you over the head with existential quandaries before the end of the introduction.

If You Liked This Book, You Might Also Like:

"The Eden Cycle" by Raymond Z. Gallun

"The Information" by James Gleick

...and You'll Probably Despise:

"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

P.S. Egan gets a lot of flack for the "Dust Theory" of consciousness presented in this book.  Some people on the Internet like to think they're VERY clever, and in their oversimplified mode of thinking this theory is easy to tear apart.  There are, however, certain allowances in quantum mechanics for this theory - it's just that Egan doesn't include these allowances in the book.  Given our current understanding of both quantum indeterminacy and entanglement, the Dust Theory does make a certain kind of sense.

Many critics also fail to take into account he sheer volume of information available within the observable universe (In the book, a character mentions that "dark matter" has been fully accounted for, and that the approximate date of a "Big Crunch" can be predicted.)

P.P.S. There is a criticism that runs "Egan only writes for his main audience, which is Egan."  I see some validity to this argument.  While I think Permutation City is fairly accessible (especially if you already have an interest in scientific topics), some of his other stuff is so obscure that one wonders why he bothered to write it in the first place.