Saturday, April 30, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Lords of the Sky by Angus Wells

Lords of the Sky by Angus Wells
ISBN: 0-553-57266-0


The Ahn, age-old enemy of the Dhar, have mastered a powerful new battle sorcery and are massing for an attack on Dharbek’s shores.  It will be the last and greatest battle – a merciless conquest of the lands they once owned and the total destruction of the hated Dhar.

But Daviot, a Dhar storyteller and memory of his people, has an impossible dream – to bring peace to the two warring races.  His only allies are a beautiful blind mage; an Ahn warrior who has forgotten his history and heritage; and a beast-man, a hybrid creation of cynical magic, rebelling against a lifetime of persecution and servitude.  Together, they journey to the lost lands of the north to search for the one weapon that will ensure that the Dhar and the Ahn listen to this small band of dreamers.  But they may find that a weapon of peace can wreak far greater destruction than generations of war...


My Thoughts:

I promised a return to the realms of fantasy and here we are: a 650 word, stand-alone novel about magic and warriors and quests to save the known world.  In my teens, I loved this novel and I read it multiple times (so often, indeed, that the pages are soft and the spine lined with creases, the cover is beat up and I somehow tore a couple of pages – probably when carrying the book around in my bag of holding, I mean, purse) and so I wondered if I would still like it now.  I won’t keep you in suspense, dear readers.  I still love this book, but it took me a while to remember what made it so appealing to younger me.

If I look past my nostalgia, I can admit that this isn't a perfect book, however, it is worth reading if you’re a fan of fantasy novels.  This last is especially true if you’re looking for something that isn’t part one of twenty (why are there so few stand-alone fantasy tomes?  I blame Tolkien.).  So, what are some of the problems?  Well, let me get right to them without any further prevarication.  The end, in particular, feels rushed and while we spend the first 500 pages in painfully detailed character development, focusing on miniscule trivia and generally exploring the world of Dharbek and its various problems, in the last 150 pages we hurtle along with nary a thought for anything other than brief glimpses of what Daviot is thinking.  There are no more insightful ruminations on right and wrong, only decisive action and a bit of “oh, if only I had known then what I know now, I was such a fool” from Daviot.  (If it’s not clear from that little swipe at him – I don’t much like our protagonist, but we’ll get to that soon enough.)  In a short afterword, the author says that the book had been longer, but with the help of his editor, he cut a bunch of stuff and I have to wonder if he cut from the last part of the book.  So, what I’m saying is that the pacing could have been better.

Daviot is the narrator of the story.  I appreciate that Wells chose him, since it explains why he remembers everything with such detail – he has the talent for remembering.  It gives a reason for why the book, as an artefact, exists in a way.  So that’s nicely done.  But, of course, I didn’t like Daviot.   

Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.  My issues with both the pacing and with the hero stem from the fact that I like one of the secondary characters...a lot.  In fact, Tezdal (the Sky Lord who lost his memory) is probably the reason I read this book so many times in my younger years.  Daviot spends some time berating himself for the way he treated his friend, because well, he didn’t treat him well.  Tezdal is...dreamy and shows my early propensity for troubled warrior-types who sacrifice too much of themselves for the greater good and then die in a sad, lamentable way (clearly, I have a type).  I spent much of the latter part of the book wishing I could save him and I hate Daviot for not seeing how much his friend is suffering (this is a totally rational response, don’t look at me like that).  If Daviot wasn’t so focused on bringing peace to his world (a dream he's had since he first began his studies) and wrapped up in his relationship with Rwyan, then he might have talked Tezdal off the ledge.  But while he observes that the Sky Lord is troubled he then ignores it in favour of enjoying his own triumphs.  He was not a good friend and he knows it and whines about it (which makes it doubly annoying).  I could go on and on about this, but let me stop here.  Lord Tezdal forever, yo.  I guess the spoilers are over now.

Fan-girl griping aside, this novel is a book about exploration, not in the sense of going to new frontiers, but in the sense that Daviot begins to uncover the intricacies of the world in which he lives.  The things that most people take for granted begin to unravel in front of him as he travels the country as a storyman, keeper of the people’s history.  It’s a book about politics, too, as much as it is a novel about magic and war.  Really, there is a little bit of everything here: battles, romance, magic, intrigue, the list goes on.  But, ultimately, it is a book about the cost of peace (which has somehow become a theme in my current reading / game playing / thinking).  Sometimes, terrible things need to be done to ensure a better future and this novel provides a good example of how the things that are necessary aren’t always good or nice or easy.  Change requires sacrifice.

And as a bit of an aside before I wrap this up: Rwyan is awesome.  Without her determination, Daviot wouldn’t get anywhere, because he’s a quitter and a whiner.  It’s good to see a strong, fierce and proud woman character, even if she is one of the few in the novel.

To echo what I already wrote above, if you’re looking for a solid stand-alone fantasy novel, Lords of the Sky is a good choice.  While you ponder that, I’m going to go cry a few fan-girl tears over my dear Lord Tezdal.

Post Script:  Next week, I’ll be continuing my journey through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series with a review of the second novel The Drawing of the Three.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weeks Too Late: A Game Of Thrones-Winter Is Coming

A Game of Thrones-Winter is Coming. Directed by Tim Van Patten & Written by (big breath) George R.R. Martin, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss.

Preconceptions: I know, I set a dangerous precedent reviewing the Walking Dead pilot, because now I'm going watch and review TV whenever it catches my fancy. Well, let me promise you I'll only do it when something really gets stuck in my head and is damned cinematic. And not at all because I was gone for the weekend. And Portal 2 came out. Ahem.

Self mockery aside, I was particularly worried about reviewing this because I feared I'd come off fan-girlish. Either I'd end up gushing in a vomit inducing fashion about the beauty of the settings and the sublime casting - barf. Or, worse yet railing until I was apoplectic because my favourite book had been strung up, desecrated and violated by revolting TV types. How tedious would either of those options be? Still, there was also the whole aforementioned Portal 2 release and utterly no free time this I'll endeavour not to nauseate the lot of you.

General Review: For those of you who haven't already read the staggering number of reviews, essays and tweets: the pilot didn't rip the book up into tiny pieces and then piss on the remains (this metaphor may have gotten away from me). However, it isn't the second coming of the BBC's Pride and Prejudice either (no wet Colin Firth for one). I know that narrating is considered to be a cheap trick used by directors who can't show rather than tell, but losing the inner voice of the characters was jarring. Ned Stark, in particular, lost a lot of his charm when you don't realize all that he's feeling and can't articulate. Sean Bean was an excellent choice to play him and he may yet rise above the handicap of no monologue, but the strong silent type he's playing is way less interesting than the complicated, twisted up Ned that I came to know and love. Really, while there are a lot of strong casting choices (I already have a soft spot for Maisie Williams as the ready to fight, even in skirts, Arya Stark - big surprise there), the pilot misses a lot of the hard ruthlessness and catch you off guard kindness of the book.

Not surprisingly, the setting is impressive. The budget was well used in showing us the vastness of the Wall, white emptiness of the North and the vibrant colours of the southern towns. The castles never feel small or sound stage-y and there is never the disbelief shattering revelation that the actors are clearly not riding horses, but are sort of bouncing on chairs (even now, this comes up more often than you'd think). It was more than cool to see the fantasy setting be epic and huge rather than hoping to pass off a few rooms as a magical kingdom.

Lets get shallow for a minute and then I'll be back to sensible critiques (probably not). I know that writers of good novels don't go into them thinking of the practicalities of turning their character and settings into TV and movies and they shouldn't. But damn, the bad blonde dye jobs demanded by fantasy settings is painful, PAINFUL to watch. Draco Malfoy, Legolas and now these crimes upon hair dressing:

Ugh. Seriously. And while I'm being shallow (for just a bit longer) sometimes it felt like a "choose your own vaguely British accent" party. I know that we've all decided by social contract that medieval-ish settings are filled with the English...but there were a lot of people from the same towns (and even the same families) speaking very differently from each other. Oh and Jon Snow should have been at least 50% more handsome. Alright, I'm done.

Surface complaints aside, Winter is Coming was a good effort. There were a lot of things I liked, Mark Addy (as King Baratheon) and Sean Bean had great chemistry. Their connection was obvious and the choice to only have Ned smile when he was talking to Baratheon or his wife was a subtle and well thought out touch. As a fan of puppies, I obviously enjoyed the Dire Wolves and I've already begun to love to hate Sansa. Also, very like in the book series, we got to know everyone and their place in the kingdom quickly. We weren't bogged down in recitations of so and so son of so and so of the house of so and so (I'm looking at you Dune). And, despite the size of the cast, we didn't need constant recitations of names to remember who the important characters are. That is not an easy thing to do.

But I suppose you've come here looking for a recommendation (you and your demands) so I'll have to stop squirming around and give one. As much as I would love to gush on and on (and I did utterly adore seeing my favourite characters come to life) this wasn't great. Oh, it was alright, there weren't huge flaws and it certainly wasn't painful to watch. I'm just afraid it falls into the all too common Watchmen-Pit (I know 300-Pit would have been wittier, but that movie didn't have the depth to merit this complain, alright, alright, I'll stop). This show is the best adaptation possible, it does an excellent job of giving us as much detail and character development as it can. but the source material is so dense, rich and filled with compelling characters it's just nigh impossible to portray it with the same meticulousness and care as in the book. I know I'm veering into "oh the book was better" territory, but sometimes books and comics just can't make the media transfer and come out whole. Winter is Coming is certainly competent and I enjoyed seeing it, but the meatiness of the first act of the book just didn't come across. Basically, my main worry is that this won't really bowl over anyone. I think that fans of the books will like it alright, but won't feel any more than the lukewarm enjoyment of seeing their favourite characters and scenes up and moving. But worse yet, I think people coming in blind won't get what the big deal about the series is and as a rabid fan, I want very much for them to enjoy it as much as I do. I'm afraid I'm going to have to be cliche and tell you to read the book first (or at least the first act).

Aside: While I'm sure I'll come to love Daenerys as much as I did in the book, the actor playing her needs to learn that her mouth doesn't ALWAYS need to be hanging half open. Sexy or dullard, only time will tell.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Mauve Desert by Nicole Brossard

Mauve Desert by Nicole Brossard, translated by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood
ISBN: 978-1-55245-172-4


Shimmering mirages, swimming pools and mysterious motel men loom as fifteen-year-old Mélanie careens across the Arizona desert in a white car, chasing fear and desire and the mysterious Angela Parkins, and escaping her mother and the roadside Mauve Motel.

This audacious story, in the form of the novel Mauve Desert, finds its way to an enigmatic translator, Maude Laures.  Transfixed, Maude embarks on an extraordinary quest for its elusive author and characters, eventually arriving at Mauve, the Horizon her own enticingly oblique translation of Mélanie’s story.


My Thoughts:

I have a confession.  I’m really not sure about writing this review.  I don’t know that I can do it justice.  I fear none of you, dearest readers, will find it particularly interesting, as it's a strange, experimental, stream-of-consciousness sort of book, but it's very dear to me.  But, I feel that I need to try to tell you about it, since I believe it’s a special novel.

The back cover blurb doesn't really do the story justice (in my opinion) so I'll try to give you an idea of what it's about, although I might be over-simplifying it some.  There are several stories here: Mélanie, fifteen and wild, trying to find her place in the world; a nuclear test detonation done in the desert and the physicist Longman (the only male character in the book); the story of Lorna and Mélanie’s mother; the mystery of Angela Parkins and her death; and of course, the story of translator and her relationship with the book.  You can pry them apart; as I have just done to give you this list, but they don’t really stand alone.  They interweave.  If we have learned one thing from this blogging journey, it’s that I love interweaving stories (especially when presented through poetic language).
I first read Mauve Desert in a class on feminist writers (big surprise) and I had never heard of Nicole Brossard before that small, intimate seminar.  I can tell you I loved it from the opening line: “The desert is indescribable.  Reality rushes into it, rapid light.  The gaze melts.”  The poetic language, the experimental style and Mélanie's character appeal to me as much now as they did when I first read the book.  On the whole, however, I found myself appreciating the intricacies of the book more now that I'm older (and supposedly wiser, the jury's still out on that though).  Four years ago, I rushed along with Mélanie, transfixed by her longing for the desert, her tumultuous emotions, her sentence fragment existence.  While all of these features still held my interest, I also found myself thinking about the translator.  I ruminated on the task of moving a text from one language to another, the lost nuances, transitions, decisions, and of the possibility of the translator as writer.  There is so much to consider here, so much to unravel and examine.  Which is to say, if you don’t enjoy books that give no clear answer, that have layers upon layers and what seems like an infinite possibility of meaning, you should not go anywhere near this novel.  It’s a prose-poem, frantic and painfully beautiful.  It’s an infection in the mind.  Yeah, I’m affected by it, but it's stream-of-consciousness prose poetry and not to everyone's taste.

The only aspect I didn’t like is the repetition of the text of the novel within a novel.  I know that it serves a purpose and the second one, Mauve, the Horizon is not an exact duplicate, but the translator’s interpretation of the original text, but it felt too repetitive for me.  That, and I really liked the somewhat less polished, more fragment style of the first iteration.  The first somehow felt more “authentic,” more like the stream-of-consciousness ravings of a fifteen year old.  And that is something that the novel as a whole captures really well: the mad-dash energy of being a teenager trying to figure out the world and relationships and people.

One last thought before I wrap this up - in thinking about the translator, I also had to think about the fact that the novel was originally written in French.  This adds an extra layer (for me) to what the book is trying to accomplish - suddenly there is the actual writer, an actual translator and they are working with a book that has a writer and a translator.  It's dizzying to think about it in a way.  And all of these writers and translators, all the hands that dealt with these manuscripts, the names on the covers, they are all women.  The lone male character is not even given a proper name.  He is only Longman and he sees only the explosion.  Ah, delicious feminist fare.

If you want to read something a bit different, I highly recommend this novel.  It’s actually fairly short at just over 200 pages and there is a section of pictures in the middle.  The chapters are sometimes only a paragraph long.  You’ll find that even with its fragmented stream-of-consciousness style you make your way through it at a quick pace, pulled along in the wake of Mélanie’s frenzy and Maude Laures’ obsession with the manuscript.  It’s a worthwhile undertaking, beautiful and profound.

Postscript:  Things around here have been a bit...well, heavy I guess.  I promise that next week I’ll review a fluffy, easy to read fantasy novel (or something approximating that description), rather than Canadian feminist literature or challenging mythpunk novels.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Seventh Moon

Seventh Moon. Directed by Eduardo Sanchez & Written by Eduardo Sanchez and Jamie Nash.

: Well, I hadn't gotten the claws out in a while and last week reminded me how fun it is to sharpen them on poor, unsuspecting (but deserving) backs of something abysmal. It's also been a long time since I gave in to my love/hate relationship with horror (the genre hasn't come knocking at my door, drunk, at 2am in some time now). So, after realizing that some essential DVD cords were in another room (so very, very lazy), I postponed my Miyazaki-fest and had a look at the horror section in the old Netflix Streaming queue.

Apparently, Ghost House Pictures has branched off into a direct to DVD market that is trying to be edgy and cool. This is happening under the name of Ghost House Underground. It sounded perfect. Ghost House Pictures were the geniuses who re-made the Grudge into a slick, bloodless (well metaphorically) typical yawn-fest of a horror movie. I rubbed my hands together and waited to enjoy being a jerk.

General Review
: Once again, horror has disappointed me....but in a good way, for a change. Instead of pushing me down the stairs, it did the laundry and told me my hair looked nice (and this metaphor is getting stranger and stranger the longer I write this blog). Seventh Moon was good. The break down of the story is standard, newly married couple find themselves in an isolated area and chased by monsters, but the movie deserves more credit than this dismissive summary.

There were a lot of directorial choices I admired, the main one being our
monsters. The Hungry Ghosts start out as nothing more than white blurs that we can barely make out and as the movie progresses we slowly get to see them better and better. This isn't particularly unusual for a horror flick, but what is strange is that they're cool throughout. We don't have the crushing disappointment of the monsters looking dumb, or the more acceptable (but still cock tease-y) let down of never getting to see much of anything. I'd usually post a picture of them in this paragraph but I don't want to spoil it for you. Trust me you'll enjoy them.

The scariness didn't just hinge on the monsters being cool, however. There are some very unsettling scenes, the best of which was a claustrophobic, almost Caitlin R. Kiernan-esque, walk through a cave lit only by a cellphone. Not to mention a rather good, colourful, Wickerman-like sequence at the very beginning.

It isn't all a primrose path for Sanchez however. This guy did direct the Blair Witch Project, after all (which I have a big ol' soft spot for, it was experimental and cool at the time!). Be prepared for my favourite and yours, the nausea inducing, shake-i-cam technology. Those of you who've been reading the blog for a while have been sprayed up and down with the vitriol I feel for this particular stylistic choice. While I will gracelessly admit it's wholly appropriate (though irritating) in a movie that's supposed to be entirely made up of footage taken from an actual hand held camera, it causes me nothing but hate and illness when I see it in a movie that has an omniscient cameraman. Enough said.

The fact that much of the movie was blacker than the blackest black times infinity also started to wear on me. Yes, it occasionally added tension and yes, it was trying something that was sometimes effective and cool, but there were parts of the third act that might as well have been a radio play. Moments of darkness can be used effectively and sometimes they were, but Sanchez was far too liberal with his use of them. And since I can't seem to cram this in anywhere else: the sex scene felt forced, pointless and gratuitous (which is weird since it was so tame, not the usual breast flash of 80's horror).

Once again, I've gotten so into the directing that I've basically forgotten about the actors, which is entirely their own fault. The performance given by the leads was competent and not one iota more talented than that. Occasionally, Amy Smart's nasal nag irritated me and occasionally Tim Chiou's vacant cow stare did the same. Neither of them were spectacular and there wasn't a ton of chemistry, but they weren't bad enough to really slam either.

The entire sound crew, on the other hand, from composers to editors to folly folks deserve a confetti throwing party. No kidding. With a petting zoo. The more movies I see the weirder I'm getting about score, lack of score and sound in general. This movie nailed it. Score was used extremely sparingly and it enhanced rather than distracted. Oh and the sound effects were shudder worthy, very spooky, visceral stuff.

Seventh Moon wasn't what I was expecting. It's the first scary movie I've seen in a long while that felt like horror and not like dull same-y pap. While it hasn't reminded me of everything good and right with horror, I did enjoy it. What's more, it's gotten me interested to see what else Ghost House Underground has to offer. If the rest of the catalog lives up to this offering, I may have found something to fill the hole in my heart that Master of Horror being canceled left.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Girl on Book Action: The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One by Catherynne M. Valente
ISBN: 978-1-59780-199-7


This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries.  But what if it were all true?  What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?

Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit.  These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell.  The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness.  John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye – a headless creature who carried her face on her chest – as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family.


My Thoughts:

I am perpetually behind the times.  I wanted to read this novel when it was first released some months ago, but due to the vagaries of life, I could not.  Then I tried to read it in January and realized that my brain wasn’t up to it (we’ll get back to this in a moment) and I set it aside after twenty pages.  Now, I finally had some spare brain-power and what I want to be reading is Valente’s new novel Deathless (because I am fickle and am always chasing after the next amazing book, regardless of the many that await my attention on my to-be-read pile already – there are worse addictions to have).

One of the things I love about Valente’s writing is that it’s challenging.  You can’t, or well, I can’t read her stuff with half my brain turned off.  I have to pay attention to the way she manipulates language, and to the way she weaves a story from all these different strands.  I am always amazed at her skill.  And the descriptions!  The beautifully expressed ideas!  For instance, when she has one of the lions (yes, there are sentient, speaking lions) talk about love in an inversion of a passage from the Bible (something in Psalms I think) is absolutely mind blowing, or it was to me.  It's so eloquent and profound.  My book is littered with little pink page markers for sections I need to copy down into my quote book.  I’ll end up sharing one here, because I cannot resist, because these words should be shared, tasted, and savoured.  Okay, I’ll cut back on the florid prose.  I am not a novelist, I am a reviewer.

While I’m in love with Valente’s prose and I enjoyed this re-imagining of the Prester John story (which I know nothing about, being that I'm a Romanticist rather than a Medievalist), it did take me a while to connect with the story.  The setting and the characters in John’s kingdom are so strange that it was difficult for me to settle into the narrative.  In a way, it’s another sign of skill – as you follow Hiob through the books about John’s arrival in this Otherworld, both of them are disoriented, confused, filled with disbelief and my reaction mirrored theirs in a lot of ways.  But I got used to it all after a while – rather than feeling outside the story because the only “human” in sight was the prejudicial John, I slowly began to associate with Hagia, with Hajji, with all the other fantastical characters.  Ultimately, while they might look different they all came to be people – with complex emotions, motivations and hopes.  Daunting, I know, but you'll ease into it.  Still, at the beginning, I was truly alienated and some might find this to be disconcerting enough to stop reading.  I am not so faint of heart.

One of my favourite parts of this book (I can’t tell you all of my favourite parts, because I would have to write a lengthy treatise on the subject) was the conflict between Hiob and John’s Christian world view, the different creation myths and creatures they encounter in their travels, and the need they both feel to somehow fit the sights of this Otherland into their small rubric.  There are allusions to and inversions of Biblical passages, there is a retelling of the story of Christ by Thomas Judas, and the depth and breadth of myth-building I've come to expect from Valente's work is in full effect throughout.  She makes you re-think the way you interpret the world, whether you subscribe to religion or not.  Since the stories are read through Hiob's transcription of three books he has been allowed to take from a tree whose fruits are books, the world is seen through his eyes, meaning that we see everything through his own prejudices.  The same is true of John's book.  Confronting these limited points of view and their inherent prejudices is what rattled my cage a little, made me feel uncomfortable, because I did not want to be part of their shortsightedness, their closed-mindedness.  That type of reaction breeds awareness and that’s a powerful thing to find in any novel.

I feel as though I haven’t given you much substance in this review, that all I’ve done is gush disorganized first impressions at you.  I have a multitude of ideas about the events portrayed, but then I would be dissecting little details, going into minutiae the way that my English degree has taught me to do, and this blog is not the space for that.  No, the discussion of such details is best done over a cup of tea in a cozy room with good friends.  So – if my rambling has in any way raised your interest, go read this book and then we can talk about it.  I’ve got plenty of tea; perhaps you can bring some cookies.

Addendum:  A short quote, to whet your appetite, my dears.

“I reminded myself: when a book lies unopened it might contain anything in the world, anything imaginable.  It therefore, in that pregnant moment before opening, contains everything.  Every possibility, both perfect and putrid.” Pg. 27, The Habitation of the Blessed, by Catherynne M. Valente

Postscript:  If you're interested I've also written reviews of Palimpsest and In the Night Garden.

Postscript the 2nd:  Since it's Poetry Month, I will share a link to a poem Valente recently published.  It's about Persephone and the first part of a multi-part piece.  Part one is to be found here, at Goblin Fruit.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Doctor Who (1996 Movie)

Doctor Who (1996 Movie). Directed by Geoffery Sax & Written by Matthew Jacobs.

: Well, given the wonderful success of the re-launch of Doctor Who, it isn't a surprise that the 1996 made-for-TV movie has been re-released. I saw this way back when and recall being excited for simply
weeks knowing it was coming out. You see, as far back as I can remember, I've been a fan of the series. There was a great PBS style station (only Canadian) that played a line up of shows that deeply flavoured my life: Monty Python's Flying Circus, Red Dwarf, Black Adder and finally a full two hours of Doctor Who. I know, I know, saying I've been influenced by these shows is a painful cliche and one that's better expressed by actual comedians. What can I say? Sometimes there is truth in the banal and I love this show. My fangirl-ish adoration was surely at its peek in 1996; the idea of there being a new movie that might lead to new episodes was breath catching-ly exciting. I clearly remember the sharp anticipation and the even sharper hatred. The movie desecrated everything I loved about Doctor Who, it was sacrilege, blasphemy. What's more, greatest of all sins to an idealistic enthusiast: it was HOLLYWOOD (even though it, like everything else, was filmed in Vancouver).

But now, I'm no longer an idealistic 13 year old. I'm less likely to hysterically shriek at things I don't like and compare them to mass murder. I see purists complaining that the sonic screw driver has been slightly re-designed from the original show (and more bafflingly, the heated arguments about re-designs since the re-boot) and I just can't take them seriously. Surely, my feelings towards the movie were along the same lines, it couldn't possibly be as bad as I passionately remember it being.

General Review: Well, as much as I hate to agree with 13 year old me (that chick has a lot of stupid ideas), this was undoubtedly terrible, though not entirely for the reasons she was up in arms about. While doing a bit of snooping around to prep for this review, I ran into this on Wikipedia: Script editor: None. That seems about right. Rarely have I forced myself to sit through something with such a made-for-TV feel to it. What with HBO, AMC and to a lesser extent Showtime, I've become accustomed to a certain level of quality and seeing this Fox exclusive reminded me just how lucky I am to be able to expect that quality. The Doctor Who movie was made-for-TV dross in the worst possible way. The writing was so bad that I need to get alliterative: scattered, schizophrenic and stale. Alright and repetitive, but that doesn't being with an "s". We jump seemingly at random between lifeless characters (and after his introduction, we spend a lot of time not watching the Doctor) who parrot line after line which say the same thing in (barely) different ways.

Before I go on to tear a strip out of Sax's heartless, tedious directing, let me talk about the (very) few nice things I have to say. In fact, you can assume everything I don't list here is terrible and that I just didn't have
time to mention it (the catering for this movie? TERRIBLE!). Seeing Sylvester McCoy back as the Seventh Doctor was a lot of fun and we got more time with him than I was expecting. The role is quite a bit meatier than just wandering on and dying (oh no, spoilers!). I have a soft spot for McCoy, because he was my second ever Doctor (after Tom Baker, the PBS style station, while great, played the series in no particular order). He fell seamlessly back into the role and the performance held up even though they had him doing some stupid things (and while I love Doctor Who, it's very light sci-fi and it takes some extraordinarily dumb choices to make things seem stupid in the setting). And I'm hardly the first to say this, but Paul McGann got a raw deal. The fact that he shone through the utter utter garbage that surrounded him (writing, acting, directing, catering) shows that he would have been an amazing Doctor, given half a chance. Since that's what the great Doctors were always able to do: seem great and believable despite the fact that they were fighting giant clam props.

But enough praise and n
ostalgia, lets get back to the flesh rending. The rest of the cast were 1980's soap opera grade trash. Particularly Eric Roberts (as the Master) but particularly Daphne Ashbrook (as the Companion). I mean, I can see having difficulty playing the complex uncertainty of the loving-but not in love, relationship between the Doctor and his Companions, and the dead eyed, slack jawed Ashbrook wasn't up to the task (rather reminiscent of Kathy Ireland in Alien from L.A., really). But can it really be that hard to play a hand wringing villain, Roberts? I guess they were going for a Terminator 1 thing (some ten years after it was relevant), but ugh, there was nothing interesting about him or his performance. And the less said about the street tough with the heart of gold Yee Jee Tso (playing Chang Lee) the better. Well alright, just one: "No time for love, Doctor Who!" Well alright, just two: "I'm not sure if he was supposed to be for the Sharks or the Jets."

Much, much, much of the blame for this catastrophe belongs on the head of Sax. Yes, bringing the Doctor to America was a bit dumb, yes the acting was mostly terrible and the script weak and unedited, but poor directing really clinched the dreadful. I could forgive the cheese of the obviously not shot on the Golden Gate Bridge sequence, but, damn the man, he used soft focus and had a doctor perform an operation in a ball gown (cuz that will make us taker her seriously as an intellectual). There were party scenes that looked like they were shot in a broom closet with three people hopping around desperately trying to look like a crowd. And the scary, big city alley scene that looked like....well, what it was, a cheap sound stage. It was just, joking aside, without charm or skill.

I may get weepy and nostalgic for the original Doctor Who, but there is a lot of terrible there too. The sets and costumes were cheesy, they often had weak actors and painfully padded scripts, but there were always bright spots that saved it. For every: "twenty minutes of running around in caves and escaping one prison to wind up almost immediately in an identical one," there were: "heartbreaking scenes of the Doctor saying good bye to a companion." There was no reason a character as big as the Doctor couldn't have survived and thrived, even in American and with no budget, but there just wasn't enough of that old good here. In sum, sometimes you need to listen to 13 year old you, she occasionally knows what she's talking about.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Girl on Book Action: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
ISBN: 0-7704-2822-3


Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin: she can’t eat.  First meat.  Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds – everything!  Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she’s being eaten.  Marian ought to feel consumed with passion.  But really she just feels...consumed.  A brilliant and powerful work rich in irony and metaphor, The Edible Woman is an unforgettable masterpiece by a true master of contemporary literary fiction.


My Thoughts:

Every so often, I feel a real sense of guilt about the amount of time I spend reading various fantasy novels. I have been particularly indulgent in the last couple of years, so the guilt is building up.  I think it has to do with having been an English major.   Whenever this happens, I pick up a book that will keep me from flagellating myself.  You know, something with ideas and issues.  Long story short, this week on the blog, I will share my most recent trip into the world of literary fiction.  Yes, I know, I have on occasion tortured you with these kinds of posts before, but, you like it, or you wouldn’t be here, reading me go on and on.

First off, while some of the ideals in this novel are a bit dated – it was first published in 1969 I think, so must have been written sometime during the ‘60s, many, sadly are not.  There are still prudish ideas out there about sex before marriage, and about women raising children alone, women choosing to have children alone more specifically, about women not working after they are married, really, about all sorts of things having to do with women.  And while we’re no longer worrying about the length of our skirts, we have a whole slew of new beauty things to worry about.  There is still pressure for all of us to be “sensible girls,” whatever the hell that actually means.

Right, where was I before going off on a tangential semi-rant?  Atwood, The Edible Woman, my erudite thoughts on the novel, yes. 

Ultimately, what spoke to me most about this novel wasn't the feminism (though you know I love that).  Rather it was the description of grad students.  In one of those odd turns of coincidence, this book came along at the perfect time for me (despite being written 50 odd years ago) as right now I'm struggling towards the end of my degree. The Edible Woman spoke to some of the soul-crushing cynicism that seems to be part of the thesis writing process.  It's good to know I'm not alone in feeling these things.    And now, I will do something I rarely do on here, and share with you a quote that I found to be particularly effective.  One which will likely come back to haunt me whenever I feel cynical about the future: 

“‘It looks exciting when you’re an eager brilliant undergraduate.  They all say, Go on to graduate studies, and they give you a bit of money; and so you do, and you think, Now I’m going to find out the real truth.  But you don’t find out, exactly, and things get pickier and pickier and more and more stale, and it all collapses in a welter of commas and shredded footnotes, and after a while it’s like anything else: you’ve got stuck in it and you can’t get out, and you wonder how you got there in the first place.’” (pg 117).   

Now, of course, it’s not all like that, it only seems like that on the bad days.  Still this is an effective description of the quagmire I and some of my grad student buddies feel we are stuck in.  Also, it’s a good example of Atwood’s style and her insightfulness.  Really, the graduate students were my favourite part of this book – with their piles of papers that cannot under any circumstance be disturbed because it’ll completely discombobulate them and their ingrained habits.

Along these lines, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Marian’s fiancé, Peter, a conservative law-student, and the eccentric Duncan.  I hated Peter from the beginning.  When we first meet him, he is throwing a tantrum that the last of his fellow bachelor friends is getting married, an event Marian treats with patience becoming of a saint.  He spends the whole novel being polite and concerned, but it's all posturing, a convenient veneer that crumbles as soon as Marian's behaviour in any way infringes on his precious reputation.  Duncan, on the other hand, is blithely self-absorbed and somehow that comes off as endearing rather than annoying.  The way he almost exists in another world, and his easy way of lying about pretty well anything, somehow undercut his lack of empathy.  He comes across as a trickster figure, not loveable, but intriguing, an injection of chaos into Marian’s “sensible,” ordered life.

What I’m trying to get at in a long-winded sort of way, is that Atwood is good at depicting people and relationships (I know, I know, huge surprise!).  I ended up reading the last 200ish pages in just about one sitting, because I was so drawn into the interaction between Duncan, Marian and Peter.  I needed to know how their entanglement ends.

Flaws?  Well, I guess I didn’t particularly like Marian and it’s a hard thing not to like a protagonist in a novel like this.  She's your window into this social scene and not identifying with her takes away from some of the impact of the events that happen.  I was more interested in the side-characters, like Duncan, or even Marian’s roommate Ainsley.  The story wouldn’t exist if Marian wasn’t such a “sensible” girl, but...I guess I just don’t like “sensible” girls.  The beginning was a bit slow to catch my full attention, but it definitely picked up steam.  By the last half of the book, I was unable to put it down.  This sounds like a compliment, but the pacing was really very uneven.
If you’re looking for something witty, that might even make you laugh every so often, but with a serious undertone of still-relevant issues you could do worse than read The Edible Woman.  It’s standard-fare Atwood before she turned to saving the environment instead of saving women.  Oh and one last, short quote, because I can’t help myself and I really love this one:

“We get along by a symbiotic adjustment of habits and with a minimum of that pale-mauve hostility you often find among women.” (pg. 10).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Guest Review - Daniel Hobson Talks Xombi

Zombie (1979)

Director: Lucio Fulci

Today we’ll be looking at the Lucio Fulci 1979 classic Zombie, this has been…*looks around blog,* wait a minute this isn’t my blog. Girl on Book Action? Wow this place looks really nice. Hmmm I really don’t want to stink up the joint. Might change what I’m reviewing. *bright idea* I got it. *goes through the latest purchased comic books* Today I’ll be reviewing the weird comic just freshly reanimated, Xombi.

Xombi #1 (2011

John Rozum

Artist: Fraser Irving

I’ve not actually read the old series which started in 1994, was written by John Rozum and ran for about 21 issues, but as DC was starting to advertise the new series I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the story. David Kim, a Korean-American scientist, is almost killed, but thanks to being injected with nanites he survives and gains powers. The main power is that he is able to regenerate his body with any material close at hand; this, in turn, makes him practically immortal. However, there are downsides to this. The nanites in control of his body do not have emotional attachment like David and for them any item or person is good enough to be used in regeneration. Guilty over those that have been killed accidentally by his new form, David has become a superhero of sorts. Named Xombi, he deals with the strange and unusual things in the world. This new series takes place two months after the nanite incident.

I’m a fan of the weird and disturbing and man does this first issue deliver. We have everything from Nosferatu leaping from the silver screen to eat movie goers, to a villain that was infected by a book of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. Yep, weird as hell and I haven’t even touched upon some of the more goose bump inducing things that happen at the end of this issue. Thankfully, all this quirky stuff is offset by a sense of humor. In this world there is a group of Catholic superheros which is made up of Catholic Girl, Nun the Less, Nun of the Above and I think there may be more nuns on the way.

With all these elements it would have been easy for the comic to become a mess, but John Rozum knows what he’s doing. The dialogue has a great sense of timing and allows for the weirdness to just flow. It’s also impressive that John Rozum seems to have come back to his creation and not shown signs of needing to find his groove again. The sheer level of insanity of this written world that John is able to create is a joy to witness; it’s also not weird sake for the sake of it, to me what is happening in the comic has deep ties to urban legends and nightmares people may have. This all comes together to create something very unique.

I’m not too sure where the story is headed, but it was a good introduction to a character that is sympathetic and someone I want to see overcome the hurdles that have been placed before him. Yet not fully getting a grasp on where things are heading has left me slightly worried. Plot pieces may fall into place, characters' motives may shine through, but any story that delves into such an out there premise needs a strong story to keep everything on track. Despite this concern however I’m still enjoying the writing.
Yet writing alone does not a comic make, I have mixed feelings about the art. It’s crisp, clean and I will admit the final page was creepy, but other than that little flourish I wasn’t drawn to it. There does seem to be a lack of detail sometimes and with such a wonderfully weird world being communicated verbally I was hoping that visually it might reflect the uniqueness. Of course, since it’s the first issue all this might change. Maybe Fraser Irving just needs to get used to the world being written, and once this happens he may get more adventurous with how he visualizes; that last page gives me tells me he is capable of this. But with that being said, right now I’m here for the writer not the artist.

I’m going to be sticking with Xombi for a bit. I do hope it takes off, as I would love to have a one, two punch of this and Hellblazer to get my monthly dose of the weird and disturbing. As for possible readers I will warn that if you’re not into plots centered on the unhinged then maybe you should move along. Also time will tell if my concern on the writing will be a valid one, the first story arc will be crucial. But if you’re after something unique then line up, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Announcement: Upcoming Guest Post by Daniel Hobson AKA "Handsome Dan From Down Under"

Once again, we're luxuriating in being lazy and have conned one of our talented blog compatriots into doing a post for us. This week, in lieu of Weeks Too Late, we bring you Daniel Hobson talking about Xombie.

Born into a world that he fears and doesn’t understand, Daniel has found refuge in the world of Movies, Television, Books and Comics. He currently writes for his blog The World of Disgruntled Monkey, and hopes one day to pilot a blimp in which he shall throw rabid badgers at all his enemies. Daniel is currently not on medication.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Girl on Book Action: The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I by Stephen King

The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I by Stephen King
ISBN: 0-451-21084-0


In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger.

He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

(The blurb is from since my copy of the book didn’t actually have one.  I hate that by the way).


My Thoughts:

Ah yes, I’m severely late to this particular party, but that’s true of pretty much anything Stephen King has written.  His work just has never jumped out at me as something I want to read (or at least I don’t want to read it more than the thousands of other books out there) – and yes, I’m ready to be lynched for not being a Stephen King fan.  Wait...haven’t we gone over this before?  I think we might have, so let’s move on.

I feel as though I’ve developed a bad habit on this blog.  I read and review part one of a series and then I don’t necessarily get back to you with the subsequent parts (or maybe this feeling is just all in my head) and here I am with another.  I promise, I’ll keep reading and reviewing these even if it takes a while.

Overall, I’m still not sold on King’s writing style (you know, based on the two books of his I’ve now read), but maybe it’ll grow on me.  The thing that bothered me the most is that he ends sentences with “however,” I  I think he only did this a couple of times, but it stuck with me in an unpleasant “want to fix your sentence” way.  As far as descriptions of physical reactions to fear go, I think he’s quite the master – I’ve never really thought about how to describe that clenching feeling in your gut when you’re afraid.  Actually, I think he writes physicality really well, because he doesn’t “pretty it up.”  There is nothing remotely attractive about fear, or hate, or rage.  None of these emotions are pretty.  On the flip side of this evident skill is the fact that I don’t know that I’ll really be into reading about the status of the Gunslinger’s balls for 6 more books.  Last in the “gripes about style” section, I was a little thrown off everytime a “thee / thou” showed up in conversation.  I understand that it’s meant to denote that the characters are using the High Speech of Gilead or something to that effect, but it was jarring compared with the style of the prose and just regular conversation which was gritty and a strange blend of archaic and modern.

I was surprised at how quickly I got through this book, which is to say it kept me turning pages at a good pace and I was engaged with the story.  I wanted to know what happened next and even more so what happened before.  How did Roland end up chasing a man in black across the known world?  And, honestly, the flashback sections were more interesting to me than the plod through the desert.  I wanted to learn more about the Gilead that was and then get back to the gunslinger's quest.  It doesn't help that when it comes down to it, I don’t like Roland.  I like intelligent, witty protagonists and he is repeatedly described as tenacious and a bit slow.  I know these traits have their merits; I just prefer other characteristics in a main character.  If it wasn’t for his profession, his history and his dogged search for the mysterious Tower he’d be completely unremarkable.  I was more interested in some of the secondary characters – like Cuthbert and Cort and Roland’s parents and I hope that his past gets more fleshed out as the series progresses (please don’t tell me about it! I want to find out on my own).  

I did appreciate that Roland had to make difficult decisions in order to find the man in black, his nemesis.  And the choices he made aren't necessarily the right ones, but he felt compelled to complete his quest at all cost, even if it means tarnishing his soul.  It made me wonder what I would be willing to sacrifice in his place.  So while on the whole, Roland didn't speak to me, his determination and the moral implications of his actions did resonate.

What will bring me back to reading more of the series is the world building and the mystery of the tower.  I don’t care so much about Roland and his quest, but I care about figuring out more about Gilead, about its society and history and about the Tower.  It takes some skill to draw in a reader with the promise of a world rather than an interesting main character, so there is that to applaud. *claps*  Of course, with a new book being written in the series I wonder if I should hold off and wait, rather than rushing through to the end to see what happens.  Decisions, decisions.