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Read & Watched Lately (May 2007)

A back injury in mid-May landed me on my back, in pain. Which meant I got a lot of reading done this month, not only books I’ve been meaning to get to, but also the chance to catch up on my magazine subscriptions. Of course, I have a new copy of both Interzone and F&SF, but that’s a good thing, actually.

Magazines:

Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 2007

I wasn’t crazy about the Gene Wolfe story, so all the articles in praise of him just sort of muddled things for me; I thought the best pieces were (definitely) the David Gerrold (it was fun!) and the Donald Mead. The David Levine was cute, but, well, more an idea of a story than a story.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 2007

This was a really good issue. The MacLeod, Bacigalupi, and Attanasio stories were all great, and the Wentworth was pretty damned good too. Webb’s story reminded me a little too much of an episode of the Twilight Zone I once saw — the TV program had more Lovecraftian stuff, but the horror of the bed and of a grandparent with a magical book were basically the same — yet some I’ve discussed it with ranked the story high anyway.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2007

The Marta Randall is the best of the bunch, but I just wasn’t overall impressed with this issue. The Sheila Finch and the Irvine were serviceable, the Fazi was well-written (I think) but not my thing, and the Charles Coleman Finlay amused me, but didn’t leave much of a mark. As usual, I didn’t get the Matthew Hughes at all. I did enjoy Paul di Filippo’s attack on Terry Goodkind’s moralism.

Interzone 209

This was the 25th anniversary issue, and Interzone did not fail to impress. The one I liked the least, I disliked for reasons of style — Hal Duncan’s just not my thing — and in general, I have to say that Interzone really does look to me to be a top-flight magazine, the kind of venue in which I’d love my own work to be printed. They even had a story for free, online, because it’s too big to fit into the print edition. (I haven’t gotten around to reading that one, but it looks interesting.) I am not at all regretting my subscription to Interzone — in fact, I’m very glad of it, and I’m sure to renew next year!

Books:

Deconstruction and Criticism (Continuum Impacts) by by Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey H. Hartman, J. Hillis Miller , Harold Bloom, and Paul De Man

To be honest, I gave up on this book. It seems to me largely a waste of time. It did confirm for me, however, that I shan’t be wasting any more time reading Derrida. As I recently posted, it’s wash for the hogs. The Bloom also seemed to be saying very semi-obvious (to me, as of elementary or maybe middle school) things in a highfalutin’ tone. Not worth the time. (Though some of Bloom’s other writing is worthwhile.)

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

This was my second read-through this semester (and my third or fourth ever), but I didn’t note it the first time. I’ve actually read certain sections of it many, many times. I’ve also been comparing it with the film. Mostly, I prefer the book, which is much more an intelligent, blunt, and harsh statement of anarchist sentiment and thought than we ever saw in the movie. Now, having looked very closely at the graphic novel again, I understand some of my friend Marvin’s misgivings about the film when it first came out. As a dystopia of its own, it’s fine, and there are some things in the film that out do the movie, but the core story and the core values of the movie are far from — and more watered-down than — those stated in the book. The one cut by the Wachowski brothers that I have to praise is the love/obsession that Susan (in the movie, Sutler) has for his computer, Fate. I get it, I get it, the love of soulless machine and all that, but all the same, it didn’t fly for me. But otherwise, it seemed to me that the graphic novel is real literature, where the film was, well, just an attack on certain figures in contemporary society and politics who deserve to be attacked, but which won’t be anywhere near as parseable, or as significant, in half a century.

Titus Crow, Volume 1: The Burrowers Beneath & The Transition of Titus Crow by Brian Lumley

Some books are so bad that they’re good. I didn’t feel that way about this. It did give me an idea for a short story, but I’m glad I didn’t pay for this trilogy of hardcovers. (I picked them up for free after they sat in a bar for months on end, untouched.) The second novel in the book is much better than the first, but still not so great, and I’m kind of wondering whether I’ll get curious enough again to dive into the second and third volume. I kind of doubt it, but I am keeping them around, just in case. Lovecraftian? Sort of. Some neat ideas? Yeah. But some pretty embarrassing writing, too. If you ask me.

Angry Young Spaceman by Jim Munroe

I had this on my shelf before I read Scott Burgeson’s review in Korea Bug, but I wasn’t spurred into reading it until after I read Burgeson’s discussion of the book. Charles de Lint said it was “unquestionably science fiction,” but I beg to differ. Having lived in Korea for five years, the book is much more a veiled travelogue of a self-righteous, politically-corrective, bitter foreigner in Korea. (I’m not saying Munroe is this, but his character sure is.) I will say that half the time the story ignores the basic setting. Characters are pouring mugs of drinks, and sipping them, in “liquid atmosphere,” which I take it to mean underwater. The Octavians — the aliens to which the narrator in the novel is teaching English — are very straightforwardly Koreans, to the point that plenty of the words in the novel are straight from Korean. (Burgeson points out a number of them, so I won’t repeat it here.)

Frankly, this isn’t science fiction of a kind I like. In more skillful, SF-trained hands, like say, those of Rudy Rucker, “transrealism” offers some great colors on the palette, but Munroe’s approach to the SFnal elements in his story are more haphazard and sloppy. To anyone who actually knows the SF genre, it is a bad, weak SF novel. However, I’ve noticed time and time again that those who don’t know much about SF seem to love extolling the “cleverness” of the stuff that’s only weakly SFnal, because usually the weak SF is busy exploring questions that are wholly contemporary, and Murnoe’s book is like that. The questions are all about race, identity-of-the-other, identity-of-self-as-other, colonialism, appropriation, media manipulation, and things like that. The zoney-eyed incantations of Cult of PoMo teachings distract people from the fact that the questions we face about life are far different than those our great-grandparents ever imagined, and that it’ll likely be like that in the future too, so to them, the real core of SF — asking wild, ever-more-mind-shattering “what if?” questions, is not of interest. They want only the trappings of SF, a veneer that lets them “playfully” discuss the same crap that the academy is myopically fixated on. So they love bad SF. And, I imagine, academics probably adore this novel.

But, hey, that’s just my view, both of SF and of Munroe’s novel. He’s more published than me. But seriously, if you’re a dedicated SF fan, you probably won’t like this.

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

Fascinating stuff. I knew a little bit about Gnosticism before I read this, especially Manicheism, but this is much more a fascinating look at the early church — the chaos, the multitude of ideas and understandings vying for a following, and a fascinating assessment of how we ended up with the kind of Christianity we finally did get: the theology, the politics of tha theology, the theology of politics, and so on. It seems the Church did indeed invent spin. This will be great background for my revision of “Soul Competency,” when I finally get around to it.

Space War Blues by Richard Lupoff

Weird novel. This was recommended to me by Vernor Vinge during our private discussion of my story “Lester Young and Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues” at Clarion West last summer. It’s a complicated work, but since it was easier for me to get my hands on than the novella in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions, I went ahead and read it. The reason Vernor recommended it was, I think, the way it handles ethnic-identity and dialect-forms mapped onto space adventure. It certainly suggested some interesting things in terms of the space-side elements of the novel I’m planning in the same world as “Lester Young…” but in other ways, I’m not sure the novel aged so very well. It was fun, but there were bits where I cringed. Why was it the N’Haiti government who came up with techno-zombies? Why were only the N’Alabamans speaking with such thick dialect? Some interesting questions. I’m sure exploring the answers would be interesting, too, but not right now. But it was interesting, especially to me since I don’t read a lot of really old SF (and since this book dates back to the late 60s, you can see what I mean by “really old”).

The Canterville Ghost and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde

Someone called Wilde “irresponsible,” but to me, he’s much more “irrepressible.” I probably wouldn’t have gotten along with him, and some of the other stories in the collection were merely so-so, but I really got a kick out of the title story in this tiny Dover cheapie. Americans being haunted — except not really being haunted at all! — by a frustrated British ghost? If it weren’t over a century old, I’d wish I’d thought of it myself.

Magnificent Corpses by Anneli Rufus

Spooky. Corpses on display. Saints’ stories. Thoughtful discussion of same by a nonbeliever with a sensible, critical, and interesting perspective. There are some parts of Catholicism that are weirder than anyone ever mentioned at Sunday School, and this business of relics and reliquaries and dead bodies preserved all over the place is just fascinating. It’s kind of a necrosacral travelogue.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

It’s probably — no, wait, definitely — weird that I never got around to this book until now, considering how much I like PK Dick’s writing, and how much I’ve loved the movie Blade Runner, over the years. Yet it’s been waiting, on my shelf. What can I say? Reading it was a joy. Ben recently posted about a recent re-watching of the film after having finally read the book, and I have to say some of his points are quite astute. I have my own ideas about Turing Tests, which I’m not going to spew here as they’ll form the basis of a short story one of these days. Like Ben, I too think that Mercerism and mood control was an important part of the book, and also intimately tied to the whole dichotomy of human/android very deeply, which kind of means I find it disappointing that this link was excised from the story in the film version. After all, if human moods are so easily manipulable, either by drugs or technologies, or even by techno-religious propaganda (as with Mercer) then this suggests a very mechanistic underpinning to human emotion, and the whole, “Androids aren’t human because they don’t feel empathy” schtick goes out the window. The book is more mind-bending than the film, in many ways, and the “interspecies love story” in the film version that Ben finds so “contrary to the spirit of the original” seems to me more like an alternate route Deckard might have, and indeed considered taking. It’s also, sadly, a weakening of the story, though I also have to say I enjoy it in the film version, so, what are you going to do?

Anyway, this was a quick read and fascinating. I practically inhaled the novel. The one thing I’m still puzzled about, or rather, that remains afterward to haunt me, is the appearance of Mercer and Deckard’s experience at the end, something left out of the movie but which seems crucial to the book, for me. It’s like the end of The Lord of the Rings, when the hobbits got back to the Shire only to find things there completely screwed up. Yeah, I knew it wouldn’t be in the film, but hell, it seems to me it’s the very point of the story, the most important part of all! Ah well… happily, film versions don’t render book versions unavailable.

Movies & TV series:

Life On Mars, series 2:

Excellent, though I’m sad to see the end of the series. However, theres a spinoff. I’m looking forward to that, I assure you!

The Sopranos, season 1:

I got this because it was on sale. Big fun. I definitely must check out the newer seasons.

Deja Vu

I liked this, but not as much as I’d hoped. Some of the science-fictional trappings were really hokey, but, you know, it was fun and interesting enough.

Children of the Secret State

This is a great documentary for people who claim North Korean refugees exaggerate how screwed up North Korea is. I hate it when people mak that claim, and the response of Kang Chol-Hwan (author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang) to reporters assessing the same comes to mind: Why don’t you go and live up there, if you think it’s not so bad?

I swear, the widespread denial of those conditions among South Korean leftists and youth today scares me. How they’re going to deal with it in retrospect, when it becomes absolutely undeniable how screwed up the North has been all this time, is beyond me. But people are good at tuning things out, I guess. Don’t you tune it out. Pay attention. It might be slanted, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also true.

Asterix & Obelix Contre le Cesar

The comic books are better. It’s okay. But don’t waste money on it like I did. Spend your money on the comics, instead.

Conan the Barbarian

Oh my. I didn’t remember quite how bad this is. Sometimes when I think about accusations of how sexist media is, I have to wonder, but man, there’s no question when it comes to Conan the Barbarian. In addition to bad acting, and being a kind of cheap version of Frazetta paintings come to life, it has what is, to me, almost the worst director’s commentary ever, which is not helped at all by his discussions with Arnold.

Next

Yeah, this might (sort of) be PKD, but it’s, well… all I can say is, it’s not art. I had enough fun, I was distracted enough, and I liked the ending/not-ending. But it’s probably worth waiting till DVD. Unless you’re REAL bored.

The Insider

This is a great film. It once again reinforces my sense that the intersection of money and legal/political power is the single most powerful threat to freedom, and the single most difficult obstacle between a so-called free society and a real free society. How such a frantic scramble to hide already well-known facts, and to cover for obvious perjuries, could have occurred is simply insulting to the American public. The enemy is not Big Tobacco, though: Big Tobacco is just the handmaiden of evil. The real evil is the aristocracy of the rich, who fight to maintain a society where money translates into a perversion of the justice system and of politics. This film is a fascinating exploration of that dynamic.

Fatherland

This was merely so-so. I do want to read the book it was based on: an alternate history in which the Nazis took over Europe and America and the Nazis are making friendly sometime in the 60s, in order to oppose Russia? Rutger Hauer did a good job, regardless of the flaws in the film. It didn’t hold my attention constantly, but for a made-for-TV thing, it was pretty good.

Dark Days

A fascinating documentary about people living underground in the complex underground tunnel system adjoining the New York City subway system. Watching the “making of” feature is an absolute must! It’s moving, at turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and an absolutely brilliant idea. Very worthwhile!

In the Queue:

Right now, I’m reading a slave-narrative by Harriet Jacobs, titled “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” It’s harsh.  Next u, I’ll be reading some nonfiction about Northeast Asia, especially North Korea (and 1930s-1950s Japan and China), in preparation for the novel drafting I have planned for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon. (More about that soon.) I also hope to catch up on my magazine subscriptions, with an issue each of Fantasy, InterZone, and F&SF in the queue. I have a few movies in my queue as well: The Fountain (though I expect to hate it), Pan’s Labyrinth, a couple of North Korea-focused documentaries, and more. The longer my back ails me, the more I’ll be reading and watching a lot… and writing less, which is bad, but, hey, let’s consider it a break.

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