Nov 21, 2008

match made in heaven

I watched Hellboy II last night and The Devil's Backbone two weeks ago. You know what I would give my eye teeth to see? A well funded film version of China Miéville's The Scar, as directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Of his interests, del Toro says, "I have a sort of a fetish for insects, clockwork, monsters, dark places, and unborn things." How is that not exactly what's needed to bring the world of Bas-Lag to life?

Nov 14, 2008

The Children of Men by PD James

The Children of Men

The movie blew me completely away. I was watching my mom's house and dogs for the weekend. I sat down in front of her big tv with a cold beer and sandwich and noticed it was about to come on. I flipped to that channel and suddenly it was a half hour later. My beer was warm, my sandwich was dry, and I was still sort of perched at the front of the couch with my jaw hanging open. The movie was a punch to the gut. It and Pan's Labyrinth are the two recent flicks that I have heard multiple adult, macho men admit to crying during.

The novel was not a thing like the movie. But that's good. They can be judged on their own merits, without comparison, which is a rare thing in screen adaptations. (I hear a tv miniseries is being worked on for the scifi channel, following the book more closely, and I'm very interested to see how it turns out.)

The book is not a punch to the gut. It is a quiet slide into deep waters. It's the last days of the world, our bang turning into a whimper. Borders are policed and peace upheld through strict and brutal means, but when everyone on Earth will be dead within 60 years, does that even matter? Is it worth fighting against the Warden to uplift your fellow man when neither of you will have children to appreciate the struggle? What good is a martyr with no one to carry their memory into battle?

Like so many true dystopian novels, you catch echos of 1984. The hidden diary. The fear of capture and confinement without hope of justice. Going along to get along, because what is your option? And love in the face of all of it.

I come from a large family (oldest of 4 kids) and my mom worked with midwives for many years. Birth and babies are no strangers to me, and I think that added to the emotional impact of the story. The descriptions of women treating baby dolls and pets like their missing children - all the way down to baptism - just seemed way too likely. The urge to propagate is easily twisted, in the absence of possible offspring. Xan becomes the father of a dying country. Priests tend to their dying flocks. Rolf wants to believe that his sperm makes him a sort of god, the only true leader of the remaining world (and when that turns out to be a lie, he runs for daddy). Theo, having already been the cause of one child's death, is willing to do anything for this new life, including taking on all of England.

final thought: In the end, we are left with some small hope, but is it real or just another kitten in a blanket?

Nov 7, 2008


After a very impassioned urging comment to my last entry, I went out today and picked up a used copy of The Dispossessed by LeGuin. After I finish Gathering Blue, which I should roll right through in the next day (it's a young adult novel), I'll start in on that one. I'm going camping this weekend and look to plenty of down time for drinking beers and reading.

So, it's been almost a year. I'll start doing look back sorts of entries soon. Although I started this as a one year reading challenge to myself, I'm enjoying it too much and there are too many books left on the Big List to quit any time soon. Viva la Dystopia!

Nov 4, 2008

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

I know I've read other works by Le Guin (you can't be a sf fan and not, really), but right now I couldn't tell you what. I can, however, say that I'll search her out in the future, because I fully enjoyed this novel.

Look, I'm a Florida guy. I've never really seen snow that doesn't melt as quickly as it hits. The world she creates, Winter, with windows and doors built high on walls to accommodate for piled snow, doesn't reflect anything I've experienced in life. But Le Guin lays it out so well that I could feel the chill. I found it interesting, too, to be reading along, comfortably in that mindset of fantasy/sf based in a world simpler than ours and not as technologically advanced, and then have reference of telephone or something remind me that not all cultures progress along the same patterns. Something that many sf writers tend to forget, I think.

This is generally considered early feminist sf, although it deals more with the issue of gender itself than it reflects issues facing women in our society. Of course, in 1969 wanting to talk about gender in a probative way was pretty well left to the feminists, so there you go. So, do you fall in love with a gender or a person? Is good friendship, hard won and hard tested, the same as love? Can one type of love mutate into another? And, in a broader view, what does society look like when it's not split into her vs. him? When the question of sex drive is laid to rest and everybody gets laid when they need to and doesn't think about it when they don't? (Although, clearly, love itself - separate from sex - is a mystery regardless. That remains true.)

Of course, the other thing that remains true is that those in power wish to stay in power and will use whatever tools come to hand, including secret police and big fat lies. But then, what good is regional power against the idea of interplanetary merger?

final thought: I'm not normally one for a lot of gender theory, but Le Guin manages the story well enough to keep it interesting.

Iron Council by China Miéville

Iron Council

I can't help it, I'm a hopeless Miéville fan. I want to wallow in his prose. The writing is as good as the stories, and the stories are as good as his writing, and the richness of the details and the strength of his vocabulary make it hard to breathe.

Okay, hopeless geeking out of the way, let me talk about this particular novel.

Iron Council is politics all the way down. Of course, they're Bas-Lag poltitics, so we've got Stiltspears being wiped out by the train company and remade anti-heroes rebelling in New Crobuzon. The theme I picked up most was sacrifice - blood, time, youth, life, all spent on various altars. Most not by choice. Or maybe the theme is exactly that, choice, who has it and who is willing to fight for it.

I'm gonna skip around some. I tried to let it stew in my mind before I wrote this out, but it's still just scenes and flashes for me. The idea of a bunch of whores and workers and slaves getting together and just running off with a fucking train made me damn near euphoric. Laying down tracks, rolling across them, and then picking up and putting them down again. A slow, beautiful, hard won flight to freedom. Burying their honored dead on flatcars or under the tracks as they pass. The images leave me speechless.

There are more remade in this one, which makes the idea both more and less frightening to me. More, because of the details that come out ("Am I a prison? Was he alive inside me?"), less because even the worst horrors fade some with repetition.

More homosexuality, too, and the ways that impacts on lives and society. There's a huge gap between the homoerotic but certainly not at all gay, how can you even suggest it world of genre fantasy and the Clive Barker/Neil Gaiman yeah, so what, let's explore how this facet of sexuality and life informs everything else take on various attractions. And Miéville is in that second camp, of course (not the only way I'd lump him in with the other two there, anyway), and I've got no complaints about that. In a society where men fall for bug-headed women, I would think that being gay would be the least of someone's worries.

Of course, the New Quillers hate both. Might as well call them droogs, really, with their bowler hats and bovver boots. Miéville's English, and he knows the image of the well dressed thug, an everyday boogyman.

final thought: Frankly, I could talk about this book for hours, given beer and someone to talk to. The problem is, none of my friends have been willing to wade through his writing or find it as amazing as I do.