Category Archives: Fiction and Films

Capturing

Female hostage-taking and male would-be rescuing is pretty common in films, which leads me to one of my pet peeves in fiction – the scene where the hero or the hero’s friend or love interest is captured.

In the hands of a halfway competent villain, this means the story is over.  Said captive(s) will be killed/maimed/broken in some permanent fashion.

But heroes typically avoid this. There is a big damn rescue scene where the villain is thwarted, enabling the story to continue, and completely draining the story of any real terror or consequence. The stories that do use capturing characters at all that interest me are the ones where the hero does NOT rescue his or her friends or dies or is broken in some fundamental way.

In short, we’re looking at a preponderance of super-competent heroes and moronic villains.

 

It’s in, and other news

Yesterday was the due date for my tenure file. Now that it’s in, I can concentrate on teaching and on other projects.

I haven’t been writing here much lately, partially because I have starting keeping a private journal on my iPad where I can let loose about whatever, whereas here I am more circumspect.

One thing I would like to share today, though, is that over the summer when I wasn’t teaching, I wrote a novel. I would loosely characterize it as a post-apocalyptic adventure. The idea for it has been in my head for a few years, but I didn’t make the time for writing it until very recently. I haven’t marketed it to agents or publishers yet, as I have some friends reading it over and I would like their input first, but I plan to do so soon.

So that’s exciting, and I’m thinking that since I was able to crank one out relatively quickly during the summer break, writing several thousand words a day, I could conceivably write another next summer.  It wouldn’t affect my scholarly output because I use the long semesters, regardless of teaching load, to write that stuff, anyway.

Also, an important date is coming up tomorrow. H and I will have our tenth anniversary together. We had our first date on Oct. 8, 2004.

Additionally, I would like to announce (though it was already announced on Facebook some time ago) that H and I are expecting our first child next spring.

 

 

Reading again

I ordered a bunch of scifi books to read last week, because the gaming front has been slow (mostly waiting for the new Thief in late February) and I felt like it. I haven’t exactly been plowing through bestsellers in the last ten years, so it is going to take me awhile to discover who among the current crop  is good and who isn’t. That is always the most frustrating part of reading books for me – the uncertain quality of authors I haven’t read. Will the experience be worth the three-four hours it takes me to devour a novel? Reading journal articles is a little more profitable in that light, because they’re shorter and I can read the beginning and the end near-simultaneously without feeling cheated.

Most of the books have arrived already. I picked them by reading lists of ‘best in 2013’. I read three this weekend: The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. They are three very different books, but because I read them more or less at the same time I can’t help but compare them against one another.

The Frozen Sky is a first contact story set on Europa. It is a hard scifi thriller, meaning there are more ideas and action than character. All we really learn about the protagonist is that she is determined, which goes without saying. Of the first contact genre, it is of the ‘can we talk to them meaningfully’ type. So I didn’t find it sufficiently original, though it was written competently. The challenge with hard scifi is linking it to a actual rather than puppet protagonist.

Ancillary Justice was more interesting. It is about a troopship AI that is reduced to inhabiting just one of its  many previously simultaneously operating parts – a ‘corpse soldier’ or ancillary – after the ship and all the rest of its ancillaries are destroyed. The motivation is revenge – seeking out those who destroyed the ship. Lots of discussion of ethics. Also interesting was the treatment of gender. The ruthless yet principled and music-loving AI is very bad at discerning gender, and refers to everyone as ‘she’, which can make for some frustrating but enjoyable reading. An original book, I think, with the author worth sampling again.

Brilliance was light sci-fi. Its plot is basically the X-men with a helping of Heroes. In the early eighties one in a hundred babies are born ‘brilliant’ – having some kind of advanced cognitive ability. The government attempts to control the most powerful of these with NSA-like agencies, killing some and indoctrinating the rest from an early age. The protagonist is one of these ‘abnorms’, able to see patterns, especially body gestures, with uncanny accuracy.  He works for the government but – unfortunately in a predictable way – finds himself having problems holding to that allegiance. I thought this was the best written and most enjoyable of the three books – it had a steady flow to it – but in many ways the least original and most predictable. Sakey has written some other things, which might be better.

I’ll write some more about the other books as I have time. I’m working on a very difficult article this semester, one I’m not sure is even going to get finished, and that among other problems has occupied my thoughts lately.

Breaking Bad

So Breaking Bad ended last night. It was a very satisfying, all-loose-ends-tied-up experience.

I have to wonder, though. Of the best adult episodic TV of the last ten years, the high water marks – let’s say The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, and Breaking Bad – are all about largely despicable characters that are heavily compromised morally and ethically. We’re not watching these shows out of escapism, to reinforce values, or for laughs, though there is humor. It’s entertainment more on the level of watching a train wreck in the form of human beings. This is not a complaint – more of a celebration, really – given what TV had to offer in the ’90s or ’80s. Sitcoms still churn on, but now we have these more layered, ambiguous entities available over on HBO and AMC.

Lazy summer continues

Saw The Dark Knight Rises finally. Not as good as the last one, but very good all the same. Lots of nods to canon while feeling true to the last two movies. My favorite version of the Bat is still the one from Arkham Asylum and City, but the Bale version isn’t bad at all.

Been watching a lot of Olympics, too.

Haven’t posted much of anything lately. I suppose I should start slow. What about Jared Diamond complaining about Romney’s misuse of Guns, Germs, and Steel? Pretty funny. It would seem Romney, already quietly policy-free in the states, has no luck opening his mouth overseas, either. He’ll get a bounce from Tampa, and Obama will get a bounce from Charlotte, and these should cancel each other out.

John Carter, Ender

Watched John Carter the other day. Apparently it was a box office bomb, but I thought it was a pretty good movie, and respectful enough, based on what I know of Burroughs and the stories.

I suppose I can understand why it wouldn’t be a hit now, because people are so de-sensitized and de-mythologized by Star Wars and its ilk, which are in turn dependent on Burroughs and his ilk. What was fantastical in 1917 is old hat now. We’re too fussy about a scientific view of the solar system instead of a relatively idyllic view, for one, but I hadn’t thought we were over romances, even planetary ones such as JC. Swashbucklers do have a tough time these days, unless they have Johnny Depp in them.

On a slightly unrelated note, I think the upcoming Ender’s Game film will be a disaster if the big change discussed by Card here in 1998 is made. Don’t click on that if you haven’t read it. Talk about a quick way to completely kill a story dead.

Annoying capturing

I have been reading through the Cole & Pike novels by Robert Crais lately on my iPhone, and I have to say while they are generally enjoyable, I am tired of the capture scene. This is when our protagonist or protagonists are temporarily captured by the bad guys due to some momentary miscalculation.

I hate this trope. I just detest it. It requires the good guys be dumb enough to be captured and the bad guys to be stupid enough not to kill them immediately. I can understand its appeal – it’s dramatic to have the heroes in mortal peril, but when it happens OVER AND OVER AGAIN to no ill effect it becomes so progressively unbelievable that it spoils immersion.

For the interested, I finally became fed up after the ending of L.A. Requiem. Ok, that’s pretty deep into the series, but I have developed high pain tolerance. I’m not sure if I want to continue. I understand as series characters they can’t die, but if so, they can’t be put into artificial situations that they can’t possibly survive. I have other complaints about the series, but that’s the big one.